The Nowness of Black Chronopolitical Imaginaries in the Afro/Retrofuture

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In her third contribution to The Funambulist, North Philly-based attorney, activist and afrofuturist artist Rasheedah Phillips continues to share with us some keys to fundamentally revolutionize the way we approach time and forever part from its colonial linearity.

Article published in The Funambulist 24 (July-August 2019) Futurisms. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

Philips Funambulist1
“Untitled.” Artwork part of the Black Space Agency Series by Black Quantum Futurism (2018)

The relationship between Black people in the Americas and the dominant Western linear time construct has always been fraught. Simultaneous to the advancements in technology, science, and economics that would come to forge our present day notions of linear time and the future, one can trace the significant events on the timeline of colonization of the African continent, the TransAtlantic slave trade, slavery in the North and South Americas and beyond, and its continuing aftermath of systemic racism and structural inequities. Such colonialist, imperialist projects could not have been successful without the use of time and temporal oppression, with time being what Sociologist Barbara Adam calls “a most effective colonizing tool” and what Jeremy Rifkin calls “the primary socializing tool.” (Time, 2004). Historian Giordano Nanni similarly observes that “the rise of capitalism and the work-clock […] went hand-in hand: time became a quantifiable measure of exchange-value in the marketplace for trading in the commodity of human labour, the currency in which the workers’ lives — their time, reified — was bought and sold.” (The Colonisation of Time, 2012).

Nowhere was that more evident than in the plight of victims and survivors of chattel slavery, where their bodies as well as their time through labor were used as commodities and forms of currency. My recent research through Slave Narratives held in the U.S. Library of Congress yields hundreds of references by formerly enslaved Africans on the use of time and clocks by slavemasters to attempt to regulate every waking moment of their lives, as well as the times they were allowed to sleep and rest. Across many narratives, interviewees recounted how they were made to wake up between 3 or 4 o’clock AM, usually by the the master’s blowing of a horn or ringing a bell. They were often made to work until or past sundown, some interviewees recalling working regularly until 10 PM. This control over the temporal domains of enslaved Africans extended into times of birth, times of death, and even the “time” of emancipation and liberation. As “ex-slave” Thomas Ash shares: