Note from BBT: Sometimes I have to wonder if we all know to what degree existing in a Eurocentric world affects our psyches as black people. It’s funny, but whenever I hear a white person complain that black people are always complaining about a white supremacy and racism that doesn’t exist, I wonder do these people ever sit back and just take an unbiased look at how the world is dominated by whiteness.
The global financial system is white, the dominant world powers are run by white people, even if there is an occasional token black man or woman “in power”, they are mere puppets in maintaining the system as it is. The vast majority of the images in the media that are presented as intelligent, wealthy, powerful or beautiful are also white. I wrote in a text several months ago on how our imagination of any sort of god is also contructed upon European images.
When many black people are presented with any sort of reference to black history, it usually starts with slavery in which black people were owned, raped, beaten and humiliated by white-skinned people. Watching the Roots miniseries, I can remember thinking, “That’s how we got here? That’s our history?” When we try to find a release from this depressing reality, we’ll turn on the TV or go to the movies where we’ll see the great, all-powerful white man save the day and “leap tall buildings in a single bound”.
As a child and later as a teenager, I remember watching numerous boxing matches with my father, with many if not all of the champions being black men. So, I had to scratch my head and wonder why is that the Rocky IV film had to feature a scene in which a robotic punching machine in the form of a white man literally killed a black man in the ring. I still remember feeling that gasp from my chest, and what seemed to be a skipped heart beat as I watched that final punch that the Russian delivered to Apollo Creed’s head.
A white man hadn’t held the heavyweight boxing title in years, so it seems, to make up for that, the movie industry had to revenge white supremacy by not just beating a black man, but killing him on the big screen. This is no accident. How many films can you think of in which one of the few black characters of a film is the first or one of the first casualties of the film? It’s like Hollywood knows that black people no longer wear shackles on their hands and feet so it must continue the enslavement process psychologically.
Against this backdrop, it’s not difficult to understand why the Black Panther film was such a big deal. Black people have been starving to see ourselves as heroes on the big screen for decades. Inspiring images that act as a counterpoint to our real life traumas in which we are constantly subjected to discriminatory behavior, higher rates of murder, poverty and so many areas in which quality of life is measured. But Black Panther is just one film compared to the hundreds in which black people are presented as just an afterthought, this not even considering the 80 plus years of Marvel and DC Comics superheroes, the overwhelming majority of whom are white.
When I first started learning about Brazil, one of the first books I read by an Afro-Brazilian author was Africans in Brazil by Abdias do Nascimento. In that book, the man that the Africana Encyclopedia described as the most complete African intellectual of the 20th century, presented me with a summarized history lesson on the situation of Afro-Brazilians. As much of an impression that his description of blacks in Brazil left on me, what left me a little confused was his references to the orixás. Never having seen the word in my life, I wondered, what is an “oh-ric-sha”, as I thought it was pronounced.
Later, I would learn that in English, we spelled the word with an “s” and an “h”, thus becoming orisha and that the pronunciation was actually “oh-ree-shah”. Orixás are African deities or spirits of the Yoruba people. On the orixás, Wikipedia states that orixás:
“were sent by Olodumare for the creation of the world and after that, to teach and help humanity to live on the planet. Almost all were incarnated as humans and had earthly life, but they existed before in Orum, and others were humans who became orixás for their extraordinary deeds and wisdom during life, or because they would have been born with supernatural powers and could control nature”.
Although there are literally hundreds of orixás in the Yoruba tradition, in Brazil, there are about 12-14 that are very-well known. Learning about the mythical tales of these African deities, I had to wonder why it was that I had learned about the mythical gods of Ancient Greece and Rome and had even learned about the gods of India, but why hadn’t I heard of the orixás as well?
The answer is perhaps very obvious. If the power structure is to control the minds and imaginations of a dominated people, it must destroy all of that people’s positive images of itself and replace them with cultures foreign to their own. I have to say that, in many ways, this had been accomplished. But as descendents of Africa continue to try to free themselves from psychological colonialism, some of our creators, writers, producers and directors are leading the way in helping us to imagine our existence and future in a manner that is completely different from the one constructed by Eurocentrism. Writer Fábio Kabral is one such writer who understands how this “historical trauma” must be addressed.
Check the interview with him below.
“Heroes with an African face are a cure for our historical trauma”
In the Afrofuturist metropolis of Ketu 3, a young black man, João Arolê, acts as a hunter for hire of evil spirits in a fantastic technological universe, populated by flying cars and references to Yoruba mythology.
A man in crisis seeking redemption, João is the hero with an African face born from the imagination of writer Fábio Kabral in O Caçador Cibernético da Rua Treze, a fantastic book of fiction published by the Malê publishing house, specializing in Brazilian authors of African descent.
A regular reader of comics, fiction and Afrocentric theories, Kabral expands his narrative beyond the stereotypes of violence, misery and oppression almost always reserved for black characters. “The importance of heroes with an African face is to present a possibility of healing our historical trauma, to know the ancestral heroes that exist within us and thus take a new step to construct a new future,” explains the author responsible for the Afrofuturism collection of the same publisher.
