Sutton Griggs' Imperium In Imperio: Black Science Fiction As Social Prophesy

Tuesday, I posted on what more Science Fiction literature may mean for Black religion. In my excitement and search for science fiction writings by African Americans, I found Sutton E. Griggs’ Imperium In Imperio online.

The book is an great read, and I enjoyed every moment. Our protagonist is Belton Peidmont, who represents the very anti-thesis of W.E.B. Dubois‘s the talented 10th (light skinned, middle class Negroes destined to lead the Negro community of the late 19th/early 20th century). That honor belongs to Piedmont’s best friend since grade school, Bernard Belgrave.  However, some of the more interesting developments in the book is what I want to concentrate on.

First, there is the visibility of black women throughout the text.  I think this is important; as some theologians have pointed out, that many of the slave narratives written by men rendered women as invisible (even if they do appear or speak, its only in reference to the author’s life). Interestingly, it is the “martyrdom” of a lover that politicizes apathetic Bernard into becoming a revolutionary.  The subjectivities of both Bernard’s and Belmont’s mothers are made determining factors in the destinies of their sons.

Second, as an alternative history text, there are still signs of Griggs’ time.  The vulnerability of the black body, and utter dominance of the power of death which came with the culture of rape and lynching.  Success is defined as living to breathe another day in the P0st-Reconstruction/pre-Civil Rights Era.

Thirdly, I think from a political standpoint, this text is a criticism against both Jeffersonian states rights and black separatism.  Griggs’ weaves Jefferson and separatism in a way that is quite indicting.  In Chapter 15, Belton exposes the fatal flaw in our federalist system: the very ambiguity of the relationship between the states and the federal government–Negroes, under the auspices of the 10th Amendment were denies their rights.  Make no mistake aboutit ; Jefferson is mentioned about 10 times during a 4 chapter long monologue. This is no accident.  Dare I wax Stanley Hauerwas at this juncture, one could go into a diatribe against the inherent violence within liberal democracy (Hauerwas’s term, which he conflates with a notion of capitalist individualism), pointing to Jeffersonianism as chief culprit.

Lastly, my favorite chapter was Chapter VI, “A Young Rebel” in which Belton uses his oratory skill and intellect to rally a group a students to protest against racial discrimination. I see no better way to articulate the possibility of the Civil Rights Movement some 50 years later.

It is in the very act of recording a fictitious account of a black violent revolution that Sutton E. Griggs re-constructs a non-violent politics as patriotism.  Simply by considering an alternative history, asking the “What If” questions, Griggs had imagined a Christian theological view of moral agency for the African American community.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *