Lovecraft Country, the U.S. Space Program & STEAM

Courtney Vance (George), Jonathan Majors (Atticus) and Jurnee Smollett (Letitia) in episode 2 from HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”

The second episode of HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” features a poem by Gill Scott-Heron titled “Whitey on the Moon” that critiques the resources spent on the U.S. space program while Black Americans were experiencing marginalization. When the poem was written (late 1960s) the Black poverty rate was 33.5 percent and Black people were three times more likely to be living in poverty than whites. Previously, Martin Luther King Jr. predicted that

[I]n a few years we can be assured that we will set a man on the moon and with an adequate telescope he will be able to see the slums on Earth with their intensified congestion, decay, and turbulence.

According to Jenna Lloyd (2015) “Whitey on the Moon” exemplifies Afrofuturism, or “Black social thought concerning ‘culture, technology, and things to come’.” The marginalization of African Americans, especially in STEAM fields, is something that has concerned me for a long time. I’ve heard many experts tout “progress” in STEAM while the statistics in underrepresented communities remain low (under 5% in some areas) and disproportionate. Afrofuturism is where you see active engagement in STEAM subjects, especially in the speculative and fictional realms.

Sun Ra, the jazz maverick who was very interested in outer space, applied to NASA’s art program and was rejected. He proposed to contribute “music that enlightens and space orientate discipline coordinate.” His educational mission was described as a “space orientation.” I recently wrote about this for Red Bull Music Academy. I was asked: What is a song you feel best represents Afrofuturism? I chose A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Space Program.”

“The Space Program” is a metaphor for the way we are now all plugged into the same images of global anxiety while at the same time finding utopia in nature, the past and in tradition. “The Space Program” interrogates the past and present through a contemporary lens. The song and video stand as a striking representation of Afrofuturism’s entanglement with time and space.

The word entanglement stands out right now (and not because of Jada Pinkett-Smith). It refers to a difficult situation or relationship that is hard to escape from as we see throughout the history of Black Americans, especially beginning with the enslavement of African people. This is the undercurrent of tonight’s episode, as well as in general for the show as we follow the journey of Atticus (“Tic”) Freeman and his familiars who struggle to survive and overcome racism and the terrifying monsters inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, .

We hear “Whitey on the Moon” during a key segment of the second episode when Tic’s entanglement with time and space becomes clearer. His situation connects him to his ancestor as well as his power that has been hidden, laying dormant within him. “Whitey on the Moon” compels us to look at current events, even after the show’s production wrapped: a global pandemic, state-sanctioned violence and terror, and a government that is dancing with white supremacy as citizens take to the streets in protest.

Tic’s entanglement is also our own (Lovecraft’s legacy). Who will develop tools, systems and platforms to counter what is happening?

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.