Archive Essay


Ramon Amaro


This short-form essay by writer, researcher, and academic Ramon Amaro draws from multiple conceptions and realizations of Afrofuturism—in practice by the science fiction authors Octavia E. Butler and Samuel R. Delany, the musicians George Clinton and Sun Ra, the filmmakers Marlon Riggs and John Akomfrah, and in theory by theorists Alondra Nelson, Kodwo Eshun, and many others. It’s a quote from Delany in particular that Amaro points to in order to remind the reader that the “forceful and distinguishing aspects” of science fiction itself lie in its marginal nature. Amaro shows how, from this position in the margins, Afrofuturism might—or continue to—disrupt history’s role in preempting the future by celebrating the awkwardness and disjointedness of culture. As a speculative tool for questioning how the black body is conceptualized in relation to ecologies of culture, Afrofuturism offers a “simulated new beginning based on a mythical past of greatness.” Dwelling in the uncertainty and improbability of whether technology could offer a form of liberation for black bodies, Amaro insists upon the idea that black culture and life is about imagining the impossible, as Nelson puts it, “imagining a better place, a different world.”




The preservation of black life is articulated in and with the violence of innovation.
Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, 2013[1]


In his 1994 essay “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel Delaney, Greg Tate and Tricia Rose,” author and cultural critic Mark Dery describes the black body as inhabiting a perverse space of cultural intolerance; or in a very real sense, occupying a place in history where the body of the African diaspora is more reminiscent of the strangeness of alien abduction, rather than signification of a self-determinant people.[2]

According to Dery, subjugation of the black body is situated at the techno-scientific, where the subject is articulated as real only in as much as it develops in contact with the most (dis)functional modes of technological progress: today in terms of the tip of a police bullet, the subject of the body cam or racial profiling, the efficiency of redlined pricing, and other technologies that disproportionately reduce the maneuverability of black people. For technology has been, and remains today, an insufficient means of liberation for the black body.

Yet interestingly, since the projects of the Enlightenment and the technological dystopia called modernity, the technical has also functioned as the black body’s precise mode of collective departure. Technological speculation, as a techniques of relation borrowing from philosopher Brian Massumi, offers the black body a method by which the alienness of terrestrial belonging is rescripted, recoded, and reorganized into alternative narratives of being and becoming. Dery calls this convergence Afrofuturism, which makes use of the sublegitimacy of science fiction to form new entry points into self-representation within black diasporic experience.[4]

Although generally positioned within African-American literary, sonic, and film culture, Afrofuturism, like science fiction, extends to global social platforms, video, gaming, cosplay, graphic arts, and other digital and geek ecologies. Afrofuturism can also be said to extend into the levels of sensation. According to cultural critic Greg Tate, “science fiction eschews the psychological dimension in terms of character portrayal for an all-encompassing look at the impact of the various institutions that govern behavior and the transmission of knowledge.”[5]

Dery is considered the first to use the term Afrofuturism. However it is not a new concept, rather a generative and heuristic movement of black speculative performance that solicits a do-it-yourself perspective to subjective experience.[6] This is seen most readily in the Black fiction works of writers Mark Sinker, Richard Wright, Amiri Baraka, and earlier contributions by Octavia E. Butler, Samuel R. Delany, not to mention musician Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place (1975), musician George Clinton and his bands Parliament and Funkadelic, DJ and producer Afrika Bambaataa, and all of the margins of black performance in between.

These cultural endowments are not to overshadow present technocultural experiments in sonic, art, and literary culture by author Ingrid Lafleur, singer Janelle Monáe, online Afrofuturist communities founded by academics Alondra Nelson and Art McGee, artists Juliana Huxtable, Rasheedah Phillips, Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, performer M Lamar, or the late dubstep artist The Spaceape.

Afrofuturism operates at the intersections of history, speculation, and performance—within modes of potential—to develop a methodological immediacy that combines the speculative sufficiency of fantasy, fiction, performance, and other technocultural reflections with historical modes of sufferings and displacements. The purpose is to imagine new relational frameworks. In a way, Afrofuturists seek to understand where the black body ends and representation begins, and how the imposition of historical circumstance emerges as a politics of present and future collective belonging.

Afrofuturism, however, is foremost a humanist agenda, most specifically in accord with Futurism movements of the twentieth century. Since Italian artist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote his 1909 essay “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism,” in which he called for a new aesthetic relationship with an industrializing world, the allure of an egalitarian future has become an enticing project of a placeless, raceless, bodiless people. What is of particular interest in Afrofuturism is its draw upon futurity’s Zionist promise—in convergence with Pan-African and Afrocentrism—to reconceptualize alternative self-representations. Central here is a symbiotic cohesion between the self-directed transformation of the individual and the connective properties of black consciousness. Writer and critic Greg Tate reminds us that knowing yourself as a black person in the complexities of historical, spiritual, and cultural situatedness “is not something that’s given to you institutionally; it’s an arduous journey that must be undertaken by the individual”[7]; even as the black body calls upon a collective cultural memory to capture new beginnings.[8]

This calls into question how the black body is conceptualized in relation to ecologies of culture, and how the body gains a connection to self-determining outcomes. Afrofuturism thus draws upon this tension in extending Afrocentrism toward a simulated new beginning based on a mythical past of greatness. Technology then emerges at multiple sides of the obelisk—one in a historical relationship with the subjection of a peoples and another in concert with their deliverance through self-discovery.

