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Alex Smith

Nia: Where did you grow up?

Alex: I'm from Greenville, North Carolina.

Nia: Okay, and what brought you to Philly?

Alex: I was getting into organizing and I was coming up for various events like anti-death pen-
alty stuff, Mumia stuff—

Nia: This would have been around what time?

Alex: Like ‘97 to 2000.

Nia: Okay.

Alex: …and like punk festivals and stuff like that. I would constantly be attracted to Philly, more
so than any other city in this kind of area. So, I just fell in love with the city and it just fit me as a
person. I came up here wanting to do music, and becoming a super-star DJ and all this other
stuff. That's kind of my origin story, I guess.

Nia: When did you move to Philly?

Alex: 2002, I think, is when I first is when I first landed here.

Nia: Okay, so you've been here for a while. I like how you said “landed,” like you came down on
a space ship. I want to try and understand your, both political and artistic, trajectory. Because,
again, you do so many things. So, what was your first creative outlet?

Alex: I mean, if you're talking very first, then I was always writing stories as a little kid. My
mom encouraged the artistic side of myself. Where other kids would get toys, I would get the 64-
crayon rack from Crayola or some protractors or something or a tape recorder, things like that.
So, I was always making stories as a kid. I also would do this weird thing and I still do it, where
if I saw a movie, I would try to write my own movie that was similar. If I was introduced to
something new, I would want to create my own version of it. I wasn't satisfied with just reading a
comic book. I wanted to create my own world. Or like playing a game, me and my mom would
come up with games. We would make board games. I was constantly creating stuff.

Nia: When does music come in?

Alex: I also had an obsession with music from an early age as well. My mom had a bunch of 45s,
so I would just play them over and over again. I would just spend hours playing these records. It
was music from like a slightly different time, so it felt surreal. It felt weird.

Nia: What kind of time are we talking about?


Alex: My mom was… She graduated in the 60s, so of course she was listening to Isaac Hayes,
Otis Redding, James Brown, and stuff and Aretha Franklin. All that kind of surreal funk stuff.
When funk was changing, getting a lot more surreal, I would listen to the Ohio Players, groups
like that. They would just do outlandish stuff all the time. Minnie Riperton. Then as I got older I
started to… you lose some of that childhood awe of everything where you're just, "Ah, I just
want to create and just do it." I tried to look for avenues to channel my creativity.

Nia: Yeah, and it sounds like visual art also started when you were pretty young?

Alex: Yeah. I'm still not the best at drawing. I think my drawing's kind of terrible but, I do col-
lage work and that’s from making flyers, basically. Like how I would make flyers for punk
shows and hip-hop shows that I would do and DJ nights. Everybody would be like, "That’s a
great flyer, man," and I would be like, "Oh, thanks!" Then something clicked one day a couple
years ago and I was just like, "I could probably really make some really cool-looking art. So, I
just started working on it as an inclusive part of my entire oeuvre of stuff that I do.

Nia: How and when did you become politicized?

Alex: I was politicized at a very, very young age. As soon as I heard Public Enemy, it was like
something just snapped in me. I was super militant, making Thanksgivings uncomfortable.

Nia: How old would you have been at that point?

Alex: Like 12. I've always been a sort of nerd about things so whenever Public Enemy would
name-drop Joanne Chesimard, aka Assata Shakur, it would lead me to the library and digging.
My mom would have Black history books all over the place. I was always kind of surrounded by
this kinetic activism. I started looking into the Black Panthers and just becoming absolutely ob-
sessed with the Black Panthers. I was obsessed. I think from like 11th and 12th grade I would
just wear berets and black Wrangler jeans. I was trying to dress like Chuck D or Fred Hampton,
you know?

I was just obsessed and it kind of dawned on me that they were essentially super heroes. They
acted outside of the law. They even had a super hero costume, if you think about it. So every-
thing about them, I saw reflected in the super heroes that I was really into. Their need for creat-
ing justice outside of the law and that was a really powerful thing for me to make a connection
to.

Nia: That’s super interesting. I never really made the connection between super heroes as vigi-
lantes and Black Panthers as vigilantes… I don't know if I feel comfortable using the word vigi-
lantes for the Black Panthers.

Alex: Yeah, it’s a weird term because of the whole Guardian Angels and the militias...

Nia: I feel like it has a racist history.


