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Black Futures: Innovation & Generation


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Introduction

*Generation with dual meanings of ‘creation’ and ‘descendancy/legacy’.

In our quest to understand our place in the world and how to best use our talents, we have found ourselves repeatedly and radically inspired by the potential the African Diaspora has in shaping our world’s advancement. Black people have a long and robust history of using creativity and experimentation as a means of resistance, which inspires progress in science & technology, music, philosophy, community building, and many other areas.


Our theme, “Black Futures: Innovation and Generation at Trinity”, strives to celebrate the presence and potential of Black members of Trinity College and of Black people generally at the University and beyond. We draw from the concepts of ‘sankofa’ and ‘ubuntu’ to ground our understanding of the histories of Blackness and Black communities in Trinity College, the University of Cambridge, and the broader world. We invoke the concepts of ‘Afrofuturism’, ‘AfricanFuturism,’ and ‘Caribbean Futurism’ – particularly influenced by Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Fela Kuti – to push forward the importance of innovation, creativity, and resistance.


Our theme, therefore, prompts us to ask: ‘What is the hope for the future of Black students at Trinity?’ and ‘How can we ensure their success in order to maximise their brilliance and potential to shape the future?’ We are excited you all will help us open this dialogue in our community.


Overview

In this syllabus, we have selected some Afrofuturist oriented materials that inspire our thinking. These are a starting point and by no means an exhaustive list of academic and creative engagement with Afrofuturism. Instead, we share this as a starting place for those interested in understanding more about this intellectual thought work.


We have organised the syllabus by terms, and subsequent materials, foundational to how we have incorporated Afrofuturist influence into our planning of the 2022 Black History Month celebrations with Trinity College (University of Cambridge).


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Key Terms and Context

Afrofuturism

  • imagines a future free of white supremacy and structures

  • Concept: Sometimes imagined as a ‘colorblind’ society or as a world only consisting of Black people, Afrofuturism is a forward looking or prophetic vision of freedom and possibility for Black people usually with an eye towards innovation and entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability or revitalisation, technological advancement, and community building. Black artists and thinkers employ this with varying degrees of influence from science/speculative fiction and Afropessimism.

Africanfuturism

  • visions of a future imagined by, for, and about people of African descent

  • Concept: Nnedi Okorafor defines Africanfuturism as “similar to ‘Afrofuturism’” but “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.”

  • This includes African Indigenous Knowledge Systems or experiential knowledge based on a worldview and a culture that is basically relational. It asserts that knowledge is developed and acquired collectively. This traditionally occurs orally and is passed from one generation to the next. These knowledge systems are grounded in how African realities are perceived by Africans and in Africans being centred within these knowledge systems.

Caribbean Futurism

  • envisions Black diasporic futures at the intersections of art, science, and intentional policy making

  • Concept: Karen Lord defines Caribbean Futurism as not “a genre tag like the Afrofuturism of Wakanda and Beyonce, but a practical results-oriented collaboration of literature, science and policy.” Caribbean Futurism is considered naturally more hybridised than AfroFuturism of African Futurism due to the range of Latin, Asian, Indigenous, and African peoples across the islands.

Sankofa

  • 'to go back and get it; to retrieve'

  • Concept: Comes from Ghana’s Akan Twi (pronounced “tree”) language. We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward and/or so we understand why and how we came to be who we; we must learn from the past in order to prepare for the future

Ubuntu

  • 'I am because we are'

  • Concept: We, as individuals, are shaped by our collective community and our community is shaped by each individual member. We are each important to our community and, simultaneously, our community needs each individual to ensure it thrives.


 

Unit 1: Innovation

About

Innovation is igniting: 1) a new solution relating to a new problem; or, 2) a way of morphing or shifting the old into something new. Regardless, innovating requires an understanding of the multitudes contained in a circumstance and the dare to believe a different outcome is possible. This is most embodied through improvisation or ‘jazz’, a music genre and concept that allows for exploration and extension. In this section, we share works that provide insight around deconstructing and envisioning a different world of possibilities for African-descended people.

