February, 1, 2020
For some time New Black Nationalists believed that our broader nationalists movement lacked a consensus theory of Black culture.
Last October, we resolved to develop a baseline draft of a new cultural model. In creating a reference point that unites Black Nationalists around an ensemble of beliefs that define Black culture, Afrofuturism has emerged as a vital component of our evolving “Cultural Enlargement Theory.”
Consonant with our interests to incorporate aspects of Afrofuturism into our matrix, in January we dedicated a new webpage on Black-Nationalism.com to Afrofuturism. The webpage links our readers to articles, Afrofuturist websites, and information regarding various schools of thought within this diverse movement.
Afrofuturism has made landfall and torched its ships in the harbor. Its march inland is invading new spaces beyond music, literature, film, and art. As a mode of speculative thought, Afrofuturism—particularly its 2.0 version—is expanding its writ to metaphysics, engineering, astronomy, psychology, and concepts of time and space. In a word, it's overturning Western conventions.
We believe the convergence of nation-state oriented Black Nationalism and Afrofuturism potentially represents one of the most exciting collaborations of cultural and intellectual assets assembled in the Black experience.
Our optimism resides in the verities that New Black Nationalists (NBN) and Afrofuturists (AF2) hold remarkably similar views across a gradient of ideological, historical, and cultural issues.
This writing identifies where our two trends overlap and intersect. It explores how forging significant attachments with Afrofuturist artists, creatives, and intellectuals can construct a theoretical bridge from our African ancestral past to the frontiers of Black life in an increasingly intense world.
To facilitate this overlay, an overview of our Cultural Enlargement Theory (CET) is presented here. Following the overview, we outline those areas of shared beliefs we have with Afrofuturism 2.0.
This paper--which will be followed by future exchanges with AF2.0—concludes with comments regarding the differences in ideological outlook between our strain of Nation-State Black Nationalism and Afrofuturism 2.0’s identification as Pan Africanist.
Having said that, NSBN and AF2.0 are more than kindred spirits; we share a symbiotic relationship that is uniquely endowed in history. Both intellectual insurgencies were conceived in the turbulent soil of the 1850’s, when America’s settler state tottered on the precipice of civil war.
The specter of four million Black slaves being liberated during an existential military conflict prompted visionaries like Martin Delaney to articulate the first Black nation-building doctrine in “The Conditions, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States” in 1852. Seven years later he authored the futuristic novel, “Blake.”
The account of a stealth insurrectionist plotting a national slave revolt in Cuba and the South, helped establish a tradition that foreshadowed the power of speculative fiction in the Black cultural milieu. Revered as “The Father of Black Nationalism,” Delaney embodied a radical synthesis of Black Nationalism and Afrofuturism.
We are the ideological and political descendants of Delaney. One-hundred and seventy years after Blake’s publication, it’s no coincidence that alternative Black Nationalists and Afrofuturists are positioned to enter a dynamic union in the 2020s—a decade in which the gathering confluence of events could witness American Empire spiraling into an existential crisis.
Our trends have evolved and developed traditions that are organically embedded in the Black experience. New Black Nationalists and AF2.0 also share the view that we are the authors and designers of our own futurist notions of Black cultural, physical, and celestial spaces.
Those visions are not the apocalyptic narratives spun by American Empire’s mercenary futurologists. Their depictions of legions of undereducated and unemployed Blacks displaced by artificial intelligence, roaming urban deserts ravaged by epidemics, crime, contaminated air, water, and food supplies are the dystopian fantasies the ruling class digerati.
Afrofuturism conjures a vastly different world which can be defined in many ways. Ytasha Womack put it this way.
"Afrofuturism is the intersection between black culture, technology, liberation and the imagination, with some mysticism thrown in, too, that can be expressed through film, art, literature or music. Afrofuturism inverts reality and reimagines the Black experience.”
That’s not just hype. Afrofuturism is emerging as the coin of the science fiction realm. It’s sexy. It’s got swag. It’s forward leaning. Consider for a moment the heat generated by Black Panther. Irrespective of the controversies surrounding the plot and messaging of the Marvel Comics adaptation, it was the third highest grossing film in U.S. history. Black Panther established Afrofuturism’s power as a phenomenon in popular culture.
