Blood, Soil and Zombies: Afrofuturist Collaboration and (Re-)Appropriation in Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring

Sarah Olutola


In her Afrofuturist novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson unravels the psychological, cultural and historical trauma of the zombie figure. More than simply a supernatural element of the text, the zombie, and more particularly the latent psycho-social trauma it fantastically embodies, forms the very bedrock of the Afrocentric setting in a way that exposes and critiques the continued suffering of African diasporic peoples under racialized economic structures. While the origins of the zombie document Haitian anxieties surrounding slave labor, the zombie’s contemporary form, in reflecting middle class preoccupations with global capitalist consumption, highlights the ways in which cultural appropriation of Afrocentric culture helps perpetuate a larger systemic cycle of violence that erases black pasts while collapsing black futures into an uncertain present. This paper will explore the ways in which Hopkinson uses her vision of a dystopian Toronto that entraps and vilifies its poor racialized citizens (for the protection of its larger population) to challenge neoliberal global dominance. Through her re-privileging of Afro-Caribbean spiritual systems and knowledge frameworks, Hopkinson suggests that only by challenging and seeking alternatives to the epistemologies inherited by European modernity can we hope to counteract the violence they continuously enact upon global populations and revive hope for the prosperity of black life in the future. However, while her novel implicates cultural appropriation as part of a larger, white supremacist institutional regime, her novel’s framing of Afrocentricity on diasporic Indigenous soil highlights further challenges of Afrocentric representation in Afrofuturist literature.

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