The above image is from the cover of my upcoming book: Diary of an AfroGeek.
Being an AfroGeek is all about being comfortable, and expecting, to hold immense contradictions. It is loving Firefly, Serenity, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but having a strong feeling that Joss Whedon doesn’t love you back. It is about getting into passionate discussions about why and how Storm’s original mohawk incarnation was one of the more powerful political statements in comics, but being appalled at how uninteresting she became when she married Black Panther.
And then being even angrier when their marriage ended. It is about spending your hard earned cash and carving out time to attend SF film’s the day they open only to find that, on the screen, people who look like you don’t exist, die early, or are simply used as wallpaper to try and provide the illusion of diversity. It is taking a critical microscope to the first two Blade films (the third one should never be spoken of) and parse out the implicit and explicit Africaneity of the character and the films. It is also going to the mat with anyone who disagrees with you that if it weren’t for the first Blade film, X-Men (2000) would have taken longer to reach the screen. Yes, I said it. If it weren’t for Blade the X-Men film would have languished longer and Marvel Studios may never have become a thing. Hey Marvel “phase film” fans, bow down to Wesley Snipes and Blade, and thank them for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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Peppering your speech with “sci-fisms” like, Kobayashi Maru to indicate a no win situation, or accusing someone of acting like “Deckard” for attacking their own people aren’t cute and precious ways of asserting nerd-cred. They are orientation devices, compasses, lodestones — things that anchor us and give us permission to pilot through sometimes-tricky social terrain. A (former) good friend of mine (R.I.P.) admitted to me the most awkward of secretive admissions, that whenever he got into a fight — either on the street or in the ring — he’d imagine that he was wearing the belt-worn shield generator form David Lynch’s 1984 train wreck of a genius film, Dune. He confided in me that this was why he was so undefeated. He mentally projected a boxy shield around himself; blurring his form and breaking his rhythm, and waded into the fight without any fear because he knew he was protected. This shield did not protect him from his own body betraying him, and he passed in the middle of the night. He was already in the hospital having been sick for a while, and he and his then girlfriend were watching the first season of Lost on a raggedy portable DVD player.
They watched well into the night, until they both fell asleep. She was the only one who woke up. She insisted that he be buried with the Lost Season One box set and that beat-to-hell Panasonic. His family tried to refuse, but I understood. I was 3,000 miles away and could not make it to the funeral, but I spoke with his parents and they relented their objection. I still don’t think they understood her insistence. I do. I would have loved to have discussed the final season with him. “They were all… what?” He’d yell and then go off on an hour tirade about how SF cannot do endings because no one wants good SF to end, so they end every SF show in such crappy fashion as an eff you to their feelings of loneliness and despondency. They know the show cannot go on forever, but it is sad and painful to have to leave the fantastic, so they salt the earth.
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Looking at Box Office Mojo’s list of the (at the time of this writing) highest grossing films of all time disgusts me. Out of the top 50 films, all but a very small handful (actually one, Titanic — I’m not sure where I stand on the Pixar films) can be categorized as SF. And out of these 50 films, there isn’t a person of color in any of the three primary leads. Out of these I have seen all but one: Despicable Me 2. I won’t even adjust for inflation, but this means that I have spent around $2,000+ on these films. More when you factor in my paying for the tickets of others, those expensive ass snacks, and parking. Hell, I’ve devoted around 98 hours (a little over four days) supporting fictional worlds and real-world commercial enterprises that care nothing about people of color. What is wrong with me? We’re expected to accept white experience, fictional or not, as the default whereas our lives and experiences are dubbed ‘too foreign’, or “too niche,” or “won’t do well overseas,” or “can you make it more like Precious or The Help?”
* * *
Once SF gets hold of you, you’re kind of in it for life. Kind of like getting jumped into a gang. Whether you get hooked through television, comics, literature, film, or music (yes, music) you’re kind of done for. In all of the areas I just listed, I can tell you exactly what it was that got me hooked; the echoes of those original feelings keep me hooked.
Television: Star Trek (the original series). ‘Nuff said. As you may have noticed, Trek rears its head a few times throughout my writings.
Film: My aunt, Rosie May, took me to see Logan’s Run three months before my fifth birthday. When Box (voiced by Roscoe Lee Brown) went into his ice cave, all those preserved bodies — I was done for.
Comics: 1977 was a bugged out year for me. My… distaste for Star Wars was fomented. Ya’ll already read about that, I hope. If not… And I received a few Black Panther comics and a Godzilla: King of Monsters comic.
All that adventure, and I could carry it with my anywhere? I knew about the Marvel and DC universes because of their cartoons, but I wasn’t up on the four-colors. That changed. I became a rabid collector until Warren Ellis’ (I’d argue he is the best writer in comic history) Planetary ended. It felt like I’d lost my… spirit animal?
Literature: I’m bright. Always have been. I was a very early reader. I read Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree the week of my third birthday, and (with the help of a lovely teacher who’s name I cannot remember) got through The Hobbit the summer before first grade. It was hard and I understood about seventy percent of it, but we were diligent, and she was patient. But what really go me hooked were Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné books. They were so far out there that I couldn’t take it. “Yo. The sword is hungry?”
I’d be remiss not to mention Weis and Hickman’s original Dragonlance books, Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books (Pimp Lane?) and, of course, Octavia Estelle Butler.
Le Guin, Juster, Asimov, Gibson, Barnes, Brust. Bull — the list would be too long if I mentioned all of my influences.
Music: Jamaican dub. King Jammy. When something from the late sixties and early seventies sounds like the soundtrack of an alternate future, an AfroGeek couldn’t help but fall in love. I also have to give nothing but props to Sun Ra. He married cool out there blackness and SF in such a way that it appears as if they always belonged together, that inner and outer space was our birthright.
He was right. It was, it is, and it will always be. Black kids have electric dreams.
3 thoughts on “Ballad of an AfroGeek”
great piece. hit on many memories. and i think I dig “AfroGeek” better than blerd.
Really enjoyed this.
I definitely agree with your Blade comment. Don’t understand why folks don’t mark that as the beginning of Marvel’s cinematic ascent.
That opening scene in the meat packing plant still get’s me hyped.
A proud “AfroGeek” through and through. 🙂
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