What Could Afrofuturism Offer to Environmentalism?: A Guest Post

by prof.Ound


In Afrofuturism 2.0 and the Black Speculative Art Movement: Notes on a Manifesto, Reynaldo Anderson says of the Black Speculative Art Movement that it

“freely embraces the Africanist approach to… other knowledge formations when formulating… theory and practice in relation to material reality.”

This approach is one which integrates speculation with the ecological and scientific, and the spiritual or metaphysical, because it sees them as

“overlapping zones.”

Afrofuturism (or the Black Speculative Arts movement) is a complex tradition in African and African Diasporic artistic and theoretical history. I loosely define it as a constant, critical and creative re-assessment of boundaries in society and thought, with an emphasis on synthesizing tradition and science to re-create possibilities for the future.

I work as an environmental educator in places like the South Bronx that are disproportionately affected by poverty, policing, and pollution.

I use Afrofuturism in the acquisition, production, and spread of environmental knowledge, employing this ‘Africanist approach’ — which combines a constellation of perspectives, with multiple practical and theoretical skills, to address the marginal place of Black and Brown people and thought in environmental spaces . This allows me to most holistically engage the environmental and social issues that affect me and my community.

But, how does that look CONCRETELY?

Last fall I read an essay entitled:

Decolonizing place in early childhood studies: Thinking with

Indigenous onto-epistemologies and Black feminist geographies

(it was co-authored by Fikile Nxumalo and Stacia Cedillo)

This post is too brief to fully tease out all aspects of the essay, but its overall push was suggestions for using Black feminism and Indigenous thought to make environmental education less Euro-centered, less male-centered, and less human-centered.

The authors Nxumalo and Cedillo write:

“educators can draw inspiration from Black speculative fiction in… co-creating with children… environmentally attuned literary representations that situate Black childhood in… ‘nature.’”

Furthermore, they argue that this strategic, co-generative use of Black Speculative Art becomes useful in:

“resist[ing] images of Black children as out-of-place in nature.”

Energized by what I had read from Fikile Nxumalo and Stacia Cedillo, I started to re-visit well-known Afrofuturist medias I had encountered before, but with new eyes. I was ready to start actively deploying them in my environmental work.

So, I started writing down ideas of how I would do so.

Suddenly, the music and mythos of the Detroit duo Drexciya held potential for both education around Trans-Atlantic social and religious history, but also a segue into thinking about pollution of oceans, waterways, etc. that have increased alongside the entrenchment of black struggle under capitalism, the state, and imperial/settler colonialism.

Similarly, the world and imagery in the short film Pumzi by Wanuri Kahiu began to hold potential for thinking about water scarcity, technology, militarism, authority and labor.

Also, if we’re thinking about Syms’ Mundane Afrofuturism, I began to think more about speculating on the (possible) ‘environmentalism’ of everyday Black cultural life and experience (I’m looking all that tupper-ware in my cabinets and them plastic bags full of plastic bags, y’all know what I mean, come on…)

Taking trips through these diverse trails of thought within Black Studies (especially Black radicalism), journeys kick-started by the aesthetic practices of Afrofuturism, and centered on environmental thinking — a certain tripartite experience of learning began to consolidate.

Because of this, I have started to come up with scientific and historical research questions, inspired by my Afrofuturist engagement with scholarship.


Reynaldo Anderson says in Afrofuturism 2.0 & The Black Speculative Art Movement: Notes on a Manifesto:

“Black speculative art is a creative, aesthetic practice that integrates African diasporic or African metaphysics with science or technology and seeks to interpret, engage, design, or alter reality for the re-imagination of the past, the contested present, and as a catalyst for the future.

As the perils and dangers of climate change and environmental death become more apparent to modern human society, Black study and Black resistance must freely embrace ‘coming straight from the underground.’

I mean this figuratively — implying our ‘outsider-ness,’ — by appreciating our autonomous, marginalized traditions: old and new, spiritual and social, philosophical and political. I, however, also mean this literally — implying things like the lithosphere, groundwater, trees, plants, land, air, etc — by appreciating and centering the ‘environment’ from which we and our traditions emerge and with which we and our traditions exist.

This is the only way our radicalism can be robust enough, eradicatory enough, to pull at all the material and discursive roots of the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Androcene, etc.

An abolitionist ecology, then — that has as its animus the scientific+metaphysical synthesis and/or ‘sankofaism’ which is Afrofuturism’s hallmark, thus the almost mycorrhizal ‘Africanist approach’ that Reynaldo Anderson speaks of — is vital, if we are to address ecocide from within the paradox of Black placelessness despite Black importance in the environmental movement.

I’m currently trying to develop a praxis in this vein. I’m eager to meet (black) anarchists/anti-authoritarians who would join me.

Click to read the original piece



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