Attentive Black Nationalists and Afrofuturists didn’t need Black Panther to validate AF2.0's relevance and importance as a potent force in Black culture. Since Black-Nationalism.com’s inception in January 2018, Afrofuturism and AfroPunk have been consistently featured as significant alternative Black cultural movements.
More to the point, Black Panther validated the breath and enormity of the nationalist impulse that burst forth around visions of a “Wakandan” Black planet/state. This is not just about box office receipts. Movie goers dressed out in ethnic garb. Discussion groups, Black Panther parties, and special screenings abound. Black Panther was a cultural event with definitive nationalist implications.
Ytasha Womack touched on those nationalist implications of Afrofuturism when she concluded the following:
"Afrofuturism is not about black folks escaping their contemporary situations but imagining beyond the systems of oppression in which they are currently bound. This movement recognizes that all black folks have is the future and, as such, frames black people as conceptual architects capable of designing new blueprints for our activism based upon the world we want to create."
Moving into the 2020s, Black Nationalists calling for the establishment of a sovereign republic in the Black Belt South and independent Black majority-led city-states, are also designing blueprints and reassembling their forces.
Black Nationalists associated with the Republic of New Afrika in the 60s, and their successors in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement captured the mayor's office and initiated the Cooperation Jackson movement in Mississippi’s capital city in 2014. With an eighty percent Black population, Cooperation Jackson’s democratic Worker’s Assemblies debated and adopted a plan for the city’s development.
Jackson’s Workers Assemblies established a community land trust that purchased properties in Black neighborhoods to roll back gentrification, opened coop grocery stores linked to Black Freedom Farm coops, launched a “Green Workers” self-managed coop, called for Jackson’s homes to be retrofitted with solar panels, and began planning for business start-ups in 3-D print factories and digital fabrication labs.
Cooperation Jackson fused cooperative institutional models with Accelerationism economic theory. Jackson’s variant of “Left-Wing” Accelerationism advocates deliberately speeding up technological development to in essence bypass some developmental aspect of Mississippi's limited capitalist-based economy.
By repurposing, expediting, and scaling up high-end technology deployments, Jackson's Black Nationalists are attempting to rapidly transform Jackson’s underdeveloped service job economy to a hi-tech economy focused on energy efficiency, recycling, green jobs, food security and affordable housing that meets its workers’ needs.
Black Nationalists are upgrading their theoretical software, reassessing the international situation, the state of American Empire, and the profound changes that have occurred within the Darker Nation. At the same time, others are developing real-time models to transition to a Black nation-state.
Crafting a theory of Black culture is an indispensable part of the preparation to seize revolutionary opportunities in the future. In as much as we've been operating in an environment marked by intensified White Nationalism and race-based cultural warfare launched by "The Apprentice Oligarch" Trump, reaching a consensus theory on Black culture has become an urgent task.
Overview of Cultural Enlargement Theory
The following excerpts outline the central themes of our Cultural Enlargement Theory. The extracts are taken from articles published in conjunction with Black-Nationalism.com’s Black Culture Project Series.
"Cultural Enlargement Theory" holds that an authentic Black culture exists in America’s settler state. It was forged concurrent with the melding of divergent enslaved African ethnicities into a majority population center on a common territory in the South in the 1800's. This process of melding was imbued with a common lingua franca, institutions, and economic life manifested in like folk traditions.”
“Cultural Enlargement Theory" validates and expands traditional Black cultural practices such as ancestral worship, griot, oral history, music, visual arts, literature, religion, and enrooted medicinal practices.
Despite the efforts of America’s ruling elite to erase, interrupt, and distort our cultural continuum, our customs have been passed from generation to generation. Thus, the foundations of our organic traditions have been established and are self-perpetuating."
"Absorbed, repeated, and refined across the centuries, our collective responses and attitudes, have become increasingly instinctual and inbred. Consequently, as our culture has matured, we’ve become a more inner-directed people infused with a collective sense of destiny."
“Like the development of our nation, Black people and our culture vibrate to a distinct rhythm in the cosmos and its creation has unfolded through a unique process. As such, Black culture is a spiritual reality whose impulses inform our national reality. Our culture and the Black Nation constitute a totality whose essence cannot be comprehended in purely Western rationalist terms.”
