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Afropess
1. [Top level - insert impact calc]
FW
2. Our methodology is to utilize the state as a heuristic – only that pedagogy allows us
to understand the analytical tools of government
Zanotti ‘14
Dr. Laura Zanotti is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech. Her research and teaching include critical
political theory as well as international organizations, UN peacekeeping, democratization and the role of NGOs in post-conflict
governance.“Governmentality, Ontology, Methodology: Re-thinking Political Agency in the Global World” – Alternatives: Global,
Local, Political – vol 38(4):p. 288-304,. A little unclear if this is late 2013 or early 2014 – The Stated “Version of Record” is Feb
20, 2014, but was originally published online on December 30th, 2013. Obtained via Sage Database.
By questioning substantialist representations of power and subjects, inquiries on the possibilities of political agency are reframed in a way that focuses on power and subjects’ relational character and the contingent processes of
their (trans)formation in the context of agonic relations.
Options for resistance to governmental scripts are not limited to ‘‘rejection,’’
‘‘revolution,’’ or ‘‘dispossession’’ to regain a pristine ‘‘freedom from all constraints’’ or an immanent ideal social order.
It is found instead in multifarious and contingent
struggles that are
within
government rationalities and at the same time
exceed and transform them This approach questions oversimplifications of complex
constituted
the scripts of
al
.
the
ities of liberal
political rationalities and of their interactions with non-liberal political players and nurtures a radical skepticism about identifying
universally good or bad actors or abstract solutions to political problems. International power interacts in
complex ways with diverse political spaces and within these spaces it is appropriated, hybridized, redescribed, hijacked, and tinkered with.
Government as a heuristic
invites historically situated explorations and careful
differentiations rather than overarching demonizations of ‘‘power,’’ romanticizations of the ‘‘rebel’’ or the
‘‘the local.’’ More broadly, theoretical formulations that conceive the subject in non-substantialist terms and focus on processes of subjectification, on the ambiguity of power discourses, and on hybridization as the terrain for
political transformation, open ways for reconsidering political agency beyond the dichotomy of oppression/rebellion. These alternative formulations also foster an ethics of political
engagement, to be continuously taken up through plural and uncertain practices, that demand continuous
attention to ‘‘what happens’’ instead of fixations on ‘‘what ought to be.’’83 Such ethics of engagement
would not await the revolution to come or hope for a pristine ‘‘freedom’’ to be regained. Instead, it would constantly attempt to twist
the working of power by playing with whatever cards are available and would require intense processes of
reflexivity on the consequences of political choices. To conclude with a famous phrase by Michel Foucault ‘‘my point is not that everything is bad, but that everything
is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to hyperand pessimistic activism.’’84
ality
focuses on performing complex diagnostics of events. It
3.Perm do both.
4.Perm do the aff through the lens of the alt.
5.Their theory defers questions of praxis and agency and historical resistance---the
history of black resistance proves that even imperfect actions create the conditions to
dismantle antiblack political formations
Lewis Gordon 17. Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies, University of Connecticut. “Thoughts on Afropessimism.”
Contemporary Political Theory Forthcoming: 1-33. Emory Libraries.
‘‘an antiblack world’’ is not identical with ‘‘the world is antiblack.’’ My argument is that such a world is an
antiblack racist project. It is not the historical achievement. Its limitations emerge from a basic fact: Black
people and other opponents of such a project fought, and continue to fight, as we see today in the
#BlackLivesMatter movement and many others, against it. The same argument applies to the argument about social death. Such an
achievement would have rendered even these reflections stillborn. The basic premises of the
Afropessimistic argument are, then, locked in performative contradictions. Yet, they have rhetorical force. This is evident through the
The first is that
continued growth of its proponents and forums (such as this one) devoted to it. In Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, I argued that there are forms of antiblack racism offered under the guise of
love, though I was writing about whites who exoticize blacks while offering themselves as white sources of black value. Analyzed in terms of bad faith, where one lies to oneself in an attempt
to flee displeasing truths for pleasing falsehoods, exoticists romanticize blacks while affirming white normativity, and thus themselves, as principals of reality. These ironic,
performative contradictions are features of all forms of racism, where one group is elevated to godlike
status and another is pushed below that of human despite both claiming to be human. Antiblack racism offers whites
self-other relations (necessary for ethics) with each other but not so for groups forced in a ‘‘zone of nonbeing’’ below them. There is asymmetry where whites stand as others who look
Antiblack racism is thus not a problem of blacks being ‘‘others.’’ It’s a
problem of their not-being-analogical-selves-and-not-even being-others. Fanon, in Black Skin, White Masks (1952),
reminds us that Blacks among each other live in a world of selves and others. It is in attempted relations
with whites that these problems occur. Reason in such contexts has a bad habit of walking out when Blacks enter. What are Blacks to do? As reason cannot be
forced, because that would be ‘‘violence,’’ they must ironically reason reasonably with forms of unreasonable reason. Contradictions loom. Racism is, given these arguments, a
project of imposing non-relations as the model of dealing with people designated ‘‘black.’’ In Les Damne´ de la terre
(‘‘Damned of the Earth’’), Fanon goes further and argues that colonialism is an attempt to impose a Manichean structure of
contraries instead of a dialectical one of ongoing, human negotiation of contradictions. The former
segregates the groups; the latter emerges from interaction. The police, he observes, are the mediator in such a situation, as their role is
downward to those who are not their others or their analogues.
