open access


With the outbreak of Covid-19, the virus has made increasingly visible a second pandemic spreading worldwide—that of racial discrimination—leading to higher mortality rates among people of color and unequal access to healthcare on racial grounds. In such times that many critics have called science fictional, the genre of science fiction can contribute to shedding light on the long-existing relation between fears of contagious diseases and notions of race and racism that predates Covid. Within numerous sf works and especially within what Priscilla Wald has called “outbreak narratives,” a common and problematic narrative trope establishes a connection between infectious diseases and fears of racial contamination, whereby black people are perceived as the main culprits of contagion. Therefore, the paper aims, on the one hand, to examine how this trope has been employed in numerous anglophone science fictional films and novels, and, on the other, to consider how Ishmael Reed’s Afrofuturist Mumbo Jumbo (1972) manages to contrast this narrative by turning it on its head. In the novel, the infectious Jes Grew is seen not as a plague, but rather as an anti-plague, one that represents a tool of resistance and affirmation for African Americans against the attempts of a white supremacist group to marginalize African American communities and to stop the spreading of the life-affirming virus. Jes Grew, then, stresses the fundamental role and power of collective movements to spread “virally” in order to fight for social and racial justice.