“In sum, we are a historically constituted people possessing a unique organic culture, notwithstanding the fact that Black culture it is a significantly hybrid and creolized culture.
We do not consider ourselves as being Americans as a national polity. We reject much of Western culture and philosophy as alien to our being. We reject all assertions that Black culture is a sub-culture of American culture, and all claims that a distinct Black culture does not exist.”
“New Black Nationalist do not deny our African heritage, we embrace it. But the center of our being, the essence of our experience is not an African one.
Thus, we are not Pan-Africanists or Afrocentrists, who espouse various and sundry strands of African-centered ideology. We regard these trends as diasporic Black race-Identitarians or Black Atlanticists, with whom we share a special relationship as members of the African diaspora.”
Black culture compared to many cultures is an exceedingly young culture. As the Black nation is an oppressed nation formed within America’s Imperial Empire, our culture cannot be regarded as fully formed. Nevertheless, Black culture has impacted global culture as few cultures have. It is only with the creation of an independent Black nation-state that our culture will fully flower."
“As Black culture defines our national existence, its recovery, revitalization, and reconstruction lie at the heart of our Black Nationalist project.”
Afrofuturism 2.0 and Nation-State Black Nationalism
New Black Nationalists share similar views with Afrofuturists on a menu of cultural and ideological issues. We’ll briefly touch on some of those areas of agreement and offer initial observations regarding our differences with AF2.0 on matters of Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism.
On Afrofuturism and Women
For alternative Black Nationalists, the most important social transformation that’s occurred over the past quarter-century is the Black feminist movement’s rise that catapulted Black women into leadership positions at every level of community, civic, and political life.
Radical Black women and feminists have been the driving intellectual force in Black literature. Intersectionality Theory was at the center of the feminists-led Black Lives Matter movement, and is battering down the walls of academia and Women’s Studies Departments. The feminization of the Black Liberation movement has dramatically transformed our communities’ views on sexuality, gender orientation, womens, and LGTBQ rights.
The sexist and patriarchal domination Black women were subjected to during the 60s Black Power era, constituted a serious setback for our liberation movement. Its effects can still be felt today. Black Nationalists are committed to the full empowerment and incorporation of Black women in the estate of our revolutionary movements to shape our collective destiny.
For that reason, we’re excited and confident that Afrofuturists will continue to uphold the unfettered participation and leadership of Black women and LGTBQ activists in their enterprise. As an Afrofuturist once famously said,
“What really sets Afrofuturism apart from the rest of the speculative fiction world is its astute attention to the representation of women —particularly Black women— throughout the ages."
Similarly, author Linda Addawoo observed that “Whether we're bald-headed, spear-wielding female warriors or magical witches from the bayou, some of the most complex representations of Black women have come in the form of witches, Voodoo priestesses and freedom fighters. And with each iteration of Black women in Afrofuturist settings, there's one thing they and their abilities all share in common: a profound, intrinsic tie to culture.”
We couldn’t agree more. Beyond the works of the legends like Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde and Olivia Butler, the succeeding generation of artists and intellectuals like Nnedi Okorafora, Ytasha Womack, Alondra Nelson, Sheree Thomas, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Nalo Hopkinson, Janelle Monae, and other illuminating lights ensure Afrofuturism will be a powerful cultural vessel giving women agency.
Perhaps that sense of agency Afrofuturism bestows on Black women, was most strikingly expressing in this passage by Ytasha Womack when she said:
“Mainstream feminism could benefit from the sense of balance that Afrofuturism has around expression. Afrofuturism is very nonconformist and sometimes I feel as if
mainstream feminism wants women to express their liberation in very specific ways to counter damaging narratives created by men. Afrofuturism doesn’t create in opposition to anything. As a result, women Afrofuturists are free to do what they want and how that shows up is uniquely individual ... Self-expression in Afrofuturism isn’t about making a statement, it’s about being.
Afrofuturists Uphold the Body of Black Culture
As nation-state Black Nationalists we defend the entire body of Black history and culture. We do not subscribe to the adage that “Nations are based as much on what the people jointly forget as what they remember.” We reject, root and branch, all attempts to erase any part of our past—positive and negative.
