The City We Became

Welcome to the first episode of Open World, featuring a reading by the incredible N.K. Jemisin , and a conversation with her and Glitch CEO Anil Dash. We talk cities, hope, and why tech people should read better sci-fi.

This episode features a reading from The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin, scored by T.H. Ponders.

Open World is a partnership between Philo’s Future Media and Flash Forward Presents , hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth, produced by Brittani Taylor Brown and mixed by C. The intro music is Dorica by BlueDot Sessions. Episode art by Walter Parenton.

Sponsors:

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TRANSCRIPT

Rose Eveleth:

Welcome to Open World, I’m Rose.

TK Dutes:

And I’m TK and this is a show about hopeful futures.

Rose Eveleth:

It is, and today we’re going to space. Do you want to go to space?

TK Dutes:

I want to go to space. I’ve always wanted to go to space even though it’s the scariest thing for me to consider. Space and ocean, but we’re not talking about ocean today.

Rose Eveleth:

That’s a different episode.

TK Dutes:

Yep. Absolutely different episode but space, yes. Let’s go there.

Rose Eveleth:

Let’s do it.

TK Dutes:

And now, 60 minutes through space by Obsidian podcast.

Amar:

Is it my shoes?

Maya:

Nope.

Amar:

Okay. The road, it’s the road we’re on.

Maya:

Wrong again.

Amar:

Yo, I give up. This is dumb.

Atiannah:

Amar, don’t call your sister’s game dumb.

Amar:

Mom, I’ve been guessing for over 10 minutes.

Kevin:

So, you’re admitting defeat then?

Amar:

I’m admitting that it’s dumb.

Maya:

Want me to tell you?

Amar:

Yes, fine. Let’s just get it over with.

Maya:

I spy with my little eye the black fist raised in protest across the globe.

Amar:

You can’t be serious.

Atiannah:

That’s my baby.

Amar:

How could I have guessed that? I don’t even see it.

Maya:

I see Black defiance everywhere.

Amar:

Oh my God. What are you even talking about? You’re nine.

Maya:

And? Nine year olds are smart. Also, Daddy?

Kevin:

Yeah, Maya?

Maya:

What does protest mean?

Amar:

Oh my god. You don’t even know what the word means.

Kevin:

Amar. A protest is like an expression of disapproval, you can do it alone or you can do it with a group. Where’d you hear that word used?

Maya:

A documentary in the [halo cube 00:02:28]. I was standing right next to Michael X during a speech 100 years ago.

Atiannah:

Uh, that’s Malcolm X, sweetie.

Maya:

Oh, yeah. That does sound better.

Atiannah:

See Amar? You could be learning some history, too, if you weren’t just using the halo cube for gaming.

Amar:

I don’t use it just for gaming, mom. Besides, I already know a thing or two. Like the space probe we’re going to is in a state that’s racist as hell.

Kevin:

Language, young man.

Amar:

My bad.

Kevin:

But, where’d you hear that?

Amar:

The history channel, someone died protesting against white supremacy in Virginia like, 50 years ago.

Kevin:

Well, that’s right, in Charlottesville. I don’t want you to worry about that too much, though, Amar. We’re hoping things have changed a lot, since then.

Atiannah:

But, we’re glad you’re aware, honey. Kevin, look up ahead. That’s the entrance on the right.

Kevin:

Yep, I see it. Blue Orbit in all its glory.

Amar:

Finally.

Atiannah:

Just on time, too. Told you we should exit three, baby, or at least let the car auto-drive.

Kevin:

Yeah, yeah. I like to hold the steering wheel every once in a while, can’t let the computer have all the fun now, can I?

Maya:

Woo, we going to space, we going to space.

Atiannah:

Come on, let’s head towards the front of the space port.

Amar:

How long is the trip, mom?

Atiannah:

About 60 minutes, give or take.

Amar:

So we drove an hour to fly an hour?

Kevin:

More like propel an hour. You’ll be in space, remember? It’s probably flying when there’s no air.

Amar:

I guess.

Atiannah:

Why is he being so difficult? He loves space.

Kevin:

He’s a teenager, he’s going to be difficult about everything. Don’t let it bother you, babe. As soon as we exit the atmosphere, he’ll open up, watch.

Atiannah:

You’re right, you’re right. I was just looking forward to well, geeking out with him. Like we used to.

Kevin:

You still can.

Maya:

Whoa, what was that, mom?

Atiannah:

That was a launch. See the blue shimmer? That’s accumulated solar radiation used for initial lift-off for propulsion.

Amar:

Condensed photons look like that? Whoa.

Atiannah:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Come on, you two. No need to stare when the real thing is inside.

Kevin:

See?

Speaker 7:

Welcome to Blue Orbit space port, Virginia. You are now entering one of the only five space ports in the world, make sure you have your ticket and identification in hand when approaching the shuttle. Blue Orbit was founded in 2034 by a group of individuals dedicated to expanding space-

Atiannah:

Alrighty, then. Good morning.

