Dreaming Black Futures: Afrofuturism

When we build a future where Black people thrive, we all thrive.

This past February, Seattle IT partnered with Black multi-disciplinary artists and technologists, Mia Imani and Kadallah Burrowes, to center not only Black History Month, but tap into our imagination for Black Futures Month.

The “Dreaming Black Futures” program shared with employees of the City of Seattle and King County, inclusive of an illuminating lecture on Afrofuturism, and a workshops for City of Seattle employees on ‘Afrofuturism in Waking Life,’ and ‘Dreaming as an Active Practice.’ You can explore the artifacts from the lecture and workshops below.

In addition, Imani and Burrowes produced a symposium series in conversation with four Black futurists to highlight current thinking, artistry, policies, and practices that deepen perspective on Black brilliance and building a thriving now and future for Black folks. We encourage you to explore this journey and revisit and share this space and materials.


A recap of events by Jennifer Dawson-Miller

A colleague that I invited to our Dreaming Black Futures Lecture and workshops wrote to me after the lecture to share that she thought she would “check it out and maybe do other work tasks while I’m at it and instead I am just left delighted.”  Getting outside of the “typical” webinar is exactly what we aimed to do with flipping Black History Month to Dreaming Black Futures.  In our white dominant culture, we often focus on productivity and outcomes, without centering our collective humanity and welcoming complexity.  Dreaming Black Futures is an antidote to this.  By centering imagination, history, art, rest, and the sonic landscapes of Afrofuturism, we can deconstruct what is, and reimagine what could be.  Kadallah Burrowes took us through an exploration of Afrofuturist history from the parable of Mansa Musa to the sonic Afrofuturist rhythms of the Sun Ra ArkestraParliament Funkadelic, and contemporary artists like OutkastJanelle Monae, and Sky Deep.  We also learned how Afrofuturism is a term that was coined by a white researcher Mark Dery, for “want of a better term” and explored new options to consider, with the Black community leading the way.   

photo of city with there are black people in the future sign

Sci Fi literature is also a part of Afrofuturism, in the works of Sam DelanyOctavia Butler, and Greg Tate. A prophet of Octavia Butler, adrienne maree brown, writes about speculative activism utilizing Butler’s work as a source of inspiration and wisdom.  Did you know that Octavia Butler lived in Seattle at the time of her death?  As we organized the event, Mia Imani chose the anniversary of Butler’s passing, February 24, as the center of our Dreaming Black Futures event. 

While many know the movie, ‘Black Panther’ as their introduction to Afrofuturism, Mia Imani reminded us of the inherent tensions.  “The film sparked a global discourse about Afrofuturism, including aspects that were directly connected to the film, such as Black-centered sonic and visual aesthetics and beyond such as the historical and recent Black scientific, and technological advancements. On surface, it looks like the film did an amazing job of celebrating and expanding Blackness outside of the typical tropes it often gets condensed to, yet it also had some countereffects.”  She followed with, “We see this tension as an invitation to see the limits of the language and range of the movement. It is a time to unpack the genealogy of the term, reframe what it means and who it encompasses. There are a few things we need to unpack: It’s no longer enough to point at the thing (Afrofuturism as a term, movement), we must dissect it and understand the mechanisms by which it works. Loving critique, pro-black criticism, generative conversations about how we can continue to grow as a community.” 

phot of drawing of black woman with dreads and three eyes

Mia Imani shared, “When Afrofuturists are also shown as urban-developers, architects, civil engineers, tech-developers it expands the definition to create a world that is seeking to fulfill the needs of the most marginalized in order to satisfy the needs of the whole. What does it look like when Black developers are able to create products that will benefit the community based on their needs and articulate their findings in ways that the community will understand? This is by implementing what scholar and artist Nettrice Gaskins calls: Techno-vernacular creativity (TVC) connects technical literacy, equity, and culture, encompassing creative innovations produced by ethnic groups that are often overlooked.”   This expansive view of what is possible as an interdisciplinary diverse collective is shown below.  

The presentation was dense with terms and concepts that may be new, and worth revisiting, especially for further research.  You can find the recording below.  Through an interactive chat, attendees brought in what they association with Afrofuturism.

