Sean Cameron Golden and Nick Kleese
In English, ‘confluence’ means the meeting of two unlike bodies: rivers, ideas, peoples. It is commonly used as a noun with passive implications. However, in the summer of 2020, in seeking to resist the violence of the anti-Black and COVID-19 pandemics, we desired a more active, agitational movement. By transforming a noun into a verb, we postulate that place and race are not only active social constructions, but ones that can be leveraged through specifically articulated frameworks to imagine a collective futurity and solidarity.
In this article, we write from our respective places and positionalities to outline AfroRuralFuturism: an interpretive framework that facilitates critical conversations about canonical narratives that exacerbate standing structures of oppression. We provide an open syllabus for educators in both formal and informal settings to take up this line of inquiry, as well as share the correspondences that helped to shape AfroRuralFuturism. We hope the relationship illuminated throughout these narratives, as well as examples of theorizing-in-action, demonstrates one way in which we might complicate ideas of future spaces in order to forge solidarity amongst marginalized populations.
Pandemics are both collective and individual – collective in the sense that they have global causes and impacts, and individual in the sense that our identities and experiences shape the way these play out in specific locales. Importantly, the fear, anxiety, and danger pandemics produce risk obscuring potential sites of, and opportunities for, solidarity.
In our respective places, we, Sean and Nick, both secondary English educators, witnessed these disruptive effects.
In Long Beach, protestors peacefully kneeled as, directly across the street, cops watched looters (of all colors) break in and flee from an Urban Outfitters. The next day on our daily morning bike ride, (I [Sean] and my mother [a black woman]) were approached by a familiar older white man. My mom and he had worked together for school fundraisers in the past. Not wearing a mask – my mom was masked up, and I wore a bandanna – he asked, “what did we think of all this crap.” By crap he was referring to the protestors rallying together to fight police brutality and end the legalized hunting of black people. My mom engaged. Later I cried in the shower. We both agreed it is exhausting to be black, in all the expansive forms of blackness there are.
In Washington, Iowa, a majority-white farming community, several members of the city council opposed a public lecture from a Black Lives Matter activist because “these issues did not arise in the town of Washington and are problems only in major cities such as Minneapolis and Seattle” (Teske 2020). Displacing responsibility to an imagined, racialized, urban other threatened the potential promised by raising awareness through sharing information and stories, building empathy, and collaboration.
In face of these two examples, we hold that race and geography are profoundly connected. These connections are due in part to the fact that race and geography are two distinct conceptual categories that can interface across many registers and within innumerable human experiences. These connections are also historical, owing largely to the development of a white supremacist racial capitalism that removed Indigenous peoples from the land, enslaved Black and Indigneous people and people of color to work it, and dispossessed millions of Black farmers from the very same land (cf, Estes 2019; Newkirk 2019). In material ways, these systems continue to produce alienation, domination, and inequality.
Race and geography are also connected in our collective imagination. In myriad cultural mediums, they speak. Oppressive images, rhetorics, and stories project a rurality that exists in the collective national consciousness as white and an urbanity as Black – despite the obvious, historical, and current diversity of these geographies. This imagery is evoked in both ‘official’ and popular avenues. With such commonplace imagery, and with such an urgent need to build empathy and community, we find ourselves wondering about ways of reading that bring our attention to the intersections of race, geography, and collective action.
As two former Secondary English educators, we recognize the power of literacy and literary analysis to support critical conversations about complex issues. But we also recognize that formal American education has been, since its conception, deeply enmeshed in historical and ongoing white supremacist, colonial, segregationist, and nationalist projects (Joubert 2019). And yet, we maintain that – with the right resources, with different narratives – classrooms can be sites where consciousness is raised, solidarities imagined and enacted, and young peoples’ ongoing activism effectively supported (Lozenski 2019).
In what follows, we write from our respective geographies and positionalities. In the first section, we share the experiences and theories meaningful to us to contend that place and race are central to imagining – in our relationships, in our stories, in our classrooms, and in our material world – Black futurity. We then offer three forms by/from which this imagination can emerge. The first is composed of excerpts from email exchanges that demonstrate analysis using Afrofuturist and rural frameworks to critique anti-Blackness as it manifests in both pedagogy and texts, which contributes to the subjugation of Black folx and rural folx alike. Second, we provide a potential curriculum for educators to build coalitions across different racial and geographic communities. The texts suggested at the end of this article combat the narratives that contribute to Black death and celebrate Black liberation and liberatory practices as a way to sustain life. We believe that by reading in this way, seeking these solidarities, and combining scholarship and friendship we can agitate both the systems that divide and the imaginaries that uphold this division.