Alex: Yeah, it does.

Nia: I do think I understand what you're talking about as these people being sort of larger than
life figures. When I was growing up, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Bill Cosby—unfortunately—
and Nelson Mandela were very much my dad's heroes and so they became mine as well. Have
you read A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown?

Alex: Oh, I've read some of that. That’s one of the books that would be around and I'd just be
like, "Oh, yeah."

Nia: Okay. I assume that as you got older your views of these men as heroes must have gotten a
little bit more complicated.

Alex: Yeah, all of it's complicated. More than just reading about it, participating in it. When I
started going to protests and organizing. Things like that and also being queer, like coming out.
Like in the 90s it wasn't as aware and queer people didn't have, in the movements that I was be-
ing a part of, didn't have as strong a voice. So, it was really difficult.

On the one hand, you have the white gay activists. The radical faeries and stuff who didn't have a
class or race consciousness, right? On the other hand, you have the Black Socialist movement
that kind of swept queerness under the rug. Living it made all those complications really weird.

I remember reading bell hooks and just being, not confused, but more like resistant to some of
her critiques of Spike Lee and figures like that. and just being like, "but Spike Lee's a brother,
you know what I'm saying?" Then it was just like, "Okay, I get what she's saying." Because I was
living a part of it. It’s been awesome seeing a lot of younger people, queer, Black and brown
people taking the mantle and really being the face of the movement. It’s been really awesome to
see.

Nia: I guess what I'm trying to get at here is like… I inherited a lot of books from my dad about
Black power that were all by men, I think. It wasn't until I was a little bit older and started read-
ing more literature by Black women, and particularly Black women involved with the Black Pan-
ther Party, that I started to see some of the gendered problems, I guess, with the movement.

Have you read Revolutionary Suicide by Huey Newton?

Alex: No.

Nia: There's this part in it. I think he's in jail, and he's trying to organize gays in jail, and he basi-
cally says that it’s too hard because all they care about is sex. [laughs]

Alex: That’s weird. That’s so weird.

Nia: You should read it and form your own opinion.

Alex: I'll definitely read that passage. I do remember there were some things that he said that
challenged Eldridge Cleaver's overtly homophobic stuff, which I always thought was kind of
cool, and then Bobby Seale's right in the middle.

Nia: Eldridge Cleaver is so… problematic is such an understatement. [laughs]

Alex: Oh no, he's terrible.

Nia: He advocated rape.

Alex: Yeah, no, he's terrible. It’s trash.

Nia: I feel like your work has a feminist analysis and so I'm curious where that comes from.

Alex: Just being a person who's trying to be aware as much as possible. Like I said, stumbling
across bell hooks and just being like, "I'm going to take this in." Seeing my mom struggle with
being in an abusive relationship and not wanting to be that. Just working really hard and having
living examples of feminism and stuff. Just constantly trying to learn and be empowered. It’s
scary because I consider myself non-binary, but, I also don't not consider myself a man. Writing
about characters who are trans women and trying to show a different version of masculinity. It’s
definitely scary, because it’s not always from an own-voice perspective, but I try. But, to me, a
sort of feminist or womanist atmosphere is intrinsic to revolution or even science fiction, I think.

Nia: How did you get into sci-fi? Did that love start as a kid?

Alex: Yeah, it did. Super early on, watching The Empire Strikes Back in the theater and just be-
ing into comics and cartoons when I was really younger. The 80s, I'm an 80s kid. The 80s was
the boom of the action kids cartoons because Ronald Reagan lifted the ban on the commerciali-
zation of children’s programming. He's a weird free-market Republican, kind of jerk, right? So,
there was this whole thing where you couldn't have a kid’s cartoon that also was selling products.
He lifted that ban and then the floodgates opened. So you had all these companies basically com-
ing up with toys and the cartoons are essentially 30-minute commercials. But as a kid I didn't
recognize that sort of capitalist strain that was in everything, so, all of that stuff really fascinated
me. Gem and the Holograms, Transformers, Mask, Silverhawks, Thundercats, Battle of the Plan-
ets, Voltron. That whole mindset is where I'm coming from, as far as getting involved in science
fiction. (13:20)

Nia: I feel like these stories, is it fair to say they have sort of an anarchist bent to them?

Alex: Oh yeah, definitely.

