John Murillo III
First: I want to link here, to a post on my tumblr about my (@writedarkmatter) involvement with the blackening of the #BlackPowerYellowPeril hashtag that appeared and trended on twitter a few days ago. It’s an exchange between myself and @newblackschool about the experience of and take-away from the vitriolic antiblackness expressed and defended by many, but not all, Asian Americans also involved in the hashtag. For the full content of what I’m doing here, please read this first, then return to this piece and proceed: Reflections on #BlackPowerYellowPeril.
For additional information, find myself (again, @writedarkmatter), @newblackschool, @nubluez_nick, among others, on twitter to witness precisely what’s being reflected upon in the tumblr post. It’s worth the investigation; trust me.
Second, a comment posted in response to a “response” to Nicholas Brady’s most recent post here, “The Void Speaks Back.” Some background.
A well-known professor who theorizes assemblages posted, as a comment on someone sharing the piece, shared what the professor described as “a critical response” written by another professor, whose many titles were then listed as some kind of credential to speak on something (antiblackness) that the credentials neither supported nor addressed. The “critical” “response” (both words are entirely vacuous, but why that is, I think, will be captured in what I posted in response (no quotation marks)) made a few terrible associations between what Nicholas wrote and a (possible) apology for Israel’s “anti-Palestinian” policies, decided that its writer knew the correct and incorrect ways to discuss antiblackness (which means that Nicholas does/did not), and that this writing is particularly untimely, since the “moment” was for addressing Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies and asking for more, especially something more and black was a form of apologetic (to Israel) derailing.
The original poster kowtowed in some ways, paid lipservice to antiblackness in some ways, but made numerous grave mistakes, not just in terms of the conceptualizations (a misunderstanding of antiblackness as antiblack racism (two different things); an equivalency marked by placing “or” and “and” between “blackness” and “indigineity,” and also forwarded by many structural/syntactic parallelisms betwee anti-Palestinian and the aforementioned antiblack racism, which was, again, mistakenly conflated with antiblackness), but also in terms of the space allowed for the professor-who-theorizes-assemblages to believe themselves to be correct in sharing the other professor-with-all-the-unnecessarily-spoken-credentials’ “response” or at all.
The first professor decided to express a “loss” or being “lost” at the mention of an antiblack calculus (but did not explicate why), and the original poster echoed this (but in a recognizably more genuine way, as in ‘in want of an answer’ and not ‘this is a detriment to what Nicholas wrote’). The first suggests ‘we’ rethink antiblackness’ use here.
So I oblige, at length:
“I’m certain rethinking antiblackness would be extremely useful in this conversation.
An antiblack calculus (the antiblack calculus) is a harkening back to Spillers, and, if I’m going to reduce the complexity of the phrase, it just signals that antiblackness is a symbolic order in excess of acts, forms, or visible structures–it is an abstraction that is aural to the world, its operations, its grammar, and it materializes/condenses into black (marked) flesh.
I have to address the conflation between antiblack racism and Antiblackness. The mystification is that there are radiant beams of white supremacy that manifest in various forms of anti-X where X is some subjugated groups adopted or “reclaimed” name (though, for blacks, reclamation is an impossibility–that’s a different conversation). As seen through the grave mistake made by adamant defenders of the#BlackPowerYellowPeril trend on twitter the other day (I participated; @writedarkmatter), in which those who claimed blacks’ place in the discussion was a form of derailing re: the grand and pretentious project of solidarity/coalition building, the idea that there can be an “or” between “blackness or indigeneity” as if the conjunction isn’t implying some kind of equivalence, to whatever degree, or the notion that precedes the writing of a sentence that uses the terms ant-black racism and anti-black racism in a parallelism as opposed to a hierarchical relation, reveals a misunderstanding of what Nick means when he says antiblack/ness/ or what we say when we mean it (since there are obviously more than one of us performing this, from our intention, earth-shattering work).