Narrative and Theoretical Confluences
In 2017, I (Sean) started my first teaching job at Brooklyn Center Middle STEAM School (BC); a community school organized to support our students, their families, and teachers with basic healthcare needs. I was excited to work in a school predominantly filled with people of color in the halls – to note, I was the only black teacher in the middle school at the time. In my six periods of English Language Arts (ELA) teaching, interacting, supporting, and teaching my 180 students, eight of my students were white. Thinking about the BC demographics, this would be the place to start disrupting curriculum. However, the ELA teachers were given scripted curriculums from EngageNY by our white female librarian with no teaching degree. It was almost demanded that we inherently follow the design of this curriculum that clearly did not meet the needs of our students, nor, at most, their ability levels. EngageNY curriculum centered and comforted white students and teachers.
When it was time to teach the text To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM), a problematic text for numerous reasons, I diverged from the script. No part of me wanted to damage my students of color in the way I was damaged by this text. As Dumas writes, “Schooling is not merely a site of suffering, but I believe it is the suffering that we have been least willing or able to acknowledge or give voice to in educational scholarship” (Dumas 2014). It was a feat for students of color to walk through the school doors everyday. Policed and put on trial by white teachers and principals, they sat in their desks waiting to read allusions to their death – a reinforcing of their suffering. In a space where children’s imaginations should be unbounded from oppression, it was disgusting to be given a text that reminded us all that freedom and liberation are merely an aberration in the classroom.
Knowing TKAM was a requirement for my students, the challenge became manipulating the messaging of EngageNY and the anti-activist language of our school (Haymarket Books 2020). The curriculum positioned the teacher to instruct the students to believe that Atticus Finch was hero and
defender of racial justice. However, the truth is that Atticus was racist; he was forced to defend Tom Robinson. As Haines puts it: “It is a myth, a lie that America tells itself that perpetuates racism. At best, he was the least overtly racist person in a racist town” (Haines 2020). In a time when the image of a black body, lifeless in a public space with police surrounding my brothers and sisters is difficult to escape, I could not teach these students To Kill A Mockingbird from this lens (Smith 2015). Instead I asked them to seek justice for Tom Robinson. The goal was to disrupt the narrative EngageNY wanted them to believe – that they cannot save themselves. Instead, the angsty, exhausted, liberatory messaging of Black Lives Matter was centered. My classroom became a stage for protests and visibility. Students learned about Angela Davis and Assata Shakur. They spent time designing their own equality movement. Tom’s death would not be lost in the pages of schooling. Instead Tom would be liberated from the curriculum, and Atticus tried. Later that year I was fired for being unprofessional and not following the scripted curriculum – fired by a white man.
The year before Sean began to wrestle with the curriculum at Brooklyn Center, I (Nick) was teaching all sorts of Secondary English and serving as the faculty co-sponsor of the multicultural student group in my hometown of Washington, IA – a majority white farming community with a significant Lantinx population. As a farm kid myself, I had grown up to witness and live the effects of turbulent agricultural economics, community in and out migration, and national political rhetoric in the schools. This came into no finer a point than the day after the 2016 election. Throughout the day, groups of mostly white, male students could be seen and heard chanting “build the wall” in the hallways. Throughout the day Latinx students came to my room to process. At least once, the principal had made a polite announcement over the PA reminding the school of its anti-bullying policies.
The thing about small schools – small rural schools, in particular – is that they are intimate. By ‘intimate’ I don’t mean cohesive or unified, but rather that with a small enough student population, social relations are both numerous and deep. When the final bell rang that day, I sat at my desk, stunned at the inability of those white, male students to recognize the harm they were causing to their peers, teammates, locker buddies, project partners, student government representatives, co-workers, and friends. I wondered why it was that they could not see that the promise of a faraway wall, which was for them an abstraction, was causing actual, immediate hurt to those with whom they lived face to face. The constructed distinction between geography and race, and this distinction’s blinding effect, appeared to me as both a political and epistemological problem.
I have been learning to see beyond the well-worn dichotomies that shape popular images of rurality in the United States to instead conceptualize it in relationship to the state’s normative power (Ashwood 2018). By state, I mean the centralizing tendencies of both ideologies and institutions that may be either governmental or more nebulous and dispersed. Rural places are indeed susceptible to these tendencies, but they can also exist outside of them. In this openness there is, I believe, opportunity for liberatory possibilities. hooks (2009) describes these in geographical terms in that “away from the country, in the city, rules were made by unknown others and were imposed and enforced. In the hills of my girlhood white and black folks often lived in a racially integrated environment, with boundaries determined more by chosen territory than race” (p. 8). Granted, colonial, white supremacist discourses and their attendant social practices have stymied the reassessment of these boundaries in innumerable locales – including the one in which I was raised. And yet, critical engagement with Black futures – occurring, in part, through stories – may be one way to invite those former white, male, rural students to think and act in more collective, empathetic ways conducive to Black liberation.