The presentation concluded with three questions for us to consider.   

  • What might Afrofuturism look like… tomorrow?   
  • How do you see Afrofuturism evolving? 
  • What new terms might you use to describe this changing field? 

Following the lecture, about 40 city of Seattle employees attended Afrofuturism workshops. The first was on Afrofuturism in Waking Life.  In this workshop Kadallah Burrowes began by exploring the story of Anansi, a west African trickster part spider, part human character, and their transmutable histories across the African diaspora.  We explored technology systems design in an intricate map in Figma, a design platform.  We zoomed in on Web 1.0, which was much more distributed than our current “vectoralist” system.  In a vectoralist system, a locus of power and control sits inside an organization with many arms like Amazon, with Jeff Bezos, it’s creator at the center, and an expansion into web services, media, logistics, grocery, and sales.   

drawing of techno vernacular creativity sayings and items

And finally, we looked at alternative systems design based on the concept of Ubuntu, which loosely means “I am because we are” and refers to a way of being that centers the care of others as essential to the care of ourselves.  Systems such as mutual aid, and cooperation, and distributed systems with some alternative technologies to the current vectoralist landscape, like Mastadon as an alternative to twitter and Pixelfed, for an alternative to Instagram.  Another example of collectivism is an organization called Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi, where a network of cooperatives and work-owned enterprises organize to support the community with Black led social justice focused projects and products. Given the concepts were dense in this workshop, many attendees had a lot to absorb and felt we were just beginning to understand the systems view.   

drawing showing links of afrofuturisms

For our final workshop, Dreaming as an Active Practice, Mia Imani led us through the rest as resistance movement, and exploration of current dream technologies Dormio, an open source system, and iBand.  We explored potential implications for use or abuse, especially for marginalized communities, and shared some mild horror over the 2021 Superbowl commercial Coors Refreshing Dream that demonstrated a company seeding people’s dream with advertisements.  We jumped into breakout groups to explore the ethics and deep questions about technology in a dream landscape, as well as to reimagine how prioritizing rest in our work and social justice movements, counters the time = money narrative from a white dominant culture.   

The series of Dreaming Black Futures events was well received by many attendees.  After the workshops, one person shared, “This was BEYOND excellent! So strong. So much to digest. Next level. Made me excited about my job in a whole new way! I could do this every month. THANK YOU!” An attendee at the Lecture said, “I think it’s AMAZING that IT took on this important and fascinating subject and would always welcome additional arts/culture-based programing.”   

Symposium

Mutale Nkonde


Black Futurist: Mutale Nkonde

Mutale Nkonde is a filmmaker and Emmy winning producer. In 2019 she started  AI for the People, a communications firm that focuses on the future of racial justice. In 2021 they produced their first short, Blackness Unbound is an experimental documentary that gives the viewer a fly on the wall view of a discussion between six Black people as they consider how the tenants of afrofuturism help them navigate race in America after the murder of George Floyd.

Nkode started AI for People after co-authoring a report, Advancing Racial Literacy in Tech, which called on the tech sector to pay closer attention to the impact predictive algorithms have on Black communities. In 2019, Nkonde worked as an AI Policy advisor and led a team that introduced the Algorithmic Accountability Act, the DEEP FAKES Accountability Act, and the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act (reintroduced in 2021) to the US House of Representatives.

The inability for these bills to move out of committee convinced her of the need to increase policymaker understanding about the racial justice implications of tech. She then turned back to filmmaking to illustrate the impact advanced technologies have on Black Lives.

Click here to watch the video


Suzi Analogue

Black Futurist: Suzi Analogue

Suzi Analogue is a prolific Producer, Songwriter, Composer, Member Of The Recording Academy /Grammys & Creator Of Never Normal Records based in Miami, FL. She is energetically pioneering the new wave of women producers in electronic music & beyond.

Gaining worldwide recognition for her own diverse electronic productions, her music has  found homes on Billboard charts, New York Fashion Week runways, Networks like Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Boiler Room and worldwide radio including BBC.
Her music process includes electronic experimentation with cutting edge music technology and synthesizers. Her global performances have been witnessed worldwide spanning continents including Africa, Asia, Europe and USA. 

