Afrofuturism is a “genre that centers Black history and culture and incorporates science-fiction, technology, and futuristic elements into literature, music, and the visual arts. Often using current social movements or popular culture as a backdrop, Afrofuturism focuses on works that examine the past, question the present, or imagine an optimistic future, and are meant to inspire a sense of pride in their audience” (metmuseum.org). It’s a term 7th graders are familiar with in both English, where they are reading Afrofuturistic writing, and history, where they are studying ancient Africa and analyzing the film Black Panther.
As a former 7th grade history teacher and current 7th grade English teacher, Leila Sinclaire is familiar with both curriculums and where they intersect. In history, students are producing their own podcasts featuring commentary on Black Panther. With a desire to give students more to talk about on their podcasts, she introduced lessons on Afrofuturism as a slightly different lens through which to view the film. In conjunction, students have been enhancing their understanding of Afrofuturism through book clubs in English class, which are leading to rich conversations about the questions and feelings that arise when confronted with an “unfamiliar” world.
On Wednesday, March 1, 7th graders welcomed guest speaker Solange Jacobs to campus. Ms. Jacobs was born in Cape Town, South Africa and was raised in a country on the brink of transition. She remembers neighborhoods, beaches, and schools where she wasn’t allowed because of the color of her skin. Growing up with an activist mother, she attended many peaceful protests demanding “equal neighborhoods where black, colored, and white people could live peacefully side by side.” She became an activist alongside her mother and eventually landed in Silicon Valley as a SaaS marketing executive. Speaking about a similar firsthand experience that Trevor Noah talks about in his memoir Born a Crime, which students have been reading in history during their studies of European colonization of Africa, Ms. Jacobs answered the many questions students had for her.
Following the Q&A with Ms. Jacobs, 7th graders took a field trip to San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora to view the New Black Vanguard exhibition of fashion photography. Prior to their field trip, Leila worked with students on how to read photographs rather than just look at them. “There’s a concept called the ‘white gaze,’ which refers to people of African descent feeling positioned in a white gaze,” says Leila. “This particular exhibition features both Black photographers and Black models. We talked about why that’s important, how it’s a departure from what we’ve typically seen, and how it relates to Afrofuturism.” Students also analyzed Beyonce’s short film Black is King, which is Panafrican and Afrofuturistic, and examined color, texture, position, and framing in photography.