Black people in the U.S. have never been free. This world is a glimpse at what could have been without our brutal history of slavery and colonization. Hint: the whole world wins out, not just Africa.
1. Nikita L. La Cruz is an economic geologist who studies ore deposits in Guyana. You can follow her on twitter at @nlecongeo
2. Jessica Marie Johnson is a historian of the African Diaspora at Johns Hopkins University. She recently published a book called Wicked Flesh that you can buy here. You can follow her on twitter at @jmjafrx
3. Susana Morris is an afrofuturist and professor of literature and media at Georgia State University. She's a co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective. You can follow her on twitter at @iamcrunkadelic
Hello, and welcome to Exolore, a show about facts based fictional world building. I'm your host Moiya McTier, and I have something a little special planned for this episode. The recent "Black Lives Matter" protests sparked by the unjust murders of Brianna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmad Arbery have struck a chord with me. They've brought to the surface and ever present sense of grief and anger that I know many other members of the black community feel as well. I wanted to turn my pain into something productive for my community. So I've invited a geologist, a historian, and a literature and media expert to help me imagine life on a world without a history of slavery and colonization. To my black listeners, I love you and I feel your pain. I hope this episode provides a sense of relief, even if it's just temporary; and to my non-black listeners, I urge you to engage deeply with this episode. And continuously work towards building a reality here on Earth, more like the one we're about to discuss. Now let's get started. The first thing we're going to do is introduce ourselves so that we can all get to know each other and the listeners can get to know us and Nikita, you're at the top of my screen. So would you mind telling us who you are, what you do, and a fictional world that you're escaping to right now, whether that's a TV show or a book or a game or whatever?
Okay, my name is the Nikita La Cruz. I am an economic geologist. I just finished up my PhD at University of Michigan last September. I study ore deposits, and the reason why I study ore deposits is because they're the source of the metals and non metals that you know, are so important to the way we as humans live today. And I particularly use the chemistry of minerals to understand ore deposits. I am talking to you guys today from Georgetown, Guyana, which is home for me. And so for the last six months, I've been working at the local geologic survey here in Guyana trying to learn the geology of Guyana and to think about how we can use this geological knowledge to find new ore deposits here in Guyana, that we can then use to generate revenue for development.
That's so cool,
A fictional world that I've been escaping to, I don't know like, it has been the last few months dealing with a pandemic, and all this stuff has been really stressful. So my escape has been just like watching TV, just watching random shows on Netflix, and so the thing I've been watching a lot of recent[ly] is Modern Family, 'cause I think it's hilarious. And I like laughing and I mean, laughing is definitely I think, an important thing to be doing at this time.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Jessica. What about you?
I'm Jessica Marie Johnson. Hey everybody. I'm a[n] assistant Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I'm a historian, by training and so I do work on histories of slavery and diaspora. I focus mostly on a 18th century and 19th century and slave trade and slavery is happening between the U.S, the Caribbean and West Africa. So my book which is available for pre order and should be out by the end of July, hopefully, for certain.
We'll definitely be linking to that.
It's titled "Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy and Freedom in the Atlantic World", and the shortest version of the way I describe it as, "the black feminist history of the founding of New Orleans". It goes from Senegal to the Caribbean, to New Orleans. It does a lot of my work, so it's also really heavy, so I do a lot of escaping, speaking of like fantastic fictional worlds. Normally, it's escaping into some Netflix, sci-fi, fantasy, something which, Nikita, I vibed really hard. I've been binging but quarantine has been so long that I've actually gotten tired of Netflix which I never thought would happen. So I went back to pleasure reading, which has been really nice. So I picked back up N.K Jemisin's "Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" trilogy, it is exquisite and also devastating. And so that's sort of the world that I've been absconding to lately via the Kingdom of Sky, and the Arameri, and the Darr, and the gods who are battling to, you know, not be as human - as flawed as they actually are. So yeah,
It's such a beautiful story. Susana, what about you?
Hey, folks, I'm Susana Morris. I'm an associate professor of Literature, Media and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. And I was trained as a you know, literature scholar, although I've sort of moved into, Black Media Studies, and for the last several years, I've identified as an afrofuturist. So I'm really interested in particularly how black women envision the future, right, and particularly, you know, thinking about resistance and things of that nature. And more recently, in the past maybe two years, I've been thinking more about climate change, and climate science and how black women cultural producers sort of think us through that, and offer sort of alternative ways of knowing and alternative futures. So that's what I've been working on lately. fictional worlds ... Jemisin, always, right? I mean, she's just so good, but lately I've been reading this "The Deep", it's a novella by Rivers Solomon. They are a non binary writer based out of the UK, black non binary writer and this is a novella that is about black mermaids.
So it's sort of, you know, the story of Drexciya, right? The kind of Afrofuturist, digital music band, and then "Clipping", which is Daveed Diggs, William Hudson, Jonathan Snipes, they sort of did a song that was an homage to Drexciya. And it's about black women who were, you know, on slave ships about to be enslaved and who were thrown overboard - they're pregnant and so they pass away and their progeny you know, they become mermaids and they have this whole mermaid community and they have to sort of remember their past. So this may not be the best thing to be reading in, such a heavy moment, it's like so gorgeous. The prose are so gorgeous. And like, Rivers Solomon, their first novel is called "The Unkindness of Ghosts", and I just recommend it to everyone. Everyone stands on their own, but I feel like they are the closest I've read to like being an heir of Octavia Butler. You read and you're devastated, but you're like, "oh, but this is gorgeous", that kind of reading. So it's like that, but it's only 150 pages, and I think I'm like 50 pages in, and it's just real hard ... so I might need an escape from my escape because it's just so devastating, but also gorgeous though.
