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ARTICLES

WANDERINGS OF THE SLAVE: BLACK LIFE AND


SOCIAL DEATH
ByR.L. ,5June2013
Politics/Activism/Democracy/LabourStruggles/Philosophy/Society/Theory/Urbanism/N.America

Image:AslaverevoltinSaintDomingue,butsince1804,inpart,Haiti

ForthetheoristsofAfropessimism,blacknonexistenceformsanegativityagainstwhichwhiteliveliness
andfreedomdefinesitselfpositively.Surveyingthistheoreticaltendencyagainstabackdropofpostcrisis
struggles,R.L.stressestheirreconcilableantagonismofboth

AnduntiltheAmericanNegroletsthewhitemanknowthatwearereallyreadyandwillingtopaythepricethat
isnecessaryforfreedomourpeoplewillalwaysbewalkingaroundheresecondclasscitizensorwhatyoucall
20thcenturyslaves.Thepriceoffreedomisdeath.
MalcolmX
Thereisatypepersonaforwhomamovementfightsandthereiscorrespondinglossthatamovementseeks
toregainforthistypepersona.Amovementcannotbebuilt,letalonesustainedonbehalfofnothing,
absolutelynothinganonentity.Whatwouldthepoliticsofadeadrelation,aslave,looklike?
FrankB.Wilderson,III1

InAmerica,thehistoryofcapitalisthehistoryofblacksubjection.Andthehistoryofblacksubjectionhasitsorigin
withinracialslavery.Thetransformationofslavesintoblackpersonswasmoreofanambiguouscontinuumrather
thanaclearlydefinedbreak.Whilstslaverydevelopedalongsideaburgeoningcapitalism,thestructuralpositionof
theslavepavedthewayforthegenesisofthewhitebourgeoissubject.2Tobewhitewastonotbeaslave.Tobea
slavewastodefineandguaranteewhitelivelihood.Theslavewassetoutsidethedelimitedboundariesofhumanity,

whichbydefinitionwaswhite,andeffectivelypositedasthenegativefoundationofthebourgeoissubject.Where
theenslavedwas,thewhitesubjectcameintobeing.
Fromslaverytothepresent,ablackmanisbeingbeatensummarisesthearchetypalscenethathauntsAmerican
life.3Itisastructuralnecessity,thepersistenceofwhichisnecessaryforthecontinuationofwhitelivelihood.The
relegationofblackexistenceisininverseproportiontothepropagationofwhitelife.Itisatthishistoricalmoment,in
theshadowofthe2008economiccrisis,thatthevalueofblackexistenceisputintoquestion.Plaguedby
historicallyhighratesofunemployment,incarcerationandpoliceviolence,blackshaveconsistentlylivedina
permanentstateofemergency.Theconsequencesoftheeconomiccrisisbringthesefactsintosharprelief.Thus
onecouldperhapssaythatthecrisisisnotsimplyeconomicbutproperlyanthropological.
Inthefaceofcontinualblackrelegation,alineofthinkinglooselyassembledunderthelabelAfropessimismhas
emergedinthepastdecadeasatheoreticopoliticalintervention.ThetermAfropessimismaddressesaperiod
throughoutthedurationofwhichquestionsofracewereeithersidelinedbythepostracialsocietyormade
ambiguousbymultiracialistperspectives.Theoristsadheringtothenamehavesoughttodiscussthe
reconfigurationsofwhitesupremacyandreorientitscritiquetowardsitsessentialfoundation,thespecificityofanti
blackracism.FortheAfropessimists,itisthecontinualperpetuationofantiblacknessthatformsthegroundof
whitesupremacy,allotherracialidentitiesbeingformulatedthroughthisessentialpolarisation.4Foritisthe
questionofblackexistenceandtheabolitionoftheconditionofitsexistencethatbringstolighttheprecisemeaning
ofwhatastruggleforabsolutefreedomwouldhavetoentail.

Image:Aftermathofthe1992LARiots

AfroPessimismandtheWanderingoftheSlave5

Afropessimismisnotapositivetheoryofblackidentity.Norisitanaffirmativephilosophicalmovementofblack
subjectivity.Neitherdoesitconstituteaconsciousandprogrammaticpoliticalposition.Anditdoesnotattemptto
grapplewithanythingresemblingasingleunifiedtheoryofwhitesupremacy.Afropessimismisratheraninformal
tendencythatcouldbedesignatedasaconstellationoftheorists,ideasandartisticworksruminatinguponthe
structuralconditionofblackexistenceasindeliblymarkedbytheresidualechoesoftheslaverelation.FortheAfro
pessimists,theadventofemancipationdidnotsignalanysubstantialbreakwiththecontentofslavery.Insteadthe
passagefromslaverytofreedommarkedthetransitionfromonemodeofracialiseddominationtoanother.

