Science fiction was probably the only genre I did not read growing up. I read A Brave New World as a senior in high school, proud of the mastery I demonstrated of my master’s tools. I had a ninety-five grade average, which documented my lauded hypnosis delineated in my memory of the white Man’s text, history, and theory. Kindred illuminated the dearth that surrounded by education up to that point. True, my time out of school was inundated with blackness, but my time in school was unapologetically African adjacent. It was wrong, even violent, what they did. But like slavery and lynching, it was legal.
I first discovered Octavia Butler at Howard University. Kindred was the book selected the year I entered college which was also the year Butler transitioned into what I always envisioned as one the worlds of her prose. The entire Freshman class of 2006 would read the echoes of her influence, as she returned back to her innate form of suspension between life and death—reunited with her ancestors—elevated to a power life only let her grace as she wrote. Kindred proved haunting and inspiring, changing the way my eighteen-year-old self would see the world forever.
Like Octavia Butler’s protagonist Dana, I too am a black Women that is both in the past and the present. My struggles and oblivion to the training I’d been subjected to, is, like the black experience as a whole, something passed down from the struggle of my ancestors.
Kindred follows the story of Dana, a a twenty-six year old black female writer who physically visits a foremother and witnesses firsthand the blood spilled during the horrors of physical bondage. Her time travel places her in the years preceding the union that would eventually engender her existence. Her great grandmother Alice is owned by Rufus’ family. Rufus will eventually father Alice’s two children. Though Alice doesn’t like or love Rufus, but he “loved” her the same way a farmer loves his chicken, or cow. His privilege severs her loving union with a black man, and through a coercion that translates into consent, eventually goes on to become a great great grandfather to protagonist Dana.
The text illustrates the shared experience of what it means to be a black woman or man. Being black is not an individualistic experience. To be black is to be part of a whole, to be a page in a book alongside faces you’ve only seen in sullied photographs, or in some cases, faces that you have never seen at all. Dana’s individualism burdens the text, as it is her deed of saving a dying Rufus that enables the rape of her grandmother. Yes, it illustrates that blacks are empaths and innately human. This depiction also illustrates that black humanity, enables white dehumanizing.
The text also calls into question the idea of freedom.
Though supposedly far removed from the institution of enslavement, Dana’s foremother Alice illustrates more insight and understanding towards blackness and black female integrity than Dana. This illustrates a non-distorted reality as a benefit to overt racism. Alternatively, the distance many descendants of the enslaved placed between themselves and a past of coercion and cruelty creates a dissonance that is ultimately, if not immediately, dangerous.
For example, Dana is a black Woman, married to a white man. Despite the ugliness she experiences, her union with her white spouse remains in tact. Though Rufus speaks of Alice “coming to him without being called,” Alice’s actions are one of survival. She is disgusted with herself when she declines to feel hate towards her rapist, a shame Dana never feels. I was moved and devastated when Alice ends her own life after Rufus stages her children’s sale to manipulate her emotions. Alice’s life was one of sacrifice, her person was one of power. In death, Alice shows that she was not living for herself, but for others. Namely, at this point—she lived for her kids so devoutedly, she’d die in their absence. And she did.
Additionally, her deed does something else. This action, while a blow to the reader who learned to love the strength of this beautiful woman, illustrates an agency absent from Dana, but tragically executed by Alice in bondage.
For years after reading Kindred I found myself bewildered, and to be frank, angry. How could Dana possibly stay with her white husband after witnessing first hand, the horror of her great-grandmother? Her cognitive dissonance hits close to home, as the contemporary climate remains inundated by black women who have forgotten the face of their foremothers. The scars on our foremother’s body may have dissipated as their bodies became one with the earth, but these lashes made a mark on our legacy—on our collective soul. This book opens this systemic wound and bleeds into the reader’s mind. Dana’s journey back to her great grandmother was never about her, it was about the readers.
Kindred holds hands with novels that precede it’s brilliance, showing us that these protagonists are “kindred” to the black reader. What makes Butler such a wondrous talent is that she places the reader as the protagonist. The reader goes back in time with Dana, and resents her behavior at times because the penetrating prose places the reader in the position to right a wrong. Dana, in her predisposed imperfection, does not right any wrongs. Instead she plays along, like so many of us have done and still do.
She is imperfect, but her imperfections, prove a means to steer the imperfect reader into the right direction. Particularly, Dana illustrates that the contemporary black body has more power than we are lead to believe. We cannot change the past, but the past can change us. With Kindred, Butler plants a seed of intellectual curiosity. Kindred suggests that this feat lies at our collective footsteps by literally placing it right before the reader’s eyes.
Thank you, Octavia Butler for authoring the prose that foments your people to do better. We are a better people because of your contribution.
Just as Dana held the hands of her foremother in Kindred, I hold yours through time and space. Through distance and date. Through life and death.
I hold your hand as we continue to plow our way through the flames, into a blaze of glory that awaits us at the mountaintop.
Rest in Power Queen Octavia.
Love. Light. And Black Power ❤