Afrofuturist Abolitionists of the Americas
“Prodigy is, at its essence, adaptability and persistent, positive obsession. Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all.”
– EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING by Lauren Oya Olamina (from The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler)
“The foot bone connected to the leg bone,
The leg bone connected to the knee bone,
The knee bone connected to the thigh bone,
The thigh bone connected to the back bone,
The back bone connected to the neck bone,
The neck bone connected to the head bone,
Oh, hear the word of the Lord!”
- from Dry Bones, based on the traditional folk spiritual (by James Weldon Johnson)
“Where we live and work, we must not only escalate discussion and study Groups, we must also organize on the ground level. The landlords must be contested through rent strikes and rather than develop strategies to pay the rent, we should develop strategies to take the buildings. We must not only recognize the squatters movement for what it is, but support and embrace it. Set up communes in abandoned buildings, sell scrap cars and aluminum cans. Turn vacant lots into gardens. When our children grow out of clothes, we should have places where we can take them, clearly marked anarchist clothing exchanges and have no bones about looking for clothing there first. And of course we should relearn how to preserve food; we must learn construction and ways to take back our lives, help each other move and stay in shape.”
- Anarchy Cannot Fight Alone, by Kuwasi Balagoon
[The following notes are taken from an Afrofuturist mythos that some Anarkatas have been using as a way to explore environmental racism and Black radical traditions. The references to Prospero are a nod to A Tempest by Aimé Cesaire. This project is an ongoing development with young children who have been in touch with Anarkata politics through theatre over the last few years. At the end there is a political analysis explaining the basis for this performance project. Included are some instructions on how to ‘Play’ out this mythos with youth, which our readers are encouraged to try out in their life. Our hope is to encourage political education through Afrofuturist aesthetics
To my dear children,
I know it feels like the world is gon’ end. I know it seems like you’re gonna die young, and there’s nothing else for you. I understand it’s almost like everything is falling apart. But I want you to be brave in this moment. You each are heroes. You must be conscious of the power you have.
Prospero is aware that there are more and more of us everywhere fighting against him. He is not trying to stop taking over the forests, rivers, land, mountains, seeking to destroy them so he can suck energy and money from them. The last time we fought him, in Africa, it really inspired alot more freedom fighters to join us. Because Africa has so much natural resources, and Prospero wants them all, he is working hard to stop anyone resisting him. That means he will send armed forces to take away other heroes like yourselves.
The police hate people like you because they work for Prospero and are trying to help men like him. Just like he did before, he is tryna stop us from using our power and saving the planet. So he is using cops to jail our neighbors and families and communities. He is tryna scare us. It is okay to be scared, but don’t let it make you give up.
Prospero is bad, but Prospero will not win. His soldiers are trying their best to kill us, but still more of us are rising up to destroy his properties and take back the resources that Man has stolen. Each new riot has been inspired by your heroic work, and the work of those who came before you. You destroyed his factory this year, and other heroes are breaking up other things Prospero has control of.
The world is not ending. It’s just under attack. But we are fighting back. We have done it before and will keep doing it until at last Prospero and all the other money-hungry, power-grabbing people like him can no longer harm us. I love you, and am thankful for every brave thing you all have done so far. Take care of yourselves.
2020 has been a wild ride in its first half. A pandemic hit, causing industries to shut down, and wiping out thousands, all while folk remain trapped in unsanitary and violent conditions behind bars, people are laid off or forced out of their homes, chased by police for leaving cities where the virus is raging, being tracked down by immigration enforcement even as they seek treatment in the hospital, denied necessary testing and medicines by the healthcare industry while having their bodies pumped with dangerous drugs that aren’t proven to be effective treatments, and whole nations are having sanctions forced onto them that put communities already strained by the grip of imperialism at an added risk.