“I, who am a black man, a reader of comics and RPGs, a videogame player, a reader of various fictions and Afrocentric theories, and initiated in the Candomblé religion, express all this load of experiences and studies in the novels and stories I write. This is Afrofuturism,” defines Kabral, who studied dramatic arts at the Casa das Artes de Laranjeiras (CAL) and Letters at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and the University of São Paulo (USP).
Check out the interview:
CartaCapital: What inspired you to write science fiction?
Fábio Kabral: I don’t usually stick to labels much. Since I was a child I liked science fiction a lot, also because of my father’s influence. I grew up playing RPG, reading O Senhor dos Anéis (Lord of the Rings) and seeing a lot of drawings. I have liked this kind of fiction until today. The line between science fiction and fantastic is very tenuous. So much so that my latest book, O Caçador Cibernético da Rua Treze (The Thirteenth Street Cyber Hunter), is more of a fantastic fiction with technology or a fantastic technology. So, for me, it was a more or less natural way to write this kind of book.
CC: How can we define what Afrofuturism is?
FK: Even for those who are considered to be Afrofuturists, it’s hard to say. The shortest answer would be: “a mixture of African traditions and cosmologies with science fiction. Most people might think, “Ah, just put some black people with some futuristic stops and that’s it.
Vagner Amaro, of the Malê publishing company, defined it in the following way: “a cultural movement that mixes African mythology and cosmology, fantasy, post-colonialism, science, technology and the art of telling stories with the protagonism of black authors and characters.
So the definition I created in my first article about – and which to my surprise appeared as a quote in the book of the brother (actor) Lázaro Ramos – was the following: “this movement of recreating the past, transforming the present and projecting a new future through our own vision, for me, is the very definition of Afrofuturism.”
In another article of mine, I said that “Afrofuturism changes the future to change the past that has been imposed on you; it is to chart your own path as a black person in the world, through your art, your writing; it is to Africanize your own path from now on.
I invite everyone to read the five articles I have written so far on the Medium platform, in which I expose these concepts in a considerable way. I also recommend my most recent novel, O Caçador Cibernético da Rua Treze, which is my last opinion on the subject. This book, as well as the others in this series, are the writings that truly define how I see Afrofuturism, what all this really means to me.
Articles are very important, but for me they are only a summary; literature, the novel, is how I truly express myself to the world.
I, who am a black man, a reader of comics and RPGs, a videogame player, a reader of various fictions and Afrocentric theories, and an initiate in Candomblé, express all this load of experiences and studies in the novels and stories I write. This is Afrofuturism.
CC: You have made a provocation on your Facebook that it is possible to write stories with black protagonism that are not necessarily about pain, suffering and racism. Why is it important to tell other stories as well?
FK: When I made that simple post, I didn’t expect much repercussion. More than once a white person asked me: “how do I write a black character? I answered: “write a human being. If it’s a black human being or not, the choice is yours”.
I get very happy when I watch Nollywood movies, the big Nigerian movie industry. There, I watch comedy movies, family dramas, romantic comedies, urban stories, in which the whole cast looks like me. Ordinary people, workers, business owners. Very different from the always violent Africa of tribal genocides that Hollywood presents.
I love African-American romantic comedies too much, which end in marriage and everything. They are silly stories, full of clichés, but I love the happy ending of black people staying together and happy in the end. Very different from Euro-American movies that show only maladjusted young black people, bandits, shooting.
It is important to tell other stories because we are several stories. It is important to tell other stories because it is unacceptable that black people only have stories about crime, peripheries, violence, slavery and genocide.
As the writer Chimamanda Ngozi says, it is the “danger of the unique story”. As the poet (rapper) Edi Rock, of the Rational MC’s, says, “to see me poor, imprisoned or dead is already cultural.
In my most recent novel, O Caçador Cibernético da Rua 13, and in the others to come, I present a new alternative of history with black protagonism, the adventure and personal drama of a black man in a fantastic and Afro-futuristic world, but far beyond the cited stereotypes of violent peripheries, racism and tribal genocide.
CC: In Brazil, pretos e pardos (blacks and browns) make up 54% of the population, according to the IBGE. However, the examples of “heroes with an African face” are still punctual. How important is the existence of stories with these heroes with an African face?
Expressions like this, as well as cultural and social movements like Afrofuturism, Afrocentricity and all the others that would fit the label “black movement”, only exist because we live in a world of white supremacy.
The label that many hate and make fun of. However, it is still true. Supremacia branca (White supremacy). Long before the Greek-Roman tragedies and dramas, there were the African novels, short stories, fables and comedies. Literature existed in the world long before Greece even dreamed of existing, literature created by black Africans.