Nia: Where does that come in? If the foundation is these super intended-to-sell 80s cartoons. Let
me phrase it differently. When did you get into punk music and was that part of your politiciza-
tion?

Alex: Um...
Nia: Did you come to anarchism through punk? Because I know I did.

Alex: I actually didn't.

Nia: Okay.

Alex: In 11th grade I made an underground newspaper in my school. It was called "The Other 40
Percent."

Nia: What is that referring to?

Alex: So Black people were considered 3/5ths of a person during slavery and my thinking was
like the other 40 percent was me.

Nia: The other 2/5ths?

Alex: Basically. It was a weird moment because everyone knew that I was writing it, but no one
knew because me and my friends used codenames. We were basically the kings of the school for
like the 7 months that we were making this underground newspaper. Because it was all anyone
really wanted to talk about.

Nia: That’s awesome. So, you were how old? 11th grade?

Alex: Yeah. I would go to find images for the underground newspaper and I discovered that all of
these old 60s and 70s newspapers, underground newspapers, and free press stuff was available
on microfiche at the local college, East Carolina University, and I would spend hours there look-
ing at the Black Panther newsletter and the Yippies (Youth International Party) and all this other
stuff. It was mind-blowing so I was discovering different political thought through there and I
was like, "Wow, you don't have to be a Democrat or Republican.” You could literally go outside
of that. So, then I found Emma Goldman and Bakunin. I remember reading that stuff in like 12th
grade, so that was already with me. Political ideas were already with me when I got into punk
and stuff. I didn't really have like a skate punk phase, where I just listened to like—

Nia: Like an apolitical punk phase?

Alex: Yeah, just listening to NoFX or something and Pennywise. But, I listened to that for a hot
minute and then I was just like, "Alright." I was naturally drawn to the stuff that was already
kind of politicized.

Nia: That makes sense.

Alex: And I came through punk through Nirvana. Like I'm a post-Nirvana kid.

Nia: That was your gateway drug?

Alex: Yeah. Discovering Nirvana and being like, "Okay. I used to hate rock ‘n’ roll but that hits
different.” That's fire. That's articulating… Seeing the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, I was
like, "That's articulating the same things that like De la Soul and Public Enemy and Digable
Planets are articulating."

Nia: How so?

Alex: The rebellious thing. This outsider thing. This sort of, "there's more to life than what’s on
the surface," thing. Because if you looked at all the rock stuff before that it was just warrants.
Everything was complete and utter garbage. All of that stuff like Def Leopard, Europe. All of that
stuff is absolutely horrible music, Poison. I couldn't stand any of it. I was like, "This is the stuff
that MTV would rather put on the air instead of the Jungle Brothers? Instead of Boogie Down
Productions? Are you kidding me? This is what we're fighting against?” Seeing Nirvana, and
kind of seeing In Living Color around the same time was like, "That’s the rock ‘n’ roll that they
should be putting on the air." Nirvana changed everything. Everybody wanted to be Nirvana.
Everybody wanted to have "something to say," angsty. I'm a nerd so reading, their "Thank you
lists" and their favorite albums, listening to all that stuff and then finding it through there.

Nia: I love that you were using it like a bibliography, like a place from which to do more re-
search.

Alex: Oh, absolutely.

Nia: I love how many of your stories take place in the library. That you were like actually doing
the research before everything was accessible on your phone.

Alex: Right.

Nia: It’s so cool to me that you so creative and so curious from such a young age, and then
seemed to always pursue that.

Alex: And it wasn't even anything I really thought about. I was often surprised when other peo-
ple weren’t interested in. Because I was so—

Nia: Into it?

Alex: I was like—

Nia: "This is my whole world."

Alex: This is all I care about. I just care about like the Justice League and the Black Panthers and
that’s it. I was just so consumed with all of this nerdy stuff.

Nia: Was that part of moving to Philly? Were you able to find people into the same stuff that
you're into? Not that the Black Panthers are weird stuff.
Alex: That’s a huge part of it, and there were people in North Carolina, but it was mostly like be-
ing able to find queer people that were into this stuff and Black people that were into this stuff. I
would be at a show, a show that I booked in North Carolina and I'd be the only Black person
there. One of maybe two Black people. One of maybe two gay people, if that. Definitely being
out of that hyper-masculine environment all the time and experiencing art and music and culture
with my own people was really, very important to me. I needed to be here. I needed to soak it all
in. I needed to be in the place where Sun Ra made all of his great albums and started a collective.
I needed to be where MOVE said that they were going to change the atmosphere of politics. I
needed to be in Philly where all of this amazing stuff had already gone down.