What the ”coronavirus” has revealed is that there are centuries old weaknesses, violence, and neglect in our government and economic structures that have always put Black houseless folk, working class folk, trans folk, and all marginalized people at increased risk of both disease and repression. Indeed, as the pandemic raged on, our communities got filled with police and were targeted instead of getting the medical and financial help and supplies we needed. In the end, many of us have died, not just from the virus, but from the cops, who took advantage of the economic dislocation forced on us by this pandemic to instigate genocide—because as Audre Lorde had observed way back in 1985, “the advancing technocracy in this country is making a large underprivileged pool of cheap labor increasingly unnecessary.” Simultaneously, neocolonialism on the Motherland and elsewhere tightens a capitalist hold over the earth’s remaining resources that they find profitable, in a desperate attempt to fortify itself against the economic impacts of any other ecological crises (including a virus) by enriching a blood-borne and burgeoning tech industry with more of our Black siblings’ stolen raw materials and labor and lives overseas—to enrich sectors that will not only exclude us but will likely turn to private armed forces or militarized technology to violate us further.
So riots have popped off. Birthed from a unique level of frustration with our oppression, and recognition that our lives haven’t had value and will not even after ‘quarantine’ is lifted—Black politics have quickly become more riotous in character. Tired with centuries of violence, and knowing that our community of unemployed and underemployed ‘essential workers’ will find ourselves increasingly and increasingly jobless and houseless, we the Black masses are organically making sure that we who have been ignored are at last heard. In the midst of all this upheaval, we need to study and build for the survival of our communities, and of our planet. The problems of today are predictable results of a long legacy of colonialism, capitalism, and environmental injustices. The Western mode of production rooted in profit and unchecked growth destabilizes earth systems and societies, which forces pollution and health risks onto our people, who are mistreated as exploitable or disposable non-humans in the continuum of ”progress,” threatening both our lives, lands, as well as the habitats and existence of other species, and unleashing huge risks of disease and death for all lifeforms. COVID19 was just one of many viruses and health impacts we may end up facing as a result of climate crises caused by colonialism/capitalism. And the social/political/economic fallout that have come in its wake—especially the heightened police and military repression as well also the violent self defense being taken up by Black communities—are all indications that this vicious struggle between the “ethnoclass” (as Sylvia Wynter calls it) Man and we victims of European “thingification” (as Aimé Cesaire calls it) has reached a more intense point. There is more to come… But we are not getting wrapped in Apocalyptic antics, falling into conspiracies that blame all of humanity or turning our resistance against other marginalized folk (like folks did in Minneapolis to Iyanna Dior). Instead we affirm the need to scientifically understand the root causes of these problems—policing, poverty, pollution, public health—and imagine ways we can organize ourselves to eradicate them. This is so that we become conscious of the structural causes of all our oppression, and ultimately build toward the safety and health of all our people and our homeworld.
It’s to this end that an Afrofuturist immersive and improvisational performance method is used, almost like ritual, as a political education tool, by some Anarkatas. Noticing that a high level of despondency and defeatism can overcome our people especially the youth, we have made it a practice to invoke and summon alternate visions of Black struggle using speculative art in some of our Kritical Kickbacks. This method also helps to think about global Black liberation beyond the confines of reformist and US-centered perspectives. In this way, we provide ourselves momentary escape from today’s perils while also providing a safe space to ‘rehearse’ strategies of resistance to our oppression.
The model for these theatre experiences is based on childsplay, so that the approach can feel accessible and familiar to people of all ages whether they are training/trained as actors or not. In the same way that children just organically improvise and immerse themselves in the wildest stories, using any and everything nearby them as part of these other worlds, this theatre method is based around that—but conscientiously framed in Afrofuturism, focused on environmental racism, and aimed at creating stories of resistance. Below are some concrete ways to experiment with this method will children (or adults) in your life who you know may be feeling overwhelmed in this moment:
- Need a Facilitator who understands the basic outline of the mythos. “Mythos” refers to the fundamental concepts/themes, relationships, antagonism (conflict) wants, and lore (storyworld and laws) of the Afrofuturistic immersive/improvised narrative. According to the mythos, the Facilitator’s character is a Messenger who represents the earth’s struggles. These Messengers recruit Heroes among humanity to fight on behalf of the earth using superpowers derived from nature. The Messengers are in conflict with Dr. Prospero who owns an energy company that works with other business owners to take natural resources and destroy the environment. Most of the communities impacted by Prospero’s actions are Black or non-white.
- Players – Young folks whose characters , called Heroes (you can change this name), are initiated by the Messenger into the story and struggle. The Players develop their own characters and choose what their super powers are going to be through conversation with the Messenger. The job of the Heroes (or whatever name you pick) is to help find a natural site that is being destroyed by Propsero’s company, and then help the people who live there put a stop to it. Players are free to use or create costumes and other forms of art for their characters and the story world at large. It’s helpful to base narratives around real life sites of environmental justice struggle.