Trevor:

Morning, ma’am. You’re the launch party of four?

Kevin:

That’s us.

Trevor:

Excellent, can I have your ID’s, please?

Atiannah:

Here you go.

Trevor:

Alrighty. Oh Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Atiannah Walker. I’m sorry I didn’t know if was you, my name is Trevor.

Atiannah:

It’s all good, Trevor. I just started, anyways.

Maya:

How does he know mommy?

Amar:

She’s the intercontinental space travel ambassador.

Maya:

Interconti… What?

Amar:

The ISTA.

Maya:

Oh, her new job. Cool.

Trevor:

Alrighty, well. Let’s get you guys set up, then. I’ll lead you to your shuttle.

Atiannah:

Excellent, thank you.

Kevin:

Okay, baby. Look at you, got these white folks shaking in their boots.

Atiannah:

Shut up, Kevin.

Trevor:

Right this way. As you can see, we have about 12 launch chutes within this space port. You’ll be setting off from chute number four.

Maya:

Oh my God, four’s my lucky number.

Amar:

Since when?

Maya:

Since yesterday. You know, I was talking to Jessica from school about this place.

Amar:

Cool.

Maya:

She definitely didn’t mention how shiny everything here is.

Amar:

Well, this place is state of the art. Blue Orbit is top of the line when it comes to space travel.

Trevor:

Indeed, we are. Doesn’t hurt that we’re the first to do it, as well. We’ve had lots of practice. Now, as you can see here, at the center of the chute is your actual shuttle. Notice that below the shuttle is a conical cavity, this is where solar radiation is stored and compressed. We’ve managed to capture the photons themselves in a non-interactive state, that is, until we say so. On our command they trigger the initial lift-off of the shuttle.

Amar:

Wow, it’s got to be extremely cold within that cavity to capture the photons.

Trevor:

Why, yes they are, young man. Less than a micro kelvin, actually. Your son is quite sharp, Mrs. Walker.

Atiannah:

Yeah, he is.

Trevor:

Alrighty, then. To the shuttle. Oh, and here is the operator of your shuttle, George Wellor.

George Wellor:

Huh? Oh, hey.

Trevor:

Well, I’ll leave you all to it. Don’t want to waste time getting you up to the stars. George, show some enthusiasm for a change. Also, turn that down.

George Wellor:

Can’t make any promises, boss man, but I’ll see what I got today.

Trevor:

Well, have a great trip, Mr. and Mrs. Walker.

George Wellor:

Hey, so pretty standard procedure. Lucky for us, Blue Orbit has made getting to space pretty chill. I do have to go through a boring safety regulation spiel, though. All you need is these bracelets, they’ll alleviate any nausea that you could feel. Plus, they’ll work with the computers in this bad boy to negate any of the g-forces that you would feel in regular take off.

Kevin:

Well, that’s appreciated.

George Wellor:

Speaking of take off, please refrain from moving as we do so. Your seats are state of the art, and will ensure your safety, as long as you stay strapped in. The neck braces are equipped with multiple sensors that will read your heart rate, body heat, weight, and more. The seats will adjust according to those bio-metrics. In the worst case scenario, the seat will itself encase you in a miniature armored pod that will ensure your protection and safe descent. As such, keep hands and feet close to the seat as we take off and descend. In case of emergency, oxygen masks will automatically be secured over your face from the neck brace. The mask themselves will allow us to communicate, as well. Okay, spiel over.

Kevin:

Phew, great. Anything else we need to know?

George Wellor:

Nope, just take a seat there, buckle in, and we’ll hit the road. Or, the sky, I guess.

Speaker 7:

Initiating lift off in 60 seconds.

Kevin:

Oh, wow. So soon?

Atiannah:

You nervous, baby?

Kevin:

Me? No, no. I just want to make sure we get there in one piece, that’s all.

Atiannah:

Like Amar said, this is state of the art. No different from a bus ride, at this point.

Kevin:

If you say so, you’re the expert, I guess.

Speaker 7:

10 seconds.

George Wellor:

All right, hold on, everyone.

Maya:

Amar?

Amar:

Yeah?

Maya:

Hold my hand.

Amar:

Yeah, I got you.

Speaker 7:

Lift off, enjoy your trip with Blue Orbit.

Amar:

Maya, open your eyes. You’re missing it.

Maya:

Wow, it looks like the sky is on fire.

Atiannah:

Well, that’s… Actually, Amar, do you know what we’re seeing?

Amar:

We’re traveling through the atmosphere, right? At this speed, it’s literally burning air molecules off the window. Whoa.

Maya:

Is that true, mommy?

Atiannah:

Yeah, pretty much. The sky is on fire.

Kevin:

My stomach, I thought you said the bracelet was supposed to make it easy, kid.