We believe an agitational education does separate race and geography, but to teach them as they are lived: in confluence, as we all bleed red. This framework is not the key. It is a beginning to coalition building in a time when physical proximity poses a risk to that same coalition. A start to new orders that attempt to dismantle the narrative of Black Urbanity versus White Ruralism – as seen in TKAM, Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, Great Gatsby, and the other archaic canonical texts that offer little of substance in these pandemics. Rather, these geographies are complex, steeped in histories that continue to inform the present regardless of whether they are articulated (Barnd 2017; Dunbar-Ortiz 2014). While learning these histories and their complexities is necessary, it is not the only step. Indeed, we do not believe in a single key that offers all the answers; we believe in openings and beginnings. We believe in critical conversations between unlike communities as a way for young people to build solidarity. We believe it is time to disrupt and replace the global curriculums that choose to abide by imperialist, anti-Black, and colonial ideologies, and finally break the chains and holds these systems of oppression use to keep us docile and apart.
Below, we offer three examples of how collective, critical consciousness might be raised. We provide examples of emails between the authors, a unit outline for the formal secondary classroom, and an open syllabus for facilitating conversation and contemplation across race and place. While we write this with our former secondary students and current undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) in mind, we believe it can be widely adapted for both formal and informal contexts.
Space has always tethered people because of the numerous possibilities in the vast openness. From watching the stars from Bolsa Chica State Beach, in Sunset Beach, California, to staring up at Mars from a just-picked cornfield on an Iowa farm, space has always been a prevalent character in every human’s story. Spaces give shape to our communal stories. Still, individuals can seek spaces that they can shape. A child, for instance, seeks a space where they can understand their place in this world. This child has gone all over libraries scouring the hallways looking for a space in which all their intersectional identities are represented. This child has a story of their own, so big it changes the space itself. These stories move culture forward. They sustain creativity and life, shift racial divides, give power to marginalized beings.
Sean to Nicholas, Sunday June 9th, 11:14 AM
I am writing this from my childhood bedroom in Rossmoor, California. As you know I flew home to spend time with my dad as he was just diagnosed with a potentially life ending illness (to top it off, it is hereditary). My hands are on 10 and 2 as I speed out of Long Beach filled with angsty frustration and an abundance of determination.
Everyone at the house was white – it was my friend’s engagement party I told you about a couple days ago (the scene where I am his ‘black gay friend getting his Phd’). Honestly, I should’ve said no, weddings are so heteronormative. Not to digress…
The images that played across my windshield were not of the road, but of his white friend (who claims he is indigenous to Hawaii) lamenting about his privilege. He voted for Trump, he thinks government protected land should be given to private sectors, and his role model is Elon Musk; he is what I think is wrong with this country.
In the middle of the bar, faces illuminated by the fluorescent red and green lights of The Green Mill decor, I knew I loved him. The Clippers danced on screen, and he watched, asking questions about players.
What was really frustrating – beyond the lowkey implicit mix of racism and homophobia – was the normativity of whiteness at the party.
As I gripped the wheel tight,
I tried to play it cool,
leaned back in my bar stool,
twiddled my thumbs,
legs spread wide,
I stole sideways glances
Escaping dreaded thoughts – the compounding of a break-up, a dad dying, and a best friend unwilling to reckon with his and his new friends’ privilege – I thought about our patio table discussion of Akata Witch and Afrofuturism. We spoke about how to teach it to my students of color, but I wonder, how would we teach it to white working and upper middle class folks? The people at the party, the people from your hometown.
How do we get people to see me? Also, how do marginalized individuals see those in the center? How do marginalized communities see each other?
Nicholas to Sean, June 11th, 2019, 8:23 PM
Back in Iowa, replanting soybeans… this morning, I was listening to a journalist on Iowa Public Radio interview a county sheriff and police officer (both white) about their staffing shortages. When asked about public perception of police after Ferguson, they both danced around race. Or they slipped into colorblindness – one said something about how “it’s not just black folks who are wary of sending their children to be police officers,” as even his (white) mother wished he would have done something different. And I bounced around in the tractor thinking, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”
How then to teach Afrofuturism in specific rural places that are mostly white? The challenge seems (and I’m speculating) to be making racial diversity important in a place that can be protected in its own whiteness. So, to talk about Afrofuturism would likely require a recognition of students’ own races first, right? In majority white places, the risk is re-centering whiteness – but in this case, doing this might be generative and necessary in making discussions about Afrofuturism viable and meaningful.