force/violence instead of the human, discursive one of politics and civility (Fanon, 1991). Such societies draw legitimacy from Black non-existence or invisibility. Black appearance, in other
words, would be a violation of those systems. Think of the continued blight of police, extra-judicial killings of Blacks in those countries. An immediate observation of many postcolonies is that
antiblack attitudes, practices, and institutions aren’t exclusively white. Black antiblack dispositions make this clear. Black antiblackness entails Black exoticism. Where this exists, Blacks
The absence of agency bars maturation, which would
reinforce the racial logic of Blacks as in effect wards of whites. Without agency, ethics, liberation,
maturation, politics, and responsibility could not be possible. Afropessimism faces the problem of a
hidden premise of white agency versus Black incapacity. Proponents of Afropessimism would no doubt
respond that the theory itself is a form of agency reminiscent of Fanon’s famous remark that though whites created le Negre it was les Negres who
created Negritude. Whites clearly did not create Afropessimism, which Black liberationists should celebrate . We
should avoid the fallacy, however, of confusing source with outcome. History is not short of bad ideas from
good people. If intrinsically good, however, each person of African descent would become ethically and
epistemologically a switching of the Manichean contraries, which means only changing players instead
of the game. We come, then, to the crux of the matter. If the goal of Afropessimism is Afropessimism, its achievement
would be attitudinal and, in the language of old, stoic – in short, a symptom of antiblack society. At this point,
simultaneously receive Black love alongside Black rejection of agency. Many problems follow.
there are several observations that follow. The first is a diagnosis of the implications of Afropessimism as symptom. The second examines the epistemological implications of Afropessimism.
An ironic
dimension of pessimism is that it is the other side of optimism. Oddly enough, both are connected to nihilism,
which is, as Nietzsche (1968) showed, a decline of values during periods of social decay. It emerges when people no longer want to be
responsible for their actions. Optimists expect intervention from beyond. Pessimists declare relief is not forthcoming. Neither takes responsibility for what is valued.
The valuing, however, is what leads to the second, epistemic point. The presumption that what is at stake is what can be known to
determine what can be done is the problem. If such knowledge were possible, the debate would be
The third is whether a disposition counts as a political act and, if so, is it sufficient for its avowed aims. There are more, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll simply focus on these.
about who is reading the evidence correctly. Such judgment would be a priori – that is, prior to events
actually unfolding. The future, unlike transcendental conditions such as language, signs, and reality, is,
however, ex post facto: It is yet to come. Facing the future, the question isn’t what will be or how do we
know what will be but instead the realization that whatever is done will be that on which the future will
depend. Rejecting optimism and pessimism, there is a supervening alternative: political commitment. The
appeal to political commitment is not only in stream with what French existentialists call l’intellectuel engage´ (committed intellectual) but also reaches back
through the history and existential situation of enslaved, racialized ancestors. Many were, in truth, an
existential paradox: commitment to action without guarantees. The slave revolts, micro and macro acts
of resistance, escapes, and returns help others do the same; the cultivated instability of plantations and other forms of enslavement, and
countless other actions, were waged against a gauntlet of forces designed to eliminate any hope of success. The claim of colonialists and enslavers was that the future belonged to them, not to
the enslaved and the indigenous. A result of more than 500 years of conquest and 300 years of enslavement was also a (white) rewriting of history in which African and First Nations’ agency
Such
actions set the course for different kinds of struggle today. Such reflections occasion meditations on the concept of failure.