Antiblackness emerges as a generalized and global necessity stemming from the destruction, ownership, brutalization, silencing, ‘correcting,’ and so on, and so on, of blacks. This is reductive, but we need to start somewhere before we can claim to have earned something more nuanced. Arab enslavement of Africans in northern and eastern Africa around, but most likely prior to, ~625 AD, did not depend on an established system of capital (though it blossomed into something like that when the Europeans thought this was a neat way to establish the Human as a Human via the establishment of that which is Anti-Human), who were traded into Asia and kept by Arab society, is coeval with the development and ascertainment of “family” or filial ties as such; the slave, the -black-, became a fungible encapsulation of darkness used to mark the status of the family as a family, of relations (so fundamental as those) as relations at all. And yet we have no conversation about this. We have so little research done into it (though that is definitely changing via myself and a few others I’m not comfortable naming) that we can pretend to suggest that we need to make concessions like “well, Arab antiblackness, or, since we’re not in the business of reductions, Palestinian antiblackness, isn’t as bad as, or like, or the same (in such important, important ways, even), as Israeli antiblackness” without -first- addressing the foundational role of the Arab world in -begetting- what would be the perpetual enslavement and subjugation of blacks in and for the world. By the time Europe begins to colonize Africa after having carved it up all neat and nice-like, Asia, Northern/Eastern Africa, and what we now call the ‘Middle East’ were well involved and complicit in systems of antiblack subjugation. Once Europe enters the fray, we seem to privilege -that- evil over this one–the numbers appear to warrant something like that, right? so I guess it’s alright–and pretend that we need to judge one as more or less insidious as the others.
Back to that hashtag: Asian (and Asian American) commentary that sought to police our black voices, and how -we- understood and wanted to talk about antiblackness in their community often tried to suggest that, one, there were Black people who were supportive of their idea, which of course must mean it cannot be antiblack (or have just been really good (like most things are) at concealing its antiblackness/mystifying its presence), and two, that the -real- enemy is white supremacy; or, here, the -real- enemy is something else. “WE’RE not like THEM. Or we’re not AS bad as them. Or we’re YOUR friends; give us a break–we’re just messed up because we got it from white supremacy” as if, prior to white supremacy even being a force to reckon with in the world, there wasn’t already a system under the general agreement that black people were things, and that these things needed to be owned. Put differently, antiblackness and white supremacy are not the same thing, and antiblackness precedes the emergence–and this is not purely historical, but history supports it–of white supremacy’s force. If we can’t have a conversation about how ‘people of color’ can develop their own sense of antiblackness independent of a system of white supremacy–prior to it, even; worse, give white supremacy a base to build on and develop from to begin with–and if we can’t stop pretending there’s some bigger enemy to deal with that supersedes the need to talk about how insidious and fucked up people of color’s antiblackness is in relation to, not subtended by, the antiblackness of white supremacy, then we need not open our mouths, let alone twist our tongues to speak “coalition” or “allies” or “solidarity” or to embody any of those things in words so casual as “or.”
This was never purely an American/US construct, though the US seems to have a nice system to keep it mystified and running nicely. As even Wilderson makes note a thousand times, and as we have over and over again, antiblackness is a global phenomenon. It touches every corner of the globe. Period. Either by direct enforcement or support, or as the ugly byproduct of some ripple cast out from the various quaking epicenters that radiate it around the globe. Nowhere in this piece is a mention or a suggestion that this is an American/US construct–that is an outward projection made by the mystification that is embodied by merely not knowing what antiblackness is.
On top of that, while there are those who might function as blacks somewhere/when, who might temporarily and experientially be recognized as that position, there are those who are black everywhere, no matter where they go, no matter when they are there–see: Lewis Gordon; see: Fanon; see: Wilderson; see: Sexton; see: whoever. Countries might have varying accounts and expressions of antiblackness that they wield, and some might be greater victims there than, say, the US, or the Americas, or wherever; but antiblackness itself marks a constant, and black ‘people’ are politically-ontologically stricken by it where and whenever they go. If there is a bottom to the hierarchy (and I mean this like Hortense Spillers means it), then blacks, no matter the specific system, hold the bottom up from below.