Nia: I always thought that Sun Ra was associated with Oakland. I didn't realize he had deep
Philly… Did I make that up?

Alex: Well, no—

Nia: “Space is the Place” was shot in Oakland.

Alex: The documentary film "My Joyful Noise" was filmed here. He lived in Germantown for a
long, long while and the Arkestra. They basically just stayed here. The Arkestra performed out of
Philadelphia. Like Marshall Allen, his right-hand man, basically lived here and performed out of
here.

MUSICAL BREAK

--

THE FINAL FLIGHT OF THE UNICORN GIRL


by Alex Smith

“We grinned at sin, mostly, spiraling through black ether as a bright yellow wave, crash landing
on the roof or splashing into windows on wires, reeling off one-liners and brash talk that belied
the danger in the situation. A flunky with bad breath and an ill-fitting suit would pull some kind
of lever and these hired goons, probably deadbeat fathers with no pension or former mercenaries
bored and ill-adapted to civilian life or meatheads spawned from some cult or hate group they’d
been kicked out of, would all come trotting out, decorated with surplus pouches and clunky artil-
lery hanging from the taut string of their utility belts.

We waded across floors riddled with spent shell casings and turned these goons’ guns into splin-
ters. We jacked up men in suits, crashed through the skylight in the board rooms of these shadow
corporations; we hemmed mobsters fat with the toxic nuclear steroid of the month to cement
walls, guidos jacked up on super-powered drugs and contaminants, they all flinched and fired
aimlessly at our swift, gliding rainbow of dizzy confusion. We bounced on drug tables and
kicked over artifacts illegally procured from alien worlds in alternate universes. We burned
buildings down to the ground, a gleeful flick of a finger on a kerosene-soaked hallway, swept
away in the backdraft, watching the flames lick at our winged footies as we blasted back into the
night sky.
We stood there defiantly in the streets as we razed villain enclaves or looked through high-tech
binoculars from a few miles away as one after the other, these towers of oppression fell from the
lines in the sky, crumbling into a pit of ash and mold, just fragments of ideas left, just the rocks.”

--

Nia: What is the story about?

Alex: The plot of the story is basically it’s a post super-hero world so all these sidekicks, they
either go missing or they go rogue. They basically get criminalized and they all turn into crimi-
nals, essentially, and some are revolutionaries. So, it’s about this former super hero, this Batman-
type, who is out looking for his protege, Scout. He stumbled into a bar, sort of like a place where
they all hang out. He runs into the protege's former lover, Unicorn Girl. They have a spat. So, it’s
the impetus for this post-super hero revolution.

Nia: Nice. So “ARKDUST” is a collection of short stories.

Alex: I started ARKDUST as a blog on Tumblr that I got really bored with really fast. For some
reason new social media doesn't stick with me easily. I have like 7 posts on Twitter or something.
I started this Tumblr called “The Afterverse” where I would write super hero stories just because
I had all these ideas and I just had nowhere to put them. Basically, ARKDUST is a compilation
of stories from that and the stories from my zine that I did as a means to have something to sell
when I did readings and stuff.

Nia: What’s the zine called?

Alex: ARKDUST, also.

Nia: Oh, okay. I do want to go back to ARKDUST. The Black Panthers keep coming up. You
have a story that has their Ten-Point Program in it. I was hoping we could talk about that a little
bit.

Did you decide you wanted to write the story around the platform or did you start the story and-
where does the platform come in?

Alex: We've kind of touched on it actually, ironically enough. It comes in in the fact that I
wanted to imagine a world where queer people were leading the revolution, basically. I know
that sounds really boring.

Nia: [laughs] I mean, I'm here for it.

Alex: This Ten-Point program was created without queer people in mind.

I think with that story “What We Believe,” it was a reimagining of what the Ten-Point Program
could actually uncover. I was also saying that it’s still relevant, but it needs to be viewed through
the lens of queerness. That’s why I told a story of a queer character coming into their own. To-
wards the end, the character is sort of involved in a Black Lives Matter-type movement. I'm also
imagining what happens after that. We're in that moment right now, that Black Lives Matter mo-
ment. But, what happens after that, even? That story is about saying that we've done so much of
the work, but we still have so much more to go. What could the possibilities be? Let’s just use
our imagination and imagine what it could look like. I also wanted to tell a story about a daugh-
ter connecting to her mom and how these ancestral lines impact the Black story as well.