Afropessimism, the existential critique suggests, suffers from a failure to understand failure. Consider Fanon’s notion of
constructive failure, where what doesn’t initially work transforms conditions for something new to
emerge. To understand this argument, one must rethink the philosophical anthropology at the heart of a specific line of Euromodern thought on what it means to be human. Atomistic
was, at least at the level of scholarship, nearly erased. Yet there was resistance even in that realm, as Africana and First Nation intellectual history and scholarship attest.
and individual-substance-based, this model, articulated by Hobbes, Locke, and many others, is of a non-relational being that thinks, acts, and moves along a course in which continued
An alternative
model, shared by many groups across southern Africa, is a relational version of the human being as part
of a larger system of meaning. Actions, from that perspective, are not about whether ‘‘I’’ succeed but instead about
‘‘our’’ story across time. As relational, it means that each human being is a constant negotiation of
ongoing efforts to build relationships with others, which means no one actually enters a situation
without establishing new situations of action and meaning. Instead of entering a game, their participation requires a different kind of project –
especially where the ‘‘game’’ was premised on their exclusion. Thus, where the system or game repels initial participation, such repulsion is a
shift in the grammar of how the system functions, especially its dependence on obsequious subjects. Shifted energy affords emergence of
alternatives. Kinds cannot be known before the actions that birthed them. Abstract as this sounds, it has
much historical support. Evelyn Simien (2016), in her insightful political study Historic Firsts, examines the new set of relations
established by Shirley Chisholm’s and Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns. There could be no Barack Obama
without such important predecessors affecting the demographics of voter participation. Simien intentionally focused
on the most mainstream example of political life to illustrate this point. Although no exemplar of radicalism, Obama’s ‘‘success’’ emerged
from Chisholm and Jackson’s (and many others’) so-called ‘‘failure.’’ Beyond presidential electoral politics, there are numerous
examples of how prior, radical so-called ‘‘failures’’ transformed relationships that facilitated other kinds
of outcome. The trail goes back to the Haitian Revolution and back to every act of resistance from Nat
Turner’s Rebellion in the USA, Sharpe’s in Jamaica, or Tula’s in Curacao and so many other efforts for social
transformation to come. In existential terms, then, many ancestors of the African diaspora embodied what Søren Kierkegaard
(1983) calls an existential paradox. All the evidence around them suggested failure and the futility of hope.
They first had to make a movement of infinite resignation – that is, resigning themselves to their situation. Yet they must
simultaneously act against that situation. Kierkegaard called this seemingly contradictory phenomenon ‘‘faith,’’ but that concept relates more to a
relationship with a transcendent, absolute being, which could only be established by a ‘‘leap,’’ as there are no mediations or bridge. Ironically, if Afropessimism
appeals to transcendent intervention, it would collapse into faith. If, however, the argument rejects
transcendent intervention and focuses on committed political action, of taking responsibility for a future
that offers no guarantees, then the movement from infinite resignation becomes existential political
action. At this point, the crucial meditation would be on politics and political action. An attitude of
infinite resignation to the world without the leap of committed action would simply be pessimistic or
nihilistic. Similarly, an attitude of hope or optimism about the future would lack infinite resignation. We see
here the underlying failure of the two approaches. Yet ironically, there is a form of failure at failing in
movement depends on not colliding with others. Under that model, the human being is a thing that enters a system that facilitates or obstructs its movement.
the pessimistic turn versus the optimistic one, since if focused exclusively on resignation as the goal,
then the ‘‘act’’ of resignation would have been achieved, which, paradoxically, would be a success; it
would be a successful failing of failure. For politics to emerge, however, there are two missing elements in
inward pessimistic resignation The first is that politics is a social phenomenon, which means it requires the
expanding options of a social world. Turning away from the social world, though a statement about
politics, is not, however, in and of itself political. The ancients from whom much western political theory or philosophy claimed affinity had a disparaging term for
individuals who resigned themselves from political life: idiotes, a private person, one not concerned with public affairs, in a word – an
idiot. I mention western political theory because that is the hegemonic intellectual context of Afropessimism. We don’t, however, have to end our etymological journey in ancient Greek.
