Words & Sounds Sent From the Afro-Future

Afrofuturism has been making quite a name for itself lately, especially with the blockbuster and cultural triumph of Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther.” The concept of the intersection of technology and the African experience was first cemented in public thought in 1993, but only recently has Afrofuturism been spliced into the black, queer experience. Musical artists and writers alike utilize Afrofuturism as a catalyst to deepen and spread their message to the masses, providing audiences with a glimpse of how being black and queer is almost synonymous with alien and otherworldly, yet undeniably human at the core.
Alternative R&B singer Frank Ocean’s classic “Thinkin’ Bout You” is an ethereal track generously dusted with melancholy that suspends listeners across the starry depths of the galaxy as Ocean croons about his first love who was a man (Ocean identifies as bisexual). The singer/songwriter/producer has been noted for his unique sound and singing style that defy the traditional parameters of R&B. What’s more, Ocean’s musical lyrics are laced with subtle social commentary, much like many of the works within the multifaceted spectrum of Afrofuturism. It’s fair to say that there’s never been an R&B singer quite like Ocean, and the fact that he seems to fully embrace the sound in his soul is an act of bravery that allows listeners to slip free of their social and mental constraints.
Science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany is a titan of the genre, one whose works often explore such subjects as sexuality, class, social position, and perception. Delany identifies as gay and is in an open relationship with a formerly homeless bookseller named Dennis Rickett. Delany’s “Return to Nevèrÿon” series is notable because the reigning civilization is made up of brown- and black-skinned men and women who made slaves of pale-skinned, yellow-haired barbarians.
In addition to his queer characters, Delany is also known for including explicitly sexual content in his stories and has embraced the fact that some of his stories are considered pornographic. Queer sexuality and queer sex most certainly go hand in hand, and Delany has defended his inclusion of graphic sex in his work by saying that to remove it would limit the discussions children and adults would have, that not having such discussions and the insight gained from them can kill. Considering the fact that sex ed doesn’t always do a thorough job of teaching teenagers about sex, especially in the black community, one can’t admit that Delany may be onto something.
It’s impossible (and should be illegal) to discuss modern Afrofuturism or black queerness without mentioning Janelle Monae. Monae gyrated her way into mainstream success with the release of “Metropolis: Suite I” (“The Chase”), a time when she was often seen in public swathed in black and white from head to toe. From the beginning, Monae’s music had a heavy sci-fi slant with her alter-ego, an android named Cindi Mayweather, acting as the messiah of the android community as well a symbol for “otherness” in our reality.
Monae has spoken widely about her love of science fiction, and practically all her music videos and a great deal of her songs touch on science fiction and Afrofuturism. “Dirty Computer,” her most recent release, even has an accompanying emotion picture that deals with identity, sexuality, police brutality, civil rights violations, and totalitarianism. Monae has recently come out as being pansexual, a revelation that becomes more of a revel-ation in “Dirty Computer.”
Rivers Solomon is a writer, Afrofuturist, and cyborg, as well as “a dyke, a Trekkie, a wannabe cyborg queen, a trash princex.” Their debut Afrofuturist/sci-fi novel, “An Unkindness of Ghosts,” weaves together a story about a spaceship arranged like the antebellum South where the upper class is white and the lower class is black. The novel has a gender non-conforming main character who is also on the autism spectrum, an effeminate male character who’s of mixed race, and a third character who is a trauma survivor. Solomon has received one award (so far) for their debut novel and has been nominated for another.
As the musical group The Main Ingredient says, “Black seeds keep on growin’.” That growth is magnificently apparent in the lives and works of black LGBTQ artists, musicians, and writers who look to the future as well as the past of Black culture to explore not only themselves, but their histories, as well crushing our culture’s pain into glittering black diamonds.