Growing up, I always thought I was weird. Even my own mother said so. I was a nerdy black girl who was quiet, shy and introverted; who struggled to find out who I was and to be comfortable in my own skin. For years I felt I had to put on masks of identities that didn’t fit me completely or reflect the way I saw myself. I felt alienated from the expectations of a fundamentalist-Christian identity, a black-church identity, a hip-hop-based cultural identity and other popular forms of identity associated with blackness.
What does it mean to feel as if you don’t quite fit into the spaces that define blackness and what many people believe it is supposed to be? You try to find or construct places for you to belong. That’s how my passion for writing blossomed. With words I could, at least quietly, let out the thoughts in my head. I could safely explore my inclination to push boundaries and question who we are, why we are, and why we like or believe the things we do.
However, I still searched for all the elements I needed to help piece myself together as a black woman. I knew I was attracted to things that were viewed by many to be outside the typical definitions of blackness—like rock music, speculative fiction, and spiritual and philosophical ideas beyond Christianity—but I didn’t know how to declare or define those spaces for myself yet.
What does it mean to feel as if you don’t quite fit into the spaces that define blackness and what many people believe it is supposed to be?
It was when I took Arthur Lewin’s Black Americans and the Mass Media course at Baruch College in New York City that I started to find what I was looking for. In this class I learned about the histories of those of African descent not taught to us, like Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas. I began to think about African-descended cultures and religions beyond the stereotypical views of them as backward or demonic. I began to appreciate the vast amount of contributions that people of African descent have made to the world, in areas ranging from rock music to speculative wonderings about the universe.
During my junior year in college, I began my blog, Futuristically Ancient, to explore the connections between the past, present and future of the African Diaspora. Inspired by John Akomfrah’s film The Last Angel of History, my blog later evolved into examining the Diaspora through a critical lens of Afrofuturism, a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity and magical realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique the present-day dilemmas of people of color and to re-examine historical events.
Through Afrofuturism and my blog—which explores the many variations of blackness through the tropes of speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, historical revision, mythology, spirituality, mysticism, magic (and majik) and other related areas of study—I am learning to appreciate all the complex facets of our cultures; the unheard histories and voices that have become alien to us and others; the genius in religions, spiritual systems, philosophies and cultures of the Diaspora that are often tabooed, misunderstood, revised or erased. I’m immersed in all the possible narratives of blackness that don’t quite fit into the preconceived notions of it.
By analyzing and writing about Afrofuturist figures like Janelle Monáe, Grace Jones, Octavia Butler, Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic, I am able to shape-shift into and out of conventional ideas of race, gender, sexuality and history. Through this process, I have been able to reconcile the different sides of myself, and cultures of which I am a part, knowing that those aspects have existed in our cultures in some form, knowing the deeper meanings to them.
The African Diaspora and its many cultures are fluid, always changing, always creating new realities, even as they all come from common sources.
Maybe I’m not so weird after all.
Sherese Francis is a 24-year-old writer, poet and blogger at Futuristically Ancient whose main interests include cultural studies and criticism, arts and cultures of the African Diaspora, mythology studies and mythic literacy. Follow her on Twitter.