Hopefully, this exercise can be that escape for you, so my name is Moiya McTier. I'm an astrophysicist and folklorist by training because I'm horrible at making decisions. And I study planets outside of our solar system, but I am also trained in fictional world building so I combined them by doing this with you, thank you so much for being here with me, and the fictional worlds that I've been escaping to lately. I've just been feeling really nostalgic and like in the mood to read about people uprising like a group of oppressed people rising up and like overturning the system of oppression. So I recently started reading again. Tomi Adeyemi's "Children of Blood and Bone", and Tamora Pierce's "Trickster's Choice", and both of them are just giving me such like ... things are really hard right now, but like there is a way out of it feelings, and I'm really here for that. Thank you for those books, for that that book recommendation and those TV show recommendations, I will be adding them to my list. But speaking of fictional worlds, we're here to build our own. And this is a little bit different from my usual episodes, because I usually try to make the world as different from Earth as possible. In this exercise, I really wanted to imagine what the world could have been like without slavery - without the Transatlantic Slave Trade, without a history of European imperialism and colonization; and so I tried to think of a planet characteristic that would make that possible. And so today's planet is just a really big planet. It's about one and a half times the size of the Earth, which gives it a surface area of two and a quarter times the size of the Earth. So all of the landmasses are bigger, and they're much farther apart from each other than they are here on our planet. And when that happens, you can imagine a scenario where colonization and like traveling to another country to do horrible things to the people who already live there, won't happen because the land masses are too far apart. So in this episode, we're going to imagine a world that's too big for colonization to really take root. Wakanda from the Black Panther franchise is a really good example of what could happen. It's a common example that most people are familiar with, of what could happen without European imperialism coming in and just like, fucking shit up; but the thing about Wakanda is that it's a single, like sovereign nation in Africa that because of their strength, and because of the geography around them managed to escape colonialism. And I, want to imagine what would the whole diaspora be like if the entire continent of Africa had been left alone? And if there hadn't been this repeated stripping of resources and wealth and people from the African continent? What would that be like today and throughout history, so that's what this exercise is going to be, and I hope that it's a hopeful one for a lot of people who are struggling right now. That's enough talking for me. Whenever I'm world building, I try to imagine the physical environment first, and so I have invited Nikita here because she is an expert in geology - so like rocks and the physical resources that you can have. So Nikita, what can you tell us about the natural resources that are available on the African continent?
All right, so we're gonna start off by saying, so, like the African continent here on Earth, as you guys know, is fast. It's like giant, right? And so I know we're on like a different planet, but if we were on a different planet that is much larger, so I would imagine that, you know, the African continent on that new world would be much larger than it is today, or like the one here that we have on Earth. But I say all of that, to say that, you know, the African continent is vast. And with that comes lots of interesting geology. And with that geology comes lots of interesting resources. So Africa, it's very resource rich, right? Like everyone knows that, and so all of the things that, you know, are used today in our technologies and all that stuff can be sourced from Africa. They exist there - all the gold, diamonds, the silver, iron, copper. There's oil there, you know, all those important resources exist on the continent. So I think, you know, on this fictional world that will, we're building, if we have an Africa type continent, it would definitely have all these resources that we would need to be able to, you know, make the things that we need to make.
I think so many people think of Africa as this resource poor, like resource depleted continent, if they even realize that it's a continent because so many people don't. Which is awful. But yeah, it's really great to hear from an expert that it does have all of the the resources that you could need to build up a rich civilization. What about geographic diversity? I mean, if you look at Africa, it's absolutely massive. I think it covers about a fifth of the surface of the planet, and it spans from a latitude of like negative 35 degrees to 35 degrees North. It's absolutely huge, and so there's a lot of different weather patterns that you can get throughout the continent. But what about geography? It's not just a desert, right?
It definitely is not just a desert. You know, like you said, it covers a great expanse of latitude, and so with that comes different types of climatic conditions, as you still mentioned. So the desert, which is what a lot of people think about, I guess, when they think of Africa, is just the Northernmost part of Africa; but as you go farther south, into Sub-Saharan Africa, right, there's that part of Africa that is around the equator and so like on the other side in South America, which is where I am, you know, there's forests there. There's lush, very lush, free forests. You know, and as you continue to go farther south into the southern hemisphere, you can get changes or there exists different types of, you know, more temperate regions and ...
Amazing. Yeah, great, so let's, let's keep that in mind. I mean, my guests don't have to keep that in mind. I'm sure we know how diverse Africa can be, but the listeners in case you don't know, let's keep that in mind as we go forward in the discussion. Great. So usually, this would be the point in the show where I start talking about biology, but I'd like to keep the the life forms on our imaginary planet human so that we can draw as many parallels to like actual history here on Earth as possible. So let's move on to culture. And a lot of this will actually just be discussing cultures that have existed here on Earth, in Africa - on Africa? In Africa? Prepositions are hard ... but, so now I'd like to start talking about what values and traits are respected, which can then become like, how do societies choose leaders? And Jessica, I'm wondering if you have maybe examples from historical like nations in Africa here on Earth's history?
Yeah, this is a great question. Great exercise in general. So in general, thank you for it. So we're one and a half times larger, so we have more spread, even in already the vast continent that exists today. One thing I can think of is that, one of the unique features of the African continent that goes along with its size and that correlates with like how cultures and polities are created and how they break and reform essentially. The rise and fall of cultures and polities and nations is that there had to sort of emerge this sense of like, you know, private enclosure property. There just wasn't enough space. Until the introduction of different kinds of values over a slow reach of time to be so identified with a particular plot of land, like this is your land; like the idea of private property, in some ways, had to develop, and develop in particular in relationship to slavery in the Slave Trade in the introduction of property and changing property relations, in relation to property that that'd be good. But what that means is that, you know, the capital - the wealth, essentially, in politics and cultures isn't necessarily the land or kingdom that you own. It's the people who have pledged allegiance to you, and so that looks different in different ways. So leaders, some are patriarchal societies, and very hierarchical; some are patriarchal sort of a name, but have female figureheads that are of great importance the wives, the Queen mothers, the oldest sisters, you'll see that across various polities. You'll also see what people call sometimes "derogatory", but that's ... not how it should be said. That's not how I'm saying it, "stateless societies", "itinerant societies", whether nomadic or are simply less hierarchical, and less in stasis, you also have a proliferation of that. So you have the range of polities that are moving in and out of other, maybe more hierarchical polities that are claiming dominion over certain spaces, but can't really police the boundaries in the ways that we imagined that, you know, like, this is your wall. Those are in some ways ... more constructed in people's political imagination and they are real because there's just too much space. There was too much space to take over, and to really police those boundaries. So you have a whole range of ... leadership systems that might emerge from that. And so we can think of the world that we're building as one in which perhaps "stateless" is not a derogatory word that in fact, that that's a principle of strength within societies that being able to pick up and move your community, whether it's 50 people or ... 10,000 is actually a key feature and a desired feature, as opposed to what has sort of emerged in like our, you know, modern parlance, which is that, you know, you have a kingdom and if it's stable, and you're able to build up as opposed to build out -
Right. Also, being able to move that many people is impressive as hell. Like, that takes a lot of skill and communication that is like vastly underrated.