George Wellor:

I said alleviate, it would be a hell of a lot worse if you didn’t have in on, sir. Here, chew this. Gum usually helps.

Kevin:

That does actually help, thanks.

George Wellor:

No problem. Pay attention to the windows, folks. This is one of my favorite parts.

Maya:

Wow, it’s all turning black. Are we actually in space, space?

Kevin:

Oh shit, give me some more of that gum, George.

Amar:

Whoa, what is that unfolding? Are those…

Atiannah:

Solar sails. From this point on, we’re propelled by solar radiation directly emitted from the sun.

George Wellor:

They create a sort of current, ever watch Finding Nemo?

Kevin:

Hell yeah, a classic.

Maya:

That super old movie mom and dad made us watch?

Kevin:

Super old? It ain’t that old, is it baby?

George Wellor:

Well, just like how Marlin rides the East Australian Current with the turtles, we’re riding… Let me see, solar flow [elio 00:11:17] five. We’ll reach the moon in about 60 minutes.

Speaker 7:

We have exited the atmosphere, and the launch process is now over. We have entered travel mode, you are free to move about the cabin.

Amar:

So can we walk around?

George Wellor:

Yeah, go ahead. Artificial gravity is active, so you won’t go flying anywhere.

Maya:

Awesome, come on, Amar.

Atiannah:

Be careful, you two. Don’t touch anything.

Maya:

I know, I know.

Kevin:

What a sight. How does one become a space pilot, George? You go to MIT, or something?

George Wellor:

Not exactly, Mr. Walker.

Kevin:

What, Cal Tech?

George Wellor:

I actually, sort of, dropped out.

Kevin:

Dropped out? Out of magna cum laude to just cum laude, you mean? Surely, that’s what you mean.

Atiannah:

Kevin, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to fly a space shuttle.

Kevin:

Since when?

Atiannah:

The technology has advanced far beyond that point, though you should have aviation experience and a degree.

George Wellor:

And I do. Well, the experience part. I actually passed a proficiency test rather well.

Atiannah:

Regardless, to even take the exam, you usually need a bachelor’s degree, at least.

George Wellor:

I have my certification in everything, ma’am, and well, my great-uncle is the founder of Blue Orbit. That got me in the door.

Kevin:

Man, I tell you. White people really be failing upward, huh?

Atiannah:

Hush, Kevin. Well, if you passed the proficiency test, then that’s the most important part. Not an easy exam.

George Wellor:

Not at all, ma’am. Honestly, I wanted to be a frontier pilot.

Kevin:

And what’s that?

Atiannah:

Frontier pilots fly beyond our established boundaries of space travel. They basically create new boundaries with each trip they make.

George Wellor:

Yeah, they’re currently aiming to fly across the asteroid belt. When I was younger, that was just an idea until they began venturing past Mars. That’s when I knew that they were moving towards the future.

Kevin:

So what stopped you?

George Wellor:

I suck at school, but being out here isn’t so bad. I really do love space. Some people find it lonely, but how can you be with billions of stars and planets surrounding you to keep you company? It’s the one time I feel like we’re all connected to something. Sorry, I’m spouting off some nonsense right now.

Atiannah:

No, George. I find it very commendable that you found something that speaks to your calling like this, most people would envy you.

Kevin:

Who knows? You may still be a frontier pilot, you made it past the education barrier. Better call up your grand uncle again, ask him for two more wishes.

George Wellor:

Man, I wish.

Amar:

Mom, come check this out. I think they have ion thrusters on the side to auto-correct. Ion thrusters.

Maya:

He won’t stop talking about ion this, ion that. I told him to play I-Spy with me, and he keeps saying no.

Atiannah:

Relax, baby. You know this is the type of stuff Amar likes, let him enjoy it.

Maya:

It doesn’t even matter, we’ll land on the moon and I’ll have all the fun I want at Artemis.

George Wellor:

Artemis? Artemis Resorts down in the Moon colony? I thought we were supposed to-

Atiannah:

Anyway, let’s join your brother. Maybe we can combine I-Spy with some science and make it fun for both of you.

Kevin:

Oh boy.

Speaker 7:

Nearing the moon, we will be arriving in three minutes.

Kevin:

Wow, seeing it so close, I never realized just how large this guy is.

George Wellor:

Weird, right? Most of your life has been spent with the Moon being the size of a golf ball, at most.

Kevin:

With all these satellites wrapped around it, it nearly looks like it has rings.

Maya:

Oh my God, oh my God. I’m so excited, Britney at school told me all about Artemis Resorts. The first actual theme park on the Moon, they have zero-g apartments, lunar rides, and cotton candy that they say tastes even better because it’s made on the Moon. Blue Ivy even performed here once, what if she’s here today? Oh my God, this is going to be crazy.

Atiannah:

Calm down, honey.