I was nervous about that story because when I wrote it, the Black Panthers were really hot.
Kendrick Lamar had just done his Grammy thing. Lemonade was just about to drop from Be-
yonce and she did the Super Bowl thing where she dressed as like… So, I was like, "Oh god.
People are going to say I'm copying it." I think there's been enough time. I was a little bit nerv-
ous that people were going to think about me trying to connect to this zeitgeist. But, I had really
thought about this story a long time ago.

Nia: I would love to talk about “House of The White Automaton.”

Alex: Okay.

Nia: So, this is a story set in West Philly—

Alex: Mhm.

Nia: -about a government mandate that there must be a white man in every house, is that correct?

Alex: Yeah.

Nia: As sort of—I was going to say an overseer, which is not exactly what I meant—like a gov-
erning force?

Alex: Yeah. The idea is that the government thinks if there's a house of x amount of Black people
there should be at least one white person there who carries out their agenda to smooth these
things out. Basically, I tried to think of the most outlandish thing I could possibly think of and
comment on surveillance and the policing of Black bodies and Black minds and Black ideas. I
wanted to comment on universality and what that means. Like when people are like, "Yes, but
there's a lot of Black characters in this. I don't think its universal enough."

Nia: Is that why you decided to self-publish because you were hearing a lot of that?

Alex: I had not heard any of that because I did not—

Nia: Pitch the book?

Alex: I did not. I wanted this to be really Black and really queer and I didn't want to—

Nia: Water it down for anybody?


Alex: Yeah, I wanted the language to be exactly what it is, instead of trying to make it conform
to something else. I don't have time. I don't have the energy to get an agent and an editor and do
all this… I don't have time for that. It’s a lot of jumping through these white hoops and I'm just
sick of it. The means exist for me to put this out. I asked my community to help me raise the
funds to do it, and they overwhelmingly supported it. So, clearly there's an audience for what I'm
writing. I sold out of 2 runs of it.

Nia: That's awesome. How many prints in each run?

Alex: This is my third one. There's probably about 400 of these books in circulation. People have
them.

I think there's too much gatekeeping in publishing and sometimes people just need to read peo-
ple's stuff. Just read it. All these different hoops that we have to jump through or whatever and
people making these claims of, "Oh, we want to be diverse." Well go out and find Black people.

Nia: Do the fucking work. Sorry, I need to cut that out.

Alex: It’s not that much work though. If you just type in names or type in these things in the in-
ternet, you can find them. Or if you like, "We're looking for Black artists, just send us your
stuff." Don't have them jump through hoops. Go to the conventions. Go to conventions like the
East Coast Black Age of Comics, or BSAM (Black Speculative Arts Movement) in Detroit.
There's all of these conventions that celebrate Black science fiction and Black writing. There's no
excuse for you to not find these books. It’s really that simple. But, the publishing world just has
their own things that they like to do.

Nia: I 100 percent agree with you. I think I was just surprised that—maybe I shouldn't be be-
cause you come from a punk and a zine background—that self-publishing was your first thought.
I feel like a lot of people, or at least when I was writing my first book, people were like, "Oh,
you should pitch this." I had the same attitude of like… [laughs].

Alex: If I had decided that, that book would not be out right now. This book came out in January.

Yeah, like I sent it to the publisher in November or December or something like that and they
came back like in January or something. I don't know. Basically, a year later I'd still be mired in
publisher hell or whatever, if I tried to. But, now it's out in the world and I'm getting opportuni-
ties. Got to do it yourself.

Nia: Yeah. You definitely made the right call.

Nia: I feel like that brings us to “Ark Charted Prism,” the last story in the book, where there's a
female figure who sort of saves the protagonist. Could we talk about that story a little bit?
(33:30)

Alex: Sure.
Nia: Please correct me if I'm wrong. It seems to me the story is sort of about like, 1.) what Black
revolution could look like and 2.) maybe some anxieties you might have about having a white
partner after the revolution. Are those assessments accurate?