It's phenomenal, and if you have, you know, even more space than is already on the continent now, I can see something like that developing, where like the strength of a polity, its ability to really move across time and space. And not to ... remain that place that actually those are the weaker societies, and those are the ones that are more vulnerable. You also have ... the impact that that has on things that we think of as identity or race or ethnicity. One of the arguments that people in African Diaspora history have are the ways that identity is actually ... potentially more fluid; and there's a lot of, many contentious arguments about this, because ethnicity is a ... hot topic among scholars, particularly relates to African polities; but there is an argument to be made that because of this kind of fluidity on this vast continent, people are making and remaking their identities in ways that are just foreign to a modern Western sensibility. So when people say ... that they are Congo-Angolan or they're Mbabana or they're Wolof, that may mean something in one time in place, and that actually may shift and it still may be just as real. So this idea of like, your genealogy or biology being determinant of your ... ethnicity or your race, that actually may shift in some really interesting ways if we have this much space to move and if the idea is to be able to move and to reintegrate - integrate yourself into other societies, so that could actually get complicated in some pretty exciting ways. You know, we hope.
Free movement from place to place sounds great to me, as a person from a country where you need a visa to go everywhere. So I'm all about it.
Susana, do you have any thoughts? Also, like, feel free to jump in with your own questions and comments.
I'm wondering what exploration might look like outside of a context of colonization, right? So this is a huge planet, and things are very far away, but human beings are curious. So, I'm wondering what just traveling from place to place, outside of sort of understanding oneself as a part of a state or stateless, but like an individual who's like, "I want to see what's beyond that river," right? And not with the intention of colonizing the people or taking the folks over on the other side, but like, what kind of fish do they have in that river? What kinds of languages do they speak over there? Like human beings generally want to have those kinds of ... explorations; and if we could divorce that from ... "I have right, and I have might and I want to go over the river and conquer these people and take what they have", but rather, I want to develop, you know, it could be trade, it could be like, "I heard there were some fine people across the river - that's where the fine people were at. I saw them, you know, I was on the mountain, I looked over and I was like ... who that? Let me go over and see what's up with them, they are very cute", right? That, you know, I think that's a whole different understanding of folks moving from place to place and interacting with one another right? That it doesn't have to be like, "I have the most power and I'm just trying to dominate you", it could just be like, yeah, I mean, imagining the stateless solution where folks are just moving around. It's like, "oh, those folks move every season. And we know they're gonna be next to us; and we always trade with them. We always love the cuties over there. And they have this kind of science and we're just interacting." It would be a completely different thing, and almost makes me think of ... Butler and the "Parable Series". And she says, you know, "the destiny of Earthseed is to root among the stars", right? And they're trying to escape a terrible Earth, but what would it be like if there were African technologies that were interested in traveling, or even going into space, but it was really just about learning, rather than "we need to go to the moon and mine for this" in a way that was really negative. Right ... I wonder if we could just change our notion of exploring culturally.
Yeah, I absolutely love that. And that leads into thinking about what industries might rise up ... I would definitely want to get to the point where we talk about specifically what types of alliances and interactions would happen between different groups of people; but let's first think about what types of technologies and knowledge they would have. Let's remember that the Library of Alexandria was in Egypt, which is in Africa, and if the Romans hadn't come in, and ... the Romans burned down the library, right, that was that was them? I'm not a historian.
I think you're safe.
Okay, great. So if that hadn't happened, there would be this vast store of knowledge that would exist.
Yeah, yeah. So ... if you have all these things that don't get ripped away or destroyed, like what booming industries would we have on this continent?
I mean... Sorry, go for it.
No, go for it.
I mean, I'm definitely not a historian, right? But like when you think about and this is probably taking us over way from, you know the types of conversations that we want to have, right; but like when you think about wealth, right, there are these stories about Madson. So I hope I'm saying that name correctly, who had all this gold and was just walking around sharing that out. You know, so like ... we know there's a ton of gold all over Africa. Well, like there's a lot of gold in West Africa. Like, Ghana is like the world's largest producer of gold for the last couple of years. Right? So there's, there's that, so maybe we would have had a budding gold industry that could have been used for trade, or that could have been used as you know, people travel from place to place, whether it's for checking out the different food that exists in a place or because yeah, "that's where the cuties are, so let's go over there" ... so I think that is definitely a possibility.
Nice. And the just from a science perspective, gold is really good at withstanding temperature changes. So it's it's really commonly used in, like ... technology. So if they have huge stores of gold, then they can also use that in their advanced technology once they get to that point.
I mean, I'd be, I'd be really curious and Nikita, you probably wouldn't know the answer to this in a world building sense, certainly better than I do. But I wonder about whether sort of advanced technologies in the sense of like ... you know, the things that we're talking on now. The minerals that require the things that we're talking on now, I wonder if that comes along faster, and remains even more internal, like almost Wakanda-ish in the continent, ... if you have that much vast space. And the reason I'm wondering that is like the way I think about industry and its development is so contingent on slavery and the slave trade and colonialism and contingent on, you know, requiring bodies to be sort of moved across somewhere or moved somewhere and then confined in a kind of like enclosure model. And I wonder if that's not the case, do societies invest deeper in like more sustainable agriculture? Sustainable, like not like industries that are so big that they're basically wealthy for only a certain segment of the population, but in a spread of, and a diverse array of ... industries and agriculture and economies and employment to extend employment is needed, that might better serve everybody; and I guess it's sort of also goes along with the theme of like, if there is that much more space, then you sort of have to entice people to stay; because you can't ... in the fantasy world, if I don't go Butlerish. Let's assume that you can't really force people to stay outside an astronomical level of violence that doesn't make sense and a one and a half times larger space. You can entice them to say, though, with societies that, you know, have enough for everybody. So does that look like ... not investing in certain kinds of mining, but maybe, you know, that mining becomes something that, I don't know, maybe there's a guild of like techno scientists, you know, after kind of techno scientist gets created over time that instead of that mining going out elsewhere, that mining be an exploitative to those who are mining, that becomes a community that then has a different kind of knowledge. I don't know this is all like, I'm spitballing completely.