Followingtheabolitionofslavery,theformaldeterminationsofslaveryweresubsumedundertheracialcategoryof
blackness(synonymouswiththeconstructionofrace),naturalisingandtherebyontologisingtheslaverelationas
theessentialprincipleofblackexistence.6Thestatusoftheslavedevolvedintothephenotypicappearanceof
blacknesstheblacksubjectwasnolongeraslaveinrelationtoamaster,butaslavetotheirappearance.
Blacknessdisplacedtheformoftheslaveandthestructuraldeterminationsofenslavementwereepidermalised.7
TheoriginofthetermAfropessimismcanbetracedbacktotheworksofFrankB.Wilderson,III.WhileWilderson
wastheinitialconsciousarchitectoftheexpression,onecanalsofollowitstheoreticalelaborationwithintheworks
ofJaredSexton,SaidiyaHartmanandHortenseSpillers,tonameafew.8LeadingAfropessimistthinkerssuchas
Wilderson,SextonandAchilleMbembeseektodrawoutapoliticalontologyofblackexistencevisvisaLeft
HeideggerianisminfluencedbycontemporaryphilosopherGiorgioAgamben.AlongsideAgambenspolitical
ontology,AfropessimisttheoristsalsoheavilydrawfromtheworksofFrantzFanon,thefigureheadandconsistent
referencepointformanyofthetheorists.InthiswayagenealogyofAfropessimismcanbetracedbetweenall
thesethinkerswhodealwiththeconceptofthehuman,theexistentialandaffectivestructuresofbeing,andthe
ambiguitiesofvitalismandlife.Afropessimismposesacritiqueatthejunctionofpoliticaleconomyandthelibidinal
economyofwhitesupremacy.9Atthistheoreticalintersection,blackexistenceemergesasacategoricaldistortion
thatgivesbirthtotheclassicalHumanistsubjectasaproductofModernityandtheEnlightenment.FortheAfro
pessimists,theblacksubjectisexiledfromthehumanrelation,whichispredicatedonsocialrecognition,volition,
subjecthood,andthevaluationoflifeitself.Thusblackexistenceismarkedasanontologicalabsence,positedas
sentientobjectanddevoidofanypositiverelationality,incontradistinctiontothehumansubjectspresence.How
doesthisnegativerelationalityoriginateandmaintainitself?Throughastructuralviolence,whichistheformative
relationthatpositionstheslave,makingitthecentralontologicalfoundationofblackexistence:

Structuralvulnerabilitytoappropriation,perpetualandinvoluntaryopenness,includingallthewantonusesof
thebody[]shouldbeunderstoodastheparadigmaticconditionsofblackexistenceintheAmericas,the
definingcharacteristicsofNewWorldantiblackness.Inshort,theblack,whetherslaveorfree,livesunder
thecommandmentofwhites.10

Contrarytocontingentapplicationsofviolenceinaccordancewithlegitimatecause(transgressionoflaw,as
repressivestrategy,asreaction,etc.),violenceagainstblacksisgratuitous,withoutanypriorreasonorjustification.
Itisthedirectrelationofforceasthebasisoftheslaverelation,whichessentiallystructuresthedisposessionof
blackexistence,anontologicaldisposessionofbeing.
Thisgratuitousviolence,ontheonehand,subjugatesblackexistencetoanirrationalaccumulationofbodies,and
subsequentlyproducesacondenseddelimitationofblacknessinspace.Whetheritwastheowningandtradingof
slavesorthecontemporaryphenomenaoftheghettoandmassincarceration,blackexistenceisexcludedand
stockpiledassomanyobjectswithinaspatialboundary.Inthiscondition,lifeisreducedtoastatisticalquantity,
blackexistenceismadeexchangeablewithanyother.Therefore,ontheotherhand,blackexistenceisalsoa
fungibleobject,infinitelymalleableinitscontentduetotheabstractionofitsqualityandopenforuseforanyone
whocanclaimsubjecthood.11Thesestructuralfeaturescometotheirfullestexpressioninthecontemporary
scenarioofpoliceshootings.Theendlessstreamofyoungblackmenshotbypolicebordersonexcess,
demonstratingthepureinterchangeabilityofsuchnamesasequivalents,meaningthatsuchseeminglyparticular
empiricalcasesareinactualityageneralcondition.Blacknessisasdevaluedasitissusceptibletoallaspectsof
materialandsocialcontainment,controlanddebility.Yet,intheseinstances,evenmorallyindignantliberalsare
complicitwithantiblacknessbyfocusingonpoliceshootingsasacontingentratherthanstructuralfeatureofblack
existence.Oftensuchmoralindignationemphasisestheatrociousnatureofsucheventsandspectacularisesthe
useofexcessiveforcesoastofundamentallyproduceacompletelyinertbody.Attentionisthenfocalisedonthe
excessofblacksuffering,reducingthevictimtoatabularasauponwhichallmannersofempatheticprojection
obscuresthebasisofamorbidwhiteenjoymentthatgarnerspleasurethroughthedepictionofexcoriatedblack
flesh.12
Inshort,theviolenceofantiblacknessproducesblackexistencethereisnopriorpositiveblacknessthatcouldbe
potentiallyappropriated.Blackexistenceissimultaneouslyproducedandnegatedbyracialdomination,bothas
presuppositionandconsequence.Affirmationofblacknessprovestobeimpossiblewithoutsimultaneouslyaffirming
theviolencethatstructuresblacksubjectivityitself.Andtheseconditionsthatprocureblackexistenceconsistently
repeatthesombrerefrainofantiblackness:thereisnoblackidentity,thereisnoblacksubject,thereisnoblacklife
assuch.Asaconsequence,blackexistenceisfundamentallymarkedbysocialdeath,materiallylivingasasentient
objectbutwithoutastableorguaranteedsocialsubjectivity.Andassuch,thestatusofblacknessformsthebasis
uponwhichwhitelifecansubjectiviseitself,sociallyandmateriallythroughthenegationoftheblackbody.Whitelife
recognisesitselfasapositivecounterparttothenonsubjecthoodofblacks.

