Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack (Oct 2013) www.iafrofuturism.com
I had a blast chatting about race and gender in science fiction (SF) at Columbia College Chicago’s first Columbia Geek Gala. The panel took place on Saturday, April 19 and the conversation was pretty riveting. Greg Baldino, created the Uhura Project panel and asked myself and Adrian Nelson and SF expert to join him for a quaint discussion on the matter. Greg had stumbled across Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy and loved it. He shared the book with Adrian and when they realized I was in Chicago, they asked if I would join the panel, too.
The panel was an ode to Captain Uhura of Star Trek fame, played by Nichelle Nichols and the impact she had as a symbol of womanhood and ethnic diversity in the future. But our conversation went beyond Nichol’s iconic status and explored the larger ramifications of race and diversity in the SF genre. Greg noted that robots in science fiction are typically depicted as slaves or a permanent work force for the ruling humans in most sci fi. I noted that aliens typify “otherness.” Whether we’re talking about undocumented workers today who are frequently called illegal aliens or looking at the parallels between people of African descent in North and South America as being akin to the alien metaphor (Transatlantic Slave Trade as Alien Abduction, etc); SF mirrors our society’s preoccupation with negotiating power among those who are stereotyped as “other.” However, Adriane added that the perspectives in SF were typically derived from a white, westernized, cis male viewpoint. She also added that many SF creators just default into their own world hangups and perspectives rather than create new worlds with completely different sociatal views.
However, the most compelling information that we shared was centered around the idea that race is a technology, a creation that falsely divides people around color and imposes power dynamics. Race as a technology is a tenant of Afrofuturism. But our discussion of race as a technology on the panel lead to another poignant question. Is gender a technology as well? I did a talk for the University of New Mexico a few months ago where this issue came up, too and at the time, outside of gender roles, I had not thought about gender as a societal creation. However, on the panel this weekend, Greg, Adrian and I had an opportunity to explore the idea. I noted that while there are physical differences between men and women, the concept of what we describe as masculine and feminine in the metaphysical sense can express differently in each person. The charge, I said was to be authentic to whatever that balance of masculine and feminine was within the individual themselves. Adrian added that many things we now consider to be feminine were once masculine. Lace, stockings, wigs, heels are signs of the aristocrats of Renaissance era Europe. Ancient Egyptian female rulers often wore beards.
In essence, the three of us acknowledged that once you start reevaluating race and gender as cornerstones of our societal structure, the process eradicates the so called norms we associate with our culture and compels us to look at more holistic ways of living in shared communities. – Ytasha L. Womack