Alex: Oh yeah, 100 percent. Sometimes, to a fault, I'll have too many ideas for one story or one
song or one thing. To me, they all make sense. All of that makes sense and I know that it proba-
bly doesn't make sense to a lot of people. But, to me, trying to understand police brutality and
oppression of Black people and then being in a relationship with a white person and then what
will happen after the revolution, these are all things that I think about simultaneously. So, for me
to write a story like that doesn't feel weird, but I can understand how some people can feel that
it’s a little bit like, "Oh, what is he actually trying to say?"

Nia: I didn't feel like it was too many ideas. It makes sense. It’s like, “what could Black revolu-
tion look like?” and also, “where does that leave me?” Those are questions that logically follow
each other, I think.

Alex: And I rarely do self-insert stuff, but that was definitely me thinking about those issues
from a very personal perspective. I have a white partner, Shane. He's awesome. We have discus-
sions about race and class and gender and misogynoir. All that stuff, all the time, every day. It’s
not weird or awkward. It’s just an intrinsic part of our relationship, and it always has been, for
the past, almost 10 years. So, that’s very, very important to me and also I think, if I have any re-
gret about that story it’s that the Black woman is kind of unnamed and ethereal in the story, a lit-
tle bit. I guess it’s not really a regret it’s more like longing for this connection, maybe with my
own mom, I guess. Not to be all Freudian on myself. I don't know. Just that connection and being
displaced from it. When the revolution breaks out, where will I be? And trying to understand that
is very important I think.

Nia: Maybe we can, for people who haven't read the story, explain the setting and the tone. Is
this what you hope the Black revolution will look like or is this just a possible scenario of what it
could look like?

Alex: It’s like a possible scenario. I have no idea what it’s going to look like anymore. In the
90s, of course, it was all "ten-point programs." It was this very rigid thing and everyone expected
this one idea. At this point, it’s like, so much is going on that it’s really hard to figure out exactly
what it’s going to look like. So that’s probably why the story is a little bit chaotic and a lot of its
depictions of post-revolutionary atmosphere. Because there's just chaos.

Nia: It’s sort of post-apocalyptic.

Alex: There's no easy answer. There's no like, "Oh everything’s going to look… we're going to
take up arms. We're going to storm these places and then we'll all live in these Wakandan uto-
pias." No, it’s going to be like complete and total chaos. Because there's so many ideas and
there's so many… There's just people who have absolutely no clue about any of the stuff that
we're talking about right now and that’s the majority of people in America. They don't even
know what the word fascism means. They don't know who bell hooks is. They don't know who
Assata Shakur is. There's a huge steep learning curve as far as country-wide revolution. I think
its easier in places like France and Germany and Spain. A lot of times as activists we get a little
nostalgic, melancholy when we see other countries taking to the streets. But we have this vast
land with these vast ideas and so many people who are working class have absolutely no desire
to overthrow anything. So, it’s going to be… We have a lot of work to do.

Nia: Is it a lack of desire or is it just exhaustion from working shitty working-class jobs?
[laughs] Because I feel like those jobs are designed to make you too tired to revolt.

Alex: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Nia: Okay, so if we can talk about the savior woman again, who comes in at this story. Because I
feel like this will also help paint a picture. She's someone who, before the revolution, was a beg-
gar woman and after the revolution she's the king. She has a thrown made out of milk cartons
and cardboard boxes and she used to have a sign that said like, "will write think pieces for food,"
and now she's wearing Louboutin heels. [laughs]

Alex: She's done it all. She probably worked for Conde Nast or whatever and just got all wildly
disenfranchised and quit or something, or got fired and they said that her name was too Black,
she wore her hair, in a “non-professional” way. She just got sick of it, probably. She probably
joined a squat or something and politicized herself and she was just like—

Nia: I want that story.

Alex: That's what I'm saying. I try to create it so it’s kind of like a nebulous thing so you can fill
in your own story. There's little nuggets in there, but you can kind of fill them. I'm just kind of
spit-balling here.

Nia: No, but I love her backstory. I want the story with her as the main character.

Alex: That’s kind of how she got to where she was. It’s also kind of like I see people like this on
the street all the time. What were there stories and what will be their future? Because they're hu-
man beings and they deserve to be super heroes. They deserve to be the champions that we never
knew that we wanted, that we never knew we needed. She's in charge now. What will she do with
it? In my mind she has a very… She doesn't play around. She's leading a band of... but she has a
kind heart and she understands.