Lastly, since I forgot: antiblackness radiates outward in so many forms. To make an ugly and unfair (to theorists of antiblackness), this resembles how Capitalism’s appendages (or how some treat them to appear) manifest in/as whatever form of subjugation, and the big bad monster is Capitalism itself; Antiblackness, preceding capitalism by almost a thousand years if we want to look at the information we’re limited to now (but don’t be surprised if it ends up being earlier than 625), radiates outward into the various forms of subjugation manifest around the globe, is their very condition of possibility. A useful quote from Sexton:
“Antiblackness is not only unique (something rightly ascribed to any number of political histories). My argument turns on the further point that it is both historically and ontologically prior to, thereby enabling, the range of racial inequalities against which the multiracial Left does battle, just as it subtends the formations of globalizing capital (Wilderson 2003) and thoroughly conditions the elaborations of gender power and the regulations of sexuality (Jackson 2003)…This is…why introducing questions about antiblackness, prompted often enough by the mere entrance of black people to multiracial spaces of intellectual inquiry or political activism, throws the discussion into disarray.”
That last part seems to be what is happening here. What happened in the hashtag as well. Mentioning blackness and antiblackness in a forceful, demanding way–a way that asks what is obviously too much for those who are in favor of the resolution, those who support coalition politics without realizing that words like “ally” “coalition” or “solidarity” have not been remotely earned by nonblacks at this point, or those who simply refuse to see the singularity that antiblackness is because they believe doing so shits all over their own struggles (when, in fact, it illuminates how we might actually end the world that produces these struggles to begin with)–seems to draw so much ire, and cause so much chaotic misreading, that in a kind of common way, the claims made in this piece can be painted as apologetic to Israel, if not sympathetic. The foolishness of that is astounding, but not all too surprising considering the allegiances people of color, at least apparently, would rather have–to anything but the black as itself.
Sexton’s quote speaks volumes, maybe more than I’ve cared to write here. But the kind of allyship suggested here, or the kind of allyship that haunts the suggestions and redirections so incorrectly made, here, is not the kind of allyship black folk want or need. No need for half-allies demanding their version of an engagement with antiblackness within their communities and across the globe, especially when they don’t appear to -really- grasp what antiblackness is/does/how it moves/what’s already been said about it. No need for detractors who think it incorrect to talk about antiblackness the way antiblackness should be talked about–which is to say, then, at all–because the moment is wrong and this moment is only for “anti-Palestinian” issues in Israel (as if these things are independent?). No need for scholars who can’t grasp antiblackness, not because they haven’t had it explained to them or read the material, but because they simply refuse to engage it as it is, or, simply, as -black people demand it to be done-.
I thought hard about containing the rage I had reading responses to this piece on the internet, but I’m not so quick to censorship and don’t ascribe to the petty kowtowing so many in the academy accept as a system of allegiance and respect, especially when misreading to the degree that this has been misread, as embodied by Shihade’s ‘response’ (which isn’t deserving of that label), and also by the correctives/redirections (misdirections) suggested here, embodies a continued and acceptable disrespect coded in/as a reduction and retooling of black people’s words and thoughts to much more agreeable (and less like the original) terms. Fanon would know that quite well, given Philcox’s presence…
At any rate, the half-allies/detractors point:
“cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks
scared to death and scared to look
(he’s just a shook one)
’cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks.”
Out of Nowhere is a space dedicated to the rigor of black thought and study (I would hope my contributions and Nicholas’s have made that clear). A guiding force behind the creation and maintenance of this space is that we have black thought taken seriously, without mediation or reduction or redirection or retooling–especially when the thing itself has not been rightfully read or engaged to warrant any kind of shift/change/move/edit/whatever. I hope this does not persist in the future.”
Third movement: In a moment of particular irritation, having reviewed the above, and having revisited my revisitation of the hashtag, I composed this set of thoughts.
