In other contexts, I have described my own work (as a whole) as “writing towards change.” I like to think of my writing as working against and through oppressive regimes of thought. This is a moral imperative for me. I write to help forge a path to a brighter future.
However, as I write towards change, I am writing within dramatic and literary traditions that seem to understand me best as a minority--peripheral to the larger scheme of things. I cannot deny the truth of these statements: I am black. I am American. I am male. I am gay. I would not presume to deny similar statements from others, but what disturbs me is the persistent unspoken, but commonplace, belief that these are unassailable limits of existence. It is as if we cannot even imagine alternatives.
And so my battleground for change as an artist is the human imagination itself. I find my tools for change outside the real. I seek possibility in the fantastic, in the unbelievable that goes beyond mere spectacle and enters the speculative.
It is this fact of speculative fiction—the possibility—that has always made it my favorite genre. I am a champion of SF precisely because it challenges our limits, brings us to new thresholds. Does science fiction predict our future? Yeah....but I think that’s a bit of a crude way of looking at it. I do think that sci fi at its best anticipates our future. And stuff like Star Trek attempts to envision a future worth working towards. SF helps to articulate possibility.
If you are of the mind that pop culture helps shade the American imagination, I invite you to consider the impact of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek…
Consider the impact (decades later) of Avery Brooks, as not only a crew member, but as the Commander (and later Captain) on Star Trek Deep Space Nine…And that’s just Star Trek.
There has been a concerted, if imperfect, effort to be more inclusive in science fiction in so many interesting works…and not just in race…consider Sigorney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien...and those are just a few pop culture ones…
This week has been a rare moment where we have rushed head-first across a threshold into our future. The concept of a “black president” has been a marker in the African-American psyche for as long as I can remember. I would say it has been something always deemed possible, but probably not “in our lifetimes.” And yet, here we are.
So now, as we come together to break this historical barrier, I am wondering what other articulations of the future will preoccupy my imagination. There’s a lot of work to do, of course. Plenty to “write towards change” about. And…it’s as if all of a sudden I have a bit more latitude, especially as a person of color, to set my sights on new possibilities…hmmm. Interesting to see where this will lead.
I want to know what Christopher Columbus would think. What would Thomas Jefferson say? Harriet Tubman? Frantz Fanon…Queen Victoria…W.E.B. DuBois….Walt Whitman…Emperor Hirohito…Walt Disney…what about Black Elk? I want to chat with James Baldwin and Octavia Butler about it…I want to see what history would say about this moment…about this future that is somehow already here.