Reading Okorafor’s Binti, I was struck by the seamless way author Nnedi Okorafor incorporated “otherness” and racial biases into a fictional world. When I began reading, I couldn’t put the book down. I found myself reading every word, cover to cover, in a single sitting. As this is a novella, that wasn’t a challenge.
Binti is a brilliant mathematician who has earned a coveted spot at Ooomza Uni, the top intergalactic university so big it exists on a planet. The story takes place during Binti’s spaceship trip to school, uniting her history with her future as she’s sucked into an interspecies war.
I love young Binti as a role model. In America, young black girls are often discriminated against in STEM fields even with incredible mathematical prowess (just like Binti in the book), so Binti is a much-needed role model. She is brave, smart, independent, and easy to look up to. Binti is clearly qualified for Oomza, but, parallel to American anti-affirmative action arguments, many Khoush think that she doesn’t deserve the spot she rightfully earned.
Okorafor’s prose spoke about so much more than the characters. She managed to address real inequality in a science fiction world. She writes, “They say that when faced with a fight you cannot win, you can never predict what you will do next. But I’d always known I’d fight until I was killed.” Like many US citizens facing daily racism and oppression, Binti knows that she is different from the Khoush. Binti explains about the Khoush at a space station, “Those women talked about me, the men probably did too. But none of them knew what I had, where I was going, who I was. Let them gossip and judge.” She wears her differences on her skin, never to be forgotten by those around her. Even the space-TSA profiles her. But Binti persists a a champion for peace and mathematics, and may or may not wind up saving multiple planets in the process.
Okorafor tells not only the story of Binti’s trip to Oomza Uni, but that of many brilliant young women that face discrimination in spite of their hard-earned qualifications and hard work.