Maya:

I can’t, I’ll calm down when I’m swimming in a zero gravity pool, when I’m watching a lunar circus show-

Speaker 7:

Beginning slingshot calculation to return to Earth.

Maya:

What did the ship just say?

Amar:

Tried to tell you, Maya, but you didn’t want to listen.

Maya:

Mom, why aren’t we landing? We’re going around the Moon.

Atiannah:

Maya, this was a free trip as a gift from my new employer to our family, but the trip is there and back.

Maya:

What?

Atiannah:

That little Artemis Resort is far too expensive.

Maya:

But I already told Britney I was going to come back with lunar cotton candy.

Kevin:

Sorry, Maya. We can get some cotton candy when we land, though.

Maya:

It’s not the same.

Amar:

Hey, George, think I could drive this thing?

George Wellor:

No can do, kid.

Amar:

Come on, George. You said it was easy, you don’t even need an education for it, right?

George Wellor:

That is not what I said.

Amar:

You kind of did.

George Wellor:

No, sort of. Not fully, listen, you’re not going to drive.

Amar:

Come on, George. Let me drive the boat.

George Wellor:

It’s not like a boat, it’s not like a car. Do you have a license?

Amar:

As far as you know.

George Wellor:

Then, if you can’t drive, you can’t drive in space.

Amar:

Oh, come on. Just go for a little test drive.

Rose Eveleth:

All right, TK, that was so good. There are so many things to say about that piece, I think my favorite is that, in a lot of Sci-Fi, you don’t see families that much. It’s often rogue man goes alone to space, this has got so much of that good family dynamic. Did that resonate with you?

TK Dutes:

Oh, for sure. It reminded me of the TV shows in the ’80s, The Cosby Show and Family Ties and any show that had a group of people going through a thing together. Just their interactivity, I really appreciated the real conversations. I felt like these were things that I would say to my dad, my mom, my brother. So I really appreciated it, and I also appreciated just Black people in space.

Rose Eveleth:

Yes. Period.

TK Dutes:

That’s the tweet.

Rose Eveleth:

There it is, yeah. 100%, and we talk about that in the interview that you’ll hear. Centering those narratives, and having characters that don’t get to go a lot of the time, or if they do get to go, they’re a bit character who doesn’t have a super important role or they’re there to make a point and not as a really well fleshed out person. This piece has none of that, this piece has really great characters. Like you said, super relatable. I love the sibling dynamic, really good. Also manages to do both that light hearted tone and the jokes, and at the same time, raise some really important questions around access and who gets to go, and what that looks like. Which I think is threading that needle is so hard.

TK Dutes:

So hard, but the creators of Obsidian podcasts did such a great job walking that fine line. Before we go there, a quick commercial break and then we’ll come back with Ade and Safiyah of Obsidian podcasts.

Rose Eveleth:

Thank you both so much for joining us on the podcast, I’m very excited to talk about this story, and also Obsidian, in general. Actually, before we get into 60 minutes through space, can you both maybe tell me a little bit about Obsidian more broadly and how this project came together?

Safiyah:

Basically, the shtick of Obsidian is a [speculative fiction 00:18:57] anthology podcast. We are examining the crossroads of blackness and technology and science, all of those great things under the umbrella, or the mindset of Afro-futurism. That’s the greater theme of all of our episodes.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, you touched on so many things that I want to ask about, and I’ll come back to Afro-futurism. The first phase of Obsidian is relationships, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about why you picked that theme specifically?

Ade:

Good question, good question. Relationships, I think, part of where this idea of Obsidian came from, was very community based. We were thinking about, the things that worried our communities, and when we think about communities, what are those? Those are a lot of interpersonal relationships, they’re between different people, between friends and within families. They’re the stories that your parents had to tell their kids at night before they go to bed, and they’re the things that students are talking to each other about. We realized that relationships was a very core part of our communities, and a core part of why we thought Obsidian should even exist in the first place. Then, within relationships, there’s so much to unpack.

Rose Eveleth:

You noted in the recap episode, and listeners who are listening to this should absolutely go listen to the other two because it’s a really interesting set of three. You noted in the recap episode, that this one that we just heard, is by far the most hopeful and fun and happy version of relationships that you encounter. You talked in that recap episode a little bit about why, but I’m wondering if you can talk here about why did you want to balance out that fun and light episode with some of the more serious, somewhat scary at moments episodes later on?

Ade:

We were asked the same question, and we thought that the best way to introduce the podcast and the project was with a warm embrace, really. A lot of people don’t know what Afro-futurism is, as weird as it is to imagine, at least for us because we’ve been working in that world for a while. We wanted to give a nice, easy way for people to understand what the genre even was in the first place. We didn’t want to start too harshly, a lot of Black stories are laced with trauma, and we didn’t really want to take that route. So we thought it would be nice to have a wholesome family going on a road trip, this time to space.