Unlike European myth, which is intended to be linear and historical – and thus in conflict with science and reality itself – African myth is cyclical and symbolic. African myth is real, yes, but not as fact but as metaphor, for myth begins where scientific investigation stops. “When we face trauma, individually or collectively, legends and myths are a way to restore harmony to the brink of chaos,” wrote Clyde W. Ford.
Thus, the hero with an African face, in a post-colonial world, represents the hero descended from divine queens and kings, who survived the horrors of the crossing and the slavery, and today struggles to impose itself in the world and to be proud of his ancestors.
The importance of heroes with an African face is to present a healing possibility for our historical trauma, to know the ancestral heroes that exist within us and thus take a new step to build a new future.
CC: Which are your heroes with an African face?
FK: My favorite African-faced heroes are several. There are the Orixás – especially the family of the Caçadores (Hunters) from whom I descend – who teach us to accept and understand our own natures better, and thus do what is best for the world and for ourselves; Lithuolone, superhero of the Basuto people who was born from a virginal birth, saved the world from a great evil and died at the hands of cruel people but rose again and returned to heaven (where have I seen this story?).
There is also Kwasi Benefo, the axing hero who teaches us how to overcome terrible losses in order to still move forward and fulfill our dreams; Sudika-mbambi, a superhero of the Ambundi people, and Mwindo, ancestral warrior of the Nianga people, both teach us the importance of fighting to overcome terrible obstacles, to protect what is dear to us, and the dangers of succumbing to our own arrogance; and several others that I could mention.
But if you’re asking me about contemporary superheroes, then I say they are Ororo (Storm of the X-Men), T’Challa (Black Panther), Monica Rambeau (the first Captain Marvel) and Miles Morales (Spider-Man). It will be a great accomplishment for me if in the future the heroes I create become someone’s favorite hero.
CC: Although black writers like Octavia Butler have achieved prestige, science fiction is commonly associated with white authors and men. More recently, black writer N.K. Jemisin has won the Hugo Awards twice, one of the highest awards of its kind. In your opinion, are the community of readers and the publishers of speculative fiction books more open to the idea of representation?
FK: Although considered less expressive than the standard Eurocentric scenario, the United States has an impressive picture of African-American authors of fantastic fiction and science, especially black women.
Octavia Butler is a pioneer with more than 15 books published and died in 2006, and is only now being published in Brazil. Her debut book, Kindred – Laços de Sangue (Blood Ties), which is only appearing here now [through Morro Branco publishing house], was published even before I was born.
In my opinion, I still don’t see a great movement of publishers publishing other authors than the usual ones, with the usual stories – after all, it’s a guaranteed gain.
I see smaller publishers, like Malê that published my O Caçador Cibernético da Rua 13, as one of the pioneers in presenting Afro-Brazilian and Afro-descendant authors of the world scene.
CC: What are the gains from this greater diversity?
FK: The gain is to go beyond the single story; it is to give an “enough” to the “embranquecimento cultural” (cultural whitening) to which we have been submitted for so long. Professor Wade Nobles defines ‘whitening’ as a psychological attack on the fundamental sense of what it means to be an Afro-Brazilian person. (…) For more than 400 years, Africans in Brazil knew that they were Africans and that the Portuguese were enemies of freedom. They fought and died continuously to fight (and free) their people from slavery. The process of ‘whitening’, which became a priority in the country during the post-slavery period, has been causing more psychological damage to Afro-Brazilians than 400 years of racist slavery and colonial domination.
The gains, therefore, are to grant more than half of the population more stories told from our point of view, through our experiences and studies as black people in a post-colonial world.
CC: In April of this year the international press reflected the speech of the vice-president of sales of Marvel, one of the giants of comics, which associated the drop in sales with efforts to include more diversity among the characters, with the inclusion of more female protagonists and black people. He attributed these criticisms to the vendors, who made this association, which he did not exempt from criticism. How do you see this question?
FK: It’s very funny. I, who experienced a kind of “anti-nerd” and “anti-RPG” hysteria in the years 2000 – when RPGistas were accused of satanism and some were even arrested – witness today at the end of the 2010s this stuff being led these same nerds who were previously persecuted.
I saw many guys crying out that “comics aren’t just stories for kids, comics are for adults too, they’re for everyone!” and now that the comics are really heading to become stories for a bigger audience, these people complain and shout a lot on Twitter.
Many black people I know are only interested in comics and fantastic fiction today – why call a section where no one looks like you, except as a slave and/or a bandit?
Of course Marvel is including the “feared” diversity not for altruistic reasons, but to increase sales and reach new layers of the public. I personally seek to consume all the quality material made by people with African faces, such as the new Black Panther comic, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which although I follow number by number when it comes out in the United States, has only recently come out here.
On O Lado Negro da Força (The Black Side of the Force) website, which I co-founded, we always report about African-faced superheroes, especially those from Marvel, whom I have read since I was five years old and follow until today. My most recent novels, like O Caçador Cibernético da Rua 13, all drink heavily from this fountain of fantastic superhero powers that I love and enjoy reading.
Source: Carta Capital