I mean, I was gonna say, I think, in thinking about industries and technologies and how those get developed - and this is definitely not my worldview, right? But I think about peoples who are living on the land and look around at the resources that exist and think about, you know, "how fast can we use these resources to impact and influence our lives and to help us to do the things that we want to do?" And so what I will say is that other resources exist, and it would be a matter of the people on the continent to figure out, "alright, what can we use this to do?" And I would bet that the people on the continent would figure out how they, you know ... how to use those resources and get their things done, whether it be sustainable, you know, agriculture, and, you know, developing technologies that would help them live in the spaces where they are. Yeah, for sure. I definitely believe without happen.
Yeah, I think to that, and like just having more expansive ideas of like what living well is, right? I think that's sort of what both of ya'll are saying, that maybe it would be a universal basic income? Like maybe it's like ... no one's homeless, like everyone has shelter, or like, no one is hungry, like you're just resource rich, right? And this different idea of them like, "well, me and my individual family, I take care of this", and maybe more of a community but not in that sort of stereotypically communal sense, but just like, you live in Wakanda, or whatever it is, everybody eats.
Regardless of your job, you're an engineer ... doesn't matter, or you come in from the outside. You're from that neighboring place from across the river, you eat too, rather than this exclusionary sort of, "we start with serfdom, and then we go to chattel slavery" kind of mentality right because, not that we want to talk so much about Europe, but I think part of the issue is that they stripped themselves of their own indigenous cultures for this blanket whiteness; and then try to export that whiteness everywhere, right? Rather than staying at home and working on their own stuff. So we could stay and work on our own stuff. Right? I think that's what this exercise was kind of inviting us to do, right? They were like, "we don't have spices, let's go somewhere else and take theirs". That's a problem, rather than us sort of saying, "let's focus on our own spices. Let's focus on sort of " -
Figure out what spices can be cultivated here, instead of taking someone else's.
I both love and hate the idea that so much of the horrible stuff that's been done in the world is because people just wanted tastier food. They had the nerve to go around the world, taking over different places to steal spices, and then didn't even use them. The gall.
It's really, really true, and some of our favorite, like addictive things are from like, literally from this era - sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate ... but like, this is ... that moment, but that also ... almost like, to kind of build on like this industry piece or the history and economies piece and go along with what you were saying Susana, about the ... exploration piece ... I don't know, let's say part of the story is the Portuguese still, you know, try and travel their way south, right? And they maybe don't land and the, you know, Cape Peninsula and Senegambia until you know, 1460 instead of 1441 or whatever it might be.
Right, 'cause they would need more time to get the advanced technology to travel that extra distance.
Exactly. One of the takeaways of needing more time, more technology etc is that it's ... that much harder to have a sort of home base on the African continent, you have to go so much further; but that also may even the playing field of the development of technology and a kind of return exploration to Europe. So like, could we imagine a world where it's not just the Portuguese coming down or Europeans coming down into the continent and subjugating. It's actually more of an exchange where like Portuguese have arrived but you know, the ... Asante are also really interested in what... the Portugese didn't arrive in Ghana, the Portugese have arrived in Senegambia, but let's just just go with this. The Asante or the Wolof or whoever are also really interested in what's happening up North and they also you know, decide to travel north and establish an outpost somewhere in Lisbon, or, you know, wherever, like what would an actual exchange look like, and would that be productive? I don't know. I mean, that may verge two folks to, you know some of the predations of our current world; but I'm also thinking ... a little bit with something that Vincent Brown wrote like, almost offhand, and his most recent book on Tacky's Revolt about the ways that Europeans have a kind of fundamental monopoly of power, in part 'cause they're able to establish outposts on the African continent and African polities never do, they don't establish outposts in Europe in the same way that Europeans do. So what would that look like flipped; and ... how to not make that like, martial? Like how to not make that military? How not how to not make that about, you know, some more cut, like expanding colonization and more about trade between equal partners? Yes, it could be another kind of industry expansion.
Yeah. It makes me think of, there's a novella by Kai Ashante Wilson called "A Taste of Honey", I don't know if anyone's encounter that, put it on your list immediately. Also, it's very hot. It's a hot queer novella. This will be the theme of my thoughts today, I don't know why. She sort of imagines a world in which Roman soldiers and folks from West Africa interact and it's completely on equal footing. And folks are just kind of going back and forth, and the main issue of the novella is homophobia. It's not colonialism or anything like that. In fact, the African folk are seemingly way more powerful, and the Romans are coming in, like, "ooh ya'll got nice stuff over here and fine men, okay." You know, and so it re-imagines the world, there's still problems, right? There's gender issues ... so it's not a utopia, but the issues are not the same issues that we have, so it's a re-imagining of the African continent and the interactions between Europeans.
And ... folks on the continent to your point just because it works. Folks are sort of interacting and exchanging, there could be a way that human beings because ... my imagining, like when you send us the note about this, like bigger planet, I'm thinking, "well, folks are still gonna find a way to get to each other".
Moiya and Nikita 35:12
Right, 'cause that's just kind of human nature; but if we have sort of a different philosophy behind it, like, "oh, I'mma go to Lisbon to I'mma go to London to I'm not really trying to take you over, I'm just trying to learn like what's going on," right? And then that could be a way, you know ... or these other places, right, these other cultures. And because I'm an afrofuturist, again, I just feel like they're gonna go on to space.
But I feel like the Dogan like the whoever they're like, "we're already building a spaceship. We sent a satellite up there", And we're trying to get there just with a different sort of philosophy.
That's a Space Race, right, more like, I don't know if y'all have seen the short film "Afronauts", which sort of re-imagined you can watch it on YouTube. [It] re-imagines the space race and imagines - I want to say it's Zimbabwe. I could be incorrect about that, but what the space race would look like, you know. It's sort of based on a true story 'cause there were folks on the continent who were thinking of traveling, they just didn't have the budget. But what that might look like otherwise, we just have a different philosophy of movements.
