Most people do not recognize how much fiction shapes the reality we share. Several colleagues over the years have scoffed at the idea of mysticism and dismissed its importance in the development of civilization. Friedrich Nietzsche troubled the philosophical discussion of ethics with his work, Beyond Good and Evil. Yet the power of the creative mind, unbound by religion and reason, remained forbidden outside of superficial explorations in psychology and literature. Paragon historian Robin D.G.Kelley emphasized this limitation in his works, Race Rebels and Freedom Dreams. Kelley expanded Paul Gilroy’s ideas of a Black Atlantic – a world defined by the intersection of maritime travel and the creation of race as an idea.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the twentieth century liberation movements was the inclusion of African cultural expression as legitimate creativity in the media. The construction of Black excellence in the performances of Bill Cosby, Diahann Carroll, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown created an imaginary universe where people of different backgrounds could share a common civic community. The range of black public inclusion – from Lauryn Hill to Condoleeza Rice translated the possibility of a multi-racial democracy into a living reality over the last twenty years. Interracial couples, even with same-sex partners, are increasingly common in primetime dramas and national advertising campaigns. Still, the limits we place on the mystic, the emotional,and the instinctive restrict the range of language and images the public finds acceptable.
Artists and scholars like Julian Chambliss, Hannibal Tabu, the Black Tribbles, Brandon Easton, and John Jennings continue blaze new trails, expanding the sonic work of Earth, Wind, & Fire, Wu-Tang Clan, BlackStar, and Reef the Lost Cauze. The television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine explored the layered nature of human experience across space and time in an episode titled “Far Beyond the Stars.” At the climatic moment of the story, the main character – a black science fiction writer named Bennie Sisko – decries the abuse he suffers at the cost of his art. He shouts, “You can’t destroy an idea!” This exclamation precedes the closing revelation that the character is both “the dreamer and the dream.” The surreal awareness of a person’s simultaneous existence as both a sub-atomic particle (from a celestial perspective) and a universal being (from a bosonic perspective) is the point. Our existence exceeds our intellect.
The wonder and the mystery of the African diaspora (in fact and in fiction) provide a foundation for human liberty in the twenty-first century. Comics and More in Plymouth Meeting Mall routinely holds events like Free Comic Book Day to explore the experiences that lie beyond our science and rationality. On Saturday, May 18, in West Philadelphia, the East Coast Black Age ofComics convention will host hundreds of pioneers who explore the frontiers of consciousness and reveal ancient truths that remain hidden today. It will be (as the Dame Vaako, played by Thandie Newton in “The Chronicles of Riddick,” said) a day of days.
Dr. WalterGreason is the author of the best-selling comic, “The Holy Bible: Dignityand Divinity.”