Walidah Imarisha on the importance of Black Science Fiction

By Alex Kerravala, Staff Writer

To close Black History Month and kick off women’s month, self-proclaimed “rebel by reason” Walidah Imarisha visited UMass Dartmouth to point out passive racisms in our society, as well as discuss Black science fiction writings, and share some of her spoken poetry.

“A historian at heart, reporter by (w)right, rebel by reason, Walidah Imarisha is an educator, writer, public scholar and spoken word artist,” as her website so wonderfully states.

Imarisha spent the majority of the presentation discussing the science fiction collection she edited, titled Octavia’s Brood, named after the hugely influential black science fiction writer Octavia Butler. The collection includes 20 short stories as well as two essays from Black authors, all about or based in science fiction.

She describes what sets Black science fiction apart from other science fiction. Imarisha makes a clear distinction between traditional science fiction and visionary fiction, the main focus of Octavia Butler and the focus of Octavia‘s Brood. Rather than make an outrageous realm of existence for the sake of entertainment, as traditional science fiction does, the main goal of visionary fiction is, to “explore social issues through the lens of sci fi, horror, fantasy, etc.” Visionary fiction looks at the world we currently live in, all its faults and social issues, but with a science fiction perspective.

Visionary fiction is always told through the eyes of the oppressed, whoever the oppressed be in the context of the story, or in the author’s life, places leadership on the marginalized and most affected. It puts power in those who usually see it the least, such as black women in Octavia Butler’s writings.

The most important characteristic of visionary fiction is that is is realistic and hard, but also always hopeful. Rather than a dystopia, which simply paints a picture of a grim, oppressive existence, visionary fiction always concludes with hope for change, and remains far more optimistic than traditional dystopian literature.

Simply put, visionary fiction is simply more important than traditional science fiction.

Following her discussion on visionary fiction, Imarisha talks about the systemic racism in her home state, Oregon, in her presentation simply titled “Why Aren’t There More Black People In Oregon.” She tells the history of racism in  Oregon, showing that, despite slavery being outlawed in Oregon from the states emergence, it is simply because Black people were outlawed from the new state. The state was created to be a white paradise, and outlawed the ownership of Black people, simply to keep them out of the state.

Racism is fundamental to the state since its creation, to the point where after the law was repealed, the actual writing of the law was not changed and corrected till 2002.

She uses this to discuss liberal racism, or rather subvert racism. Liberal racism focuses on diverting ones attention so no change actually comes from whatever is protested for, listening to protesters and social movements without any actual motivation to change.

She concluded her presentation with a spoken poem about wanting a Black female superhero growing up, and about being willing to become it when she never actually saw one.

The spoken poem is funny and powerful where it intends to be, and was an excellent conclusion to a powerful panel about systemic racism and the need to see Black involvement in influential fields.

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