Safiyah:

We don’t see Black families represented in outer space, and what do those conversations look like? What is the socio-political climate of when they can achieve this goal of going out of space as a family. Those are just things we are thinking about, what’s this whole world look like since it’s not very common that we see it in the media.

Ade:

While it is definitely straight forward, it’s no less important, you know? We don’t have to have pain in our families, pain in our stories, for them to be essential or important. We wanted to make sure that our listeners knew we felt that way ourselves.

Rose Eveleth:

One thing that struck me too, about it is, in classic science fiction you don’t see families at all, a lot of the time. It’s always the lone white guy who’s going to space by himself somehow, and you rarely see families, and of course, you very rarely see Black families. I thought that was such an interesting way of re contextualizing the classic. The oh, we’re going to space, but actually it’s more of this relationship driven story, which I really loved as a way into, a surprising way into, a story that feels like people have heard it before, perhaps. When you thought about building that family, can you talk a little about thinking about those characters and how you actually built that family that we hear?

Ade:

One of the first characters, it was so easy, was Maya the little nine year old girl. I have a 10 year old sister who was actually nine at the time I was writing that story, it was very easy for those characters to come together. I could imagine Maya and her brother, and the entire relationship was really just the way me and my little sister interact. It was very easy for me to put myself into that space-

Amar:

Maya, come check this out. I think they have ion thrusters on the side to auto-correct. Ion thrusters.

Maya:

He won’t stop talking about ion this, ion that. I told him to play I-Spy with me, and he keeps saying no.

Atiannah:

Relax, baby. You know this is the type of stuff Amar likes, let him enjoy it.

Maya:

It doesn’t even matter, we’ll land on the moon and I’ll have all the fun I want at Artemis.

Ade:

Actually, there’s a couple movies I was referencing. One of them is, Are We There Yet? The old 2005 Ice Cube, I think it’s ’05, I might be wrong about that. I just love the dynamic of that story, as well. The whole concept being stuck in one little compartment with your family and how they frustrate you at some points, but you also love the experience with them. I tried to replicate that myself with a more Sci-Fi oriented story. It felt very easy, actually. It’s Black families, and Safiyah and I are from Black families so we could just draw from our own backgrounds.

Rose Eveleth:

One thing, it is a sort of fun, happy story, but there’s also a lot of commentary around access and around equality and around who gets to go, and what that looks like. Certain people have to give 200% and some people just have an uncle who works at the company and happen to be able to be the pilot. I’m wondering, in thinking about making, you mentioned you wanted this to be a warm embrace, you wanted it to be an intro to the series that made people want to return. How do you balance wanting that warm embrace, but also the reality and bringing in some of those conversations around access and equality?

Ade:

I think a lot of media today doesn’t trust listeners, viewers, whatever, whoever’s consuming, they’re afraid to challenge the public. You’re right, episode one was definitely warm embrace, but we still… Like you guys caught upon, we touched on some class issues, accessibility issues, and we were very intentional about that because we didn’t think people could handle that. Just because it’s a happy story doesn’t mean we can’t think about the cold realities of the social structures that we live with today. We try, for all our episodes to challenge our listeners to some degree. I think listeners actually appreciate that.

Ade:

There’s a lot of media that’s pushed forward, that’s very sugar coated, and it’s fun to a certain point, then you realize you’re not getting much from it. It’s not leaving you with anything, you don’t walk away thinking about it. With these type of stories, we want people to leave and still have these thoughts whirring in their head like, “That was a cute family, but damn. I didn’t think about the fact that the pilot just got access to that job because he knew somebody, or he’s part of a family.” That’s something you got to think about and then something you relate to your real life.

Kevin:

How does one become a space pilot, George? You go to MIT, or something?

George Wellor:

Not exactly, Mr. Walker.

Kevin:

What? Cal-Tech?

George Wellor:

I actually, sort of, dropped out.

Kevin:

Dropped out? Out of magna cum laude to just cum laude, you mean? Surely, that’s what you mean.

Atiannah:

Kevin, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to fly a space shuttle.

Kevin:

Since when?

Atiannah:

The technology has advanced far beyond that point, though you should have aviation experience and a degree.

George Wellor:

And I do. Well, the experience part. I actually passed the proficiency test rather well.

Atiannah:

Regardless, to even take the exam, you usually need a bachelor’s, at least.

George Wellor:

I have my certification in everything, ma’am. My great-uncle is the founder of Blue Orbit, so that got me in the door.

Kevin:

Man, I tell you, white people be failing upward, huh?

Atiannah:

Hush, Kevin.

Rose Eveleth:

That actually leads right into my next question, which was going to be, when people end listening to this episode, what do you hoping that they’re thinking about or feeling at the end of 60 minutes through space?

