Science Fiction, Afrofuturism and How African-Americans Are Creating Their Own Deep Space

By | March 3, 2017

In a critically acclaimed 1998 episode of the future-based series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Benjamin Sisko — portrayed by African-American actor Avery Brooks — experiences a vision where he sees himself as Benny Russell, a talented science fiction writer for a small magazine in 1950s New York. Simultaneously, Russell is haunted by futuristic visions of himself as spaceship commander Ben Sisko and, from them, pens a dramatic tale that he submits for publication. Though the staff loves his story, the magazine’s editor tells the passionate writer it cannot publish it since its readers would never accept a Black hero. An apparent compromise is reached and Russell celebrates with a night out with his fiancee before a close friend is gunned down by two white police officers who then brutally beat Russell when he protests at the scene. After recuperating for a month and now walking with a cane, Russell limps back to the magazine to find its owner has not only decided against publishing his story but is firing him. Distraught, Russell has a nervous breakdown and collapses while hysterically screaming these memorable words:

“I am a human being, dammit! You can deny me all you want, but you can’t deny Ben Sisko — he exists! That future, that space station, all those people, they exist in here [pointing to his head], in my mind. … You can pulp [trash] a story, but you cannot destroy an idea. Don’t you understand? That’s ancient knowledge. You cannot destroy an idea! That future, I created it and it’s real! Don’t you understand? It is REAL! It’s REAL!”

“You can’t limit my imagination,” science fiction lover Jarvis Sheffield says, recounting the tortured cries of the episode’s main character. A multimedia specialist, educator and founder of the popular site, blacksciencefictionsociety.com, Sheffield feels such episodes exemplify how “science fiction is a way to illustrate social ills and bring them to the forefront,” be it directly or “without saying it outright.” (Atlanta Black Star)

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