“The terms “coalition” and “solidarity” and “ally” have not rightly been earned by nonblacks primarily because the failure of recognition and refusal to engage antiblackness is so tantalizing. On so many levels over the past few days (just those; years say more of the same, but the past few days seem, somehow, freshly and intensely insidious):
- Solidarity with nonblack people ends up twisted by nonblacks who wish to either privatize their engagements with antiblackness (read: deal with it amongst themselves) and/or who wish to only talk about their antiblackness in ways that are comforting/comfortable to their own, established misconceptions as opposed to how blacks demand that engagement from them (the former is obviously easier since concessions can be made so easily after the -first- concession to some other, distended form of antiblackness has already been made);
- And/or, in the vein of the mutilated, easier to deal with, nonblack definition of antiblackness (which is, then, not antiblackness, but some other thing), the misconception is deployed as a weapon against black folks demanding a -real- engagement in so many ways, some ahistorical, some completely and irreparably wrong:
- There is no antiblackness in Africa outside of South Africa (for example, see: twitter “engagement” between myself and @Cultrung), therefore antiblackness is not a global phenomenon, usually with the implication that this person/these people have license to educate black people about Africa, or to judge where antiblackness is or isn’t (because they’ve definitely shown they even know what it is to begin with)
- Antiblackness does not happen in either slave trade, capitalism does, and antiblackness is just a byproduct of that, which is why there’s anti-whatever, and they’re all just equally radiant problems from the central evil (usually followed by, “we’re not the enemy, that’s the real enemy,” or, “we just got it from white people/supremacy, and therefore, you know, we’re not at fault–let’s fight white supremacy together”)
- Concurrently, that antiblackness is not foundational (as in, historically and ontologically prior to forms of subjugation that are not in any way devalued or disavowed by this assertion–in fact they are clarified by this centralization of a theorization of blackness and antiblackness), it is one of many anti’s that we all need to come together to battle
- All this under the looming presumption that, not having understood what antiblackness, nonblack PoC and whites have done/said enough to demonstrate they can make real moves to address their intra and interracial antiblackness, even though this is as far from the truth as possible, given the fundamental misconception they’re basing this claim on, and given the fact that the perpetuity of the antiblack things they say/do in these conversations are so familiar and repetitive it’s difficult to trace them an origin point at all;
- And that solidarity with black folks is already happening, since their 4 or 5 black friends endorse this thing, and therefore we should all just kowtow to that claim and their thoughts, spectral as they might be, to privilege the solidarity already being established and worked with/through/for, instead of calling into question whether or not the term, or even antiblackness as a concept, should be coming out of their minds/mouths/fingers.
I wonder how we’ve come to embrace something that is so ghastly and ghostly at this point, how we’re claiming to be in the room with something clear, tangible, and loud, instead of something spectral, obscure-at-best, and silent–or loud, but speaking a language long lost to a futurity that continues to fade (due to, you know, the fact that none of the above marks ‘solidarity’ for black folks). Nonblacks, and some blacks, persist in invoking solidarity and coalition and allyship or whatever they want to say it’s called when they’ve a) not earned it given the constancy (of their defense of and refusal to see) antiblackness, and b) not even learned the language to speak the names to begin with, and only enunciate the phonetic elements absent any interrogation of the empty semantics.
We’re constantly going nowhere, acting like we’re moving forward. Blacks bear the burden of clearing up these mistakes time and again, and yet no one wants to listen, or accept those correctives -as such- (read: without translation or distention to make them more comforting/comfortable, like Philcox and Fanon); blacks bear the burden of making people feel safe in these spaces/conversations–though, how is it a conversation when people speak different languages?–of holding hands, handing out hugs, of praising, of congratulating, of politely reprimanding, of tempering the very apparent and necessary-to-be-expressed rage, of essentially de-blacking the engagement to the point that the point falls away, blacks and blackness are no longer present as such but as some kind of faded and more acceptable ‘thing’–and even here, we’re always ‘things’–and antiblackness wins out anyway; and blacks bear the burden of otherwise being derailers and detractors once they stand by the singularity and rigidity of this very simple, but hard to deal with, demand–to engage antiblackness as it is, not as others mistake or want it to be–such that blacks become violently anti-whatever (depending on the group expressing frustration that blacks want something that doesn’t line up with what they’re prepared or willing to give without any work).
