"Before Yesterday We Could Fly": An Afrofuturist Period Room is an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that, according to the museum, is "powered by Afrofuturism—a transdisciplinary creative mode that centers Black imagination, excellence, and self-determination—this construction is only one proposition for what might have been, had Seneca Village [a Black settlement destroyed to make way for Central Park in in 1857] been allowed to thrive into the present and beyond."
The photos of the exhibition, which you can see in Mark Dery's essay, "An Archconservative Magazine Discovers Afrofuturism at the Met and Is Not Pleased," hint at a mind-bogglingly spectactular vision of an alternative past/present/future. When I learned that the exhibit was co-created by Hannah Beachler, who won an Oscar for designing Black Panther's Wakanda, it made sense why it looks so amazing.
But it's not just the photographs in Dery's response to Gilbert T. Sewall's nasty review in the archconservative Spectator World published October 26 that make it worth reading. Dery takes his razor sharp pen to expose Sewall's sense of privilege and superiority toward non-whites.
For Sewall and his readers, the very idea of "historically oppressed blacks," in this best-of-all-possible post-racial worlds, is just so much "weepy, semi-fictional" liberal bunkum.
Ceding one square inch of the culture-war battlefield — say, a small room at the Met — to a hopeful myth that rewinds the demolition of a Black community and imagines a more radically empowered future for its inhabitants is mere "pander[ing] to the current vogue" for racial justice. From that pinched, parochial perspective, an Afrofuturist period room can't be anything more than a scheme to "provide a racial learning moment for a maximum number of museumgoers" — clearly a bad thing — or, better yet, an "anti-historical fantasy" in the "Disneyland of social justice," like, you know, the Jungle Cruise, with its spear-chucking, headhunting Africans.