WE’RE HERE: Ending the Search for Black Fandom

Black Cosplay

searchRecently, I read an excellent – and somewhat saddening – post on the Rude Girl Magazine blog entitled A Search for Black Fandom.

The author laments: “A lot of times when I watch things, and am seeking out internet reactions and discussion, I wish I had access to other black opinions. Sometimes fandom is like watching a movie with a room full of white people – when someone does something kinda shady and racist, you want to lean over and be like ‘did this motherfucker just really,’ but then you realize you’re the only black person there so you have to weigh whether or not you’re in the mood for bullshit, because that’s what you’ll get by bringing this up with white people.”

The author thought that she was all alone in the nerdiverse. That there were no other Black people into Science Fiction, comic books, cosplay, Steampunk and Dungeons and Dragons and she felt crippled by this: “It’s no secret that fandom can be racist. Like, really, really racist…if you, as a black person, want to enjoy something – anything –  in most popular fandom, you kind of have to decide not to bring up problematic aspects of the source material if you’re not ready to break out the bingo card for yet another tragic game of ‘No That’s Not Racist Toward Black People, Let Me Tell You Why,’ during which white people from all corners of the globe will gather to attempt to invalidate your thoughts, feelings and experiences.”

I am constantly reminded of just how important the work I and the other members of our authors, filmmakers and artists collective – State of Black Science Fiction – do really is. We tell the stories that need to be told – stories of heroes that have been ignored; history that has been forgotten…or denied.

Author Milton Davis & Author / Filmmaker Balogun Ojetade at the Mahogany Masquerade

Author Milton Davis & Author / Filmmaker Balogun Ojetade at the Mahogany Masquerade

Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Rococoa are subgenres of fiction, fashion and film that convey the heroes and history of Africa, African-America and, indeed, the entire Diaspora. There are also many great tales of science fiction, horror, action-adventure and the paranormal with heroes of African descent.

I have been a guest and panelist at several small and major fandom conventions and I – along with my friend and author Milton Davis – am the curator of the popular Black Science Fiction Film Festival and The Mahogany Masquerade and I am happy to say that there is a multitude of Black fans of speculative fiction and film and the numbers are growing rapidly and immensely.

SONY DSCHowever, every time I get comfortable, a blog, an attendee at a panel discussion, or a fan at a convention will say “I thought I was the only one reading, doing and / or writing this,” or “If I had known Black people were writing this kind of stuff (or making these kinds of movies), I would have gotten into this a long time ago.”

Statements like that tell me that there is a lot more work to do and that there are a lot more people to reach.

I want my sister at Rude Girl Magazine to know that she need lament no longer and that she is certainly not alone.

We’re here my dear sister.

We’re here.

Below is a list of great recent fandom events with a strong Black presence. Most are annual events, so put them on your calendar and be sure to attend.

Black Speculative Fiction Film Festival, August 2012 – Auburn Avenue Research Library; Atlanta, GA

OnyxCon 4th Annual Black Age of Comics Convention, August 2012 – Southwest Arts Center; Atlanta, GA

State of Black Science Fiction Panel, August 2012 – Dragon*Con; Atlanta, GA

The Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, October 2012 – Alien Encounters (an annual Black Fandom Symposium); Atlanta, GA

The Afrofuturist Affair Museum of Time 2nd Annual Charity & Costume Ball, November 2012 – Philadelphia, PA (an annual costume ball and afrofuturism presentation / performance)

Black Science Fiction Film Festival, February 2013 – Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA (an annual film festival featuring fantasy, science fiction and horror films by and about people of African descent from around the world); Atlanta, GA

Multiculturalism in Alternate History Panel, February 2013 – AnachroCon; Atlanta, GA

Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts, March 2013 – Spelman College; Atlanta, GA

12th Annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), May 2013; Philadelphia, PA

State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 2013 – SciFi Summer Con; Atlanta, GA

State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 15, 2013 – Wesley Chapel Library; Atlanta, GA (upcoming)

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link and Rite of Passage: Initiation. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika and contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk –a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG. Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.

29 responses »

  1. J.L. Hilton says:

    ConTemporal is a new-ish steampunk convention (this is their second year) happening in Raleigh, NC, on June 28-30. I’d love to meet you face2face and see you on some panels there! If it’s too late for this year, please consider coming next year? http://www.contemporal.org

    • Balogun says:

      I will definitely consider coming next year, J.L.! I planned to enjoy the Con circuit this year, however, filming Rite of Passage has precluded those plans until next year. I look forward to a face-to-face meeting with you!

  2. Milton says:

    Fortunately I grew up in a neighborhood where even the cool folks read comic books. Science fiction was a little deep but I didn’t take that route until college. Also fortunate for the current generation of sci fi/fantasy fans of color a network exists where they can enjoy their fandom and not have to deal with the ‘incidental’ racism and racial insensitivity that always seems to pop up at mainstream conventions. It’s a respite that’s still needed for now.