Extending our linguistic archaeology back a few thousand years, we could examine the Middle Kingdom Egyptian word idi (deaf). The presumption, later taken on by the ancient Athenians and
contemporary inward resignation of seeking a form
of purity from the loathsome historical reality of racial oppression, in this reading, collapses ultimately into a
form of moralism (private, normative satisfaction) instead of public responsibility born of and borne by
action. The second is the importance of power. Politics makes no sense without it. But what is power? Eurocentric etymology
Macedonians, was that a lack of hearing entailed isolation, at least in terms of audio speech. The
points to the Latin word potis as its source, from which came the word ‘‘potent’’ as in an omnipotent god. If we again look back further, we will notice the Middle Kingdom (2000 BCE–1700
BCE) KMT/ Egyptian word pHty, which refers to godlike strength. Yet for those ancient Northeast Africans, even the gods’ abilities came from a source: In the Coffin Texts, HqAw or heka
All this amounts to a straightforward thesis on
power as the ability with the means to make things happen. There is an alchemical quality to power. The
human world, premised on symbolic communication, brings many forms of meaning into being, and
those new meanings afford relationships that build institutions through a world of culture, a phenomenon that
activates the ka (sometimes translated as soul, spirit, or, in a word ‘‘magic’’), which makes reality.
Freud (1989) rightly described as ‘‘a prosthetic god.’’ It is godlike because it addresses what humanity historically sought from the gods: protection from the elements, physical maledictions,
Such power clearly can be abused. It is where those enabling capacities (empowerment)
are pushed to the wayside in the hording of social resources into propping up some people as gods that
the legitimating practices of cultural cum political institutions decline and stimulate pessimism and
nihilism. That institutions in the Americas very rarely attempt establishing positive relations to Blacks is
the subtext of Afropessimism and this entire meditation. The discussion points, however, to a demand for political
commitment. Politics itself emerges under different names throughout the history of our species, but the one occasioning the word ‘‘politics’’ is from the Greek polis, which refers to
and social forms of misery.
ancient Hellenic city-states. It identifies specific kinds of activities conducted inside the city-state, where order necessitated the resolution of conflicts through rules of discourse the violation of
Returning to the Fanonian observation of selves and
others, it is clear that imposed limitations on certain groups amounts to impeding or blocking the option
of politics. Yet, as a problem occurring within the polity, the problem short of war becomes a political
one. Returning to Afropessimistic challenges, the question becomes this: If the problem of antiblack racism is conceded as political,
where antiblack institutions of power have, as their project, the impeding of Black power, which in
effect requires barring Black access to political institutions, then antiblack societies are ultimately
threats also to politics defined as the human negotiation of the expansion of human capabilities or more
to the point: freedom. Anti-politics is one of the reasons why societies in which antiblack racism is
hegemonic are also those in which racial moralizing dominates: moralizing stops at individuals at the
expense of addressing institutions the transformation of which would make immoral individuals
irrelevant. As a political problem, it demands a political solution. It is not accidental that Blacks continue
to be the continued exemplars of unrealized freedom. As so many from Ida B. Wells-Barnett to Angela Davis
(2003) and Michelle Alexander (2010) have shown, the expansion of privatization and incarceration is squarely
placed in a structure of states and civil societies premised on the limitations of freedom (Blacks) –
ironically, as seen in countries such as South Africa and the United States, in the name of freedom. That power
is a facilitating or enabling phenomenon, a functional element of the human world, a viable response
must be the establishing of relations that reach beyond the singularity of the body. I bring this up
because proponents of Afropessimism might object to this analysis because of its appeal to a human
world. If that world is abrogated, the site of struggle becomes that which is patently not human. It is not
accidental that popular race discourse refers today to ‘‘black bodies,’’ for instance, instead of ‘‘black people.’’
which could lead to (civil) war, a breaking down of relations appropriate for ‘‘outsiders.’’
As the human world is discursive, social, and relational, this abandonment amounts to an appeal to the
non-relational, the incommunicability of singularity, and appeals to the body and its reach. At that point,
it’s perhaps the psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychoanalyst who would be helpful, as turning radically inward offers
the promise of despair, narcissistic delusions of godliness, and, as Fanon also observed, madness. Even if
that slippery slope were rejected, the performative contradiction of attempting to communicate such
singularity or absence thereof requires, at least for consistency, the appropriate course of action:
silence. The remaining question for Afropessimism, especially those who are primarily academics, becomes this: Why write?
It’s a question for which, in both existential and political terms, I don’t see how an answer could be
given from an Afropessimistic perspective without the unfortunate revelation of cynicism. The
marketability of Afropessimism is no doubt in the immediate and paradoxical satisfaction in
dissatisfaction it offers. We are at this point on familiar terrain. As with ancient logical paradoxes denying
the viability of time and motion, the best option, after a moment of immobilized reflection, is,
eventually, to move on, even where the pause is itself significant as an encomium of thought.
5.The trajectory of legal reform means it solves
Kennedy 14 (Randall L. Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School.
Kennedy focuses research on the intersection of racial conflict and legal institutions in American life.