Of course, not all rural places are entirely white. Not even my rural place. Nor has whiteness always been so closely associated with rurality… a recent, violent development…
Sean to Nicholas, June 14th 2019, 12:43 AM
I am writing this at 11:57 PM, naked and high in my bed alone; back in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The National Live at Best Kept Secret has been my guide as I dissect the anatomy of a break-up; it truly is one of the most heartbreaking things – like a vegetable peeler skinning away pieces of my heart – I wish this on no one. I came to the realization in the past six months I could feel him running away from me, and I was too tired to pursue anymore.
To unravel your brain a bit, I think a common vision would be sustainability, right? Sustainability of languages, cultures, art, food, human connection. Where do we go without those? I think the beauty of this organism, and now ‘Afrorurualfuturism’ – what do you think of that term? – is its sustainability, because it bonds us through art and diasporic experiences.
There are so many overlapping themes of techno-agrarian, rurality, and urbanitinity in the art and music. As I think of your former students in Washington, Iowa, I’m thinking about classrooms, curricula, lessons… I wonder if we created a unit in which they start by writing their vision of the future? I would assume we need to start small before we go big.
Utopian Imaginations. This unit can be shaped around building rural spaces to be this utopia. Done in an art class in which the students explore the medium of collage; the final project being a collage, they would be able to physically put together a world in which they can exist in Afrofuturism. The driving question of the unit could be: how do you see yourself in Afrofuturism?
Why does it always have to be cities? Maybe they study the Wakanda scenes from Black Panther. Very ruralesque.
How do you see yourself in Afrofuturism?
This moment in life aches. This project has kept me from truly clawing myself apart – I think about the endless possibilities of the future beyond heartbreak, I must embark on it with ferocity.
Nicholas to Sean, June 24th 2019, 10:21 AM
As I’m looking out at the corn just beginning to poke through the dirt, I’m wondering: how do I see myself in Afroruralfuturism? As an ally or co-conspirator in getting rural (and (sub)urban!) folks to shake up their ideas of who belongs in the countryside. It needs to be safe and accessible to all. I hope Afroruralfuturism could be the doorway to opening up minds, and it’ll take me being loud about what whiteness is to start to push the door.
…It’s not that rural and Afrofuturism are mutually exclusive, but just that I’ve never thought about them together before (and why would this be?). I’m wondering about what tenets of Afrofuturism are already present in rural places and with rural people… you’re right in noting that for both there’s a need to think in utopian terms.
The collage unit sounds amazing. I’m envisioning a partnership between ELA, Art, and even Ag Ed and Social Studies. We’d be asking students to build their futures but also question the reasons they envision that future… as well as who it features.
The Wakanda example is interesting. Yes, there are the pastoral scenes featuring W’Kabi outside the city proper, though I’d argue that Wakandan society is still urban centered. But this inclusion is promising.
Here’s another: that scene at the very beginning of the new Star Trek with the car chase through the future Iowa farmland? When I watch that, I think of the Enterprise being built on the horizon. For such a massive construction project, I wonder who is doing the work? Certainly that place’s population can’t support the project alone… who’s doing the hard labor? The specialized, intricate work? How is that project going to upend the place….
Sean to Nicholas, July 1st, 11:14 PM
I’m writing this from Blackstack Brewery in Duluth, Minnesota. Whenever people spoke of Duluth it was imagined in my head as a white space; a pure space where white people can commune with nature up North – and maybe that is true, I was the only black person I saw on the trails today. However, there is quite a presence of black people. Why is it black people are rarely (often never) imagined in/with nature?
the shroomergence lacked the desired
but the water
gave life. The rocky shores;
called my body
I had to
in/with Lake Superior
As always your questioning and postulations seemed to holler that you’re looking for a definition of ‘the rural?’
Stomping through the marshlike terrain of the Lake Superior Trail I thought of Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wild. Specifically her environment and surroundings. I felt in that moment I could be on the Louisiana Bayou – which led to:
What is rural? And: How are we picturing the rural? And: How does ‘America’ picture the rural?
Thinking of these questions because of the conversation we had about what the connection would be between Afrofuturism and Rurality studies, I wonder if we can possibly transcend race in/with rurality by connecting the different ‘rurals’ in America? For example, rural Louisiana/Bayou probably has a different racial demographic than rural Wyoming. Could you see this as a way of counteracting the notion that rural is white?
