Science Fiction Can Rescue Black Communities

By Stafford L. Battle Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier | 10/17/2013, 6:33 p.m.
October has been dubbed African American Speculative Fiction Month by a group of online enthusiasts.
Zoe Saldana plays Nyota Uhura in the reboot "Star Trek" franchise.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., an African American, Marine Corps Major General, and an astronaut to be senior administrator of NASA that has a long-term ambition to land humans on the planet Mars. In a video published April 2010, titled “NASA’s New Era of Innovation and Discovery”, Bolden said, “We’re gonna turn science fiction into science fact.” Bolden told interviewers that one of the top goals he was tasked with by President Obama was to “help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math.”

What better way to influence students to pursue interplanetary and hi-tech careers, than by offering visions of individuals who mastered the challenges of space and technology at the end of each television episode or the closing credits of a movie. An ambitious Black student has a much better chance of becoming a highly paid, prestigious scientist than being recruited by the National Football League or any professional sports league.

Entertainers such as Will Smith (I, Robot), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) brought to the public eye, heroic figures deep in the sci-fi genre. In reality, Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes us to the edge of the universe and beyond. He appears frequently on television and among enthusiastic live audiences at conferences and special events. These and many other like-minded individuals are to be considered as AFROFuturists who are changing America’s expectations.

Black people are not strangers to speculative fiction.

In the early 1900s, writers such Pauline Hopkins, Sutton Griggs, Martin Delany and George Schuyler were publishing stories about people of color who were discovering lost civilizations, building ray guns and flying machines, conquering Europe and charting a revolutionary Black destiny. Their tales gave hope to communities that were suffering devastating racial inequalities purposely enforced to stunt progress and create a 2nd class citizenship.

In 2013, African Americans face new road blocks such as lack of satisfying employment and health disparities. AFROFuturists use art and science to encourage others to make dreams become reality.

Anyone can participate. Science fiction is not just a geeky, White male American concept. Women and men are writing, drawing and filmmaking. Africa has a new crop of science fiction writers. There are Islamic authors producing stories of the fantastic. Asian, Native American, and Latino graphic and literary artists are contributing. In fact, speculative fiction has probably been expressed in all human cultures.

Black Speculative Fiction Month for October 2013 has humble beginnings similar to the gestation of February’s Black History Month that began in the 1920s by Carter G. Woodson. But the Sci-fi movement is taking off – like a rocket. The payload includes “Sword and Soul”, “Steam Funk”, “Afro Sci-Fi” , “Weird Black Westerns” and other subgenres. Welcome aboard.

For more about the African American involvement in Speculative Fiction go to www.africanamericansciencefiction.com

Stafford Battle is a writer and blogger living in a quiet suburb just outside of Washington, DC. He can be reached at sbattle@sbattle.com or via his web site at www.staffordbattle.com