Kennedy attended Princeton University (A.B., 1977) and the University of Oxford, (Rhodes Scholar) and
Yale Law School (J.D., 1982). "Black America's Promised Land: Why I Am Still a Racial Optimist" –
American Prospect – Fall http://prospect.org/article/black-americas-promised-land-why-i-am-still-racialoptimist)//Xain
Beneath the malaise is a deep current of racial pessimism that has a long history in American and African
American thought. Pessimists believe that racial harmony predicated on fairness is
not part of the American future. They posit that the United States will not overcome its tragic
racial past. They maintain that blacks are not and cannot become members of the
American family (even with a black family occupying the White House).
They believe that the United States is a white nation that will always be
governed on behalf of white folk. For pessimists, the Obama presidency is no sign of racial transcendence; to the contrary, it is a demonstration of the intractability of American pigmentocracy. For them, the Obama ascendancy shows that in order to rise to the top of American politics, a
black politician must be willing to forgo substantively challenging the racial status quo (though he is allowed to cavil about it rhetorically). For them, the Obama administration simply mirrors the racial diversification of an existing order in which a relatively small sector of upper-crust
blacks prosper while the condition of the black masses stagnates or deteriorates—the consequence of a misbegotten theory of racial trickle-down. For them, the Obama era is littered with bitter incongruity: While a black man is commander-in-chief, Michael Brown and thousands like him
are stalked, harassed, brutalized, and occasionally killed in Ferguson-like locales across America. The pedigree of black racial pessimism is impressive. In its ranks one finds such figures as Henry McNeal Turner, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Randall
Robinson, and the extraordinary W.E.B. Du Bois. One encounters Frederick Douglass declaring in 1847, “I cannot have any love for this country … or for its Constitution. I desire to see its overthrow as speedily as possible, and its Constitution shriveled in a thousand fragments.” In that
tradition, one also finds Derrick Bell, professor of law at Harvard, teaching in the 1990s that the United States is irredeemably imprisoned by its past, that “racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society,” and that “black people will never gain full equality in
this country.” The tradition of black racial pessimism has its white counterpart. According to Thomas Jefferson, “The two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government.” Alexis de Tocqueville doubted that “the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal
footing,” but believed “the difficulty to be still greater in the United States than elsewhere.” According to Abraham Lincoln, differences between blacks and whites “will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.” But the pessimists, black and
white, have not been the only influence on American thought about the prospects for racial progress. Arrayed against them are optimists who contend that blacks are (or can become) members of the American family and insist that racial harmony bottomed on fairness is attainable. This,
in fact, has been the predominant tradition among blacks. Its adherents include Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, Mary McLeod Bethune, Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis (joined by whites such as the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People and Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton). The most memorable spokesman for the optimistic tradition was Martin Luther King Jr. On April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated, he told his followers to take heart because he knew that, eventually, they
would overcome the obstacles they faced. He knew this because he had “been to the mountaintop” and glimpsed the Promised Land, though he might not make it there himself. King was vague, however, about the Promised Land’s boundaries and topography. He had famously spoken of
a nation where individuals will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Yet that formulation is popular partly because it is open to contending interpretations. Is it a condemnation of all racial distinctions? Or is it a condemnation only of invidious racial
distinctions? Is it meant to posit a rule of non-discrimination that should go into effect immediately even at the cost of barring efforts to rectify past racial wrongdoing? Or is it meant to posit a rule of nondiscrimination that should go into effect only after the consequences of past
wrongdoings have been ameliorated? These questions underlie the debate that has been raging for decades over competing conceptions of the racial Promised Land. In one conception, the Promised Land is a society henceforth substantially free of intentional racial discrimination in
major domains of the public sphere. In this society, no effort is made to rectify the oppressive consequences of past racial misconduct because, it is argued, trying to do so is futile, unfair to those innocent of past wrongdoing, and conducive to the perpetuation of race-mindedness. This
view has been propounded vigorously in the legal writings of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, mainly in critiques of affirmative action. Chief Justice John Roberts, also a champion of this view, expressed it epigrammatically when, abjuring a race-conscious plan for school
integration, he quipped that the best way to stop racial discrimination is to stop racially discriminating—no matter whether the aim is to assist or oppress a vulnerable group. Under this conception, we enter the racial Promised Land when racial discrimination is a negligible feature of
social life, even if the vestiges of racial subordination in the past are evident and consequential. Let’s call this model of racial justice the conservative conception of the racial Promised Land. The progressive conception of the racial Promised Land is more ambitious. It envisions two
essential landmarks. The first is the requirement of the conservatives that invidious racial discrimination be reduced to a negligible influence. The second condition is that the vestiges of past discrimination—the racial gaps that so dramatically scar the social landscape—be erased.