Yeah, and I really like the way you put it earlier, Susana about like, if all of these different continents and the countries on those continents just had the time that isolation buys them to like, figure their own shit out and like, learn about themselves and fix their internal problems, then when they do interact with each other ... I feel like it would, it's less likely to be aggressive. Like if you've already figured your stuff out and your people are happy and there are enough resources to go around for everyone, then you don't have to take over someone else to take their resources. That's what I feel.
Yeah, well, I was also thinking about, you know, with having more time, there would also be more time to develop technologies to protect yourself better.
And I know, it's like a little bit different and a little bit darker, but -
Let's get darker,
You know, but I definitely think we would have that ability, and so I think being able to better protect ourselves while already figuring out all the internal issues, you know, I think our exchange would be different. When ... we interact with other peoples, I think.
Such a good point in part because, you know, and I said offhand, like not to get ... Butlerish, but you know, to me, Butler's thing was that we are a troubled, hierarchical people and that it's almost impossible to get away from that, and as a historian of slavery. You see that? Even in the Maroon colonies. Like you see it over and over that piece about like, you know "more time to work for your stuff". More time, more space maybe to like not be predatory to like just predation but also like more time to protect yourself or time or more space even to create alliances so if you have more time to make the technology to explore, I guess I'm stuck on your exploration piece, Susana, like it's so fascinating. But like what would it look like if ... you have more time to create the technology, and the world is so large that you can't just ... go across the Atlantic necesarily in onw sweep. Like, are there ... new islands, like new shoals in the ocean that you know, maybe African indigenous can come together and land in a place and like it becomes an exchange. What then does predation - if it happens, if it's able to happen from Europe or internal look like when you can escape and you know, find alliance with across a broader archipelago like that. You know, that also is a something really interesting and it's, you know, you can pull your defenses together because you built them. You've had time to build them.
Susana and Moiya 39:10
Definitely. The idea of what like a voluntary diaspora would be like, like if you went to a place because you wanted to and ... like you set it up for your descendants in the way that you wanted to, like, what would that look like?
Right. Those are our people across the river, we visit them from time to time, it's cool those are our cousins.
Yeah, like there would be so much more back and forth, where instead of just people from West Africa, going to North America and just like being stuck there. If you made the choice to go over to North America, like then you can also make the choice to go back and there's much more of an exchange of knowledge and resources that can lead to really good outcomes, I think.
I think part of that too makes me think of like, you know, like what you just said Jessica, about Butler and hierarchy. She was so worried about that, just thinking through like, I think other forms of society on the continent would flourish. I mean, part of I think the issue with the European encounter is like these patriarchal societies, these hierarchical patriarchal societies, right, that were sort of interested in ... warring and ruling one another and I'm not saying matriarchy, whatever, you know. I know feminists, who've been accused of that frequently, but, you know, queer focused, you know, recognizing that we had all these other - all these different kinds of ways to be, before European encounters that could flourish, right, that could continue to flourish. So what would queer sensibilities look like in terms of, you know, ruling a nation or governing or, you know, understanding self and so on. So, that as we're building up the capacity, right to Nikita's point, maybe we're making these Wakandan type technologies and it's like, the queer elders are leading, I don't know, you know, just look a different way of knowing so that if there is an encounter that's violent, whether it is from ... space, or from another continent that we've already sort of built up a kind of leadership model that is, you know, able to combat that with sense, and it probably wouldn't look like the ideals of you know, like, African manhood and African womanhood that we sort of see in the sort of hotel. You know.
You know, I love this idea of more of a queer, like, more queer ideas being just like more common and more widespread. I know the queer community isn't perfect, but I ... have this sense that like it's more open to like people exploring different identities and having different ideas about what they do with their self and their lives, and if you have that type of open-mindedness in more of like a governing philosophy.
Just in every part of life.
I think open-mindedness is necessary, and imporant. And as you look around in societies and in every aspect of society, I think you realize that that just does not exist, right? Like, we get sold something, and we get rid of that receipt, like we buy it wholeheartedly. Throw that receipt away, and then I think many of us are not willing to ask the questions of "well, why?" You know, there's just this ... many people just are happy to blindly accept, you know, accept certain things, certain mindsets without asking, like, "why?" and like trying to push against.
Yeah, and I think like, there's ... a lot of that, that we deal with now as a people, you know, after these encounters, right, there's so many things that we were taught, so many things that need to be unlearned, but many of us are ... probably not even conscious that there's stuff to do. There's work to do. There's needs to be unlearned, you know?
We have ... more space, essentially, or the promise or threat of more space to abscond to if you know, if humans do what humans do, which is get rigid in their ideas of the world? Um, well, you know, all right, well, I gotta go. I'm over here making my you know, like queer future, you know, and, and you can go ... potentially maybe like, you can go far enough that you can still have, you know, you still cross the bridge, and you have attraction, but it's like, you know, this ... community or this family or this this household is not serving me, let me move in a different direction, which is a little gray, not quite dark, because there's still like kinship. So there's still the kinship times are still like the ways that we were human, we want to connect, we want to be social. But that promise of a space elsewhere is very tantalizing. And here actually could be a reality like you can create that and maybe even be on equal parts with that. That's really lovely to imagine.
Yeah, I love that. I want to move on just a little bit to talk more about the fact that black people in the US have really driven the production and evolution of culture, and a lot of it was inspired by having to make something out of less; like food and music with hip hop. A lot of it was because they had to make something out of almost nothing. And so I'm wondering Susanna, if you can kick us off by imagining maybe what sort of modern cultural revolutions you could see for this world.
I think I'm still thinking about the fact that they wouldn't be suffering from lack.