In this regard we have a quarrel with Pan Africanists and Afrocentrists like the US Organization led by Maulana Karenga, who asserted Blacks in America’s settler state have no culture. Other Pan Africanists insisted our culture is African culture. Whether by default or design, they engaged in a form of Black cultural erasure.
“The reason the black man is such a weak-minded person, why he is so easily led by the white man is because he has no standards, no culture,” said Karenga."
Molefe Asante’s insult was more subtle, “Until African Americans are thought of in terms of African history, it will be impossible to write a coherent sociology or psychology of the African American experience.”
If Afrocentrists want to create fake African holidays like Kwanza—as Kerenga admittedly did-- and argue with white academics that Socrates was Egyptian and not Greek, they are free to do so. But don’t do it on our dime, by insisting for 350 years in North America, Blacks had no culture until they got “woke” in the Sixties.
Alternative Black Nationalists are animated that Afrofuturists are excavating our past treasures, going back to the Middle Passage and beyond. In Renaldo Anderson’s definitive work, Afrofuturism 2.0., he stated the following:
"Afrofuturism 2.0 and the Black Speculative Arts Movement are indebted to previous movements like BAM (Black Arts Movement), Negritude, The Harlem Renaissance, and other continental and diasporic African speculative movements."
It is only by preserving and understanding the connective tissue between each succeeding generation that Black culture develops its continuity, traditions, customs, myths, art, and language that establishes the organic nature of its culture.
Like Afrofuturists, alternative and Nation-State Black Nationalist don't shrink from our past. We own all of it. As Renaldo Anderson concluded:
"What is compelling about Afrofuturism is that it is historical in its gesture back to previous debates about social responsibility, radical politics, and black artistic production that surged during the Black Arts Movement or BAM of the 60s and 70s. But it rearticulates these debates and expands our understandings of blackness’s multi-dimensionality, the good and the bad, the respectable and the undesirable."
Afrofuturism 2.0’s Approach to “Movement Building”
Alternative Black Nationalists congratulate Afrofuturists for their tremendous success in building a visionary, strong, inclusive, democratic, and diverse movement.
Its the reason Afrofuturism has succeeded and grown over the past 20 years, whereas the Black Lives Matters’ experience in "movement building" faltered badly. And while we uphold the ten-year Black Arts Movement (BAM) as the most consequential cultural movement ever to occur in the Western Hemisphere, BAM thrived despite the fact that its movement never had an organizing center.
BAM overcame the lack of a political center because it was supported by unusually strong, largely self-sufficient local coalitions across the country. These coalitions consisted of cultural and political activists from the 40s and 50s, former Black left socialists and Communist Party USA veterans, Nation of Islam members, radical civil rights activists, and awakening 60s college youth.
As movements, Nation-State Black Nationalism and Afrofuturism 2.0 don’t have rigid hierarchal and centralized leadership structures, nor should they. Because movements typically unite broader numbers of the masses around big demands like ending a war or combating global warming, some have wrongly concluded these efforts don’t require high level political leadership like hierarchal organizations.
In our view, that thinking is upside down. As we pointed out in our article, The Demise of Black Lives Matter, the leadership’s view of decentralization was literally, “let the local chapters fend for themselves.”
Managing constellations of individuals and groups that employ a variety of tactics, strategies, and political approaches to achieve a common objective requires more political skills, not less. Neither can any movement’s leadership be satisfied with holding their diverse coalitions together by insisting they unify around the lowest common denominator. They must push the movement forward, raise its understanding, train and support local leaders, and facilitate democratic debate and discussion.
The following passage from the Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) provides a clear and principled assessment of the movement’s goals, basis of unity, and respect for diverse thinking.
"BSAM is not a unified school of thought. BSAM is a loose umbrella term which represents different positions or basis of inquiry: Afrofuturism 2.0 (and several Africanist manifestations,
"Black Quantum Futurism, African Futurism, Afrofuturismo, and Afrofuturista), Astro Blackness, Afro-Surrealism, Afro-Pessimism, Ethno Gothic, Black Digital Humanities, Black (Afro-future female or African centered) Science Fiction, The Black Fantastic, Magical Realism, and The Esoteric. Although these positions may be incompatible in some instances, they overlap around the term speculative and design, and interact around the nexus of technology and ethics.