Nia: This band that she's leading… I'm just going to tell the plot of the story. Is that okay?

Alex: Is this your favorite story in the book?

Nia: I don't know. It definitely stuck with me. I think it had, for me, the most clear… like I could
tie it very closely to events in recent history, so I felt like I had a context for it in that way. It felt
like it was very much about Black Lives Matter.

Alex: Yeah, definitely.


Nia: I won't commit to saying it’s my favorite.

Alex: I mean I appreciate that you have this understanding of my writing.

Nia: Maybe that was one of the easier stories for me to follow. Okay so the protagonist and his
white partner are cuddling together in their apartment in a rowhome which is falling apart. The
sort of, post-revolution atmosphere is going on outside. Things are unpredictable. Things are
burning in the street. Someone made a tank out of a Whole Foods dumpster. There's a lot of in-
teresting improvised weapons. So, they're hiding trying to figure out what the future's going to be
and then this band of renegades burst through their door and these… I think they're all men ex-
cept for, I don't know, maybe I'm assuming.

Alex: It’s mostly men, yeah.

Nia: Okay and some of them have locks of blonde hair as trophies and necklaces made of white
thumbs and then some of them have, I can't remember which designer…

Alex: Like Tom Ford ascots.

Nia: Yeah and in the story of those things are sort of equated as both being on the same level.
There's something I'm trying to say and I like can't.

Alex: I kind of see what you're saying.

Nia: It’s like having a white thumb as a trophy is the same as having a Tom Ford ascot. [laughs]
I guess both being symbols of white wealth or like… looting?

Alex: It’s also a reversal of the Black body as object and desirable means of accumulation. It’s
funny how we often are still being monetized as Black people. So, for me to kind of like reverse
that a little bit and be like, "What are the symbols of white male embodiment?" What would that
mean to people who are trying to take some shit back?

Nia: Could you say a little bit more about what you mean by "we’re still being monetized as
Black people"?

Alex: We're still viewed as bodies and not as humans. With the intense incarceration rate of our
communities, unfair jailing, school-to-prison pipeline stuff, there's this palpable feeling that
Black people are to be monitored and quantitatively fixed into this narrow box. We make music
and it’s supposed to be for the white gaze, G-A-Z-E. We make art and films and science fiction
stories and it’s supposed to be "universal." That’s based on how much appealing it can be to
white people. To me that’s kind of like neo-minstrelsy. Because it basically is about what can we
do creatively, economically, politically, to benefit white movement. Even in the elections we are
considered a demographic, but only so much as how this demographic can perform for the needs
of white people. That’s a huge thing that we are not able to come to grips with right now.
We're still fighting for personhood 200+ years after the Emancipation Proclamation. [I fact-
checked this: The Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1st, 1863, so it’s actually been
157 years.] That’s kind of what I mean by constantly monetizing and "voodoo-izing" our bodies
too. They still don't understand that we're just human beings. It’s like we have these mystical
powers and how can these powers benefit white people and not our own community?

Nia: Are you talking about the power to create culture?

Alex: Our bodies are considered mystical, still. But, its’ not in a way that is beneficial to our
community. It’s a way that benefits white people. So, once again we're monetized, even our spir-
ituality and the myth that we are these mythical creatures and not just regular human beings that
stub their toe and drop their bus pass. We do all that stuff and I don't think white people think
that we do that stuff, sometimes. I don't think that they think we have normal lives.

Just recently this guy in San Francisco, he was the commentator for the 49ers. He was talking
about a Black quarterback that the 49ers just went up against, Lamar Jackson, and he said that
when Lamar Jackson is faking a play we can't tell where the ball is because his skin is dark and it
masks the ball. This is an actual quote that he said in 2019 and its just like, "really?" Now we're
these black voids where the ball disappears. What are you talking about? What are you saying?
That’s very like—

Nia: “Black people are magic.”

Alex: Yeah. That's very “Green Mile.” That's very “Bagger Vance.” That's very “Driving Miss
Daisy.” That's very auction block sort of calculation of what our bodies can do. It’s just like bi-
zarro situation. Of course, it’s not really about…

So like with Afrofuturism, if we're already these mystical creatures, as well as just normal human
beings, what would that look like if we were using those powers to benefit our own community?

Nia: I was hoping you could explain what Afrofuturism is. Because I'm not sure I understand it,
totally.

