SF’s Habits & Afrofuturism

Frank Ruffino
2 min readNov 15, 2020

Science fiction is something my young self used to perceive as great. The freedom to explore any type of technology, world, person, and circumstance allowed for some type of separation from the real world (as if my 4th grade self had any true stressors). But this feeling, these thoughts, of this type of relief quickly dissipated the more I became aware of some of the underlying issues within the stories. This isn’t to say I dislike science fiction, or that all pieces are inherently problematic or partaking in the issue, but the genre as a whole does have some issues. Some of which described thoroughly through Bould’s evaluation of sf, “And by presenting racism as an insanity that burned itself out, or as the obvious folly of the ignorant and impoverished who would be left behind by the genre’s brave new futures, sf avoids confronting the structures of racism and its own complicity in them. (p. 180)”. Throughout his writing, Bould identifies these issues, where sf either completely avoids the concepts of racism, or includes various subtle (or not so subtle) biases within the writing. Through the quote and his examples I often found myself being reminded of various other pieces of literature and media.

The whole idea of manipulating a plot to almost distract the audience, and avoid properly identifying the structural issues reminded me much of the whitewashing that was incorporated into the film Hidden Figures. Although not a fictional piece, the movie was, in some aspects, rather misleading. This ultimately painted the white figures to appear more inclusive in some instances, but in all reality many of the powerful African Americans created these opportunities themselves. In sf, Bould discusses a comparable situation, where the Marvel tv series, Luke Cage, is a black superhero who is in prison for a crime he was wrongfully accused of. Eventually he escapes, but to a society where he has no alter identity, no normal past is presented, and essentially lives the polar opposite life to the white and wealthy superhero, Ironman. This being fictional, these discrepancies were obviously intentionally included, and reinforce some biases that exist in our current society.

However, this isn’t to say that all sf is blind to the current issues regarding race. Afrofuturism is an increasingly prevalent incorporation into writings and films, which really promotes things opposite to those mentioned above. In this weeks film, Black Panther, for instance, Marvel does a great job at creating a beautiful and engaging film that also incorporates an African American cast. Through this, the film is able to draw attention to some old African practices and their culture, as well as build many powerful (some very powerful superheroes) characters as well. This serves as just one example, but represents the importance of the increasingly popular afrofuturism. Though there are most definitely issues within sf and the portrayal (or lack of) of African Americans, I anticipate that the incorporation of afrofuturistic media can help to reverse some of those current habits.

Bould, M. (2007). The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF. Greencastle, IN: SF-TH. p 177–186