Unit 1 Materials

  • Ruha Benjamin’s ‘Black to the Future: Rethinking Race, Science, and Subjectivity’ (2015)

  • adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy (2017)

  • Ruha Benjamin’s Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want (2022)

  • George Schuyler’s ‘Black No More’ (1931)

  • Karen Lord’s Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts (2014)

  • (Portuguese) Fábio Kabral’s A cientista guerreira do facão furioso (2019) [The Warrior Scientist with the Furious Machete]

  • Ornette Coleman’s Ornette: Made in America film (1985)

  • Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead album(2014)

  • Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s In the Orbit of Ra album (2014)

  • Sun Ra’s The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra - Remastered album (1962)

  • OutKast’s Stankonia album (2000)


Unit 2: Generation

About

For us, Generation refers to ‘creation’ and ‘legacy’ or ‘descendancy’. It highlights the fundamental connection between past, present and future as co-constructive of each other in physical and intangible forms. This relates to the concept ‘sankofa’, which we discuss as our next term. In this section, we centre the works of Octavia Butler that weave together struggle, collaboration, creativity, and generosity to create new, unimaginable existences.

Unit 2 Materials


Unit 3: Sankofa

About

‘Ubuntu’ is a Kiswahili term that means ‘I am because we are’. This is a common aphorism and value among African diasporic communities, usually implying that we, as individuals, are shaped by our collective community and our community is shaped by each individual member. Our community needs each individual as much as the individual needs the community to ensure they thrive. Below, our materials emphasise the co-presence of the individual and community in conceptions of self/Other and understanding how one should move in space.

Unit 3 Materials


Unit 4: Ubuntu

About

‘Ubuntu’ is a Kiswahili term that means ‘I am because we are’. This is a common aphorism and value among African diasporic communities, usually implying that we, as individuals, are shaped by our collective community and our community is shaped by each individual member. Our community needs each individual as much as the individual needs the community to ensure they thrive. Below, our materials emphasise the co-presence of the individual and community in conceptions of self/Other and understanding how one should move in space.

Unit 4 Materials

Unit 5: Afrofuturism

About

Of the terms we’ve included so far, Afrofuturism is likely the one with which most audiences are most acquainted. Coined by cultural critic, writer, and educator Mark Dery in his 1994 essay ‘Black to the Future’ within the anthology Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, this term has come to characterise 20th century African American technoculture. While originally specific to African Americans, Afrofuturism is often used broadly to encompass speculative fiction themes from across the African diaspora and has provided a launching pad for the next two terms: ‘AfricanFuturism’ and ‘Caribbean Futurism’.

Unit 5 Materials

Unit 6: Africanfuturism (inc. African Indigenous Knowledge Systems)

About

Africanfuturism was coined in 2019 by Nigerian American writer Nnedi Okorafor in her blog post ‘Africanfuturism Defined’. Much like Afrofuturism, Okorafor describes Africanfuturism as a subcategory of science fiction. While the terms are similar, ‘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’. As you review the materials below, keep this African culture, history, mythology and point-of-view at the centre of your interpretations of these works.


African Indigenous knowledge systems, generally, assert that knowledge is developed and acquired collectively and relationally. This traditionally occurs orally and is passed from one generation to the next. These knowledge systems are grounded in how African realities are perceived by Africans and in Africans being centred within these knowledge systems. This section highlights African-ness and relational knowledge creation as explored in fiction writing.

Unit 6 Materials

Unit 7: Caribbean Futurism

About

First named by Grenadian writer Tobias S. Buckell, Caribbean futurism, as described by Bajan author Karen Lord, is a ‘practical, results-oriented collaboration of literature, science and policy…[and] could be the lever [Caribbeans] need to stand firm and move the world’. As you read these texts we implore you to recognise this collaboration and yield to the call to action that these texts contain.

Unit 7 Materials

Unit 8: Beyond

About

Further resources centring Blackness, Black intellectual thought, and Blackness within the University context.

Unit 8 Materials


This syllabus was co-authored by Adaiah Hudgins-Lopez & Myesha Jemison.


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