However,Afropessimistsclaimthatthisrelationbetweenblackdeathandwhitelifeisnotmerelyasymmetrical.The
distinctionbetweenthetwoisqualitativelydifferent,andpotentialforreconciliationbetweenwhitesandblacksis
impossible.Thisparticulardistinctioninsteadprocuresanantagonisminrelationtothesocialtotality.Theinordinate
amountofviolenceperpetuatedagainstblacksnaturalisedandthusontologicalmeansthatsuchasituationis
untranslatabletoanyrepresentabletermsofexperienceoridentity.Suchastructuralfeatureofblacknessmired
inviolencecannotberelatedtocontingentexperiencesofsocial,politicaloreconomicviolence,suchasthe
strugglesofworkersorimmigrants.Blackexistenceformsthebottomline,theconditionofpossibility,ofgeneral
socialandmaterialintegration.Itisnotnecessarilyoneswhitenessthatmattersinasmuchasoneisnotblack
enablingentranceandparticipationincivilsociety.Barredfromtheimmanentcapacitiesofliving,antiblacknessis
thenecessarygroundforthedefinitionandpropagationoflifeingeneral.13
Inthisway,Afropessimismalsoenactsapoliticalinterventionontotheterrainofidentitypoliticsandmultiracial
coalitions.Perhapsmoregenerally,AfropessimismcanbeseenasacritiqueoftheLeftandallformsofactivism
thatparticipateinrepresentationalpolitics.IntheUS,thepastdecadeshaveseentheproliferationofidentitybased
politicspredicatedonapoliticsofrecognition.Itisthispositionthatwasmadepossiblebythelegaciesoftheblack
strugglesofthe1950sto1970s,epitomisedinblackliberationandthecivilrightsmovement.However,
contemporaryantiracistformationsobfuscateandimplicitlydisavowsuchalegacy,whilesimultaneouslyutilising
theirimpacttopromotereformandintegration.Thebasisofsuchperspectivesisawideracceptanceandvisibilityof
marginalisedidentitieswithinthestrongholdofcivilsociety.Callsforunitybymultiracialcoalitionsmaskcomplicity
withthestructuresofantiblackness.Theyprofferananalysisthatseekstogobeyondtheframeworkofblackand
whiteracialdynamics.Yetinthisgesturetogobeyondblackandwhite,thespecificityofantiblacknessis
obscured.Insuchinstances,theseanalysesaimtodiscovercommongroundthroughtheparticularityofnonblack
racialidentitiesorotheroppressedcategories.Butthiscommongroundispredicatedonanunderlyinghumanness,
fromwhichblackexistenceisfundamentallybarred.Suchaperspectivepresentsanatomisedindividualtraversed
byavarietyofoppressions,yettheseoppressionsarerepresentableandconditionaltoahistoricinstanceof
violence(asopposedtotheontologicalunconditionalityofviolenceperpetuatedagainstblacks),andcould
potentiallyberecognisedandaddressed.Foritisonthebasisof(human)recognitionandselfrepresentationfrom
whichminoritarianidentitiescanwagetheirstruggle.Blackexistenceisbarredfromsuchapossibilityduetothe
factthatsuchrecognitionisbaseduponnotbeingblack.Aslongasonecandistanceonselfenoughfrom
blackness,thenonehasthepossibilityofintegratingintocivilsocietygenerally:

whereasthesufferingofnonblackpeopleofcolorseem[s]conditionaltothehistoricinstance(eveniflong
standing)and,evenempirically,functionsatadifferentscopeandscale,theoppressionofblacksseemstobe
invariant(whichdoesnotmeanitissimplyunchangingitmutatesconstantly).14

Whereasredressforgrievancescanbesoughtandgainedthroughtheseminoritarianstruggles,ultimatelytheyrely
uponthefurthersubjectionofblacksinordertoachievesuchgoals.Violencedeployedagainstnonblack
minoritarianpositionsiscontingentandeffectivelycommunicablethroughsharedexperiences,andthereforecould
beformulatedintocoherentdemandsthatmightbemetornot.Ifthesedemandsarerecognisedandmet,they
necessitateantiblacknessasasinequanonforfurtherintegration.Itisinsidethisambiguousnatureofempirical
demandsthatblackexistenceintroducesacategoricalantagonismreachingfarbeyondanyempiricalenunciation
forsociopoliticalrecognition.ForAfropessimists,thereisnopossibleempiricalredressforitsstructuralpositionin
relationtocivilsociety,foritistheveryconditionthatenablescivilsocietytocohereinthefirstplace.Andthis
conditionisthatofaninordinatesufferingthatisnotcommensuratetomereexperience.Forthisreason,black
existencefiguresasanantagonismthattranscendsanyempiricalinjustice,anantagonismthatsplitstheworld
betweenblackorhuman.Consequentlythisantagonismentailsatotaldisorganisationofwhatitwouldmeanto
existintheworldatall.Blackexistenceisessentiallyastructuralpositionthatpositionsitselfasdemandless,an
antagonsimwhichisirreconcilable,andwithoutanypossiblefutureoforganicsynthesisofblackexistenceand
humanity.Fortheformoffreedomthatwouldenabletheabolitionofblackexistenceisnotempiricalbutontological
innature.Toovercomeantiblackness,therewouldhavetobewhatFanonhadcalledaprogramofcomplete
disorder,anexpropriationandaffirmationoftheveryviolenceperpetuatedagainstblackexistenceanda
fundamentalreorientationofthesocialcoordinatesoftheHumanrelation.Itwouldentailawaragainsttheconcept
ofhumanityandawarthatsplitscivilsocietytoitscore,acivilwarthatwouldelaborateitselftothedeath.

