In recognition of Juneteenth I thought it would be interesting to look at the history of African American science fiction and fantasy.
Black No More (1931) by conservative journalist and cultural critic George Samuel Schuyler (1895-1977) is often considered to be the first African American science fiction novel. Considered satire at the time, it depicts a world in which African Americans in Harlem are able to lighten their skin to the extent that they appear lighter than caucasians. Caucasians respond by darkening their skin so as to maintain visible racial distinctions. Schuyler is a controversial figure. He actually came out against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, arguing that the government could not shape public attitudes and that change must come naturally and not through the writ of the federal government. He believed strongly in individual liberty and believed the Civil Rights Act would be an intrusion of the federal government in private affairs.
Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was one of the first African American women to contribute to the genre. Her best-selling novel Kindred (1979) centers on Dana, an African American woman who is transported from 1976 Los Angeles to early 19th century Maryland, where she encounters her ancestors who include a white slaveholder and a free Black woman forced into slavery later in life. She is also known for the Patternmaster (1976) series. Her short story Bloodchild (1984) won the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards.In 1987 she began the Xenogenesis series with Dawn, and in 1993 she began the Parable (or Earthseed) series with Parable of the Sower. Butler viewed humanity as inherently flawed due to a tendency towards hierarchical thinking. She argued that this type of thought leads to intolerance and violence and perhaps even the end of the human race. In her 2001 essay “A World Without Racism” for NPR she wrote “Simple peck-order bullying is only the beginning of the kind of hierarchical behavior that can lead to racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and all the other “isms” that cause so much suffering in the world.” You can read the entire essay here.
There are many more African American authors who have expanded our minds with fantastic new worlds or incredible reimaginings of our own world. Check out the display below for some recent examples of their work.
Fantasy and Science Fiction