Pursuant to the progressive perspective, we will reach the racial Promised Land when blackness is no longer a uniform that, holding other variables steady, signals that its wearer bears a notably higher risk than whites of premature death, impoverishment, unemployment, incarceration,
victimization by criminality, homelessness, police harassment, and similar afflictions. Today, one can go into a hospital, visit the ward for newborns, and make accurate estimates about the babies’ varying life trajectories on the basis of their racial identities. When accurate estimates of
this sort are no longer possible, progressives contend, we will have reached the racial Promised Land. Some observers insist that what I have dubbed the conservative model of the racial Promised Land is at hand or at l east nearby. They maintain that, for the most part, we have overcome.
They proclaim “Mission Accomplished” or at least mission near-accomplished. This is mistaken. Intentional invidious racial discrimination constitutes a force in American life that is far from negligible. It is a substantial headwind that blacks and other racial minorities face in many key
areas, including housing, finance, employment, criminal justice, electoral politics, and markets for romance and marriage. There is a library of empirical literature establishing this fact beyond sensible controversy—studies based on similarly situated but racially disparate testers who meet
different fates when they seek to buy automobiles, rent housing, get jobs, or obtain loans. And then there are the lessons of everyday life that suggest forcefully that in crucial interactions with police officers, prosecutors, judges, and other authorities armed with discretion, outcomes
differ, all too often, depending on the race of the person being assessed. It is difficult to imagine that the dismal train of events surrounding the deaths of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown would have been identical had they been white. Even more distant is the progressive conception of
the racial Promised Land. In practically every key index of well-being, a chasm separates the circumstances in which whites and blacks typically find themselves. The income gap separating blacks and whites widened from about $19,000 in the late 1960s to about $27,000 in 2011. The
wealth gap increased from $75,000 in 1984 to $85,000 in 2011. Blacks are nearly three times more likely to live in deep pover ty than whites. Black men are six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated. And on. And on. And on. We have failed to reach the racial Promised La nd in
either its conservative or its progressive definition. With respect to both of these destinations, our society remains far afield. Still, I put myself in the optimistic camp.
Why? I am hopeful first and
foremost because of the predominant trajectory of African Americans—a history that John Hope
Franklin framed with the apt title From Slavery to Freedom. In 1860, four million African Americans were enslaved while another half-million were free but devoid of fundamental rights in
many of the jurisdictions where they lived. In 1860, the very term “African American” was something of an oxymoron because the Supreme Court had ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that no
black, free or enslaved, could be a citizen of the United States. But within a decade,
the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished
slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) established birthright citizenship and
required all states to accord all persons due process and equal protection of the
laws, and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) prohibited states from withholding
the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. People
who had been sold on the auction block as youngsters helped to govern their locales as public officials when they were adults. In 1861, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi resigned from the United
States Senate to join the Confederate States of America, which he led as president. In 1870, Hiram Revels, the first black member of Congress, occupied the seat that Davis abandoned. The
the most fundamental reforms it established
proved resilient, providing the basis for a Second Reconstruction from the 1950s
to the 1970s. During that period, too, the distance traveled by blacks was astonishing. In
First Reconstruction was overwhelmed by a devastating white supremacist reaction. But
1950, segregation was deemed to be consistent with federal constitutional equal protection. No federal law prevented proprietors of hotels, restaurants, and other privately owned public
accommodations from engaging in racial discrimination. No federal law prohibited private employers from discriminating on a racial basis against applicants for jobs or current employees. No
federal law effectively counteracted racial disenfranchisement. No federal law outlawed racial discrimination in private housing transactions. In contrast, by 1970 federal constitutional law
The 1964 Civil Rights Act forbade racial discrimination in
privately owned places of public accommodation and many areas of private employment. The
1965 Voting Rights Act provided the basis for strong prophylactic action against
racial exclusion at the ballot box. The 1968 Fair Housing Act addressed racial
exclusion in a market that had been zealously insulated against federal regulation. None of these
interventions were wholly successful. All were compromised. All occasioned
backlash. But the racial situation in 1970 and afterwards was dramatically better
than what it had been in 1950 and before. Today, at a moment when progress
has stalled, we need to recall how dramatically and unexpectedly conditions
sometimes change. Until recently who’d-a thunk it possible for the president to be an African American? In the 1980s, I used to ask law students how long
thoroughly repudiated the lie of separate but equal.
affirmative action programs ought to last. Champions of such programs, seeking to ensure their longevity, would say that affirmative action would be needed until the country elected a black
president. That reply would elicit appreciative laughter as listeners supposed that that formula would preserve affirmative action for at least a century. But then along came Barack Obama and
with him the remark that soon became a cliché: “I never thought that I’d live to see a black president.” Obama’s election is much more than a monument to one politician’s talent and good
Changes in public attitudes, law, and custom have clearly elevated the
fortunes of African Americans as individuals and black America as a collectivity.
