by Nicholas Brady and John Murillo III
“Surrender to blackness.” A grammatical imperative. Grammatical because syntactically it marks a command to or demand of a generalized addressee: “(Everyone) surrender to blackness.” Grammatical because the black flesh scarred and tattooed by these illegible hieroglyphics enunciates at the level of symbolic and ontological world orders: “Surrender to blackness” is a command at the level of the foundations of thought and being themselves; grammatical. Imperative because if there is any hope for a revolutionary praxis along any lines—race, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability—it must centralize, which is to say look in the face of, which is to say begin to the work of real love for, the blackness [preposition] which “an authentic upheaval might be born.”
#BlackPowerYellowPeril failed to recognize this imperative as legible, let alone heed and meet its command/demand. Created by Suey Park (@suey_park), the hashtag sought to draw from and build upon the accomplishments of Black womyn activists on twitter and tumblr who have long mobilized to generate productive and revolutionary interjections into the world’s violently antiblack discourses (see, for example, #solidarityisforwhitewomen, and #blackmaleprivilege) through extended, communal commentary, usually in direct opposition to the censoring strictures of any kind of respectability politics. Discussions about and within the hashtag can be found here, here, here, here(though this is very hasty, a bit shortsighted, and still not doing much more than glancing at, as opposed to engaging blackness), and here. But broadly, the intentions of the hashtag are founded upon a belief in the possibility of solidarity/coalition politics between Blacks and Asians, seeking to challenge persistent “tensions” between the communities for the sake of a common struggle against ‘white supremacy.’
For those nonblack participants, the drive toward solidarity represents a purely innocent and unquestioned, unquestionable, desire. All critiques of Asian antiblackness are rendered as derailing the move toward solidarity, for they are to bring up the obvious – clearly we are all human, we make mistakes, but to continuously bring up the “mistakes” and never “move on” is to foreclose the possibility of solidarity. And what a wonderful thing the blacks of the conversation were foreclosing – this solidarity thing. What a wonderful thing others were offering to us and we simply would not take. And yet, the unthought question remains: have you truly earned the right to act in solidarity, to form solidarity, to even believe in solidarity? And what is this solidarity thing we all hold near and dear to our hearts? Have we ever experienced it or do we simply have images we have transformed into memories of a solidarity that never existed? I know Black people and Asian people have worked together in the past, but have we ever formed a solid whole? And who is to blame for the fact that we have never had solidarity? The hashtag implies that both “sides” play an equal part in the failure to form solidarity. In the face of this, confessing our sins to each other forms the moment where we can form emotional bonds: “see, you were as racist as I, and how unfortunate it is that we let old whitey come between us. Never again will whitey make us part.” This is the logic behind much of the Asian confessing – white supremacy duped us into being antiblack racists – and also fed into the backlash aimed at blacks – “stop playing oppression olympics, that’s what whitey wants.” It must be foregrounded here that antiblackness cannot be simplified as “anti-black racism” and it is a singularity with no equivalent force – “anti-Asian” racism is not the flipside of antiblackness nor is orientalism or islamophobia. Antiblackness predates white supremacy by at least 300 years (and much more than that depending on how we trace our history) and we can understand antiblackness as the general tethering of the very concept of life to the ontological and unspeakable, unthinkable force of black death. That statement is a place to begin to define antiblackness, it is not the end for this force weaves itself in infinite variety throughout all corners of the globe, forming globe into world. This is not simply about the little racist microaggressions that people listed in their tweets, this is about a global force that the world – not simply whites – bond over and form their lives inside of and through.
What #BlackPowerYellowPeril revealed, however, is that the underside of coalition politics remains a violent and virulent antiblackness. As blacks— John Murillo III (@writedarkmatter), New Black School (@newblackschool), Nicholas Brady (@nubluez_nick), and others—raised questions and comments in the spirit of that singular imperative—“Surrender to blackness”—antiblackness emerged in the violence of the response levied against it; one need only visit the hashtag to bear witness. From outright refusals to engage the antiblackness central to the histories and politics of nonblack communities of color, to denials of the foundational, global, and singular nature of antiblackness, and to the repeated calls to police and remove this disruptive blackness and its imperative from the conversation, antiblackness exploded onto the scene. All of this in the name of “coalition.”
This is because “coalition” politics and possibilities are fetishized, not loved. The fetish denies the necessary recognition of antiblackness at coalition’s heart, and that antiblackness left unattended renders the imperative illegible. It is a fetishization, then, of antiblackness. The fetish object at the heart of the coalition has always been black flesh – a fetishization where pleasure and terror meet to create the bonds of solidarity people so desire. Here, we open a forum on how the hashtag embodies this fetish, the distinction between fetish and love that must be made in excess of the hashtag and ones like it, and the absolute imperativeness of the imperative. Instead of fetishizing the object, you must surrender to blackness.
Nicholas Brady is an activist-scholar from Baltimore, Maryland. He is a former debater and currently is a head coach for the James Baldwin Debate Society, the only collegiate debate team housed in an African-American Studies department. He was also a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and currently a doctoral student at the University of California-Irvine Culture and Theory program. (check him out on tumblr or twitter @nubluz_nick)
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.