Demands for real love, like this, are demands for movements away from the infatuation with and fetishization of and phobic relation to blackness as a clearing away of miasmatic idiocy with the hopes that ‘love’ is there when the smoke clears. What is hated is the antiblackness of the refusals, the defensiveness, the lies, the misconceptions; what is hated is the ‘talking back’ and disrespect; what is sought is a careful listening/reading that, as of yet, seems to be a distant, cold star whose present light is yet eons away from our eyes. Blacks seek solidarity–maybe, if you want to call it that, I don’t; in the proper language, it seems to need a blackening that, since we’re so far removed from even asking for it, I can’t ask for or imagine just yet–but, anyway, if blacks seek solidarity, it’s with allies willing to participate in the -real WORK- of -real love-. Beyond paying lip service, beyond demanding concessions, beyond being defensive, beyond just saying it as if it’s self-evident and not just an empty signifier–this is not derailing, it’s rerouting the train the right track. Better yet, it’s a destruction of the train and the tracks so that, maybe, standing still, or drifting, or in this stasis, nonblack PoC and whites can -hear- and -focus on- the demands of the blacks whose backs on which they stand without the interference of some vehicle screeching and chugging along in the wrong direction.
But I know, and so many people know, oh so well, how far from even reading and listening to the above nonblack PoC, whites, and some blacks, are, and so the expectation is less than zero; history, and the present, and likely the future, has show, shows, and will show us in this position again and again, absent having even earned a right to speak solidarity’s name, defending the antiblackness integral to the names and words spoken in the name of coalition.
Coalition and solidarity and ally should not be words in our vocabulary at present. They are currently, as they have been, as they likely will be, weaponized against black folks demanding an illuminating–not remotely obfuscating–centralization of blackness in, or rather before and then in, the discourse; they move with, rather than against antiblackness.
It is not a particularly difficult in-and-of-itself demand to meet–to centralize blackness as base before building whatever it is that’s trying to be built; but it’s also one that is impossibly difficult to take seriously, on its own terms, without concession, without mutilating translation, and so on, to the point that ‘meeting’ the demand, in the courtyard, on the campus, at the conference, or, better, in the hold of the ship, can’t even be thought.
Essentially, this is a demand, in one way, to meet us where we are–in the hold of the ship–and to resist trying to pretend that we should or could or would meet anywhere else.
But we’re not speaking the same language, so I speak/write in an echo chamber with so few compatriots, hoping some words seep out.”
All these questions about how nonblack PoC, and whites, in the name of something less than solidarity–solidarity’s empty signifier–defend or perpetuate antiblackness in and between their communities go unanswered both because they reveal a problem so essential and overwhelming that only a radical destruction of what is already thought could open a space for (some of) it, and because they, as they are, naked and black like slaves in the hold, are so unthinkable and unspeakable that the questions never really, seriously emerge, outside of the black community, at all.
So what is the silent song played for the souls of the Dead (the black dead, the socially dead, the obliterated, the fungible) and why does no one hear its opening, let alone its movements? Why do only black hands on black instruments struggle to coax it into the air, even while the microphones on the stage are turned off? Why don’t nonblack PoC and whites–those in search of allyship and those refusing it outright alike–refuse to recognize its music and its necessity, or even that it is music, or that it could even be necessary?
I wonder with rage and sing and play in frustration the frantic chords and riffs, again and again, arranged and rearranged again and again, with a few in the band, and the mics cut off. The room is dark and quiet, and I don’t know if anyone’s even in the room.
So I play for/with “us.” Maybe there’ll be a willing audience, let alone a participatory one, some day.
Can’t hold my breath though; this trumpet needs playing.
John Murillo III is a PhD student in the English department at Brown University, and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine, with bachelor’s degrees in Cognitive Science and English. His research interests are broad, and include extensive engagements with and within: Black Studies–particularly Afro-Pessimism–Narrative Theory; Theoretical Physics; Astrophysics; Cosmology; and Neuroscience. He is currently at work on a novel, Dark Matter, and on a graphic novel of the same name. Find him on Facebook or Twitter.