Beast of the Southern Wild can be seen as a film that features those that live in rural areas of America…. or the documentary series RISE on Viceland that documents the indigenous water revolution and the revitalization of their community as a whole.
With the ability to move past race would give us a breadth of resources to draw on as we build the rural into Afrofuturism and Afrofuturism into the rural. I believe this gets into your question: “what are the connections/linkages between Afrofuturism and rural literacies/education/sociology?” Is it the variety of races in/with the rural and Afrofuturism?
Perhaps honoring the women as caretakers and providers? At the heart of Afrofuturism lays a strong feminist and queer narrative. The short film Pumzi could be another textual reference – a future centering Black women as the protectors of a green world.
The beauty of being human is that we are in/with each other at once. Toni Morrison wrote in Paradise, speaking of black people: “We live in the world… The whole world.” The first step to establish a firm bond between Afrofuturism and rurality, therefore carving out a need for Afrofuturism to be included in rural literacies and education. Afrofuturism can serve as a bond between art, technology, and identity construction because of its fluid framework.
The magnificent cerulean blue could’ve been the Ocean. At that moment it was the Ocean. I’ve missed the Ocean, my mother. Everytime I breathe in her sweet, salty air. Feel the caress of her cool sea breeze. Be weightless with her, I am healed.
Water. The politics of water. I’m thinking of this and possibly another connection point. Water can be seen as political, spiritual, mystical. We can create an interdisciplinary unit pairing with social studies.
Concluding with a couple thoughts: the potential to reclaim my erotic energy and shed myself of the sexual binary is so thrilling (thank you for sharing Pleasure Activism with me). I think what is consuming me now is the want to grow and learn in order to become a more fuller being. Thank you for letting me process with you today, the complexities of a break-up are exhaustively consuming – I need the Ocean; my little pocket of the Pacific.
Nicholas to Sean, July 5th, 8:52 AM
Hay baling season, and I’m sunburned and glad for the break that Pumzi afforded me. It threw me through a loop, in a good way, and pushed me to rethink rurality even more. Sure, those folks live in relative seclusion inside their sealed, gleaming, techno-pod. And that self-contained structure is in a remote place… but I wonder where all those folks came from to live together. And I wonder how the techno-pod, as a corporate or government-run society, restricts those folks from expressing themselves as potentially rural.
If we were to give Pumzi to my former students, I wonder if they’d call it rural. It doesn’t look at all like the rural we were living in: majority white, lushly green fields, an ‘Americana’ town square. And I’m putting ‘Americana’ in scare quotes like you did for ‘America’ in your email, because some folks are for sure going to not be included depending on how we define it.
What young people are given to read about rurality is pretty slim – Little House on the Prairie; Sarah Plain and Tall; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; etc. Lots of historical fiction about pioneers and Dust Bowl migrants and tenant farmers. Maybe there are less historical, less agrarian, less white (RoTHMC excepted), but these are few and far between. Some are like Deliverance for teens. Most are pastoral, nostalgic looks at an Old McDonald-esque world. But if you go to any book store and look at the boardbooks, I guarantee you there’ll be a handful of stories about farm animals: pigs and cows and ducks and chickens and sheep and horses all frolicking in the pasture outside a red barn. My family’s farm looks nothing like that. And neither do my friends’ family farms. So who is writing these books? And what do they think farms are?
Every four years, come presidential election time, I hear the same two things: Iowa is the breadbasket of the country, the real America; Iowa is a backwater, nothing at all what America is. So which is it…?
Sean to Nicholas, July 7th 2019, 2:35 PM
I’m at Mojo Coffee back in Minneapolis. I’ve been anxious, on edge, waiting to go back home, to be in/with the water I’d known all my life. Lake Superior was a tease, healing – but too much like a one night stand. Immediately after that wave of satisfaction and ‘fuck yeah’ energy, you revert deep back into woeful sorrow. Break-ups are worse than the Final Destination rollercoaster.
When watching the Nakhane video Clairvoyant, I immediately thought of serpentwithfeet. The other movie that came to mind is Moonlight. In both texts water moves in/with the characters’ lives and stories. Clairvoyantly Nakhane cuts back and forth to images of him in a bathtub, and in his other video New Brighton, the opening looks like a beautiful queer birthing scene.
Moonlight is set in Florida by water. At each phase of his life the protagonist has some sort of reckoning moment with water. Obviously water has many connections to giving life, being soft, fluid. However, uncontrollable, deadly, unknown. I wonder if these themes about water, and played out in the texts, connect to how people could potentially see Afroruralfuturism? Or, is this how people who don’t have access to queerness see queerness – soft and fluid, but also deadly because it is unknown to them?