BSAM openly acknowledges there is a Black Aesthetic —that heretical term of art from the sixty’s Black Arts movement."
Afrofuturists have built their movement by addressing these critical tasks. Indeed, AF2.0 emerged out of the tech revolution’s shift from the static internet point and click for information era, to the transformational age of interactive social media like Facebook, Twitter and Google.
The techno-shift also changed the Afrofuturists debate. From combatting the narrative that the Digital Divide would create a technology gap Blacks might not overcome, Afrofuturists began to envision how integrating new visual, design, social media, and digital tools with science and culture could produce alternative notions of Black life. They understood that the shift would open up a new universe of opportunities.
Afrofuturism 2.0’s willingness to defy western aesthetics and challenge prevailing orthodoxies led to the launch of the Black Speculative Arts Movement and a new theory of AstroBlackness. This is the way dynamic movements should function.
On Black Identity & Matters of Pan Africanism
In addition to AF2.0's shift to explore new possibilities at the intersection of science, technology and race, there was another major change. Reynaldo Anderson wrote that:
"Afrofuturism 2.0 is the early 21st century techno-genesis of Black Identity reflecting counter histories, hacking, and or appropriating network software, database logic, cultural analytics, deep re-mixability, neurosciences, enhancement and augmentation, gender, fluidity, posthuman possibility, the speculative sphere, with transdisciplinary applications, and has grown into an important diasporic Pan-African movement. It is characterized by five dimensions that include: Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Theoretical and Applied Science, Social Science, and Programmatic Space."
Anderson’s statement signals that the way emerging technologies (especially social media) and Black humanity are co-evolving has created the necessity and opportunity for Afrofuturism 2.0 to make a conceptual leap on two fronts. First, AF2.0 is reimagining or re-casting Black identity impacted by techno-genesis. Second, extensive use of multiple technology tools, their various applications, and the subject areas they’ve intersected with, has positioned Blacks as indispensable actors in a new diasporic Pan Africanist technocultural movement.
As Nation-State Black Nationalists, we’ve clearly stated we’re not Pan Africanists or Afrocentrists ideologically or culturally speaking. But neither are we dogmatic and so transfixed on labels that we ignore content and context. As we understand Reynaldo Anderson’s analysis, Black identity is being relocated within a technocultural movement whose train has already left the station in the Caribbean, and among Blacks in Europe and Africa.
We have no problem with Afrofuturists 2.0 self-identifying as Pan-Africanist. Why? Because they have shown no inclination to deny or minimize the existence and particularism of Black culture in America’s settler state. To do so would constitute a difficult pivot considering AF2.0 is rooted in the works of Afrofuturist trailblazers W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Alondra Nelson, Sun Ra, Octavia Butler, George Schuyler, Renee Cox, and others.
Afrofuturism 2.0’s leap to Pan-Africanism reflects the reality that futurist speculative thought has been surging in Africa and the rest of the diaspora. Moreover, likeminded African and diaspora intellectuals and artists have been networking and influencing Afrofuturists ideas through social media platforms and active collaborations.
As was mentioned in our summary of “Cultural Enlargement Theory,” Black culture is a young culture, born out of slavery and developed as the culture of an oppressed nation. In large measure, its incompleteness is the product of the disruption and erasure caused by the Middle Passage experience of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Africa holds the key to recovering some of the missing aspects of our ancestors’ culture and belief systems that differ vastly from Western civilization. Therefore, interests in African spiritualism, animism, metaphysics, and concepts of time hold the potential to backfill critical vacant spaces in our cultural template.
As a related matter, a formidable body of intellectual products written by Caribbean, British, Black, and African scholars have emerged from the school of thought we call Black Atlanticism. Inspired by the scholarship of Britain’s Paul Gilroy, these historical and cultural works focus on hybrid and creolized composites of Black identity that grew out of the Atlantic slave trade, between these four geographic zones.
In his book Black Atlantic, Gilroy’ observes that:
“Essentialist and anti-essentialist theories of black identity has become unhelpful. Regardless of their affiliation to the right, left, or center, groups have fallen back on cultural nationalism.
