By: Angela Stanley (Theme 3)
A teen mother gives birth to a baby. “Congratulations, it’s a girl!” the doctor says. A family comes together to raise the child. Their collective goal is to give that child the best future they can. The family hopes that this little baby can realize dreams beyond her circumstance. Dreams of gaining an education beyond that of her parents’ and close family. Dreams of entering into a lifelong career and not just a job to make ends meet. Dreams of following her passion. Dreams of a white wedding and children. Dreams of grandchildren and a life fully lived, experienced and seized. Dreams of ‘a passing’ on to the great beyond with no regrets, surrounded by love. These were the dreams that birthed me into being.
A being that has embraced some of those dreams while repudiating others much to the chagrin of those dreamers. This is the trouble with passing on dreams to another. There is always the possibility that the one for whom we have dreams and expectations of, will fall short of them. However, is it that we have fallen short of the incorporation of those dreams or that we have birthed dreams for ourselves? The future is a diaphanous concept, one that exists as something that we believe to be true but is so hazy that it can easily slip through our fingertips. However, we put an enormous amount of energy, time and resources into it.
What do I imagine when I think of the future? As a recent convert to the trekkie life. I’ve been fascinated by the hints of today that I see in the future depicted on the show. I’m currently on the final season of The Next Generation and I am surprised, although I am not sure why, by the fact that I very rarely see myself on this show embodied within the main cast. Even the most uncomplicated representation of black womanhood, i.e. the physical presence of a black woman, only makes a guest appearance. In fact, the only representations of blackness are men (Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge and Lt. Cmdr. Worf, and the only representation of women are overwhelmingly white. This echoes the sentiments of black feminists of the 1960s, which undergirded the 2016 twitter hashtags #alltheblacksaremen #allthewomenarewhite, that confronts the erasure of black women and their involvements in civil rights movements and mainstream society and representation.
The main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation
Perhaps, I am picking on Star Trek a bit. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a show that premiered in 1987. This show was meant to be a depiction of a time lightyears into the future, but I found myself thinking a lot about the stereotypes that seemed to overwhelm the narrative. If we take the example of Lt. Cmdr. Worf, it was curious to me that he happens to be from the Klingon warrior race as opposed to the Vulcan race. Being Klingon comes with a fascinating array of weapons, impressive fighting skills and its own specific language. However, I cannot help but parallel this to the way that black people are thought of within a north American context. In particular, black males are thought to be practically always reaching for a weapon, sometimes that weapon is a toy truck or their very bodies. They are believed to be just so much stronger than the average (read: white) male or female. That is to say they have innate strength and fighting skills. And they have their own ‘language’ although to be fair, among mainstream society Klingon is more legitimate than African American Vernacular English (AAVE), patois, or creole. The latter two are spoken by people within the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora. It is fascinating to me how people can find words like ‘bae’, ‘turnt’, or ‘gyal’ totally unintelligible but will launch into entire rhapsodies about the sentence structure of Klingon and Elvish, without even thinking of the racist implications that underpin what they perceive to be intelligible.
I think what is forgotten when we discuss the future is that the future on television requires the belief of the viewing public of today. In this regard, the future is really not about people and personal relations, it is actually about the language, the technology even the clothing that we can conceive of. In a future represented on television, creators do not dream of a cast equally represented without a heavy turn to stereotype. It cannot. The North American mainstream viewing public is not ready to see that. If they were, we would not have so many movies and TV shows where the saviours of ‘the future’ are all white, and where the idea of a black stormtrooper causes shockwaves and negative backlash.
For many of us, the future can be something that exists days or years ahead while for others it exists alongside the current time period. It exists in alternate societies that house mutant families or individuals with extra sensory and fantastical abilities. It requires a special letter for admittance and a knack for hiding within the normal to create space for the fantastic. But how can we plan for a future when very few of the futuristic examples reflect who we are? Whose future are we cheering on when we watch the latest mutant, post apocalyptic, magical future?
Even in the area of fantasy and dreams where one can be anything they want, and do anything they want, I am forced to scavenge to find someone that looks like me. I remember reading the first Harry Potter book and imagining myself in Hermione Granger. She had my black hair struggles, she was just like my friends and I who were smart and had lofty scholarly ambitions. It was a disappointment when the role was played by a young white girl whose hair could only be described as mildly teased in the movies. Then the stage play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cast a black woman as the adult Hermione Granger, and I thought to myself, ‘perhaps she was me after all’. Nonetheless, without that casting I am forced to make do with imagining myself within the character’s body that matches some my personality traits, if nothing else. I am told that to believe in this future presented to me I must imagine myself not existing, I must suspend belief in my existence except to show up as an older wiser alien being whose mothering instinct comes with a full bar rail.
To quote this publication’s theme, “credibility has a lineage…it requires power to maintain its credibility” (Cheuk, 2017). The future on earth as per the lineage of the imaginaries of the 1960s to the 21st century seems to occlude me. It is for this reason that I find myself drawn to Jose Munoz’s work on dis-identification (Munoz, 1997). In particular, I am interested in his theory that one must dis-identify with the mainstream in order to accrue the parts of the self that get lost when one is forced to assimilate to mainstream culture, or in this case mainstream futurity. And I am bolstered in my hope for the future in part due to the versions of myself that are increasingly available outside of mainstream television viewing.
My future is imagined in these moments. These moments of futurity that are embodied within the lives of those within my chosen community point to their own lineage. The credibility of its existence is visualized as it is lived by those who exist outside of the mainstream media, whose stories are too messy, too fantastical, or even too ordinary for this medium. This futurity also finds a home in those ancestral dreams. For me, rewriting futurity requires imagining myself outside the mainstream within the realm of dreams. Dreams that encompass the far-flung future or the future as captured within someone else’s present. Dreams that have to exist outside of the mainstream since even the best depiction of my future within it, centers my oppression, not me.
Muñoz, J. (1997). "The White to Be Angry": Vaginal Davis's Terrorist Drag. Social Text, (52/53), 81-103. doi:10.2307/466735
Bio: Angela Stanley is a first year PhD student in the Gender, Feminist and Women's Studies Program at York University. She holds an MA in Critical Disability Studies, also from York University. Her research pays attention to the intersection of race/culture, queerness and disability in order to understand how people make sense of their intimate and sexual lives. Her work so far has centered on the perceptions of beauty, sexuality and desirability that inform how young queer and disabled people create intimate and/ or sexual partnerships.