“How Did I Get Here?”

I love the finely curated algorithmic points of reference of the Internet. Filling in missing bits from my past, enticing me to hop from link to link.This week I hopped a link sent by Vonnie-T to the UK Guardian culture page.

Post link thought process: I am an Afrofuturist.

The term Afrofuturism was struck by cultural critic, Mark Dery in his 1993 essay “ Black to the Future.” I found his definition quite convoluted in academia prose, so I offer my  own interpretation; Afrofuturism contemplates alternative visions of the future, where black characters are placed prominently at the centre of the sci-fi aesthetic, enveloping culture, science, techno thinking, literature, comics, graphic novels, art, music and African-American sci-fi. Reading Dery’s essay launched me into retrospective thinking mode. I pondered on what elements of sci–fi had influenced me to this place in the present. “How did I get to my future?” My Mother? The sci-fi writer who lived across the hall? Musicians crawling out of album covers and space ships into seventies?  Childhood inquisitiveness?  Or a sexy woman in outer space?

Titillating Lieutenant Uhura was in my dreams. She had all kinds of Star Ship Enterprise puffed hair, slick earpieces and mini dress uniforms. She had technology and tools at her fingertips. I wanted that job.  The high school guidance councilor was supposed to help me figure out what job I wanted, but I wasn’t listening. Truth be told, a Friday night dance was the best part of high school. Entranced deep in the P-funk rhythms of Parliament and the Funkedelics. Finally my musings as a child were proven. Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk, The Brides of Funkenstein, and Bootsy Collins  were the little people inside the TV & radio boxes.  The music of George Clinton steered the  Mothership and the antics  of a whole host characters through the astro. I lived for those outer space realms of  TV and music where anything could happen, but I had yet to find any  literature which could exhibit  any influence over me.

CIRCA 1977: Michael Hampton (front center), Fuzzy Haskins (back row with bandana), George Clinton (back row right with beret to the side), Bootsy Collins (2nd from right with hat on) of the funk band Parliament-Funkadelic pose for a portait on the Mothership in circa 1977. 

Dery asks the question “Why do so few African Americans write science fiction? A genre who’s close encounter with the Other —– the stranger —- in the strange land would seem uniquely suited to the concerns of the African American novelist?” Good question right? I too, have been the Other — the stranger—- in the strange land. I always felt like an alien being the only girl of colour in the all white, catholic girls school. I failed Grade 10 English, unable to relate to any of the books I had to read. Charles Dickens, Stephen Leacock, Robertson Davies and Farley Mowat, all great authors in their own right, but nothing the girl child of Jamaican immigrants to Canada could connect with. Many failed attempts to read science fiction, I was never able to read beyond the first chapter of Issac Asimov. The stark reality,  no black characters, never mind a black sci fi character. Enter Nalo Hopkinson.

After living as a stranger in a strange land (female Pathology Lab Tech working in Saudi Arabia) I returned home to Toronto. By then I had had enough of the human body parts and chemical vapours. “How could I recreate myself outside the lab realm?”  Lucky for me I ended up living across the hall from Nalo Hopkinson. From where I stood Nalo was creating her life, paving her way to her Afrofuture. I was struggling with mine. Nalo pointed me in the right direction.  She turned me onto Octavia Butler, a well know African American science fiction writer. I devoured Butler’s finely created alternate realities and terrains. Eloquently illustrating themes of social justice, religion, sexuality, genetic manipulation and time travel, I connected to  the sci fi protagonist’s in Lilith’s Brood and the Kindred trilogy. browngirlRe-examing my past, I realized Butler books opened my mind to receive the subliminal messages about technology as a career, a possibility I had never considered before. Having processed my share of liver transplant biopsies in the lab, I used the internet to merge my Lab Tech self  into  IT diva. Soon thereafter I found Nalo’s first book published. Pleased and tickled light brownish pink, thinking how “Pathology Lab Tech Chick”  across the hall might  have inspired the organ transplant theme. The book “Brown Girl in the Ring” is set in post economic collapse Toronto, a tale of soul possession, obeah, organ theft & transplant.  I found kinfolk in Nalo’s Afro futuristic cast, a whole pantheon of patois speaking Caribbean characters, traversing the spirit world. You see, I too had grown up in a matriarchal family listening to duppy (ghost) stories and warnings of obeah’s (magic) power from my own Jamaican mother who sang Brown Girl in Ring in the kitchen. A heart felt reminder that although my mother revered her past, she wished and prayed for her own literacy.  Education was the tool she gifted to us.Mothership I continually contemplate myself in alternate realities.  I am influenced by the art, music, sci-fi,  internet and techno-culture.The black aesthetic of the past, present and the unknown  filters over me. I am charting  my destination to the Afrofuture.

P.S  George Clinton’s Mothership, a 1,200 pound aluminum stage prop is now a permanent installation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.