Different nationalist paradigms for thinking about cultural history fail when confronted by the intercultural and transnational formation that I call the black Atlantic.” Against this choice stands another, more difficult option: the theorization of creolization, metissage, mestizaje, and hybridity. From the viewpoint of ethnic absolutism, this would be a litany of pollution and impurity."
Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic is a formidable reading of Pan Africanism, albeit a softer and more intellectually subtle one. It narrates a cautionary if not condescending tale of Black Nationalism, that through no fault of its own, is too limited a construct to comprehend the complexities of diasporic Black Atlanticists culture and “Blackness” itself.
Within the domain of the ongoing Blackness debate, which over the years has included Black, Black Authenticity, Post-Blackness, and Black Post-Blackness, Afrofuturism 2.0 has developed the concept of “Astro-Blackness.”
On Reynaldo Anderson’s Black Speculative Arts Movement website (bsam-art.com) Astro-Blackness is defined as follows:
“Astro-Blackness is an Afrofuturistic concept in which a person’s black state of consciousness, released from the confining and crippling slave or colonial mentality, becomes aware of the multitude and varied possibilities and probabilities within the universe.
The notion of Astro-Blackness suggests a shift from the modern era or nation-state bound analog notion of blackness transitioning through a digitized era toward and in tension with post-digital perspectives as a global response to the planetary and near planetary challenges facing black life in the early twenty-first century.”
Anderson’s statement suggests that Blackness and its nation-state ideal, like analog phone lines are relics of the past as we transition to the post-digital age. Similar to Paul Gilroy’s contention, Black Nationalism has been summoned to the dock, examined, and found wanting. Black Nationalism's intellectual prowess, depth, and adaptability are being called into question.
It is also noteworthy that Afrofuturism has encountered legitimate pushback. Award winning author Nnedi Okorafor's rejection of Afrofuturism as an African phenomenon is highly instructive and in many respects, mirrors our view as Black Nationalists. In a recent interview Ms. Okorafor spoke about the difference between Africanfuturism and Afrofuturism.
"I am an Africanfuturist and an Africanjujuist. Africanfuturism is a sub-category of science fiction. Africanjujuism is a subcategory of fantasy that respectfully acknowledges the seamless blend of true existing African spiritualities and cosmologies with the imaginative.
Africanfuturism is similar to “Afrofuturism” in the way that blacks on the continent and in the Black Diaspora are all connected by blood, spirit, history and future. The difference is that Africanfuturism is specifically and more directly rooted in African culture, history, mythology and point-of-view as it then branches into the Black Diaspora, and it does not privilege or center the West.
Africanfuturism is concerned with visions of the future, is interested in technology, leaves the earth, skews optimistic, is centered on and predominantly written by people of African descent (black people) and it is rooted first and foremost in Africa. It's less concerned with "what could have been" and more concerned with "what is and can/will be".
Africanfuturism does not HAVE to extend beyond the continent of Africa, though often it does. Its default is non-western; its default/center is African. This is distinctly different from “Afrofuturism” (The word itself was coined by Mark Dery and his definition positioned African American themes and concerns at the definition's center. Note that in this case, I am defining “African Americans” as those who are direct descendants of the stolen and enslaved Africans of the transatlantic slave trade).
Like Nnedi Okorafor, our kinship with Afrofuturism is strong, but on certain issues we have differing views. That's fine. What we share in common is far more profound.
Black Nationalists are Blackfuturists journeying from the nationalist ideal to a nation-state. Intimately linked to Africa by ancestry and spirit, we flow in the bloodstream of the Pan African diaspora, but our organic culture is rooted in the Black experience within America’s settler state.
Our Blackfuturist perspective contemplates the transition from the present real to the imagined future, based on a consensus of our foundational past. Afrofuturism registers with us, as it navigates the past, present and future simultaneously. It transforms science fiction into a legitimate zone for experiments to rethink and reimagine social, environmental and technological challenges.
Afrofuturism as Black speculative thought and expression initially percolated around literature, music, canvas, and film. It has since taken on the garments of philosophy, science, and critical theory.
Now a growing cultural movement in the popular vernacular, AF2.0 also stands on the cusp of articulating a complete cultural system.
As Black-Nationalism.com’s core task is to help develop new intellectual products and theoretical tools to build the Black Nationalists movement, we look forward to working with Afrofuturists in the exciting days and weeks ahead.