I first encountered Afrofuturism at a party. Not in a book or an article; not in some academic talk seeped in language I would have had to Google to understand–no, not at all. My first experience with it was when I was 18. I remember congregating by the bathroom toilets with a group of black people, connecting over the lack of rhythm on display in the living room.
We laughed about how in our imagined worlds there would be glasses we could put on to un-see all the white dancers doing our favorite songs such injustice with their moves. We discussed how there would be magic potions to instantly flavor the food to fit our tastes. We joked about secret portals to transport us to a place with better basslines, where Taylor Swift was muted from our ears.
This was my first encounter with Afrofuturism, and yet when I heard about it in an academic talk a year later and shared my story, I was corrected–and made to believe that this wasn’t Afrofuturism at all. I was met with references to speakers and authors I had never heard of, and concepts I could not pronounce.
Now, a few years later, after creating art and stories rooted deeply in the practice of imagining worlds, I ask the question: Who is Afrofuturism for? How do we imagine worlds that create utopia for all black lives? Why were my conversations outside of academic establishments discredited, and what does this mean for working-class black imaginers?
That’s why I want to write about the future, as someone whose life spans multiple, intersecting experiences–blackness, queerness, femininity, a person presenting outside of the proposed gender binary, a child who was raised in a housing project. My idea of the future looks very different to the ones I see put forward by other Afrofuturists. For one thing, I want my body to be safe.
What do I get out of Afrofuturist theory and thought, anyway? Honestly, it’s fun. While it may be rooted in scientific fields like quantum physics, technological innovation, and anthropology, ultimately Afrofuturist literature created an escape for me. I wanted to get away from the suffocating oppression I faced as a young, genderqueer black kid–and imagining new worlds or technological creations was an entertaining and necessary escape from the world around me. It became far more powerful when I realized that these imagined realities could affect how I maneuvered through my then-current lived realities.
If I spent an hour a day dreaming in my room of complex and intricate worlds I’d rather be living in, the next day I would carry myself with far more confidence and self-assurance. If I spent time imagining a world where we held community values far closer to our hearts, the next day I would find myself interacting with those around me in a far more transparent and caring way. Although often Afrofuturism seemed like a distant practice to me, the effects of such imagination were very concrete.
Alongside this idea of Afrofuturism as something that can have real effects on a life, I thought it would be worthy to explain three inventions I’d love to see in my imagined, ideal future.
(Warning: These items should be taken with a grain of salt, though perhaps also mixed with a side of truth–because I do wish they existed!)
1. Back-to-my-Street Glasses
Ever been in a presentation with a word-heavy PowerPoint? Had to listen to a speaker use words that sound like the inaudible sounds you make when you first wake up? Thought you were in a safe black space, but then felt embarrassed because you didn’t get the reference the black academic just made?
Well, here’s just the product for you! Introducing the Afrofuturist Back-to-my-Street Glasses: acool and stylish set of eyewear, available in multiple colors as well as limited edition sunglasses (for those hotter futures), that translates all academic and inaccessible language into words that you understand.
Transform those concepts that are indistinguishable to you into meaningful allegories and words that connect with your heart. At a black Afrofuturism conference that stinks of university-educated, middle-class pretentiousness? Have that academic-speak rephrased into something your mamma would say to you back home over dinner. Being talked at for an hour about quantum physics in a way that offers no preface or baseline explanation? These glasses convert what’s being said into examples you understand.
“Back-to-my-Street Glasses: a technological advance examining and addressing the classism within Afrofuturist discourse since the year 2055.”
2. The Gender-Isn’t-Binary Blaster
Tired of being in a “radical” Afrofuturist space and hearing the phrase “ladies and gentlemen?” Want a theorist to imagine a future that does not exclude your gender (or lack of)? Bored of thinking you’ve found the perfect Afrofuturist novel, only to then have it stink of binary views regarding gender?
Then the 2065 Gender-Isn’t-Binary Blaster is perfect for you! This sleek, monochrome, horn-shaped machine screams out all the corrections your non-binary self just doesn’t have the energy to. Using high-tech, solar-paneled sound receptors, it picks up on binarist language and transphobic remarks from up to 65 feet [20 meters] away.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this year’s conference “¦ “–out shoots the blaster, explaining that there aren’t actually only ladies and gentlemen in this world, thank you very much. Misgendered by a black professor you admire? The Blaster explains to them your pronouns and what they mean to you, with a programmed response that you can create to suit your needs.
The Gender-Isn’t-Binary Blaster is available in all stores near you, provided you’re imagining the future, and will happily start a conversation surrounding the erasure of non-binary identities within Afrofuturist thought–so you don’t have to.
3. The Misogyny Muter
Wondering if the only man taking part in that panel discussion will stop interrupting you? Or why a feature on Afrofuturism only contains male voices? Tired of having patriarchal and misogynistic ideas infiltrate your ways of imagining futures for women and other folks of marginalized genders?
Then the 3025 Misogyny Muter is the perfect item for you! Welcome this handy, pocket-sized remote into your life as it uses the energy of a millennium of powerful black women to temporarily silence any man or masculine voice taking up too much space in a room. Gone are the days of women academics being interrupted while they try and speak at a conference, or having to sit through a black male academic ignoring the oppression of women in his ideal future. The Misogyny Muter will zap whatever patriarchal, sexist voice is speaking until you decide you have finished taking the space you deserve!
The Misogyny Muter will be available in all electronic stores in the year 3025, giving women and non-binary people the technology to silence and work against male-dominated Afrofuturist spaces.
This future sounds like a good time, right? And although I prefaced this all by advising you take it lightly, I believe it also directly responds and relates to what I believe Afrofuturism and tech can (and should) be: fun.
Does the Misogyny Muter, or the Binary Blaster, have any kind of scientific theory behind it? No, admittedly not. Does this mean ideas like these should be ignored? I’d argue no. It’s through imagining things like these that we find ways to solve the oppressions we face right now. But also, most importantly, they help us laugh.
If we can laugh at the thought of a blaster that explains the complexities of living outside gender binaries, or smile at the prospect of a remote that mutes patriarchal dominance (for even just a second), it’s worthwhile conversation. In a time when there’s so much to be depressed about around the treatment of black bodies, some laughter can be revolutionary. By creating, imagining, and having fun with these fantastical examples of technology, black folk can rejoice and find joy in the possibilities of dreaming. This is key to Afrofuturism.
How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our collection of conversations about Afrofuturism, curated and edited by Florence Okoye of Afrofutures UK. Click the logo to read more.