Alex: I've been asked that a lot, especially this past year. I still don't fully know.

Nia: That makes me feel better about not knowing.

Alex: I don't want to have this quick sound bite that will make people feel comfortable, because I
want people to continuously explore it. I don't want it to be like, "Well it’s this set of rules. If you
don't have this and that, then it's not Afrofuturism." I want people to continuously create it. It’s
kind of one of those, "you know it when you see it" things.

To keep it as simple as possible it’s like science fiction, and the tropes of science fiction, used to
imagine a new world where Black people are empowered, normalized and aesthetically/cultur-
ally/politically/spiritually represented. So Sun-Ra is Afrofuturism because of that. Outkast has
elements of Afrofuturism in their music.
Nia: Could you give an example?

Alex: Of Outkast specifically?

Nia: Yeah because, I feel like probably more people [listening] are familiar with Outkast then
Sun Ra.

Alex: The entire ATLiens album is an early Afrofuturist classic. It really just straight up is. Eve-
rything from the sound of it, with these very eerie sounds, almost soundtrack-y sounds to some
of the concepts, like elevators. They're talking about elevating their community and themselves.
But, they're also making this grand allegory about space travel and afterlife sort of cosmic mean-
dering. But like can’t we have that here now? I'm trying to think of other songs from that album.
I'm kind of drawing a blank, but I remember listening to that record and being like, "Wow these
guys are like really on some other stuff." Their album cover looks like a Marvel comic book. If
someone was like, "Name 10 Afrofuturist albums." I would definitely include the ATLiens al-
bum. They pepper it throughout the rest of their discography as well.

Nia: Thanks, I feel like you explained it really well.

Alex: I like to keep it nebulous so that people can continuously add to it and talk about it.

Nia: For sure. Part of me wants to dive deeper into your book, but I also know there's so many
other things that you do, and I don't want to neglect talking about those.

Nia: Where can people get your book if they would like to purchase it?

Alex: Go to Metropolarity.net and go to our BigCartel. You can also just type in Alex Smith
ARKDUST BigCartel and it should show up.

Nia: Do you have a website?

Alex: Alexoteric.com

Nia: And can people find links to your journalistic work and your music there as well?

Alex: Yeah, I have all the links to pretty much everything I do.

Nia: Smart.

Alex: My art, my music and my writing.

Nia: Nice, and do you want to talk about Metropolarity a little bit? What is it?

Alex: Oh, Metropolarity is the sci-fi and activist artist collective that I started with Rasheedah
Phillips, Ras Mashramani, and M. Tellez. It came out of the events that we were doing like La-
serlife, the queer sci-fi Reading, and Rasheedah's “Afrofuturist Affair.” We were like, "Oh there's
like 4 of us here that are doing this lived experience sci-fi stuff." We just really wanted to form a
collective to bring our ideas in a more mass way. It’s been pretty awesome. We've read, lectured,
given workshops, and you know, doing all that stuff.

Nia: How long have you guys been around?

Alex: Oh man. 2013, I think.

Nia: So, you're still going strong?

Alex: We're kind of nebulous right now. We're all doing different things, but I think in 2020
we're going to reassess what we want to do with the collective and come out with some cool
stuff, I think.

Nia: Awesome, and if people want to learn more about that they should go to Metropolarity.net.

Alex: Yeah.

Nia: Awesome. So many directions I want to go in so little time. Okay. Is there anything else that
you want to plug that you have coming out? I know you're in two bands that we haven’t talked
about at all.

Alex: Yeah, my bands "Rainbow Crimes." We just put out an Ep on Exotic Fever Records. It’s
kind of like noise-y, indy rock stuff that I was into in the 90s. Then, "Solarized," my punk band is
basically noise-y hardcore punk stuff that I was also into in the 90s.

Nia: Can people find you on Bandcamp or Soundcloud?

Alex: Yeah, go to Solarized.bandcamp[.com] and Rainbowcrimes.bandcamp[.com] and its also


on Spotify.

Nia: Great, thank you. I don't think there's time for me to ask any more questions.

Alex: It's all good. Thanks for having me on.

Nia: Thanks so much for doing this. I really enjoyed talking to you.

Alex: Rocknroll.

Nia: [laughs]

Alex: Thank you.

Transcribed by Malcolm LaSalle