So the ingenuity would still be there. Right? But it wouldn't be because we have to make a dollar out of 15 cents, right? It would be coming from a model of abundance and not a model of scarcity, right? And I'm just thinking about your work, Nikita and thinking about geology, and it's something that I sort of engaging with undergrad seminar taught this past Spring. Like rethinking like geology as a discipline. Like what would it mean if we don't have this ... imperialist relationship to the earth right? That we understand like the earth is our home, and we take care of it and the earth is like a house. You live in your house for 30 years and you never change the pipes and you don't fix the roof it's gone cave in on you, right? And then we sort of have this relationship that we're like we just take care of this place and it's like .... not the Judeo Christian notion that you know, human beings have been given dominion over the earth, over the fish and the fown and the air, right? But rather, this idea that we are sort of in sync and and community and I think that would bring up a whole different type of music and dance and, you know, cuisine like I'm an omnivore, but I understand why people make a case for a plant based diet. It makes sense. I get it, I love the swine, but it makes sense. Like that might be how they engage, right? It's not you know what I mean?
Oh, speaking of that, I've been listening to a lot of "Splendid Table" lately, the podcast and one of the people that have been interviewed recently was a chef who does like vegan soul food? And and his recipes sound delicious, so maybe that.
If I can jump in? One of the things that's really interesting about this question is, it also makes me think about how African American culture ... has a kind of primacy. So what are the ways that like our position in the West in particular, even as a subjugated group, positions our works as kind of a cultural lingua franca that in some ways is true, but in some ways is also powered by some of the darker aspects of Western Imperialism and control of industry, music industries, cultural industries, why people's fascination with black things, you know, all of that. So .... going with what Susanna was saying, like, if that is not the case, if we're not going off of lack and we don't require, or the like motor of sort of Western, cultural, Imperial project to like, move our cultural artifacts around the world, you know, like ... there's so much that becomes things like jazz that comes out of like African musical traditions; drum traditions, ritual traditions, sacred and secular ... Islamic hymns - so much comes out of that. And so if that is not happening, so that transfer across the Atlantic and Western imperialism isn't happening. Like I could imagine a world in which those skills deepen even further. And now you're adding new technologies like new mentation, new instruments and devices that get created. Man, the creativity that we already know, is there - like, I'm getting chills thinking about it. You know, and with that comes with all kinds of new institutions, right, like the people who were blacksmiths, you know, is that like, is there a blacksmith country? Like, is there a town in which blacksmiths are like, just, you know, like, they're the shit and they're, you know, making all kinds of things, and they're all you know, across gender and there's all kinds of new ways of thinking about gender as in relationship to iron and ... the forge and I don't know, it like really kind of opens up a lot to imagine what would have happened if the Slave Trade had not interrupted the cultural institutions that were already there. And were able to kind of like dig deep and expand.
The fact that we will now create in this world.
It would be absolute fire and just totally badass. Right? Like, just thinking about all of the stuff, all of the artifacts, like when you look at it, think about the music and all of that stuff. I mean, really you know, like, allowing that to evolve in an environment that isn't, you know, one rooted in scarcity and adversity and all of that stuff.
That's the timeline I want to live on.
Yeah, absolutely. Thinking about Wakanda, you know, it's just black excellence just like all around.
A world-wide Wakanda but speaking of that like N.K Jemisin and her "The Dreamblood Duology", kind of imagines a world sort of like this where ... it's a different way. They have two moons, I believe or maybe their their sun is a red sun. Like ... you know, astronomically things are different, but there's no colonization and there are some Europeans I just call them "barbarians", and they're smelly and they're just kind of in the story in the background like "oh, I did some trading with this barbarian but his smell, I can't take it".
Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.
Right. So when you're done with "The Inheritance Trilogy", go if you haven't read "The Dreamblood Duology", it's so good. And it's sort of imagining this world re-imagining media, re-imagining Egypt or Kemet, and, you know, doing this kind of work where it's like, "oh, we can deepen the stuff that's already there. There are problems, problems with patriarchy, surprise, surprise. But you know, the are problems are not imperialism the problems are different, right? It's, you know, part of like what Butler said, you know, human beings are in this like she says in "The Book of Martha", that we're in this like deep adolescence, and we need to grow up, you know.
She was so wise.
She was so wise, um, maybe the being far apart gives us time as a species to grow up so that when we encounter one another, whether it's on the continent, right, because there's imperialism on the continent between black folk, right?
So ... that's happening before we even encounter anybody else, like, let's get right in our community, right? And then if we encounter other people, we have time to build up our technology. So if they're doing foolishness, we can rebuke that, but if they've also done their work and gotten out of their adolescence, you can have a whole different ... That's the timeline I want!
We can have adult conversations and adult interactions.
Um, this has been just really amazing, and I also have goosebumps, I love this. Susana, you study Afrofuturism, and you've given so many amazing recommendations throughout this, that I'm definitely going to be putting a list together of different types of media that people can consume and engage with. But I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about why afrofuturism is so important, and what it can actually do and mean for people?
So for me, I think afrofuturism is one - just one way of thinking through black futures. We make it the catch all for everything, but it doesn't have to be right. It's one way to sort of think through the future with black folk centered and black cultural experiences and black policymaking and black architecture, music, just black stuff. Centered, right. And it can be, I'm finding, particularly now that I'm at Georgia Tech and working with students across different disciplines. You know, I work with folks in Computer Science Digital Media, and Human Computer Interaction, and Architecture know like what an afrofuturist architectural epistemology look like? I'm like, "I don't know, let's think about it!" Those are worse mashing words together, and I'm getting excited, you know? And, and so something that also can center like the little legacy is not the right word, but black joy, right? And that not only do we exist in the future, and we're resistant in the future to 'cause there's always gonna be bs, but that we can imagine these futures where we're like thriving and happy and there's like, sex and laughter and love and babies and queer folk and trans people, and we're just out here doing it right. And sort of thinking through whatever our particular thing so if it's geology, or its history, or its literature, or media or astrophysics, you know, whatever it is, that there can be this sort of blackness is center, but it has to be feminist. You know, it has to be queer focused, it has to be all these other things. So when I think about afrofuturism, because it can be a boys' club. Oftentimes when we talk about Afrofuturism, we mention a bunch of dudes, and many of them are great. However, we need to be talking about black women, trans and cis, we need to be talking about non-binary people and gender non conforming folk, queer folk like ...
We are the future. So, I was all over the place.
