Langston Hughes and Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is hard to explicitly define. Wikipedia defines it as using “…science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentrism and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique the present-day dilemmas of black people and to interrogate and re-examine historical events”. By this definition, Langston Hughes practices parts of this himself in one of the poems we read this weekend. He writes “[d]reams and nightmares…dreaming that the negroes of the South have taken over- voted all the Dixiecrats right out of power- comes the colored hour: Martin Luther King is Governor of Georgia, Dr. Rufus Clement his chief advisor, Zelma Watson George the High Grand Worthy. In white pillard mansions sitting on their wide verandas, wealthy negroes have white servants, white sharecroppers work the black plantations, and colored children have white mammies…”(Ask Your Mama, pages 91-92). In a way, this does what a part of afrofuturism aims to do, but without a sci-fi or fantasy theme.

It was interesting to fully take in Hughes’ point of view; to me, he seemed to take a more radical stance, and argues against interracial communities. I don’t agree with this perspective personally, but he spoke from a valid place of anger when he referenced segregation even as he moved upwards in society. The concept of an alternate universe, where black people thrive (in this case, over white people) is a key idea within afrofuturism. How would reality change if these roles that appear throughout history, with white people on top, were reversed? Questions like this posed in a poetic format make me curious to see how authors will tackle the afrofuturist genre through different mediums as the semester goes on. For instance, Langston Hughes is a poet here, but he is also a renowned musician; maybe we will cover music with afrofuturist themes. Will there be more content like this poem, where black people are in charge in some alternate reality? Will the content explore a future if colonialism hadn’t occurred, as Langston Hughes does with slavery for black people? Or maybe it won’t be entirely positive; one could choose to explore a dystopia, and how it affects black people and culture if nothing in the past had changed at all. Regardless, the poem makes me curious about our future in-class studies.


2 Replies to “Langston Hughes and Afrofuturism”

  1. I think it is interesting how you bring up a “dystopia”. Your use of this word reminds me of how (arguably) utopias inevitably become dystopias.
    Additionally, I am interested in what you stated above; “In a way, this does what a part of afrofuturism aims to do, but without a sci-fi or fantasy theme.” I am finding this class extremely interesting partially for the point you presented. I think that, yes, Afrofuturism involves a science fiction element, but I have been playing with the concept that it is more (or at least in part) about “what could be”, not just what might have been or what could have been.

    Sorry, total side note. I think its interesting how so many ideas that were once thought of as “science fiction” have in some way, shape, or form become part of our everyday. The idea of a phone, for example would have been considered pure lunacy by most people 200 years ago.

  2. Great points to raise here, both of you. Emma, that Lael gets to understand afrofuturism through your post as “what could be” – a really smart insight, Lael; it’s the “speculative” that’s not quite “science fiction” – speaks to how much you’re offering her as a reader.

    You’re spot on, too, that Hughes is playing with questions of segregation and integration; the quote you’ve chosen fits this very well. But I want to challenge you to complicate the idea that Hughes is advocating against “interracial communities,” on two counts: firstly, he’s tracing the inability of white communities, with power, to accept integration (the racism of “can you recommend a maid?”) and expose it via a hyperbolic black alternative. Secondly, while this piece has elements of autobiography, recognizing that the speaker isn’t the poet allows us to understand the way the ideas are imagined, playful, complex – in ways that personal opinions might not be, because they can be fearfully held to.

    One suggestion structurally for future writing: you offer a great quote from Hughes and you contextualize it really well against a critical source (even if Wikipedia isn’t the strongest, because it’s a reference work rather than a critical/thinking work of insight like the Snead) but you only give yourself one sentence to react to the Hughes quote. Don’t quote and run! We want to hear your ideas and reactions; they’re absolutely valid, as you show in the next paragraph.

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