The idea of the rural being queer…
Nakhane and Moonlight would be incredible texts to use; we can juxtapose those with Binti and Beasts of the Southern Wild. However, and correct me if I am wrong, would Nakhane be a little too aggressive for Washingrton, Iowa students (parent complaints…ugh)?
As I see it, one of Afrofuturism’s ultimate goals is to have equal representation and inclusion via centering of historically marginalized folks in visions of self/future. We’ve been excluded from politics far too long – time to elbow our way in. On This American Life, they talk to the woman who runs a political campaign in Detroit steeped in Afrofuturistic ideologies. Unfortunately, they treat her like a circus sideshow. I would really be interested in using/treating Afrofuturism in this study as if it were an equity movement.
Some other questions: Did you ever feel like your hometown was being ‘sold out’ or underrepresented? How have rural people themselves been marginalized?
Lastly, I am a strong proponent for the use of Pumzi to be included as one of our central texts. Obviously, water. But it also furthers the idea that advanced technological societies are not utopic. As seen, the citizens are rationed – in food, in voice, and in connection. The one positive interaction the protagonist has with other citizens was when the cleaner slips her the soil. Going deeper, the protagonist knows the future is beyond her small facility (another rural notion?). Recognizing if she stays, her community will remain stagnant.
Nicholas to Sean, July 27, 4:45 AM
This time of year is always the hottest and muggiest in Iowa. Storm season. I remember growing up, when it’d rain, we’d sometimes shower outside. And in the winter, we’d have to bucket water to the calves when the hoses froze. And in the summer, it’d rain so hard the water would tear gulleys between the corn rows deep enough to put your hand into.
People think of Iowa as purely prairie farms. I know I’ve described it as dry and windy, but it’s also nestled between the Missouri and the Mississippi and criss-crossed with streams and creeks. And folks who farm on river bottoms have some of the most fertile land, but also the most floodable land.
I want to play with the idea of home. I think it might be able to help me think about AFR (AFR = AfroFuturism+Rurality) and water. If Afrofuturism is an aesthetic and intellectual movement that envisions a future in which people of color are positively centered in global imagination/consciousness and have access to the resources this attention confers, then AfroFuturism would necessitate a right to 1) comfortable, safe spaces (e.g. homes) and sustenance (e.g. water) – both of which require a place for these visions to unfold. I keep wondering if this future is necessarily urban. I think, in a national cultural subconscious, it is. But I, myself, don’t believe this. Rather, as food and water become more scarce, there’ll need to be a decentralizing of communities in order to have closer access to food, water, etc. Even in Washington, the water table is slowly draining because of the overproduction of hogs. The global appetite for pork is drinking my county dry.
You asked if my hometown is sold out or underrepresented. I say yes, but in different ways. I think of my former students: the high achieving white kids were college bound, but many were heading for trade schools or community college, and another good many were going straight to work. Once, when we were about to start a new writing unit, one student told me that they couldn’t do what I was asking them to do – to write – because they were just a hick.
And to your point about Nakhane being too aggressive for Iowa farm kids – not innately, but I know if I was shown that as a fifteen year old I’d have no idea what to make of it. Maybe a different text could very easily be Beasts of the Southern Wild. Hushpuppy would make for an awesome character study. She’s a young rural kid of color who is gendered as a boy and who could be relatable to a bunch of my former students. She’s resourceful, she loves to be outside (maybe not by choice, but still…), she’s encouraged to leave the Bathtub by the urban doctors (and refuses), and deals with a lot of adult addiction (not to say all adults are struggling with addiction, but still…rates are high in rural places…). All of this in a character that is gender ambiguous…
Sean to Nicholas, July 31st 2019, 10:46 AM
I am sitting in Chromatic Coffee in Santa Clara, California (about an hour south of San Francisco). What I have found rejuvenating about this place, and being back in California, is the robust presence of people of color. In Minneapolis it sometimes feels like you need to crane your neck to find someone who looks like me, sees similar experiences, recognizes my lived existence.
It could be one of those fated signs, like seeing a bald eagle on a road trip… you mentioned fluidity and shared with me Nakhane before this trip. I went to a gay dive bar in downtown San Jose, CA. I met Essex Holland and their/her twin sister; who happens to be pansexual – it was enlightening to learn more about how other people practice their pansexuality.
Essex is a gay man that performs in drag. When they are dressed as Essex they prefer ‘she/her’ pronouns. When not in drag, they prefer ‘they/them’ pronouns. We talked about the spectrum of sexuality and being a queer person of color. Reiterating; it was refreshing to be in an environment where Queer POCs outnumbered the white gay cisgender men that dominate the spaces of Minneapolis/Twin Cities.