The aesthetic, however, does not seek to change history per se, but to establish a future where people of African descent are central to their own stories. Black identity, as such, is an abstraction, a language that has neither incorporeal form nor transcendental grounding. Blackness is conceptualized and continually reconstructed in the process of doing, being black, always in relation but not dependent on the fictions of race or racism. Even so, black identity is often represented as existing within two states: a historical enunciation represented by spatio-temporal positionings among other racialized assemblages; and aesthetic markers, like Afrofuturism that serve as new potentialities of subjective understanding.

It is here, at the junction of encounter and context, that philosopher Félix Guattari views the racialized group as assigning meaning. This meaning is a force that “[constitutes] the seeds of the production of subjectivity,” as “we are not in the presence of a passively representative image, but a vector of subjectivation.”[9] It is through the meaning of blackness that the black, brown, and other subjected individual creates a cohesion of (mis)representation, expounded by aesthetic markers, dynamic vibrations, and a cultural kineticism often expressed as a sense of belonging.

Nonetheless, Afrofuturism’s fragility comes from liberation-based ideologies found in black identity politics. Here, a commitment to the idea of race and ethnic-based centrality is thought essential to techniques of survival.[10] Racial identity then becomes a source of security, as a body politics nonetheless, that implies the stability of black identity in denial of race as an ever-shifting technological articulation of wider ecological relations. Critics also argue that Afrocentric logics are vulnerable to cultural normativities that extend beyond the representational and symbolic. Marlon Riggs, Michelle Wallace, Angela Davis, and bell hooks have already illustrated the dangers of composing a blackness in which queerness, gender openness, trans lives, and other non-linear alignments are foreclosed in efforts to maintain the rigidities of self-referentiality.[11] Then, it must be asked: if Sun Ra had succeeded in taking us to Jupiter or his self-proclaimed home planet of Saturn, or if George Clinton and Parliament had been taken up on their invitation to ride the mother ship, which ones of us would be left behind?

Central to this question are reflections on the role of history in preempting the future, and the lens through which potential futures are performed and assessed. Afrofuturism offers a breach in the technique of relation to celebrate the awkwardness and disjointedness of culture, or as P. Olisanwuche Esedebe argues of black centralities,[12] the mythical narrative is enough to place a peoples’ history into celebrations of future possibilities. Esedebe has validity despite relying on what Gilroy calls an ethnic absolutism to reimagine black identity.[13] Just as Afrofuturism risks being reduced to a reflection of the existing world, reflection is precisely what moves Afrofuturism into the contingencies of other-worldness that allow for the ethereal to articulate itself in both seas of darkness and the brightness of the Sun. Still, perhaps neither dichotomy is adequate, as the nuances that comprise collective belonging are captured no more neatly into ideas of blackness than they are sufficient descriptions of Afrofuturism—even if the resilience of black culture and black life is about “imagining the impossible, imagining a better place, a different world.”[14] After all, each Afrofuturist expression is collective only in as much as it can’t be represented.

Science fiction writer Samuel R Delany reminds us that:

one of the most forceful and distinguishing aspects of science fiction is that it’s marginal. It’s always at its most honest and most effective when it operates—and claims to be operating—from the margins . . . I don’t want to see it operate from anyone’s center: black nationalism’s, feminism’s, gay rights’, pro-technology movements’, ecology movements’, or any other center.[15]

According to filmmaker and author Ytasha Womack, Afrofuturism is an apparatus by which a nonlinear and fluid imaginary emerges.[16] But how does one remain at the margins without recapturing new, equally volatile forms of representation? All this considered, Afrofuturism might be best illustrated by the impossibility of blackness, the impossibility of being black, an impossible engagement with the self and other, or as Sun Ra explains: “something that’s so impossible . . . it cant possibly be true”[17]—a heterotopia in the Foucauldian sense, or a black resistance as a way of living already present and still yet to exist.



The original publication of this essay appears in Posthuman Glossary, Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova, eds. (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), and is republished here with permission of the author. A follow-up title More Posthuman Glossary, Rosi Braidotti, Emily Jones, and Goda Klumbyte, eds. (London: Bloomsbury, 2022) is available now.



[1] Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Wivenhoe, New York, Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013), p. 18.

[2] Mark Dery, “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel Delaney, Greg Tate and Tricia Rose,” in Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, ed. Mark Dery (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994).

[3] See for example John Akomfrah’s film The Last Angel of History (1996).

[4]See Alondra Nelson, “Afrofuturism: Past-Future Visions,” Color Lines 3, no. 1 (2000), pp. 34–37; and Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (London: Quartet Books, 1999).

[5] Cited in Dery, “Black to the Future,” p. 211.

[6] Eshun, More Brilliant Than The Sun.

[7] Cited in Dery, “Black to the Future,” p. 211.

[8] Kevin L. Walker , “Black People Willing Themselves into the Future: The Growing Popularity of Afrofuturism,” Afro Bohemian Snob (January, 2005).

[9] Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995) pp. 29−30.

[10] See Anthony Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets (New York: Routledge, 2003); Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); and Cornel West, “Black Culture and Postmodernism,” in Remaking History, Barbara Kruger and Phil Mariani, eds. (Seattle: Bay Press, 1989), pp. 87–96.

[11] See Marlon Riggs, Black Is… Black Ain’t (1994).

[12] P. Olisanwuche Esedebe, Pan-Africanism: The Idea and the Movement, 1776–1991 (Washington DC: Howard University Press, 1994).

[13] Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack (London : Routledge, 1987).

[14] Interview with Alondra Nelson, Afrofuturism, Soho Repertory Theater, 30 November 2010,

[15] Cited in Dery, “Black to the Future,” p. 189.

[16] Ytasha Womack, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013).

[17] Cited in John Corbett, Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein (Durham, NC : Duke University Press, 1994), p. 311.




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