Hard facts may give plausibility to the pessimistic tradition, but they make the
fortune.
optimistic tradition compelling. Despite the many wrongs that remain to be righted, blacks in America confront fewer racist impediments now than ever
before in the history of the United States. The courage, intelligence, persistence, idealism, and sacrifice of Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks, Julian Bond and Bob Moses, Medgar Evers and
Bayard Rustin, Viola Liuzzo and Vernon Dahmer—and countless other tribunes for racial justice—have not been expended for naught. The facts of day-to-day life allow blacks to sing more
confidently than ever before James Weldon Johnson’s magnificent hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black National Anthem: Sing a song full of the faith that the dark
past has taught us Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us Facing the rising sun of our new day begun Let us march on till victory is won. My optimism involves more than a
sociological prediction. I am also swayed by my intuition regarding which of these hypotheses—the pessimistic or the optimistic—will do the most good. Hope is a vital nutrient for effort;
without it, there is no prospect for achievement. The belief that we can overcome makes more realistic the possibility that we shall overcome. Optimism gives buoyancy to thinking that might
otherwise degenerate into nihilism, encourages solidarity in those who might otherwise be satisfied by purely selfish indulgence, invites strategic planning that can usefully harness what might
otherwise be impotent indignation, and inspires efforts that might otherwise be avoided due to fatalism.
6.Homogenization DA: The aff’s conceptualization of anti-blackness as political
ontology creates a false dichotomy between destroying this world or being subjected
to it --- that homogenizes the experience of the 35 million black people in the US and
displaces the possibility of pragmatic practices which can resist anti-blackness.
David KLINE, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Rice University, 17 [“The Pragmatics of
Resistance: Framing Anti-Blackness and the Limits of Political Ontology,” Critical Philosophy of Race, Vol.
5, No. 1, 2017, p. 51-69, Accessed Online through Emory Libraries]
Wilderson’s critique of Agamben is certainly correct within the specific framework of a political ontology of racial positioning. His
description of anti-Black antagonism shows a powerful macropolitical sedimentation of [End Page 56] Black
suffering in which Black bodies are ontologically frozen into (non-) beings that stand in absolute political distinction
from those “who do not magnetize bullets” (Wilderson 2010, 80). In the same framework, Jared Sexton, whose work is very close to
Wilderson’s, is also right when he shows how biopolitical thought—specifically the Agambenian form centered on questions of sovereignty—
and its variant of “necropolitics” found in Mbembe has so often run aground on the figure of the slave (see Sexton 2010).5 Locating
the
reality of anti-Blackness wholly within this account of political ontology does provide an undeniably effective
analysis of its violence and sedimentation over the modern world as a whole. However, in terms of a general structure, I
understand Wilderson’s (and Sexton’s) political ontology to remain tied in form to Agamben’s even as it seemingly
discounts it and therefore remains bound to some of the problems and limitations that beset such a formal
structure, as I’ll discuss in a moment. Despite the critique of Agamben’s ontological blind spots regarding the extent to which Black suffering
is non-analogous to non-black suffering, as I’ve tried to show, Wilderson keeps the basic contours of Agamben’s
ontological structure in place, maintaining a formal political ontology that expands the bottom end of
the binary structure so as to locate an absolute zero-point of political abjection within Black social death.
To be clear, this is not to say that the difference between the content and historicity of Wilderson’s social death and Agamben’s bare life does
not have profound implications for how political ontology is conceived or how questions of suffering and freedom are posed. Nor is it to say
that a congruence of formal structure linking Agamben and Wilderson should mean that their respective projects are not radically
differentiated and perhaps even opposed in terms of their broader implications and revelations. Rather, what I want to focus on is how the
absolute prioritization of a formal ontological framework of autonomous and irreconcilable spheres of
positionality—however descriptively or epistemologically accurate in terms of a regime of ontology and its corresponding
macropolitics of anti-Blackness—ends up limiting a whole range of possible avenues of analysis that have their
proper site within what Deleuze and Guattari describe as the micropolitical. The issue here is the distinction between the macropolitical (molar)
and the micropolitical (molecular) fields of organization and becoming. Wilderson
and Afro-pessimism in general privilege the
macropolitical field in which Blackness is always already sedimented and rigidified into a political ontological position that prohibits movement and the possibility of what Fred Moten calls “fugitivity.” The
absolute privileging of the macropolitical as [End Page 57] the frame of analysis tends to bracket or overshadow the
fact that “every politics is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 213).