Click here to watch the video


Neema Githere

Black Futurist: Neema Githere
Neema Githere (they/she) is a guerrilla theorist whose work explores love and indigeneity in a time of algorithmic debris. Having dreamt themselves into the world via the internet from an early age, Githere’s work archives and is curated around their coming-of-age as a digital griot. In 2018, they left Yale University to pursue a path of unschooling, and have since lectured and given workshops in universities and cultural institutions across North America and Europe including Autograph London, McGill University, Toronto Queer Film Festival, New York University, SCI-Arc, The Royal Art Academy at the Hague, Linnaeus University and HAW Hamburg. 

Click here to watch the video


Abraxas Higgins

Black Futurist: Abraxas Higgins
Abraxas is the world’s first Social Audio influencer and Europe’s most followed on Social Audio application Clubhouse. A Content Creator, Thought Leader, Strategist,  Model, on Camera Personality and Host.
 
Abraxas is a high school dropout turned 4.0/1st Class Degree Computer Science graduate with 7 years’ experience on Wall Street. He quit his 7-figure paying job to find out what he really wanted to do with his life.
 
To date he has worked with SXSW, Amazon Prime, IWC Schaffhausen, Ted Baker and more brands. He created the world’s first Social Audio case study demonstrating the power of social audio for all brands.
 
Abraxas has built some of the largest digital communities in Social Audio and has become the blueprint on how to succeed in the space. He often speaks about Web 3.0, Digital Community, NFTs, Social Audio and finding your purpose.

Click here to watch the video


Mia Imani

Conversation Host: Mia Imani
Mia Imani interrogates the ways that disenfranchised communities can heal individual, communal, and societal trauma by creating works that live in-between the worlds of art and science. This “third-way” mixes unconventional methods (dreams, rituals) and science (ethnography, geography, psychoanalysis) to dream new potential ways of being. She activates this through experimental interviews, reportage, continued conversations, and the like. She strives to create generative pieces that allow the works of the artist to have a second breath outside of the confinements of an exhibition. Her creative and collaborative work has lived in the Northwest Film Forum, Seattle Art Museum Lab, Savvy Contemporary, and is expanding into the digital and other interdisciplinary spaces. Her written work lives both digitally and in print within publications Cultured Magazine, Contemporary And, Daddy Magazine, Frieze, Hyperallergic, Vice, and more.


Kadallah Burrowes

Conversation Host: Kadallah Burrowes
Kadallah Burrowes is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative technologist committed to using emerging technologies for universal liberation. Their professional art practice spans interactive media arts, virtual reality, music, photo and videography, digital event curation, 3D art, and tile mosaic, while their current research is in decentralized artist and activist communities. Their work as a designer focusing on accessible and sustainable technology has been recognized internationally by Microsoft, Intel, Biodesign Challenge, Cre8 Summit, and Zaojiu Youth. 

Dreaming as an active practice

  • Anansi Resource Collection 

Anansi 

Anansi, Eshu, and Legba. Slave Resistance and the West African Trickster 

Cosmological Queerness Across the Yoruba Diaspora 

Black Decentralization 

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa 

Hunhu/Ubuntu in the Traditional Thought of Southern Africa 

Black Socialists in America 

  • Dual Power Map 
  • Dual Power App 
  • Black Socialists of America Is Putting Anti-Capitalism on the Map 

Cooperation Jackson 

  • Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi 

From Hashtag to Strategy: The Growing Pains of Black Lives Matter 

Places of the Underground Railroad 

Carceral Tech Resistance Network 

Vectoralism and Platform Capitalism 

Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse? 

Platform Capitalism 

Decentralized Internet 

DisCO.coop 

  • DisCO Manifesto 
  • DisCO Elements 

Community and Civil Society 

What Is the Fediverse and Can It Decentralize the Web? 

Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 with their difference 

web0 manifesto 

  • Open Signatures 

A Declaration of the Interdependence of Cyberspace 

fediverse.party 

Decentralized Politics 

Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) 

How Hong Kong protesters are embracing ‘offline’ messaging apps to avoid being snooped on