Our radically queer education trip continued the following day at the Oakland Museum of California; an exhibit called Queer California was on display. The exhibits were more than casual art viewing, but it was curated so that everyone – gay/straight/bisexual/wherever one is on the spectrum – could interact with queerness. Board games, creative timelines, and maps of lesbian bars long forgotten weaved a story of the influence queer culture had on California.
Always in eyesight, the word ‘fluid,’ kept capturing my attention. The motto, so to speak, was “The Future is Fluid.” Returning and reflecting on this motto throughout the visit, I thought of how we want to design a future in which kids like us have a space to meet earlier in life. In this spirit, we should design our unit using pedagogies that are perhaps fluid. I think if we approach this through an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach using multimodal writing projects, students will have agency to write themselves into Afroruralfuturism.
Furthering interdisciplinary and multimodal forms of writing, the unit should be in collaboration with the art teacher, the agriculture teacher, the english teacher, etc.:
1) so the students see people they look like and trust interacting with a foreign theory and
2) pushing the idea that education is not scary – through multimodal writing, kids can use art and words, music and words, to theorize how they see Afroruralfuturism in their community. Also pushing this theme of fluidity. Education can be fluid in such a way the student starts to design how they learn.
As far as a thesis, you feelin’ any of these vibes?
1) Place, survival, and affirmation have been prevalent themes in rural studies and Afrofuturism. Currently we are facing a water crisis. Forging these two disciplines together can break down barriers of race, sexuality, and acceptance in order to alleviate water problems.
2) Afrofuturism meets rural studies to create a fluid movement with the purpose of deconstructing race in Washington, Iowa through the fluidity of water and unbridled imagination. (Add in techno-agrarian themes). (Cannot lose speculative piece. What is speculative art?)
3) Ruralness has always been negatively viewed by mainstream society. Portrayed in media as all-white small towns, uneducated, hillbilly like people; these places have always been in the shadow of major cities. Pairing Afrofuturism with rural studies can create a utopia using the fluidity and sustainability of water.
I leave tomorrow morning. San Jose has been restorative – I saw a piece of the Ocean, I had strong identity confirmations. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to return. I don’t know what I am returning to.
Nicholas to Sean, August 6th, 2:32 AM
I spent some time these past few days driving alone through the low rolling and green, green hills and felt the most at home that I’ve felt in a long while. Maybe I’m able to identify so strongly with a landscape because my whiteness is so pervasive as to not be contested there or here. My affinity with white, cis, straight male IDs is easy to come by (or, to put it a different way, hard to get away from), but spending time in MPLS has me longing for a place-affinity that is Iowa.
I’m super glad your time in Santa Clara was rejuvenating. I’m excited to hear more about it and hear your rundown of Queer California – among what seems like, from my end, the hundred million goings on you’ve had these past couple of weeks. But, until then, what I’m taking from your sharing about your time there is the generative power of being at home. Home can be a place, but it’s more so people. Maybe you wouldn’t go so far as to say you felt at home there.
I really, really dig your ideas for moving this into educational spaces. Multimodality seems like it’d be an essential part of this. Even interdisciplinarity. I’m imagining this manifesting in ELA classrooms in collaboration with the history department (to learn about the histories of the place) and ag education (to think about sustainable farming practices) and art (to create visions of the future). Hell, even the voc education folks can get involved: we’ll need welders and carpenters and CAD engineers in this pluralist, inclusive future. I’m thinking, too, that this is pretty much YPAR: we’re asking students to consider the problem of creating that pluralist, inclusive society from the oppressive one in which we currently live. They are doing the work to come up with answers, using ARF texts as inspiration.
And, as for a thesis (even if this is a bit academic):
In this project, we seek to connect the vastness of Afrofuturism and the breadth of rural studies in order to create a fluid movement with the dual purposes of deconstructing race, sexuality, and place, and to imagine a more inclusive world for all people in all places. This confluence will attempt to envision a future, fluid, and plural ontology in which historical marginalization and barriers are dissolved in the hope of abundant water and life. As a curriculum, we hope that ARF can allow students to imagine these possibilities in reflexive and profound ways…
Sean to Nicholas, August 14th 2019, 11:36 AM
I just arrived in Lake Tahoe and escaped the bachelor party to write – at Whiskey Dick’s.
The extremes of this summer: ending my high school teaching career, ending a 4 ½ year relationship, living with my ex, watching my dad deal with a sickness, and all the other things have been fucking harsh.