I was smiling as you were talking about that, right, 'cause I'm thinking about a future where Africans and like people of African descent - black people are thriving, right, like, in this space where we are right now. With all of the bullshit and all of that, there are black people who are in all these different spheres of life, and thriving, well ... they're thriving, despite the bullshit. You know? So just in thinking about getting that centered. Like, that is exciting, and I think definitely doable because you already have people doing it right now. Right? I think it's, it's, it's a matter of making sure that you do it, and you do it physically so that the younger ones coming up after you, right? Can see, "oh, this person did it", and you know, you're like making the way, and helping get the next generation into this space, into this mindset of, "no we don't have to buy into the bullshit that", you know, "we're less than or this", and all that stuff No, like, we belong here. You know, we're just as good or even better sometimes -
You know, and like, we don't have to continue to sit or stand on the sidelines. You know, like we belong here, just as much.
I think the other thing too is systemic change, right? Like in this moment where, you know, five, six years ago, and people been talking about defending the police a long time and about abolition and so on. But that is ... becoming a mainstream conversation like an afrofuturist world is a world in which police don't exist. Right? They don't exist not as we know it, there might be you have a conflict with your partner, and there is someone you can call there is a place in which you can work things out. If someone has harmed you, it's like harm is gonna exist, but the systemic organization that is based on slave patrollers, like that's not ... centering black life. You know what I mean? So I think sometimes I think about afrofuturism, it can sound very pollyannish, and it can be very individually sounding like "'I'm thirving in the future". It's like no, it's about ... institutional like the exercise that you've invited us to think about Moiya, right, but it's like, continent wide, country wide, state wide, community wide village wide ... it's not just about individuals, it's about these larger systems. And how we relate to one another and the world right? There can be another way, and that we can take practical steps to make those things happen.
Yeah, I love that. And let let's like continue on that road 'cause we're almost at the end of time, and I want to end on a hopeful note, and a practical note to. I'm wondering if any of you, 'cause clearly this is not like the world that we've just discussed is not the reality that we have here; but there are groups who are working to get Earth closer to that ideal. I'm wondering if any of you have any favorite organizations who are doing the work to create a world where black people are free? I can start ... it's a heavy question. Yeah. So police brutality and defunding and abolishing the police has been a huge focus lately. So that's where my example is gonna come from. Campaign Zero has this movement called "Eight Can't Wait", and it's like scientifically proven ways or like ways that you can change the police force and the way that policing is done, that have been shown to significantly reduce the amount of violence against black and brown people. These eight different policies of like training police to reach for ... firearms last and increasing the amount of conflict resolution and management training that police go through things like that. So I've been paying a lot of attention to Campaign Zero and "Eight Can't Wait dot org". What about the rest of you? Or maybe if you haven't been paying attention to it because it's too painful, and you have other shit going on. That's valid too.
I wish that was the case. I'm glued to the internet, I can't look away. So I've heard of "Eight Can't Wait", I've actually been a bigger fan of "Eight to Abolition", which was a group of folks who came together sort of in response I think to "Eight Can't Wait". I'm not sure what the longer backstory there is, but one of the things they do is they lay out like eight parameters of like abolishing the police, which has been a black feminists and women of color, queer folks prerogative for like two decades, I guess now or longer. I feel like it's historical, but sort of the organizing, I think of is around Critical Resistance and Incite Women of Color Against Violence, which is how I entered into it. That's about two decades now. So I've been following that and they have a really great graphic and various outline of resources and principles, because I find that I'm ... because of the moment increasingly in conversations about like, "what do you mean before the police? How is that even possible?" You know, those two questions ... I'd retweeted somebody saying that online is like the two questions are like ... expressing and possibility of that ever happening and also complete ignorance about what that means, at the same time.
Just a complete and total lack of imagination, like can you really not imagine a world where police don't exist in its current form? Like what?
I mean, are the police so great to you? Like, really? Like, even to white people? Are they really that wonderful? So I found that really useful, both as talking points, but it's also like guiding points, those eight points, like their concrete realities of what is required to abolish the police as a thing that actually very much can happen and should have happened already. I'm also like, very into critical resistance and the resources they had and the work that they've been doing. [The] other two, and then I'll stop is I'm "TransformHarm", which is, I think less of an organization and more sort of a collection of resources around transformative justice. And exactly like what Susana was saying ... we shouldn't imagine a Pollyanna-ish future we should imagine a future in which harm probably still happens. But we have better tools to manage it, that don't call on the police but still get redress whatever that might mean. So there's a "TransformHarm dot org", it's like amazing resources there. And then people I think, who are .... actively trying to create a better world, like the person comes to mind is Alexis Pauline Gumbs and the "Mobile Homecoming" project, and "Black Feminism Lives", and the work that that she and Sangodare Wallace are doing to like, literally evangelize black feminist love and principles into the world and like, infuse a whole different way of thinking about everything. Like it's really kind of trying to do like exactly what we're doing open up our imagination a little bit more because I find, you know, like you're saying, people suffer and it's a product of, you know, colonialism in early modern era from a lack of imagination and for some people, it's a comfort But you know, it's untenable at this point. So how do we train our imaginations to be broader? So I often think of Alexis Pauline Gumbs' work and doing that, but there are many others, I'm sure.
Right, Anyone else?
Yeah, I would say a couple. So "Black Quantum Futurism". They're a collective out of Philadelphia. So Rasheeda Phillips and Moor Mother. Moor Mother's also an artist and you can listen to their work on like Spotify or anywhere. So Rasheeda Phillips is a lawyer, I want to say she's a public defender. And they they're sort of combating gentrification through Afrofuturism, and they've written all these books, I think "Black Quantum Futurism Spacetime Collapse, Part Two" was coming out. I just saw something on social media. So I'm like, I need to buy that.
Going on the list.
I mean, and talk about astrophysics, they're really engaging in some theoretical physics in these texts, you will find it very interesting. So, they're sort of doing this really high theory, but also this community work, they're interested in the trenches, they're making like toolkits for the community to sort of like when folks come in and they're trying to buy a property and do different things so you know, very pragmatic and very esoteric at the same time which is really my shit like I'm here for that, right? Expect like, Alexis' work right, expanding our minds and getting us to think way, way outside the box. But still, like in the community doing this work like .... theory and practice don't have to be at odds with each other. And I think black folk, black feminists, black queer folk, black trans folk - we on that, we already know that. But sometimes people try to come at us like, we can only do one or the other. So I would say "Black Quantum Futurism", and on local, to me organizations "NAPCO", "Solutions, not Punishment". They're based out of East Point, Georgia, their executive director of Sunny Michelle Williams. And they really center on sort of black trans folk, sex workers. They've been really pivotal in the protests here in Atlanta. They've been thinking about black trans sex workers and decriminalizing their work right and supporting them and standing by them so that they're a local organization that deserves a lot of love. So definitely check them out. And those are two that come to mind right now.
