Looking Forward, Looking Back: Afrofuturism and Black Histories in Neo-Slave Narration

Danielle Fuentes Morgan


In this article, I argue that Afrofuturist neo-slave narratology imagines temporal simultaneity and, as a result, it is an especially productive space for thinking about the critical matter of black identity. If Afrofuturism considers black futurity in view of existing cultural frames, then Afrofuturist neo-slave narratives not only imagine what could be but what might have been. These texts open space for remembering otherwise – not just countermemory but the opening of a space where the black past still contains possibilities for black futures. I examine Amiri Baraka’s play, The Slave (1964) and Octavia Butler’s novel, Kindred (1979), two formative Afrofuturist texts that reveal black potentiality through the reclamation of the iconography of slavery, by remembering the past otherwise. These works underscore the continued relevance of slavery on the black experience and unveil the inadequacy of post-racialization in the 20th century and beyond into the blackness of black futures. Through their utilization of the past and weighty consideration of the present, both authors attempt to elevate the overlooked humanity of African Americans by connecting the black experience through the centuries and into the future. In this way, when these neo-slave narratives are engaged through Afrofuturism, they reestablish slavery not as an overdetermining or overweening facet of black life but instead as an inescapable reality of black existence within the national imaginary. Indeed, as these works demonstrate, there can be no black futurity without necessarily acknowledging slavery’s continued reach.

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