Image:Anillustrationofracialsegregationwith2010Censusdata,blackwhitedissimilarityscoreis75.9/60
indexinghighsegregation.Rediswhite,blueisblack,orangeisLatino,greenisAsian,yellowisother,Chicago,
Illinois,EricFischer.Source:http://www.businessinsider.com/mostsegregatedcitiescensusmaps20134?op=1

TheHistoricalReproductionoftheRacialDistinction

Whitesupremacyisnotsomeobscurehieroglyphictobediscernedbyanattunedeye.Whitesupremacyinitselfis
notacoherentsystem.Itdoesnotpossessahiddenessencethatcouldbeinterrogatedandrevealed.Itisinstead
aformalpracticewithoutcoherentcontent.Whitesupremacysimplyisasetofsocialandmaterialpractices.Andits
formalpracticeaimstogeneratetheprimarydistinctionbetweenblackandwhite(ormoreprecisely,nonblack).
Thustheracialdistinctionwasaconsequence,andnotthecause,ofslavery.Fromitsoriginsinslavery,theracial
distinctionwasreproducedthroughhistoricallyspecificinstitutionalarrangementsthatenabledblacksubjectionto
continue.Theprimaryaimoftheseinstitutionswastheconjointextractionoflabourandsocialostracisationofan
outcastgroupdeemedunassimilable.15
Asadirectrelationofforce,slaverywastheconditionofpossibilityfordefiningthecontentoffreelabourofthe
propertylessproletariat.Tobefreeandtobeaworkerwasnegativelydefinedinrelationtotheslave.Inthisway,
thestructuralpositionoftheslavewasobjectivelypositionedagainstwork,outsideandagainstthewagerelation
workisnotanorganicprinciplefortheslave.16
AfterEmancipation,theSoutherneconomywasdecimatedbytheCivilWar,thedestructionoffixedcapitaland
land,andthecollapseoftheConfederatecurrency.Itwasparticularlythenewfoundmobilityoffreedblacksand
theirrefusaltoimmediatelyenterintovoluntarycontractualrelationswithformerslaveholdersthatprompted
extraeconomicmeanstoenforcetheircompliance.Freedblacks,situatedoutsidetheconstraintsofwagelabour,
neededtobeintegratedeconomicallyyetexcludedsocially.Inawayitwasaproblemofhowtohumanisethe
sentientobject.Afterall,iftheslavewasmerelyasentientobjectwithnowill,howcouldthefreedblackengagein
theresponsibilitiesofbourgeoisindividualityandfreedomrequisiteofwagedlabour?Whatwoulditmeanfora
slavetobecomeafreeindividual?Thereforethecentralconcernaftertheabolitionofslaveryforwhitecivilsociety
wasmanagingthetransitionfromthelegalisedsubjectionofslavestotheinformalandracialisedsubjectionof
blacks.Thefigureofthefreeblackfromtheoutsetwasseenasfundamentallyoutsidethewagerelation,
purportedlyunhabituatedtotheethicsofworkandhenceinneedoflabourdiscipline.Assuch,varioustechniques
ofcoercionwereutilisedagainstexslavestoironicallyenforcetheconstructionofconsentforthefreelabour
contract:


theglaringdisparitiesbetweenliberaldemocraticideologyandthevariedformsofcompulsionutilizedtoforce
freeworkerstosignlaborcontractsexceededthecoercionimmanentincapitallaborrelationsandinstead
reliedonolderformsofextraeconomiccoercion.Inshort,violenceremainedasignificantdeviceincultivating
labordiscipline.Undeniably,inequalitywasthebasisoftheformsofeconomicandsocialrelationsthat
developedintheaftermathofemancipation.17

DuringtheperiodofAmericanindustrialisationinthe19thcentury,theconstructionofthelabourcontractanda
submissiveworkingclassnecessitatedtheregulationofunemployment.Asindustrialcapitalismdevelopedwiththe
institutionofslavery,therewasatransmissionoftechniquesinlabourmanagementbetweenindustrialistsand
slaveowners,creatingalineofcontinuitybetweentheplantationsystemandthefactory:

Notonlydidthecrisisofindustrializationproblemsofpauperism,underemployment,andlabormanagement
occurinthecontextofanextensivedebateaboutthefateofslavery,butalsoslaveryinformedthepremises
andprinciplesoflabordiscipline[]theformsofcompulsionusedagainsttheunemployed,vagrants,
beggars,andothersinthepostbellumNorthmirroredthetransitionfromslaverytofreedom.Thecontradictory
aspectsoflibertyofcontractandtherelianceoncoercioninstimulatingfreelabormodeledintheaftermathof
theCivilWarwerethelessonsofemancipationemployedagainstthepoor.18

Intheconstructionandmaintainenceofthelabourcontract,blackshadtobesetapartfromwhitesingeneral,
whetherrichorpoor.Thustheexerciseofpolicepowerperformedadifferentialoperation:supplementingtheouter
limitsofthewagerelationthroughenforcedintegrationandcontrolwhilecontainingandseparatingblacksapart
fromwhites.InAmerica,itiswellknownthatthehistoryofpolicingfindsitsanalogicalsurrogatewithslavepatrols.
Initiallyaninformalcadreofwhitesthatbandedtogethertoenforcetheslavecodes,slavepatrolsandthe
discipliningofdisobedientslavesingeneralaimedtoregulatethemobilityofblacks,spatiallyfixingthemtothe
confinesoftheplantation.Patrollingwasadutyandobligationforallwhites,whethertheyownedslavesornot.
Afterslavery,suchinstancesofpatrollingweredevolvedupontheinstitutionalityofthepolice,aprofessionalbody
thatregulatedthemovementofblacksaccordingtothespatialconfigurationsofbothJimCrowintheSouthandthe
blackghettoesoftheurbanisingNorth.Inbothinstances,theracialisationofspacethatwasenactedbythese
institutionsdefinedwhitelifeasimmunefrompoliceviolence.Infact,allwhitesweredutifullyboundasthe
perpetratorsofthisviolenceagainstblacks.Thepolicesimplycametoembodythisviolencebyexcisingthisaspect
ofbeingwhiteandformalisingitwithinitsinstitution.Whitecivilianscouldnowsimplydisavowtheviolence
necessaryforitslivelihoodanddevolveittotheprofessionalpoliceforce.Bydefinition,whitepeoplearenotsimply
protectedbythepolice,theyarethepolice.19
Atthebeginningof20thcenturyFordism,theAmericanghettoemergedduringaperiodofrapidurbanisation,
providingacheappooloflabourforindustrialmanufacturingandpersonalservices.Whilenotformallyregulated
liketheJimCrowlawsintheSouth,theghettowastheinformalinstitutionalcomplementtosuchexplicitsocial
practicesofblackexclusion.Asasitethatconcentratedtheblackpopulationwhilealsoisolatingthemfromthe
spatialarrangementsofwhitecivilsociety,theghettoprovidedasocialrefugeforblacksfromwhiteviolence,
enablingtheconstructionofblackassociationsandinstitutions.20
Additionally,policepowerdevolvedupontheregulationoftheblackpopulationssexualreproduction.Slaveryhad
institutionallyguaranteedtheproperconductbetweenwhitesandblacks.Emancipationfomentedanxieties
borderingonamorbidfascinationofinterracialsexualityandthepotentialencroachmentsofblacksacrossthe
colourline,notonlyenteringthepublicspherebutthesacrosanctprivatesphereaswell.Thespectreofinterracial
sexualityindicatedthepotentialpermeabilityofthecolourline,threateningthedestabilisationofwhiteidentity.Inthe
faceofsuchathreat,antimiscegenationlawsprovidedarenewedguaranteeforthecoherenceofthewhite
subject.Theoriessuchastheprincipleofhypodescentandtheonedroprulewereintensifiedandeventually
legalisedsoastojustifythesubordinatestatusofthosebornofaninterracialunion,continuingthecondemnationof
blackstoagenerationalinheritance.21

Image:FlashmobclosingstreetsinPhiladelphia,March2010

ACrisisofHumanity

The2008crisiswasindeedgeneral,butithastakenonanintensifiedforminrelationtoparticularsegmentsof
society,andinparticulartheprecariousyouth.22StrugglesaroundcutsinpubliceducationandtheOccupy
encampmentsindexedaheterogenouscompositionofparticipants,engenderingnewformsofselforganisation,
gesturingtowardtheshadowofproletarianunity.Yetotherformsofstrugglehavechieflyconcernedtheblack
proletariatalone,mosttypicallyriotsagainstpoliceviolenceandarmedattacksagainstpoliceofficers.The
summersof2010and2011witnessedaseriesofflashmobscomposedprimarilyofblackyouth,originatingin
Philadelphia,thenspreadingtoMilwaukee,Chicago,ClevelandandWashingtonD.C.Organisedprimarilythrough
masstextmessagesandsocialmedia,blackyouthgatheredtogetherandproceededtolootvariousstores,
vandaliseprivatepropertyorattackrandompeople(mostlythosewhoappearedtobewhite).Theseisolatedand
socalledantisocialactswerepaintedascompletelyrandomandwithoutanydiscerniblejustification.23But
attemptstorationalisethesestrugglescompletelyobscurestheviolentfoundationofblacksubjection,whichagain,
isitselfwithoutrationale.Thus,whilethecrisishaseffectivelyspecifiedthesituationofprecariousyouthingeneral
asitsprimarytarget,itsconsequenceshavebeendisproportionatelyconcentrateduponblackyouthinparticular,
makingthiscrisisamechanismofreracialisationthroughtheintensificationofantiblacknessparexcellence.An
initialbalancesheetofstrugglesinvolvingtheblackproletariatinAmericacouldbecategorisedasfollows:
Lonewolfarmedattacksagainstpoliceofficers(LovelleMixon,ChristopherMonfort,ChristopherDorner,etc.)
Flashmobsandriotsofyouth,directlytargetedagainstpolicing(theinstitutionitselforagainstageneral
environmentofsurveillance),demandlessandfocaliseduponburning,lootingandwidespreadvandalismof
symbolsofalienationanddomination,suchasschools,carsandareasofconsumption(OscarGrantrebellion,
TrayvonMartin,Philadelphiaflashmobs,etc.)
OccupyWallStreetencampments,attemptstoinitiateanOccupytheHoodcontingenttocombatthe
overwhelminglywhiteandmiddleclasscompositionofthemovement
Protestsagainsteducationcutsandschoolclosures,primarilywithinimpoverishedblackandlatino
neighborhoods(especiallytherecentspateofschoolclosingsinChicago,thelargestinUShistory)
Sincethe1970s,thecollapseofFordismandtheconsequenteconomicrestructuringdeployedadisconnectionof
thevalorisationofcapitalfromthereproductionoftheproletariat.Thisdisconnectionappearedasageographical
zoningofthecapitalistmodeofproduction,spatiallydeterminingadifferentiatedseriesofboundariesforsocial
reproductionwithinthemetropolis.24Themostdistinctandconcentratedformofthisdisconnectionexpresseditself
withinthesociospatialreconfigurationoftheghetto.Consequentlysuchaspatialdeterminationofthis
disconnectionwasalsoaprocessofreracialisation.Inlightoftherestructuring,theFordistghettocameunder
crisisasblackexistencefacedasituationofuttersocialabandonment.Capitalinvestmentfledthecitieswhere

industrialmanufacturinghadpreviouslyprovidedemploymentopportunitiesforblacks.TheStateincreasingly
withdrewitssocialsupport,leavingbehinddeterioratingpublicinfrastructure.Reproductionofblackexistencewas
foundinprecariousformsofwork,primarilythroughtheopaquechannelsoftheinformalandblackeconomy
producingadesocialisationofwagelabour.Itbecameincreasinglyhardforblackstoleavetheconfinesofthe
ghettoallinternalsocialsupportsthathadbeenbuiltduringitsheydaywerealmostcompletelyliquidated.Loic
WacquantnamesthissituationfacedbyblacksinthepostFordistghetto(andalsoghettoesacrosstheworld)as
oneofadvancedmarginality:

Advancedmarginalityisincreasinglydisconnectedfromcyclicalfluctuationsandglobaltrendsintheeconomy,
sothatexpansionaryphasesinaggregateemploymentandincomehavelittlebeneficialeffectuponit[]
advancedmarginalitytendstobeconcentratedinisolatedandboundedterritoriesincreasinglyperceivedby
bothoutsidersandinsidersassocialpurgatories,leprousbadlandsattheheartofthepostindustrial
metropolis.25

Ofcoursesuchderelictioncannotbeleftunmanaged.Desocialisationofthewagerelationmeanstheintensification
ofblacksubjection,eitherthroughpolicecontrol,imprisonmentordeath.Racialsegregation,despitethesocalled
diversity,intheAmericanmetropolisremainsatanalltimehighandshowsnosignoflettingup.Contemporary
postcrisisstrugglesagainstantiblacknessthereforehavetwoprinciplefeaturesincommon:confrontationwiththe
policeandthesociospatialclosurethatentailsinitsmaterialandsymbolicforms.Whetheritisthepoliceassuch,
ortheconfinementsoftheghettoandthepossibilityofescapingitthrougheducation,oreventhefreemovementof
blackbodiesthroughspace,strugglesagainstantiblacknessorientthemselvestowardthedisorganisationofthis
controlledspace.Inrelationtoriotsinparticular,callsforsocialjustice,rights,policeaccountabilityand
transparencyobscuretheessenceofthesemovements,whosemeaningresidesentirelyonthesurface.Theyare
fundamentallydemandlessandintentionallydestructive.Thereisnopointexceptforutterdissolutionofthecurrent
stateofaffairs.AsviewedbytheAfropessimists,thedemandlessnessofthesestrugglescannotbereducedtoany
singleempiricalaspectfreedomhereandnowmustbeabsolutenotrelative.Anirreconcilableantagonism
producesblackexistencepositioningitagainsthumanity.Thisantagonismcanonlyberesolvedbythecathartic
purgeofviolence.Itistheuseofviolencethatmustfirstbeexpropriated,bothmateriallyandsymbolically.Various
automatonsofpublicopinionhaveincreasinglyremarkedonthenihilisticnatureofsuchdestructiveacts,stinkingof
paternalismandmoralisticauthority:whynotbemoreselective?orwhydoyoudestroyyourownneighborhoods?
orhowdoesthisachieveanything?Itisalwaysthesameseriesofquestionsthatareposed,theimpoverished
ethicalityofawhiteworldincrisis.Thedisorderperpetuatedbytheblacksubjectdoesnotassertanemphatic
statementofIexist.ItappearstodestroyeveryapparatusthatprohibitstheIofblackexistencefromcomingfully
intobeing.Todrownoutthedailysorrowsofviolencethatsubjectivisesblackexistence.Andtounmaketheworld
thatpositsblackexistenceassociallydead:

inallowingthenotionoffreedomtoattaintheethicalpurityofitsontologicalstatus,onewouldhavetolose
onesHumancoordinatesandbecomeBlack.Whichistosayonewouldhavetodie.

26

R.L.isaninformaltheoristworkingontheproblematicofracialisedidentities,genderandcommunisation
theory

Footnotes
1FrankB.Wilderson,III,BikoandtheProblematicofPresenceinAndileMngxitama,AmandaAlexander&Nigel
C.Gibson(Eds.),BikoLives!:ContestingtheLegaciesofSteveBiko,NewYork:PalgraveMacmillian,2008.