So I've definitely been ignoring a lot of all of this because honestly, it's really depressing, that in 2020, we are dealing with these things. And so like in thinking of, you know, being here and like thriving and doing the work to help get the others, you know, to see that we belong here in this future and there can be a future where we are thriving. The stuff that I haven't been paying attention to, by way of Twitter is some of the work that is being done to try and get the geosciences which is traditionally a field dominated by people who don't look like us, that are older. So there's been a push to try and ... make the geosciences less racist and to improve, you know, make it more inclusive. And so there's been some work that has been sort of spearheaded by Dr. Hendratta Ali. And so like I've been seeing, like, that's the stuff I've been paying attention to, and you know, like retweeting and helping as much as I can. I try to think about what can I do to help in this future? And what I can do is, you know, stand up and be a black geoscientist. Yes, you know, be myself and so like there are organizations that I'm a part of, like, the National Association of Black Geoscientists, and I remember like the first time I went to an NABG meeting was in 2018. And you know, it was there that I was introduced to this really large community of awesome black geoscientists. And like, when you think about community, it's like, you know, in every sense of the word, you know, it's like, you get in there and there are these older ladies like these aunties, who, you know, after meeting you for five minutes, embrace you, and it's like, you know, you are awesome, you're the future, you've got this, you're gonna be great. And then there's this whole community that exists, that's willing to mentor you, you know, and willing to help, you know, help you find opportunities and all that stuff. And so, I really applaud the work that they're doing. Like I met her at NABG in 2018. And started calling her since then, and you know, just the work that she's doing and, you know, pushing and calling on societies to, you know, stand up with, you know, their black members and saying, hey, like, this is not okay, like, we need to, you know, make this more inclusive and then also just like reading #BlackInTheIvory. Um, yeah. Yeah. You know, like, just reading that, and just cringing and just shaking my head. And it's like ...
Yeah, but at the same time, like, not being surprised, right? We've had those experiences.
Definitely not, but it's just wrong and it's just terrible, that so many of us have been having those experiences. So like, I'm honestly, it's great to watch people stand up, you know, and speak their truth and fight against this system that has allowed that to happen for such a long time. And it's my hope that we will be able to move past this at least in the science like, right, we're all smart people here. Like "what do you mean this is okay. How is this okay," that makes no sense to me. You know?
Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that. And for being here with me, all of you, wwe're near the end of time, so I'd like to give you all the chance to, like promote anything you're doing. And I'll go backwards from before. So Susana, if people want to find out more about you and what you're doing, how can they do that?
Oh, they can follow me on Twitter. My handle is @iamcrunkadelic. I also tweet under The "Crunk Feminist" handle a lot. So if you're seeing tweets from the Crunk Feminist, and it's me by large, you know live tweeting Insecure, whatever, you know. Or you know, you can find me on Georgia Tech's website.
Great. Thank you. Jessica. What about you?
I'm on Twitter @jmjafrx I have a new book that is coming out. So that is on Amazon. Also on Indie bound is somebody told me today which is kind of cool. And you can buy it from the Penn Press website actually at 40% off if you go through the virtual burps book sale so that link is on my Twitter right now.
I'll share that link in the description. Yeah, you can get this book 'cause it sounds awesome.
And I'm also doing a lot of various digital things, absconding digital things with a team of amazing grad students and colleagues at Hopkins and Michigan State University. So check out electricmarronage.com or electricmarronage.xyz. We do marronage with two R's the Spanish way, and follow some of our stuff there.
Great. I'll link to all of these below. Don't worry.
Cool. I'm on Twitter, @nlecongeo, but I've honestly just been spending lots of time intospecting, and like, trying to. Yeah, that's honestly like, going back home and trying to reconnect to the land and to the folks here, good stuff. But um, yeah, I tweet from time to time. And so that would be the place to find me.
Cool, all right. Thank you so much. I feel like my soul is cleaner after this conversation. So thank you for doing that with me. Any last thoughts before we end?
Thank you. This is such a great exercise.
Thank you so much for inviting me. And it was great to be here with all of you guys.
Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. I hope that you continue to use this world as an escape. If you're in pain right now, I hope that if you are a white person or a non black person that you think about this world and think about how different our world could have been, if this ... one little change if just the size was different. And if we hadn't had such a horrible history of slavery and colonization so definitely think about that. If you create any art about this world, share it with the hashtag Exolore. I would love to see it. Stories, drawings ... songs. I would absolutely love to get those. But yeah, I thank you all for joining this with me and I'm gonna stop recording now.
Can I add something real quick?
Oh, yeah, definitely.
In thinking about you know, the last thing you said in the message, to people who are non black and all that. Um, so it is the case that this fictional world that we just created doesn't exist, but we can think about the things that we spoke about here and think about what can we do as individuals to try and help get our current world a little bit further ... like a step into the into that direction. So that is, that is kind of like my charge to people is to just think about how you in your own small space can help to make this world a better place.
Do that, please do that. Thank you for that charge. Alright, actually gonna stop recording now.
Thank you for joining me on this journey to a world big enough to escape the evils of both slavery and colonization. I really hope it resonated with you as much as it did with me. I want to thank my guests Nikita La Cruz, Jessica Marie Johnson, and Susana Morris for bringing me some hope in these difficult times. And I want to thank my patrons from Patreon. My first goal on Patreon is to make enough money that I can actually pay my guests for their hard work on each episode. If you'd like to support me in that goal, and in others, head on over to patreon.com/goastromo. As an added benefit, you'll also be able to find a curated list of all of the books and organizations that we mentioned in our discussion. If you you like this episode, be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe to the show. Oh and don't forget Nikita is charged to think about how you as an individual person can make our world a better place. And if you ever need a break from that hard work, you can catch me here on another world.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai