“What is the biggest story we can imagine telling ourselves and say about our future?”
— adrienne maree brown
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy Culture
In a 2018 interview on the Ujamaa Hour, I had a conversation with Dr. Kamau Rashid on liberated practices of the African diaspora upon escaping enslavement and the post-colonial vision of Julius Nyerere for Tanzania. Nyerere presented his plan in a publication entitled Ujamaa: The Basis of African Socialism. Ujamaa in the United States is often taken to mean “cooperative economics” due to its visibility as a principle of Kwanzaa. The original Swahili interpretation is closer to “familyhood”. Nyerere adopted this meaning for his approach to socialism following the departure of British and Arab colonial powers. Society in Nyerere’s vision was an extension of one’s tribe, community, and family.
Therefore society bore a responsibility to support its citizens as one would a member of their own family. This approach was a deep departure from the political economy of African countries throughout the era of colonialism and later neo-colonialism. Colonization represented a wholesale extraction of human and natural resources extending in part from the heightened industrialization, enclosure of common lands, and increasing labor exploitation taking place throughout Europe. As European countries reached the limits of resource extraction locally, advances in shipbuilding enabled them to explore and exploit the resources of distant lands. The proximity, presence, and diversity of resources located in Africa were a bounty much too tempting for these European explorers.
Colonization was not merely a technical process. There is something to be examined in the constraints placed upon our social, political, and economic imaginations which was rejected by post-colonial governments in Africa. For colonial powers, all government (including police and military forces) operates with the specific function of suppressing democratic decision making and a more open society in order that extraction under capitalism can continue unhindered. Rejecting this colonial imagination required a posing questions about what precisely a government and an economy were for if not meeting people’s need and uplifting every one in a society at the expense of none. These are lessons that I draw from Nyerere’s conception of Ujamaa as a framework for his government. It also draws me back to the other aspect of that conversation with Dr. Rashid concerning marronage and the societies which developed throughout the Americas as Africans rose up against oppression and escaped from bondage. These societies were present in Brazil as quilombos, Jamaica as maroon societies, and South Carolina is famed for its vast wetland known as the Great Dismal Swamp. Dr. Rashid noted that Africans did not lose the whole of their cultural memory as a consequence of being taken to the Americas. These cultural retentions become the basis of the societies they would form upon their escape. After Harriet Tubman launched a raid a St. Helena Bay, Combahee River Colony sprung up in the same region whose inhabitants built a cooperative society whose citizens committed to never work for white people ever again.
We were not in the practice of constructing societies which mirrored the oppressive conditions we had escaped. We built something better. My current focus tends to be concentrated in a framework known as the solidarity economy. I started this reflection considering what it means to be an afrofuturist, an anticapitalist, and an organizer within the solidarity economy. Capitalism is one of the many social technologies of colonization. It does not matter that we consider ourselves to be living in a capitalist society and must attend to some of its values. We should not be in the practice of accepting these retentions of a colonization process that saw us become objects of capital subject to market forces. We should desire better for our future. Afrofuturist discourse can often endanger its best and most impactful ambitions by imagining too many of our current conditions as impossible to change. I believe everything should be questioned and anything can be changed specifically those things which we learn to be oppressive. Capitalism as a system is one of those things. A post-capitalist framework like a solidarity economy is a different vision and a bigger space for us to imagine what else might be possible. A solidarity economy is grounded in values of solidarity, cooperation, mutualism, equity, participatory democracy, sustainability, and pluralism. A solidarity economy practicing mutual aid, reparations, indigenous land restoration, cooperative workplaces, communal housing, and direct democracy. To adrienne’s question beginning this composition, what is the biggest story we can tell ourselves about the future? Why should we be afraid to dream that we can start building our society from a different set of bricks? I look forward to walking with you towards a place where everything has changed.