The Future is Black: Musings on the origin of my SciFi/Fantasy love

My first introduction to science fiction & fantasy came from the library and Star Wars. During my childhood, whole Saturdays were spent at the library. One day, I ventured over to the adult section (seriously, they had their own room) and peeped their VHS collection. I flipped through and saw Star Wars. I wasn't familiar with it so I rented all three movies. I consumed them in one day. In one sitting.

My love of scifi would have ended right there. 

Then my mom introduced me to Star Trek universe, Commander-then-Captain Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Seeing a black person in space and in charge was mind-boggling. Someone who has the same skin tone as me in space. From there, my mom introduced me to The Original Series and the lovely Lieutenant Uhura. My world was shaken. These were my people. To this day, I ride for Star Trek all day. Every day.

2014 will forever be known as the year I met Nichelle Nichols. Beautiful spirit who I was absolutely speechless to meet. 

2014 will forever be known as the year I met Nichelle Nichols. Beautiful spirit who I was absolutely speechless to meet. 

Rather than pontificate, I want to provide a list of the black characters that got me hooked on shows that, frankly, I wouldn't have watched otherwise. It was seeing black faces, black women especially, that gave me a glimpse of black people in science fiction & fantasy.

Storm from X-Men

Storm could fly. She was wise. She could control the motherfucking weather! I got hooked on to her because of the cartoon show but then quickly branched out into the comic books. I even had the four limited edition Storm comic books (before my dad threw them away). She was the reason I even got into comic books. At least twice a month, I would hit up the comic book store in the mall to buy whatever X-Men comic book I could get. 

Aisha from The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers

Aisha was my girl. She was a badass and rocked those braids like the queen that she was. Admittedly, I was in to the Yellow Ranger with Trini (RIP __) but I kept up with the show when they introduced Aisha. I even went and saw the movie when it came out. And real talk, can't NOBODY tell me that Aisha and Zack (the Black Ranger) didn't have a thing going on. 

Vanessa from Space Above and Beyond

Vanessa was smart with a little dash of shyness. I could relate to her because I was her minus the degree in nuclear physics and petite frame. I was known as the smart kid in class but also the one that was occasionally overlooked. I would have loved to see a romantic relationship develop for Vanessa during the show but alas that didn't happen.

Gina Torres in pretty much everything (Firefly, Hercules: The Legendary Adventures, Cleopatra 2525)

I mean, have you seen Gina Torres? Have you seen her act? What is not to love. She stays playing the badass. What made her such a stand out for me, in Firefly and Hercules, is that she was a woman in love. She was cherished. She was coveted by one man. Just seeing a black woman in a relationship nourished my spirit.

Kendra Young from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I watched Buffy but I didn't really sit up and pay attention until Kendra was introduced as a slayer. It still bugs the hell out of me that she got taken out so quickly on the show. She really could have been something. *shakes fist at Joss Whedon*

Martha Jones from Doctor Who

*sigh* I'm happy and not happy about Martha Jones. First, she exposed me to the wonderful universe of Doctor Who which, to be honest, was barely a blip on my radar. Second, she was the rebound for the Doctor after he lost Rose. Rather than be the brilliant M.D. that she was her love for the Doctor was a one-sided affair. If I saw that open mouthed lip quiver one more time, I was ready to go off. 

Bill Potts from Doctor Who

Bill reinvigorated my love of the Whoverse after the Clara years. I'm not #TeamClara so there was a significant wane in my Doctor Who interest. When I found out that Bill would be queer and black, I was there for it. Bill was quirky and loved her deceased mom dearly. These were things I could relate to.

Raquel from Crazyheads

First, how can you not love Susan Wokomoa? Seriously. I was browsing on Netflix for something to watch and came across this show. I ended up watching it one sitting. I literally stopped everything I was doing that Saturday to watch all the episodes. Raquel was vulnerable, powerful, offbeat, and sarcastic.

Naomi from The Expanse

I started watching for Naomi and stayed Krisjen (my girl), the amazing story, and production value. My love of Naomi ebbed and flowed but its due in part because she is presented as a flawed individual. I may not always agree with her decisions but she is 100% the reason I even gave this show a chance.

I'm sure I'm leaving others off the list but as you can see my love of science fiction is rooted in blackness, specifically black women. 

Excerpts from my memoir: Hair, part 2

A three part series where I share excerpts from my memoir titled Unicorns are pretty but they also bite. This series will cover my relationship with my hair because black hair is often talked about and criticized.

Is it stinging?: My first relaxer (and the ones after that)

To be honest, I remember bits and pieces of my first relaxer experience.  What I do remember is being dropped off by my mom at Ms. Angie’s house.  She was boisterous, petite, rocked a gold front tooth, had three kids, and ran a daycare out of her house.  She lived up the street from us but my mom dropped me off to get my hair done while she ran errands.    

There were kids everywhere.  Running in the house, out the house.  I remember the torture of having to sit still while Ms. Angie combed my hair and piled white goop on top of it. After that, the waiting began.  Ms. Angie told me in her quick, untraceable accent that I should, and I quote, ‘Let her know when my hair starts stinging.’  I remember thinking, what does that mean? My hair is going to sting.  What will that feel like?

