Through Afrofuturism, people celebrate Black History Month with an eye towards the future

alt text By Pat Nabong, Arts and Culture Editor, The Real Chi

The past, present and future converged during a night of Afrofuturistic celebration. For those who attended “A Night in the Afrofuture,” commemorating Black History Month wasn’t just about remembering the past. It was also about examining the present and reimagining the future.

“[Afrofuturism] truly is having that understanding of our history but then also having the opportunity to imagine our own future, so like defining it for ourselves,” said Taylor Witten, the producer and content strategist of Wakandacon, an Afrofuturism-themed conference that aims to create a safe space where people can discuss topics ranging from pop culture to politics.

Wakandacon founders organized “A Night in the Afrofuture” with Adler Planetarium (1300 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605).

Afrofuturism “intersects the imagination, liberation, technology and mysticism as well as Black culture,” said Ytasha Womack, author of “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture.”

The event brought these concepts to life as attendees danced, had their faces painted, watched films about African astronomy and dance forms, played a game based on one of Womack’s books and learned about space while interacting with the planetarium’s exhibits.

Summer Coleman said she had fun learning about space and people’s contributions to science. “I would love to see more scientists and more people here at the Adler working to put more exhibits that exhibit, you know, more people of color in space,” said Coleman.

Representation was a hot topic during the panel discussion with Womack, scientists Katrina Miller and Ashley Walker, video game designer Allen Turner, and Wakandacon producers Lisa Beasley and Witten.

Miller, who is a Physics PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, talked about tokenism in the science industry and how some White scientists use the term dark matter — a concept that Miller said hasn’t been completely understood — as a metaphor for Black people.

“Dark matter is invisible. We not,” Miller said.

“I tell everybody my job as a physicist is to analyze patterns in the past and use them to predict the future. … I find it very interesting as a Black academic especially to look at Afrofuturism and see myself represented in ways that don't tie back into the narrative of our past of oppressive systems,” Miller said.

“We need to find ways to make sure that we are not only visible, but we're tangible,” added Turner. “That we're actually making an effect. We're causing ripples and we’re leading the way as well as recovering what has gone behind us.”