2Theslaveistheobjectorthegroundthatmakespossibletheexistenceofthebourgeoissubjectand,bynegation
orcontradistinction,definesliberty,citizenship,andtheenclosuresofthesocialbody.SaidiyaV.Hartman,Scenes
ofSubjection:Terror,Slavery,andSelfMakinginNineteenthCenturyAmerica,NewYorkandOxford:Oxford
UniversityPress,1997,p.62.
3AreferencetoSigmundFreuds1919paperentitledAChildisBeingBeaten,ontheconnectionbetween
pleasureandsuffering.
4Everyanalysisthatattemptstoaccountforthevicissitudesofracialruleandthemachinationsoftheracialstate
withoutcenteringblackexistencewithinitsframeworkwhichdoesnotmeansimplylistingitamongachainof
equivalentsisdoomedtomisswhatisessentialaboutthesituation,becausewhathappenstoblacksindicates
thetruth(ratherthanthetotality)ofthesystem,itssocialsymptom,andallotherpositionscan(only)beunderstood
fromthisangleofvision.JaredSexton,RacialProfilingandtheSocitiesofControlinJoyJames(Ed.),Warfarein
theHomeland:PolicingandPrisoninaPenalDemocracy,Durham&London:DukeUniversityPress,2007.
5Asstated,theliteratureregardedasAfropessimistlargelyconsistsinanensembleofheterogenousmodesof
thought,irreducibletooneanother.YetasFrankB.Wilderson,IIIpointsout,thereisacommonthreadamongst
them:TheAfropessimistsaretheoristsofBlackpositionalitywhoshareFanonsinsistencethat,thoughBlacksare
indeedsentientbeings,thestructureoftheentireworldssemanticfieldregardlessofculturalandnational
discrepanciesleavingasFanonwouldsay,existencebythewaysideissuturedbyantiBlacksolidarity.
FrankB.Wilderson,III,BikoandtheProblematicofPresence,op.cit.,p.58.
6Perhapsthroughextendedelaborationacomparisoncouldbedrawnbetweenblacknessundercapitalismandits
relationtoKarlMarxsnotionofcommodityfetishismandthemetaphysicalsubtletiesofthecommodityform.
7EpidermalisationofblacknessastheorisedbyFrantzFanoninBlackSkin,WhiteMasks.
8OthercontributorstothislineofthoughtrangefromcontemporarytheoristssuchasAchillesMbembe,JoyJames,
LewisGordon,AchillesMbembe,JudyRonald,DavidMarriott,etal.EvensuchfiguresasJamesBaldwinand
AssataShakuraresaidtocontributetothegrowingtheorisationsofAfropessimism.Thislistisbynomeans
comprehensive,andperhapsneitherwouldsomeofthesetheoristsselfidentifyasAfropessimists.Inthisarticle,I
aimtoprimarilyaddresstheworksofWilderson,SextonandHartman.
9Afterthe1970stherehavebeenmanyperspectivesputforwardwithapessimisticoutlookuponAfricain
particularandtheAfricandiasporaingeneralandtheirtenuousrelationtoWesterndevelopment.Such
perspectivesseetheutterabandonmentoftheAfricancontinent,betrayedbyeitherbyglobalinstitutionalforcesor
indigenousAfricanleadersinaidingitsdevelopmentandintegrationintotheworldeconomy.Suchperspectivessee
Africahashavingbeenexiledfromthefuture.
10JaredSexton,RacialProfilingandtheSocitiesofControlinJoyJames(Ed.),WarfareintheHomeland:Policing
andPrisoninaPenalDemocracy,Durham&London:DukeUniversityPress,2007.
11Thisviolencewhichturnsabodyintoflesh,rippedapartliterallyandimaginatively,destroysthepossibilityof
ontologybecauseitpositionstheBlackinaninfiniteandindeterminatelyhorrifyingandopenvulnerability,anobject
madeavailable(whichistosayfungible)foranysubject.Assuch,theblackhasnoontologicalresistanceinthe
eyesofthewhitemanor,moreprecisely,intheeyesofHumanity.inFrankB.Wilderson,III,Red,White&Black:
CinemaandtheStructureofU.S.Antagonisms,Durham&London:DukeUniverityPress,2010.
12ThispointisemphasisedbyJaredSextoninhisworksontheparadigmofpolicingaswellasSaidiyaHartman,
whofocusesmoregenerallyonthelibidinaleconomyofwhiteenjoymentofblacksuffering.Abolitionistsduring
slaverywouldoftendepictscenesofhorribleviolenceperpetuatedagainstslaves,seekingtogainsympathyfrom
otherwhitesbyattemptingtoanalogisetheexperienceofblacksandwhites(whatifthiswereyouandyour
family?),asepitomisedwithFrederickDouglassdepictionofhisAuntHestersbeatingbyaslavemaster.This
operationresultedinthecomplicityofproslaverydiscoursereducingtheslavetoawilllessobjectwithnocapacity
tofreehimorherself,needingthehelpofwhites,whilealsomakingtheslaveanobjectofenjoyment,inwhichthe
mostextremeformsofviolenceandsufferingengenderedaperverseformofpleasure.
13Ibid.,pp.45,Inshort,White(Human)capacity,inadvanceoftheeventofdiscriminationoroppression,is
parasiticonBlackincapacity:WithouttheNegro,capacityitselfisinherent,uncertainatbest.
14JaredSexton,RacialProfilingandtheSocitiesofControlinJoyJames(Ed.),WarfareintheHomeland:Policing
andPrisoninaPenalDemocracy,Durham&London:DukeUniversityPress,2007.
15LoicWacquant,FromSlaverytoMassIncarceration:RethinkingtheracequestionintheUS,NewLeftReview,
January/February2002,pp.4445