    • Balogun says:

      I grew up in a rough neighborhood with a strong gang presence, however, the gang members all encouraged me to read comic books and science fiction and even suggested I write comic books and stories with Black heroes. I even taught a few what Dungeons & Dragons was about.
      Networks like State of Black Science Fiction are, indeed, invaluable safe havens, think tanks and informational / educational resources for Black fandom.
      Thanks, so much, for your feedback! :)

  3. There’s an ongoing conversation about comics, black sci fi, steamfunk, sword and soul and other black nerdist concerns on the forum page of my website: http://www.hudlinentertainment.com I welcome all.

  4. Amy Lynn98 says:

    I really enjoy http://cosplayingwhileblack.tumblr.com/. It’s one of my daily sites to check. I’m not a cosplayer and I’m not black, but I check that site because I love the art and the craft of fans making their costumes of things I enjoy too. Plus, for all the “mirror universes” in sci-fi media, yes, there would be a variety of different Wonder Women: white, black, Asian, alien, thin, fat…you name it. Fandom shouldn’t be limited to the color of the fan’s skin.

  5. Excellent article Brother Balogun! I’d just like to add that although the Alabama Phoenix Festival wasn’t an AA event I felt like I was bringing folks something that a lot of them hadn’t seen before– or not enough of it: a Black SF/fantasy author. Everytime we touch someone, everytime we acquire yet another reader we are dispelling the myth that “Black folks don’t read our stuff.” We are making our presence known!

  6. kalmn says:

    Hey- I’d love to see you at WisCon! http://Wiscon.info. Guests of honor next year are Nora Jemisin and Hiromi Goto. I cannot offer any guest status or anything like that. But if money is an issue, con or bust offers assistance to fans of color, and there’s a Wiscon member assistance fund, details on the website. And speaking with my official hat on, I’m the head of programming this year, and if you wanted to be on panels, that’d be awesome!

  7. Melody says:

    Technology has really been instrumental in connecting me with other black geeks and black fans of various fandoms. My Tumblr is not so much a blog as it is a feed of carefully curated images, criticism, characters and stories that would never make it into the mainstream. I’m able to discuss and analyze my fandoms (the good, the bad, the sexist and racist) in a way I could only dream about just ten years ago. Likewise, Twitter has been equally helpful in realizing that I am not alone. There is a growing number of podcasts and weekly chats popping up that gave me an immediate sense of belonging that I’m grateful for. I agree with what you said about there being more people to reach. I’ve decided that at some point this year I’m going to launch a new blog or two and try to become one of those people reaching out.

    First time here, great blog btw :)

    • Balogun says:

      The internet has, indeed, been a great tool for connecting Black people involved in various aspects of geek culture.
      I am glad you found us!
      Thanks, so much! :)

  8. […] my last post, I provided a listing of popular fandom events with a major Black […]

  9. Ruth DJ says:

    Awesome! As a woman, I’ve often felt alone while perusing the science fiction shelves at the library and bookstore. And lets not even talk about the comic books stores, even in the 80s and 90s. Back in the day, it seemed like female fans were few and far between.

    • Balogun says:

      Women and People of Color have long been marginalized in speculative fiction.
      Thanks to your efforts with Alien Star Books and the efforts of authors, artists and filmmakers who are creating – and taking control of – their own works, that is changing.Thanks, for your feedback, Ruth!

  10. […] this third installment of the We’re Here Series, we examine the best websites for all your Black Science Fiction and Fantasy […]

  11. albino-ottsel says:

    I just want to add that at this year’s ConnectiCon, I saw a LOT of people of color that I hadn’t seen in years prior. It was pretty cool.

  12. […] then, I’ve found other black nerd sites, such as Black Nerd Problems and Chronicles of Harriet. The latter site led me to the discovery of the genre called sword and soul, which is fantasy […]

  13. ThugNerdLife says:

    Hi, I’m the one who wrote the Rude Girl Mag article that you’re talking about (RGM is now defunct, I believe, but I still blog about black girl nerd life at thugnerdlife.wordpress.com). It’s crazy, because I didn’t see this wonderful post until right now, over a year later! I am so, so glad that I stumbled across a link to this post on another article about black fandom. I knew about steamfunk but not sword and soul and rococoa. I’m so excited to look into the resources and events you listed here.

    Thanks again for writing this post! It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in the geekosphere after all. :-)

    -Sharon Lynn

  14. ThugNerdLife says:

    Hi, I’m the one who wrote the article you’re referring to (RGM is now defunct, I believe, but I still blog about black girl nerd life at thugnerdlife.wordpress.com). It’s crazy that I didn’t come across this until over a year later! And I’m so glad I did. I knew of steamfunk but not sword and soul, which sounds like a dream come true for me. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing these resources. I can’t wait to check them out.

    Its nice to know that I’m not alone in the geekosphere after all. :-)

    -Sharon Lynn

    • Balogun says:

      Thanks, so much, for being the inspiration for the article!
      No, you are not alone. There are many of us out here connecting and working together to create some Blacktastic things! :)

  15. […] The Black Parade trilogy, I found other black fantasy fiction authors through the blog The Chronicles of Harriet, which introduced me to the genres sword and soul and steamfunk. Sword and soul had stories set in […]

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