It felt like an eternity in kid time.  Everyone else got to play but I couldn’t.  I had to wait.  Wait for what, I didn’t know.

Ms. Angie would yell at the kids and every now and then she punctuated her yelling with a ‘Is it stringin’?” in my direction.  I would shake my head and continue to wait.  This faint itching feeling started to grow.  I didn’t think anything of it so I didn’t say anything.

After some time, perhaps 20 minutes later, Ms. Angie started to get worried.  

‘Is it stingin’’ she asked again.  I shook my head.

‘It’s not stingin’ but my head itches,’ I quietly told her.  

She grabbed my arm so fast and it was off to the kitchen sink to get the white goop washed out.  The whole time she chastised me for not telling her sooner.  I remember at the time thinking, “my head wasn’t stinging. It was itchy.”

For whatever reason, I’m not really sure why, I walked home.  This was the era of responsible, lack of parental supervision.  Your parents gave you general rules like, telling them which friend’s house are you going to or coming home before the streetlights come on.  Any kid will tell you though, things happen.  You may start at so-and-so’s house but you didn’t always stay there.  Like the time I briefly “went missing” because I made a new friend, a little blonde, white girl who’s parents had a trampoline.  I mean, YES PLEASE!  I was only 4 houses down from my house but my mom didn’t know that.  She had some words for me when she found me.    

I digress.

I still remember the kids, young and old, and the adults reactions to seeing my freshly relaxed hair.  I could be wrong but my hair at the time was dangerously hovering in the mid-back range

My life as I knew it changed.

Sophomore year of college, about 2004-2005. At this point, I fully embraced relaxers. Note by best friend peeking out from behind me. :) 

Sophomore year of college, about 2004-2005. At this point, I fully embraced relaxers. Note by best friend peeking out from behind me. :) 

Every couple of weeks, usually before some big event like Easter or Christmas, I had to spend my Saturday mornings in the beauty shop.  I had graduated from Ms. Angie’s box relaxer that you could buy for $8-12 dollars to a professional styling.  Not only that, I had to get up at an ungodly time of 8 a.m. to get to Benny’s hair salon.  Why? My mom wanted to avoid the rush.  

Sometimes she sat with me but most times she left me to wait.  Now, before you go and shake your head at my mom’s parental skills, in her defense, Benny’s salon was a short gravel parking lot away from her job at a daycare.  The daycare would occasionally be open on Saturdays and my mom would use those opportunities to schlep me along to get my hair relaxed.

At this point in my life, I must have been about 10-11 years old.  I would flip through outdated hair magazines showing black hair models with fingerwaves, curls, dye jobs, you name it.  I watched with ridiculous fascination as Benny chain-smoked, debated some soap opera tidbit, and flat-ironed a woman’s hair at. the same. time.  Benny was a tall, choclolatey brown, black man with a medium build.  He wore his hair in a small fro while he relaxed, washed, and dyed countless black women’s hair.  His salon was in a shopping plaza, if that’s what you called it.  In reality, it looked like any other non-descript, gray, cinderblock building with a painted red, white and blue sign above the door, easily seen from the street.

The one thing I didn’t like about Benny is that he loved to talk.  And sometime, heaven forbid, he would try to coax me into conversation.   I mean, I’m a kid.  He’s an adult.  In my quiet kid mind, I’m thinking what do we have to talk about and please, please, please don’t talk to me.  I would breathe a silence sigh of relief when someone else would come into the salon.

When Benny moved his salon to a single-family house, our business went with him.  I dreaded when my mom would say it was time for a relaxer.  That meant I would spend 8 a.m. to noon (sometimes until 1 p.m.) at the hair salon.  

Now you’re probably thinking, what the devil? Four to five hours in the salon?! If Benny had done my hair from start to finish the whole thing would probably have taken an hour and a half.  But, that’s not how it went.  Things I learned: my hair takes forever to dry, Benny likes to take a lot of smoke breaks, he loses track of time, but, to my extreme annoyance, he would work on other people’s hair.  

The only downside, you know besides the whole four hour hair session, was that his clientele were older women.  I’m talking 65+ easily.  You know how I know? Because he would always style my hair as if I were an octogenarian.  And, most of those ladies, liked their hair styled like the women you see in 1930s and 1940s.  To some of you, you’re probably thinking that sounds lovely because that type of hairstyle is sooo in right now.  Trust me.  In the mid-1990s, southern Georgia, and a black girl to that, trust me.  That was not cute.

Whether I liked to admit it or not, Benny was a big part of my childhood and my understanding of my hair.  I still remember how women pointed when they saw my ‘good hair.’  It seemed like Benny got the proximity fame.  He got to talk about my hair to other people.  How good it was.  How thick and healthy.  It was something to be admired.

I’m not entirely sure of what happened to Benny.  I don’t exactly go home anymore.  I heard that business wasn’t going so well so he started working at Wal-Mart part-time.  He still ran his hair salon on the side.  Then, he either hit his head or had a stroke but he had to have emergency brain surgery.  He recovered but I’m not sure to what extent.  That’s the last I heard of him.  On the off chance you read this, I love you Benny!