Dispatches from the Black Future


To celebrate Black History “What About White History Month” Month in the year 2019 of our Lady Beyoncé, Esquire magazine drafted a flaccid profile of the white American male and his harrowing transition from having all of the social, economic and political power to only having most of it. It’s February, the shortest month of the year, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear the words “content of their character” floating somewhere above your head. It’s the time of year when people take those hallowed words completely out of context for hashtags, likes, and retweets and then summarily forgotten come the March thaw. The partial quote, taken in isolation and out of context, can be manipulated to mean many things. Revisionists would have you believe that Dr. King was advocating colorblindness, and it’s easy to dismiss a struggle if you’ve convinced yourself that the struggle does not exist. But don’t worry, I’m not here to give a history lesson.

We know what Black history looks like. It looks like: Rosa Parks refusing to vacate her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Dr. King having a dream, and George Washington Carver inventing peanut butter. But what don’t we see? That Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist from the age of 19, that Dr.King only became a beloved American icon after he was shot dead with a bullet to the face, and George Washington Carver patented 300 peanut-based inventions, but peanut butter wasn’t one of them. Don’t believe me? Good. Read it for yourself. Here, and here, and here. And also, this and that. It’s all public domain. Emancipate yourself.

Photo Credit: Hachette Book Group

But what does the Black future look like?  Author N.K. Jemisin frolics in the possibilities in her short-story collection, How Long Til’ Black Future Month? Named after an essay of the same name, the collection imagines a Black Future close enough to taste and specific enough for me to anticipate. Jemisin launches her collection with “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” a portrait of the fictional city of Um-Helat. A utopia that is “wealthy with no poor, advanced with no war, a beautiful place where all souls know themselves beautiful.” The narrator asks, “And so how does Um-Helat exist? How can such a city possibly survive, let alone thrive?” The answer is, of course, that thinking it makes it so. This story, and the ones that follow, act as a call to action and an affirmation that whatsoever can be imagined can be made a reality. It’s not enough to merely imagine and as the title reminds, this story is addressed to those who stay and fight. Utopia won’t happen on its own, it has to be fought for. And even then, we may not ever achieve total utopia, but I think, and Jemisin posits with this collection that if we fight hard enough and endure long enough, we could get pretty damn close.

For your convenience, I slipped down into the black hole of possibility and fought through negative space and sometimes outer space to bring you glimpses from the AfroFuture, as imagined by N.K. Jemisin:

  1. The future will not be homogenous no matter what mainstream speculative fiction might anticipate. We’re all in the future. And we’re more than slaves, thugs, and drug-addicts.
  2. We will have powerearth-shattering power. I need you to understand me. Our power will literally move the earth.
  3. Black joy will be felt in our fingers and our toes and on the tips of our noses and in the ends of our hair.
  4. Black excellence will save lives.
  5. No matter how high the floodwaters rise, it cannot eradicate us all. God used a flood to wipe clean the earth and promised never to do it again.
  6. Utopia may not be feasible, but imagining it will take us half way there.
  7. The future is gay. But you know that already.
  8. Revolution.
  9. “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, it makes a sound if God wills.”
  10. In the Black Present, Freedom is still elusive, frustratingly slippery. In the Black Future, we can touch it.
  11. The history books will show how we overcome. It will be written.
  12. There is liberation in intellectual imagination.
  13. Home.

So how long do we have to wait for Black Future month? I say, not a moment more.

To your Black Future and mine.