As always, you offer a smorgasbord of tantalizing ideas. First, that thesis, YES!!!! The way you defined the genre without naming it, genius. The objective is envisioning a more inclusive future – one where people of color and rural folks can coexist both equitably with white folks and urbanites and within the thought-space of a sentence. Within this, and you brought it up, YPAR would be a great way of creating an equitable social justice movement. Maybe the reason why urbanites and rural folk don’t click together could be in response to their ideas of social justice. You mentioned this could push urbanities and rural folk to become “co-members of a coalition toward social justice.”
My question: what does social justice look like to rural folk?
An AfroRuralFuturism Unit Outline
In this interdisciplinary, multimodal writing unit, students will be required to explore speculative universes as we work in tandem to build ourselves into AfroRuralFuturism. Through an interpretive framework borrowing from Afrofuturism and Critical Geography, students will examine, race, space, and place while imagining and creating sustainable living spaces through cultural ethnographic work.
This unit will require students to leave prejudices at the door as we discover race is not a factor in future worlds.
- What does rurality mean to you? What does Black liberation mean to you?
- What connections do you see between place and race, locally and globally?
- What is utopia, and how might we work toward it?
- The role of utopian thinking and imagination in processes of social change.
- Ways of building and imagining oneself into AfroRuralFuturism.
- The materiality and imagery of both place and race.
Week One: Utopia
What is the world I want to see?
○ Students will watch (scenes from) Black Panther and consider if Wakanda is utopian by developing a definition of utopia.
○ Working with the Art Department, students will create collages that represent their vision of utopia.
○ At the end of the week, students will share and compare their visions of the future. Together, we will ask: who is represented and where does the future take place?
Week Two: The Country
What are stereotypes and realities about rural places?
○ Students will brainstorm a list of stereotypes they have encountered about rural people and places.
○ Students will find country songs that either reinforce or subvert those stereotypes.
○ Working with the Social Studies Department, students will learn about the history of their rural place.
○ Students will read excerpts from An Indigeneous People’s History of the United States.
Week Three: Afrofuturism and Speculative Fiction
What is speculative fiction and what is the need for afrofuturism?
○ Students will read excerpts from Afrofuturism and begin to identify tenants of the genre, including asking about where these stories take place.
○ Students will make connections between Afrofuturism’s vision of the future and their own, asking questions about desire, oppression, and positionality.
○ Students will begin reading Binti.
Week Four: Gotta Get Out (Gotta Stay Put)
What are the tensions students face in their decision making about the future?
○ Students will read excerpts from Hollowing Out the Middle and explore how they live these tensions.
○ Students will apply these understandings to Binti, but also begin to unpack how race, gender, and sexuality play into these tensions.
Week Five: Race, Place, Power, and the Environment
How do the politics of race and place affect the environment?
○ Students will watch Pumzi and analyze it through race, place, gender, and ecology.
○ Working with the Agricultural Education Department (or Science Department), students will consider who benefits and who is harmed by industrialization in rural places.
○ Students will finish reading Binti and hold final discussions.
Week Six: What is the Future of Your Place?
How do you see yourself in AfroRuralFuturism?
○ Students will complete and share their Final Frontier projects.
○ Students will promote and market their ideas to the town newspaper.
The Final Frontier
The final project will require you, an AfroRuralFuturist scholar, to create your own interdisciplinary, multimodal writing project in which you build a Utopia that is culturally sustainable. Think about how literature, farm life, and space interact with each other in an AfroRuralFuture space. This project should reflect your personal interests, and how they will help a future society. Your project must demonstrate your understanding of the theory and how it relates to you and Washington, Iowa. This can be done through writing, art, developing sustainable farming practices, or any which way you see fit. I encourage you to jump into the pool of creativity as you weave your own AfroRuralFuturist world for others.
- Build a tractor that goes to space
- Creative writing piece
- Space farm business plan
- Short film script
- Write a song
An Abbreviated, Multimodal AfroRuralFuturism Syllabus
You Will Not Die, Nakhane Touré
The Return, Sampa the Great
Aromanticism, Moses Sumney
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
“How Black Farmers Were Robbed of Their Land”
Black Panther (selected scenes)
Star Trek (2009) (selected scenes)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
As Brave as You, Jason Reynolds
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Kwame Mbalia
M.C. Higgins, The Great, Virginia Hamilton
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
Belonging, bell hooks
Hurricane Child, Kheryn Callendar
Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America, Nora Carpenter
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
“What Are We Seeking to Sustain? A Loving Critique Forward,” Django Paris and Samy Alim Hollowing Out the Middle, Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas
Queering the Countryside, Mary Grey et. al
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, Ytosha Womack
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