Safiyah:

I am hoping that they feel seen, and maybe even heard. Something that we’re very proud of is that a woman on Twitter told us that she had a really great experience listening to the episode with her child. It was a Muslim woman and she felt happy that it was appropriate, I guess you could say. That she and her child could imagine themselves in the same situation.

Rose Eveleth:

Just to go back a tiny bit, to the concept of Afro-futurism. Ade, you noted earlier that maybe not everybody knows what that is, so can you define it for us and talk about why it is important to your work?

Safiyah:

I like to think of Afro-futurism as a mindset and ideology that you live by towards bettering your future in any kind of way. I’ve been thinking a lot about mundane Afro-futurism, which was talked a lot by Martine Syms who is a artist and writer, who wrote the Mundane Afro-futurist Manifesto. Just bettering your life, and the way you think and perceive and understand and navigate your life.

Ade:

There’s a very literal definition, Mark Dery coined the term back in the ’80s-

Safiyah:

1993.

Ade:

Oh, geez, she got the year on the spot. Back in 1993, he coined the term and it’s really African Americans, or Black folk really, actually, existing in Sci-Fi stories, something related to mysticism sometimes, something related to space. At the same time, I think it’s important, what Safiyah just said, because it’s recapturing the term and changing it as time passes, changing it to fit the needs of us, our Black community. Frankly, Mark Dery was a white man, and what he was seeing was, he was identifying a genre that was… It already existed for a while before then, but he was identifying it at that point of time.

Ade:

That does not necessarily mean that it’s exactly what it is, it’s really up to the Black community to decide what it is, and also, that’s going to change with every decade. Our kids are probably going to have their own definition of Afro-futurism, and that’s completely okay. Generally, for people that have never heard the term, we usually a Black Panther as an example. Truth be told, it is a really good example for what Afro-futurism is in the 2010’s. Now, we’re in 2020, but that’s what we use.

Rose Eveleth:

So a lot of Afro-futuristic work plays with time, and collapses time and moves time, Ytasha Womack talks about Afro-futurism is where the past and the future meet, in her book. I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about… Because there are references to the future and the past in this piece, there’s this reference to I hope things have changed or we’ve come a long way, sort of collapsing down that time as a moment in this piece. I’m curious how you think about playing with time in Obsidian, maybe in the other two episodes it’s a little more obvious, but I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about the linearity of futurism and Sci-Fi, the way it is commonly portrayed, and then the way that you are thinking about it with Obsidian in this Afro-futuristic lens.

Ade:

You guys ask some really good questions. Afro-futurism is definitely a story, or genre, that’s very future forward, forward facing. Once you already put yourself into that perspective, into that lens of thinking, what you’re really speaking on is your present. If you’re writing and creating worlds that you see for yourself in the future, you’re saying what is shackling me currently? And how do I see myself either breaking those bonds in the future, or not breaking those bonds? The stories that end up taking place 50 years in the future, 100 years in the future, is very interesting to see what remains constant, what’s the same as 2020 right now, and what has changed. In those aspects of a story, is hope. Another aspect of the story is, maybe a lack of hope or a identifying of such a concrete issue that some things can’t change in 50 years. It’s up to the write to decide that. I do think, for example, Kindred is a really good book that I’ve read. It’s by…

Safiyah:

Octavia Butler.

Ade:

Thank you. Yeah, by Octavia Butler. It was one of the most interesting depictions of time and Afro-futurism that I’ve ever experienced. When you’re going back in time, it makes you re-analyze your present. She comes back to the present multiple times and it’s always very startling and jarring for her. I think the same could be said when we think future stories, as well. Time travel within these stories is very fluid, and it’s something that happens even in the discussions we have in reality. When we go to create policy, we’re talking about a future that we want. When we fight politically, when we protest, when we riot, whatever it may be, it’s all about the future. It’s not about the present or the past, often.

Safiyah:

Since I imagined Afro-futurism as a ideology, I kind of feel like it’s non-linear since it pops up in all different points in time of people historically doing things that are really bold and risk taking, so that they can advance the lives of themselves and those around them. Just like all of these are examples of mundane, that’s in air quotes for those listening, Afro-futurism. Really, those are not mundane, those were incredible.

Rose Eveleth:

So much of the language that is commonly used around travel to space, repeats or replicates harmful history. We talk about colonizing space, rather than traveling to space. I’m curious if you think that fiction, and particularly Afro-futuristic fiction, can help counter some of those narratives and some of those frameworks that people are using currently to talk about, specifically, space travel?

Ade:

Terminology is such a powerful thing, words are such a powerful thing. The way that we structure our understanding of the world, impacts the way that we continue to look at the world. You’re completely correct when you talk about colonizing a new place, you have to understand the weight, the gravity of that word because humanity has colonized other people on this planet. Moving forward, again, we’re talking about future facing thoughts, future facing perspectives, moving forward using those types of terms for certain things, means that you’re actually already entrenching the future in the past. You’re repeating past mistakes, so Afro-futurism is one of the many tools that our communities use to fight against that. There’s many others, but media art is a powerful tool for things like you’re talking about right now.

