by Lez’li Waller
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Oakland Museum of California to check out a wonderful exhibit entitled “Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism”. This exhibit is such a well-planned and executed vision, you enter the museum to a huge mural with the following simple statement written against a black backdrop in huge bold white letters, “There Are Black People in The Future”. A simple statement with such a huge implication. As a black woman, this statement was not lost on me. However, I can say until I read it, I was not intentional about my thoughts of what being Black in the future truly means or looks like. I sat at a table and contemplated the statement for a while. Is this social commentary on pop culture representation of what the future of humanity would look like? If we take a historical cue from movies and television the future can seem overwhelmingly White, with one or two humanoid-like beings that represent people of color. I also thought, is this a statement to remind people like me that there will always be a tomorrow in which we are shapers and pivotal to the movement forward. I finally decided it meant all of that and more and was ready for the voyage!
As you enter the exhibit you are greeted by another huge installation that is reminiscent of cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics combined with constellations. The visual cues draw you in to the space and prepare you for the adventure that awaits. As you mingle through the exhibit you are greeted by some of the greatest visual, literary, and musical offerings by Black artists past, present, and future. Your senses are immersed in Black expression that takes on the forms of photography, paintings, textiles, and cinematography. From a large portion that features artifacts from the iconic W.E.B. DuBois "American Negro" exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition to the life-size Dora Milage uniform designed by the great Ruth E. Carter for the Black Panther motion film, to being swept up in the pulsing beats of Parliament-Funkadelic and Sun-Ra. This exhibit shows why the future has always been Black. Walking through the halls, ducking in and out of the many tucked away rooms, something became so clear to me, even in our past, Black folks have always been major innovators and creators of what humanity calls the future. Our food, music, style, the way we invent something out of nothing has always been the blueprint for moving humanity forward. When our contributions were systematically erased from the historical record when we were written out of fiction and sci-fi when our work was passed off as the work of someone else have no doubt Black people were there, we were always there, and we will always be here. I believe you can’t move forward until you know where you have been.
In this exhibit, all I was surrounded by were forward-thinking visionaries. People who in their time may have been laughed at for being too progressive. However, as the future revealed the world was just slow to catch up to some of these greats. They didn’t spend time stuck thinking about the issues of the present they established theory over a century ago that would be studied far and wide in the present day to address and provide clarity of the cause. These innovators didn’t listen to their record companies when they were told the music they were producing sounded nothing like the era they were in, instead they produced sounds and lyrics that would be sampled over and over for generations. These thinkers took and turned the literary world on its ear and began to tell our stories in our voices and when the authors couldn’t find editors to highlight their work in publishing companies, we did it for ourselves, thank you, Toni Morrison. From DuBois, Basquiat, Carter, and Clinton, the future has always been heavily influenced by Black thought, imagination, work, pleasure, and pain. Without us, there is no future or at least not one many would want to live in. I found myself stuck in the section where the Black Panther Party meets the new era. The 10-point program is displayed beautifully from floor to ceiling bold for all to read. The future, in the Bay area the Panthers knew what they were going through had to change so young early 20-year-olds began to make major moves for the future, moves that would cost many their freedom and some their lives. Reading through the program while hearing Whitney Houston belt out the best version of the Star-Spangled Banner (this is not debatable), I had another moment that moved me to tears. As I read the 10th and final point from the BPP Program, "We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice, and Peace”, while hearing Whitney hit that top note as only she could it clicked. Yes, there are Black people in the future because we move with all deliberate speed and have done so since our origins, and often that speed in which we move is warp-speed. Black people, people of the African Diaspora our shared experience our silent code of self-determination, and innovation that is written on our DNA is not only why we will be in the future, we are the future. If you look through history there has never been a moment in time where there was a major move for humankind where a black person or people weren’t at the table. We have shaped the future with ancient Africans teaching the Greek’s philosophy, African queen Amanirenas defeating a roman empire, Mansa Musa still standing as the wealthiest human to ever live, creating some of the first libraries, languages, and writing systems. Creating the future is not new to us, we propel medical science, the humanities, and space travel with our efforts. We create cuisine from scraps that people stand in line for hours just to get a taste of, we develop the modern vernacular, create and push trends, we shape the sound of music and news cycles.
I stood in the final room where a living piece was being displayed, surrounded by strangers who were all too familiar. We shed tears for the ones we lost, laughed at the moments we all hold as cultural inside jokes, sang, swayed, and snapped to some of the greats. Collectively we looked around and shared a moment, that yeah, despite what we had been through we did all of that and will do more. As we walked out in calm silence, with cheeks damp from the tears of understanding our struggle but smiles on our lips because we know who and what we are capable of producing; there was never a question we all knew “There are GREAT Black people in the future” just you wait.
This beautiful exhibit is being featured at OMCA until the end of February here is a link to get your tickets and download the amazing posters now!