- Use a Question-based facilitation approach. This is inspired by the Freedom School movement. The Facilitator must prioritize trying to raise the consciousness of the Players (and of themselves). This is a collaborative learning approach. Ask the Players what the exact impact of Prospero’s company is on the local community and natural site is. Try to ask questions that draw on an understanding of environmental racism, even if it is basic level. Look for ways to connect it environmental/political struggles the Players may know about in real life (such as the injustice at Flint, Michigan)—even to the point of allowing them space to incorporate these into the story. And always suggest options or ask questions of what the Crew of Heroes could do next, staying in character. Finally, remember to ask the Players to justify or explain the reasoning behind their thinking or choices. For example, in one of our sessions, the Facilitator once asked some Players if the Crew should attack Prospero’s factory by themselves or gather the rest of the nearby community to help them destroy it together. The Facilitator then asked the Players to each explain their opinion. Question-based pedagogy is focused on “problem posing” so that Players are lightly challenged to consider an actual social problem (in the above example, the social problem in question was the idea of if people who arent in a community should make decisions for that community or work with that community) and think through it themselves and together.
- Incorporate engaging with actual video/film or actual science equipment or actual plants/elements of nature (water, rocks, etc) into the play experience. This method is an Afrofuturist approach to Black radical ecology. The opportunity to learn something more about science, technology, and the environment is really important—especially since the stories are about fighting against ecological devastation and environmental racism. Take time to research things, even if briefly, together with the Players, and try to incorporate what you learn into the story itself. For example, in one of our sessions, the Facilitator played a youtube video where the Players got to hear some interviews from people in the Congo whose lands are being occupied by conservation entities. The Players got the opportunity to learn that nature preserves are very colonial institutions. The rest of the story involved the Heroes fighting to help indigenous Congolese locals expose that Prospero’s material interests were actually behind the conservation programs being erected.
- Strive to create a narrative where the characters actually confront and help defeat one of Prospero’s projects in some way. It is important that Black youth have the opportunity to see themselves as creators of stories, and put themselves and their people’s histories and struggles into these stories. But it is doubly important to help youth understand their right and appreciate their capacity to resist domination and do so triumphantly. Most media narratives, especially sci-fi ones exclude us, and the ones which do include us often choose to depoliticize our experiences or depict us in a constant state of defeat. This method is aimed at overcoming all those limitations. It is about speculative art, about escaping to visions of new realities, but also about using that transcendence to actually try and “rehearse revolution.”
- If you are Playing in this world more than once, make sure your stories accumulate knowledge across each adventure. We want to make sure youth understand that history is a process. Every narrative is a continuation of the other. That is why these guidelines and this article build on a mythos and set of ‘Plays’ that have already been developed in community over the course of the last few years. Bridging our distinct versions of this mythos and set of narratives allows us to coalesce and cohere our creative energies and learning experiences into one embodied record of Afrofuturistic experiences. Do reach out to the Afrofuturist Abolitionists of the Americas or AnarkataFuturists of the Americas on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to get advice on Facilitating these playful explorations, or to share news about your adventures with us. We want to hear from you.
Anarchy Cannot Fight Alone (Kuwasi Balagoon)
Towards a Vibrant and Broad-Based African Anarchism (Ashanti Alston)
To What End? The End of the World (Part Five, Anarkata: A Statement)
Racial Capitalocene (Francoise Vergès)
The Future of Science is Black (Cynthia Malone)
Climate Change or Climate Control: Understanding Planetary Conditions Under Man (KD Wilson)
The Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler)
We Must Learn to Use Our Power: On Apartheid, Police Brutality, and Internationalism (Audre Lorde)
Freedom School Curriculum: Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964 (Kathy Emory, Sylvia Brasselman, Linda Gold)
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire)
Theatre of the Oppressed (Augusto Boal)
Black Acting Methods: Critical Approaches (Dr. Sharrell D Luckett and Tia M Schaffer)
A Tempest (Aimé Cesaire)
Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Truth/Power/Freedom (Sylvia Wynter)
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (Ytasha Womack)