Safiyah:

And for changing the language, like you said in our stories. If we’re purposely avoiding certain phrases, or how people now are really being cognizant of using uprising versus riot in social landscapes. Things like that, your word choice in the future shows how you feel about how language should be used.

Ade:

I do think, as artists, we do have a responsibility to help dictate what the future could be, what we think the future should be, and a lot of it has to do with the language that we use and the stories that we tell, what we hope for the future based off our stories.

Rose Eveleth:

I have a couple more fun questions. Well, I thought those were fun questions, but these are more light questions maybe. Do you envision Moon travel for all of us in our lifetimes?

Ade:

In our lifetime? Yeah, probably. Our lifetime?

Safiyah:

Saying that we live passed 50 years from now, that’s very hopeful. I could see it.

Ade:

In this realm of hopefulness, I would say, by the time I die, it’s probably going to be pretty expensive, but doable.

Safiyah:

Given you live [inaudible 00:36:08]

Ade:

I’m being hopeful, we’re talking about a hopeful lens right now. If I live long, hopefully, I think it’ll be possible, but very expensive. It wont’ be accessible. You and I will not be going to the Moon, it’s people like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos. I’m like, “Holy shit, I just checked out the Moon colony.” Or something like that. That’s even hopefully thinking, but the next generation, definitely. I definitely think the next generation’s going to become more and more accessible. Also, if we’re bringing it back to less hopeful terms and thinking about climate change, it’s very likely that the humanity is going to have to leave the planet. People are already thinking about how we’re going to inhabit other planets and set up colonies there. I guess, push come to shove, we might have to be on the Moon.

Rose Eveleth:

One thing we’re asking everybody is, if you have a favorite piece of hopeful media about the future? And that can be a song, a movie, a TV show, a book, anything that you think of when you think of your favorite piece of hopeful future imagining.

Ade:

That might be the hardest question you’ve asked. The present is all about dystopias, man. That’s what people love to create and write about these days. Hopeful futures.

Safiyah:

You know what is ironically very hopeful? The movie Interstellar, because what’s her name? Anne Hathaway’s character, she takes her helmet off on this distant planet, and she’s breathing. It’s crazy, they’re like you want us to believe this? Then, they build this whole society, community, on some weird space floating… Or, are they on a planet?

Ade:

No, it wasn’t a planet, it was a shuttle ring thing that they were living.

Safiyah:

So they know how we see those stations, space stations, that they’re living on. And I’m like, “I think they wanted that movie to end with a hopeful tone.” So that is my answer, because I think that was hopeful.

Ade:

It’s actually, wow. I’m going to use that same answer, and for a slightly different reason, though. One of my favorite things about that movie, Interstellar, is one of the things that’s criticized the most about, and it’s also related to Anne Hathaway. There’s a scene in which they’re deciding what planet for them to go to, I think they have two choices, and they’re like, “Which planet do we… We only have so much fuel left, which one are we going to go for?” And the two men on the shuttle are like, “Yeah, let’s definitely go towards this one because, on paper, it’s clearly the best choice.” Anne Hathaway’s like, “No, we got to go to the other planet.” And they’re like, “Why?” Then they dissect the reason is basically because somebody that she was in love with before, had left on a previous journey to that planet. So, if he survived, he’d be alive there.

Ade:

Of course, being men, they’re like, “That’s dumb. There’s no reason for us to make such a vital choice for that reason, for the guy that you were in love with.” Then she had a great monologue, one of, I think, Anne Hathaway’s best performances, in which she talks about love being such a central and powerful core theme in humanity, and how it should push us to make decisions sometimes.

Safiyah:

It’s so disgusting.

Ade:

It’s incredible, it’s incredible because-

Safiyah:

It’s like, are we letting love guide decisions now?

Ade:

No, it’s incredible.

Anne Hathaway:

When I say that love isn’t something we invented, it’s observable, powerful. It has to mean something.

Speaker 15:

Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing-

Anne Hathaway:

We love people who have died, where’s the social utility in that?

Speaker 15:

None.

Anne Hathaway:

Maybe it means something more, something we can’t yet understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t conscientiously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade, who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet.

Ade:

I think science, in general, science today is so controlled by white men who decided that the lack of emotion is the best way to conduct science. Which is just truly false, in fact, that directs science towards some of the worse acts of science in history. Some of the most racist acts of science have been from a very non-emotive perspective, but being considerate of humanity, being considerate of where we all stand in collectivism and stuff, is actually a great approach to science. In the end, that planet is where they found a habitable situation. The core them of the movie is about love, because that’s essentially how… That’s connected the father to his daughter over time and space. I think they’re telling us how powerful humanity can be when we stop thinking about profit and all these very hardcore, quote unquote, grounded concepts, and start thinking about the things that make us happy to be alive. Which, one of the most powerful ones is love itself, and that made me hopeful about a future with a species that can embrace that.

