Afrofuturism’s Stranger Blues

1993 Cover of Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

…I woke up this morning
And I put on my walkin’ shoes
I’m goin’ down the road
Cause I got them walkin’ blues

I’m just a stranger here
I’m just a stranger there
I’m just a stranger everywhere
Sometimes I know that I would go home (I would go home)
But I’m a stranger there…

I’m just a stranger here
I’m just a stranger there
Good God, you know
I’m just passing through
Passing through your town.

I would stay
But your people keep on doggin’ me ’round….

“Stranger Blues,” Sweet Honey in the Rock

Bernice Johnson Reagon and Aisha Kahlil of Sweet Honey in the Rock composed “Stranger Blues.”  It was released in 1985 on the group’s album The Other Side (Flying Fish Records).

And when I heard it, I heard these lines:

I’m just a stranger here
I’m just a stranger there
Good God, you know
I’m just passing through
Passing through your time.

That’s right.  Just so.

Passing through your time.

Afrofuturism has always had the stranger blues.

Part of it is, as Mark Sinker notes, we are convinced the apocalypse has already happened.  Slavery.  Colonialism.  Segregation.  Military and prison industrial complexes.  Nuclear war.  Climate upheaval.  There is no waiting for a punishing Judgement.  The future is now.  We are meta.

But part of it is that these violences are central to the Afro-diasporic experience.  Slavery as a moment of rupture, dispersal and forced immigration.  Colonialism that literally transforms home into hostile territory.  Structures of segregation and apartheid that reshape you as a foreign object when you move into the wrong spaces (e.g. school, lunch counter) or walk down the wrong street without your pass or papers.

When Will Smith played a lone ranger scientist in I am Legend, we didn’t blink an eye.  When Denzel Washington played lone ranger spiritualist in Book of Eli, we were not surprised.  Walking among the ruins wondering if you are the last man or woman on Earth?  We know that feeling.  And Janelle Monae can ask as easily today as fifty years ago (as five hundred years ago)

So you think I’m alone?
But being alone’s the only way to be
When you step outside
You spend life fighting for your sanity
This is a cold war
You better know what you’re fighting for
This is a cold war
Do you know what you’re fighting for?

Stranger blues is beyond black.  The genocide of tens of millions of First Peoples across an entire hemisphere is a meme in speculative fiction that has been turned inside out by writers like Eduardo Galeano.  The liminal status of brown “aliens” in U.S. immigration policy supplies another storyline, another discordant note.  Latin America’s “modernization” over the last century (with the help of a little bit of tyranny, white-washing and hyper-militarization sanctioned by the U.S. and at the expense of its black and brown peoples) is so much like a real-life Star Wars or Lord of the Rings saga, that Junot Diaz based the childhood fantasies of his most famous character on it.

Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz, November 25, 2010 by masa (Click)

Afrofuturism is #sablefangyrls and  #sablefanbois whistling in the dark at the disaster around them but holding hands with hermanas and hermanos across the universe.  We are Pan-Alien.

(to be continued….)

via NPR Music: “After 34 years of making music, Sweet Honey in the Rock has kept its flavor and its fan base, even as its lineup has changed. The group recently visited NPR for a performance and interview, sharing old favorites and songs from its latest CD, “Experience…101.””

~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Sable Fan Gyrl joins Kismet Nuñez is one of the Skillsharers of the of the 3rd Annual INCITE! Shawty Got Skillz workshop at the 2011 Allied Media Conference!  Help us get to Detroit!  Click here!  

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One thought on “Afrofuturism’s Stranger Blues

  1. Pingback: Afrofuturism’s Stranger Blues (via Nuñez Daughter) « Aker: Futuristically Ancient

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