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All of the Same Family

The unit “All of the Same Family” is an examination of the narrative of science fiction created by European and American scientists in defining the racial constructs that bind American society. For students from 8th to 12th Grade in a Literacy or English program, this method of reading meta-narratives through individual texts offers a multidisciplinary approach to examining science fiction. Through reading poetry and literature, primary and secondary sources, and watching documentaries and movies about slavery and segregation, the students will engage in the process of evaluating the impact of the dominant narrative discourse in the construction of the scientific paradigms that were used to construct institutional racism in the United States. Similarly, students will encounter and analyze alternative African and African-American writers—current and past—who countered the dominant narrative by challenging the erroneous science directly, who cataloged the misuse of science in both fictional and nonfictional texts, or who posited alternative scenarios in speculative fiction to either illustrate possible solutions to our racialized present or to highlight the logical possibilities caused by our ignominious past.

This unit focuses upon the discourse by African-American writers and intellectuals constructed to counter the creation of a racialized hierarchy of humanity by Enlightenment scientists. To justify the enslavement and exploitation of peoples of color, European and American scientists concocted a fiction of racial difference that allowed for experimentation, exhibition, and oppression.  By creating a fictional construct of racial difference grounded in scientific theory and method, Enlightenment scientists codified a racial discourse that permitted medical “progress” through human experimentation on African-American bodies—live and dead.  In fact, many of the classic texts of science fiction stem from the historical truth of experimentation on African-Americans—enslaved and free. Far from being just factual records of authentic truths, the early “nonfiction” texts are exercises in science fiction. African-Americans existed in a reality defined by the parameters of a science fiction text. Finally, the unit serves to facilitate the student understanding of the methods of resistance and subversion, which created a narrative to redefine mainstream scientific understanding to incorporate ideas of equality in the face of dehumanization.

Benjamin Hover

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