Safiyah:

That was beautiful.

Ade:

That’s why I love that movie.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, better than Anne Hathaway’s version, I think. The last question that we’re asking everybody, and I think this actually might be the hardest question, is what are you personally most hopeful about right now?

Ade:

One of my biggest hopes is also tied to one of my biggest fears because I do think we’re in a point that things can go either way. It’s privacy concerns when it comes to data, we’re in an age where entities like Facebook are finally being called out for some huge breaches of privacy that they’ve done. We’re just a couple years past the Snowden whistle blowing events and stuff, and generally, the general public’s kind of, quote unquote, woken up to the fact that, first of all, something very valuable, your date, which none of us thought was valuable as it has been in the past two decades, and someone else is doing a lot of things with it that you may not know about. We’re definitely at a turning point which either, we finally take into our own hands and make sure that our data is protected and valued, or it goes the other way.

Ade:

We’ve reached a turning point which is irreversible, and the policies are in place, and the culture that’s in place, because people often don’t think about the culture behind data privacy, but we’re in a space where people are like, “Okay, you can just take my data. What does it mean?” Which is kind of scary to think about, that could go one way or the other. So I’m hopeful about it because of the way Facebook has been approached recently. Even Amazon, there are some devices that they have, for example, Ring. Which is their door alarm thing, that has a camera on the front. Before they were called out for it, it was recording and sending that data to Amazon. Now, because they were called out for it, now they have to give an option for people to turn that off. Amazon, huge entities are finally being called out for it, I’m hoping that continues to trend.

Safiyah:

That was super specific, my answer is not. My very basic hopeful thought is that, a lot more people are on the same train of thought. It’s becoming more apparent that we all dislike, or are recognizing, the same things and I hope, if we keep moving in that way, we all realize these things are a problem. Then, hopefully, in some time, we will all believe enough to make some kind of change towards it. I guess it’s just this collective idea, if enough people take a stand against something, then something will happen, hopefully. I guess that’s where the word hopefully comes in. Hopefully something will happen if we all recognize and act on it.

Rose Eveleth:

Thank you both so, so much for coming on the show, this has been a delight. Everyone should absolutely go listen to the other two episodes of this phase. Then, what’s next? What’s the next phase? Can you tell us or is it a secret?

Safiyah:

No, we can tell you.

Ade:

We really can, the next phase is DNA data storage. It’s told in three parts, we do an anthology series most of the time, but this time, for this phase, all three episodes are going to be tied together. It’s going to be a long saga of a story.

Safiyah:

In this one world, and we’re taking from some real life occurrences. So Harvard’s been doing some experiments where they put books and film clips into DNA, and we’re exploring what it would look like in a world where this is pretty common. What’s it like for people who live in this world where data is being stored in the DNA of people?

Rose Eveleth:

Sweet. I, for one, cannot wait to hear that. It sounds amazing. Thank you both so much for joining us, I really appreciate it. This has been so fun.

Ade:

Thank you, this is- [crosstalk 00:45:49]

Safiyah:

You guys are great interviewers, by the way.

Ade:

Definitely.

Rose Eveleth:

That’s all I want to hear.

Ade:

These have been great questions, and it’s inspired a lot of thought on both our sides.

Rose Eveleth:

Thank you.

TK Dutes:

60 minutes through space was written and produced by Adetola Abdulkadir and Safiyah Cheatam. Sound design by Sadah Espii Proctor. Narrated by Nicole Marie as Atiena Walker, Radiance Ware as Maya Walker, Jaylen Smith as Amar Walker, Lorenzo Jones as Kevin Walker, Hector Tolentino as George Wellor, Dwight Smith as Trevor, and Caroline Unger as the Overhead Announcer. To hear more, visit ObsidianPodcast.com. Open world is a partnership between [Filos 00:46:48] Future Media and Flash Forward Presents.

Rose Eveleth:

Hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth.

TK Dutes:

Produced by Britney Brown.

Rose Eveleth:

Intro music by Blue Dot Sessions. Additional sound design by TH Ponders.

TK Dutes:

With engineering by C. You can contact us via social media, we are on the Twitters @OpenWorldPod.

Rose Eveleth:

You can email us at Hello@OpenWorldRadio.com, you can visit OpenWorldRadio.com for more about any of what you heard on this show, more links to the amazing creators who we featured here, how to find their work. Also, there are transcripts of each episode up on the website if you want to read those, or revisit them. We really love taking this journey with you, so thanks for coming along for the ride.

1 thought on “The City We Became

  1. Tasha says:

    Congratulations!

    I am so happy that there is a new way to enjoy your amazing work and hear your voices!

    I will be tuning in on the regular and sharing!

    Love,
    Tasha

    Reply

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