Why there are so few black dystopias

To put it simply, many people enjoy dystopian fiction from a place of privilege. Reactions and conversations about dystopian content are often whittled down to “imagine if that was real” or “what would you do if the world was like that?”. Survivors or revolutionary protagonists and characters are seen as heroes and symbols of freedom, but from what? Imaginary oppression? It is no surprise many of these characters are white, and are enjoyed and heroized by white communities. Tales of all seeing, ruthless authorities that punish the slightest deviance with unwarranted cruelty make good popcorn flicks for some while others live under such a reality. You don’t have to read more than a page of James Baldwin’s writings to find out. An often used quote from the ghettos in Compton, California is “you watch it, we live it”. The saddest part of this quote is now that many do watch it, but it is retrofitted for white, middle class audiences. Gritty police dramas entertain people sheltered in idyllic suburbs while the occurrences not only happened fifty odd years ago but continued to happen yearly and are muted in their brutality for television. The inhumane conditions and poverty some communities live in are however brushed over. Symbols of oppression for these communities are elevated to heroism.

Dystopian media often whitewashes these actual scenarios and struggles under fictional guises, in a similar way to the whitewashing of the wild west and cowboys (one in four cowboys were black, and a larger proportion were Mexican). Corruption, technocratic oppression and economic slavery are all features of the world we live in, and dystopian fiction has traveled so far from its source that it is now merely a “what if” spectacle rather than actual commentary. Actual figures of resistance and rebellion are often condemned. We often hear Malcolm X’s responses deemed “too violent” but when a young white woman dons a bow to murder for freedom she is seen as an “ass kicker”. Double standards like these are too long to list. The authority that dystopian characters live under oppress everyone when in reality they oppress select minorities in particular ways. A sci-fi video game has a dark facet involving forced sterilisation- yet these real world applications are not only lost on consumers but are nullified. Apparently, many subjugation methods like this are unreal. Black dystopian fiction is not entirely necessary: for it is reality- black culture has reflected this since the colonial era in every form it has taken. With the rapid evolution of genres the original content’s message is often lost- blade runner is about slavery. X-Men was about civil rights. The word robot was derived from the Czech word “Robotnik, meaning “forced worker”. An easy way to understand is simply done by replacing the generic sufferers of dystopias with black communities or nations. A horrible government that executes its own people upon discovery of dissidence via technology? Sounds like minority report? Or a list of countries currently operating in this way?

This leaves us pondering potential solutions- do we create black dystopias? Or talk about their reality? The answer lies in forms of resistance.

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