16FrankB.Wilderson,III,ThePrisonSlaveasHegemonys(Silent)Scandal,inJoyJames(Ed.),Warfareinthe
Homeland:PolicingandPrisoninaPenalDemocracy,Durham&London:DukeUniversityPress,2007.
17SaidiyaV.Hartman,ScenesofSubjection:Terror,Slavery,andSelfMakinginNineteenthCenturyAmerica,New
YorkandOxford:OxfordUniversityPress,1997.
18SaidiyaV.Hartman,ScenesofSubjection:Terror,Slavery,andSelfMakinginNineteenthCenturyAmerica,New
YorkandOxford:OxfordUniversityPress,1997.
19FrankB.Wilderson,III,Red,White&Black:CinemaandtheStructureofU.S.Antagonisms,Durham&London:
DukeUniverityPress,2010,pp.82.
20Aghettoisessentiallyasociospatialdevicethatenablesadominantstatusgroupinanurbansetting
simultaneouslytoostracizeandexploitasubordinategroupendowedwithnegativesymboliccapital,thatis,an
incarnatepropertyperceivedtomakeitscontactdegradingbyvirtueofwhatMaxWebercallsnegativesocial
estimatinoofhonour.Putdifferently,itisarelationofethnoracialcontrolandclosurebuiltoutoffourelements:(i)
stima(ii)constraint(iii)territorialconfinementand(iv)institutionalencasement.Theresultingformationisa
distinctspace,containinganethnicallyhomogenouspopulation,whichfindsitselfforcedtodevelopwithinitasetof
interlinkedinstitutionsthatduplicatestheorganizationalframeworkofthebroadersocietyfromwhichthatgroupis
banishedandsuppliesthescaffoldingsfortheconstructionofitsspecificstyleoflifeandsocialstrategies.This
parallelinstittuionalnexusaffordsthesubordinategroupameasureofprotection,autonomyanddignity,butatthe
costoflockingitinarelationshipofstructuralsubordinationanddependency.inLoicWacquant,FromSlaveryto
MassIncarceration:RethinkingtheracequestionintheUS,NewLeftReview,January/February2002,pp.5051.
21Hypodescentistheassignationofachildtoasubordinatesocialstatuswithinaninterracialsexualrelationship.
TheonedroprulewastheassignationofanindividualwithanytraceofAfricanancestry,whowouldthenbe
consideredblack.Initiallythelineageofanewbornindividualbornofaninterracialunionwouldbeattributedtothe
father,butlaterwasattributedtothemotherinordertodelimitpropertyrightsoftheslaveholder:Alawenactedin
thecolonyofMarylandin1664establishedthelegalstatusofslaveforlifeandeperimentedwithassigningslave
conditionaftertheconditionofthefather.Thatexperimentwassoondropped.Paternityisalwaysambiguous,
whereasmaternityisnot.Slaveholderseventuallyrecognisedtheadvantageofadifferentandunambiguousruleof
descent,onethatwouldguaranteetoownersalloffspringofslavewomen,howeverfathered,attheslight
disadvantageoflosingtothemsuchoffspringasmighthavebeenfatehredonfreewomenbyslavemen.in
BarbaraJeanneFields,Slavery,RaceandIdeologyintheUnitedStatesofAmerica,NewLeftReview,May/June
1990.
22If,intheWesterncapitalistarea,theinstancesofsharpersocialconflictsareconcentratedontheprecarious
youth[]itisbecauseyouthisasocialconstructThecrisisconstructsandthenattacks(inthesame
movement)thecategoryofentrantsdependingonthemodalitiesoftheirentrance:educationaltraining,
precariousness(andthosewhoareinasimilarsituationthemigrants).Themainthinghereisthelabourcontract
whichplacesthislabourpowerinitsrelationtocapitalistexploitationatthelevelofthechangingneedsofthe
market,themobilityofcapital,etc.inTheorieCommuniste,TheGlassFloorinLesEmeutesEnGrece,
Senonevero,2009.Englishtranslation:http://www.riffraff.se/wiki/en/theorie_communiste...
23ThebarrageofflashmobsthroughouttheStatesprecededtheLondonriotsinAugust2011.
24Thefirstdisconnectionappears,firstofall,asageographicalzoningofthecapitalistmodeofproduction
capitalisthypercentersgroupingtogetherthehigherfunctionsinthehierarchyofbusinessorganisation(finance,
hightechnology,researchcenters,etc.)secondaryzoneswithactivitiesrequiringintermediatetechnologies,
encompassinglogisticsandcommercialdistribution,illdefinedzoneswithperipheralareasdevotedtoassembly
activities,oftenoutsourcedlast,crisiszonesandsocialdustbinsinwhichawholeinformaleconomyinvolving
legalorillegalproductsprospers.Althoughthevalorisationofcapitalisunifiedthroughthiszoning,thesameisnot
trueforthereproductionoflabourpower.Reproductionoccursindifferentwaysineachofthesezones.Theorie
Communiste,ThePresentMomentinSic:InternationalJournalforCommunisation,Issue1,2012.
25LoicWacquant,UrbanOutcasts:AComparativeSociologyofAdvancedMarginality,UK&US:PolityPress,
2008.
26FrankB.Wilderson,III,Red,White&Black:CinemaandtheStructureofU.S.Antagonisms,Durham&London:
DukeUniverityPress,2010.

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samhammer 2 years ago

R.L. can be reached at loroleis[at]riseup.net

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Dennis Black 3 years ago

hey how could i contact you i have a few questions

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