Appropriating The Self- Revisiting The Africa of Our Imaginations

200px-Imaro4In the wake of a controversy over who the culture of an entire continent belongs to within the context of its far-flung descendants (many quite involuntarily flung at that), I revisit a set of blog posts I wrote several years ago regarding speculative fiction, world building, “appropriation” and the Africa of our imaginations. Can one appropriate the self?

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Jouvert Morning- Fantastic, Dangerous, Magic

jouvertmorning2015This year after a 4am breakfast party, a night of Dimanche Gras and knowing we have to be on the road to meet our band at 10:00am for Monday mas, we didn’t go into town for Jouvert. Instead, we stayed in Chaguanas–where my father grew up. Liming with my cousin Freddy from the early morning, we made it out to see masses of people (one set ah people!) wining, flinging mud and paint, drinking rum & Stag, and jumping up with the big trucks that rumbled down the main road. Jouvert may not be as big in Chaguanas as it is in Port-of-Spain, but for many it’s enough. Thought this might be a good time to re-post last year’s blog on the early morning festivities and its origin. So if yuh don’t know…

*photo taken this morning, somewhere in Chaguanas.

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Spears, Sorcery and Double-Consciousness- Part III

“I think that, especially if you’re a Westerner doing another culture, you have responsibilities to do the best darn research you can (and not just appropriate the cool bits). You must take care not to promote harmful stereotypes ; especially since, as a Western writer (especially, but not only, if you live in the West), you must be aware that your narrative is going to be privileged over that of locals. That gives you extra responsibility to get it as right as you can.”–Aliette de Bodard

French-American author Aliette de Bodard’s comment was made during a recent roundtable at The World SF Blog (TWSFB) on the issue of depictions of non-Western societies and cultures in speculative fiction. In this case, de Bodard was specifically addressing those writers in the West who take the (brave) plunge and attempt to write about cultures and societies outside of their own. I actually applaud this, and suggested in a recent blog that speculative fiction authors (of any racial/ethnic background, and specifically those in fantasy) should make this attempt more often. Yet, as I also noted in that same post, this comes with risks. As an outsider, it’s all too easy to fall back (intentionally or no) on stereotypes or exoticism as a means of depicting “difference.” So, continuing with this talk of spears, sorcery and black double-consciousness, how does a black Western writer create African fantasy that avoids (or at least tries to avoid) these pitfalls? I don’t have all the answers. Surprise. I don’t even know if anything I have to say qualify as answers. Double surprise. But here are some personal thoughts anyway, for what they’re worth…

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Spears, Sorcery and Double-Consciousness- Part I

Recently, the World SF Blog held a roundtable on the issues of non-Western narratives in speculative fiction. Touched upon in the talk, were problems of inclusion, the lacking (or often-ignored) presence of non-Western writers in the genre and the entire post-colonial project when it comes to writing and the non-Western world. It was an insightful discussion that can be read in its two-part entirety starting here. What received the most discussion by the panelists however, was the topic of how Western writers depict non-Western settings, including issues of exoticism and the sometimes futile search for “authenticity.” This left me with my own set of questions. What about the “other” that exists within the non-Western world? What about those people within the larger dominant society, who are marginalized from its center similar to the ways in which a colonized geographical space is distanced from the metropole?
The clamor for diversity in speculative fiction has long been heard–and answered. In fantasy, this has come about partly in the form of writers of African descent creating their own realms of spears and sorcery. Termed “Sword and Soul” by some, this sub-genre of fantasy uses an often fictionalized Africa as a backdrop, creating heroes, stories, lands and adventures outside of the Eurocentric norm. Yet a cursory glance shows that most of these writers (self included) are several generations removed from the Africa of our imaginings. So what happens when the Westernized-other seeks to depict the non-Western world–one which remains both prominent and elusive in his/her imagination?
As with most things, there’s a history . . .