Where the macropolitical is structured around a politics of molarisation that immunizes itself from the threat of contingency and disruption,
the micropolitical names the field in which local and singular points of connection produce the conditions for “lines of flight, which are
molecular” (ibid., 216). The
micropolitical field is where movement and resistance happens against or in excess
of the macropolitical in ways not reducible to the kind of formal binary organization that Agamben and
Wilderson’s political ontology prioritizes. Such resistance is not necessarily positive or emancipatory, as lines of flight name a
contingency that always poses the risk that whatever develops can become “capable of the worst” (ibid., 205). However, within this
contingency is also the possibility of creative lines and deterritorializations that provide possible means
of positive escape from macropolitical molarisations. Focusing on Wilderson, his absolute prioritization of a
political onto-logical structure in which the law relegates Black being into the singular position of social
death happens, I contend, at the expense of two significant things that I am hesitant to bracket for the sake of prioritizing political
ontology as the sole frame of reference for both analyzing anti-Black racism and thinking resistance within the racialized world. First, it short-
circuits an analysis of power that might reveal not only how the practices, forms, and apparatuses of antiBlack racism have historically developed, changed, and reassembled/reterritorialized in relation to state
power, national identity, philosophical discourse, biological discourse, political discourse, and so on—changes
that, despite Wilderson’s claim that focusing on these things only “mystify” the question of ontology (Wilderson 2010, 10), surely have
implications for how racial positioning is both thought and resisted in differing historical and sociopolitical contexts. To the extent that Blackness equals a singular ontological position within a
macropolitical structure of antagonism, there is almost no room to bring in the spectrum and flow of
social difference and contingency that no doubt spans across Black identity as a legitimate issue of
analysis and as a site/sight for the possibility of a range of resisting practices. This bracketing of difference leads
him to make some rather sweeping and opaquely abstract claims. For example, discussing a main character’s abortion in a prison cell in the
1976 film Bush Mama, Wilderson says, “Dorothy will abort her baby at the clinic or on the floor of her prison cell, not because she fights for—
and either wins [End Page 58] or loses—the right to do so, but because she is one of 35 million accumulated and fungible (owned and
exchangeable) objects living among 230 million subjects—which is to say, her will is always already subsumed by the will of civil society”
(Wilderson 2010, 128, italics mine). What I want to press here is how Wilderson’s statement, made in the sole frame of a totalizing political
ontology overshadowing all other levels of sociality, flattens
out the social difference within, and even the possibility
of, a micropolitical social field of 35 million Black people living in the United States. Such a flattening
reduces the optic of anti-Black racism as well as Black sociality to the frame of political ontology where
Blackness remains stuck in a singular position of abjection. The result is a severe analytical limitation in
terms of the way Blackness (as well as other racial positions) exists across an extremely wide field of sociality
that is comprised of differing intensities of forces and relational modes between various institutional,
political, socio-economic, religious, sexual, and other social conjunctures. Within Wilderson’s political
ontological frame, it seems that these conjunctures are excluded—or at least bracketed—as having any bearing
at all on how anti-Black power functions and is resisted across highly differentiated contexts. There is
only the binary ontological distinction of Black and Human being; only a macropolitics of sedimented
abjection. Furthermore, arriving at the second analytical expense of Wilderson’s prioritization of political ontology, I suggest that such a
flattening of the social field of Blackness rigidly delimits what counts as legitimate political resistance. If
the framework for thinking resistance and the possibility of creating another world is reduced to rigid
ontological positions defined by the absolute power of the law, and if Black existence is understood only as ontologically
fixed at the extreme zero point of social death without recourse to anything within its own position qua Blackness, then there is
not much room for strategizing or even imagining resistance to anti-Blackness that is not wholly limited
to expressions and events of radically apocalyptic political violence: the law is either destroyed entirely,
or there is no freedom. This is not to say that I am necessarily against radical political violence or its use as an effective tactic. Nor is to
say that I think the law should be left unchallenged in its total operation, but rather that there might be other and more
pragmatically oriented practices of resistance that do not necessarily have the absolute destruction of
the law as their immediate aim that should count as genuine resistance to anti-Blackness. For Wilderson, like
Agamben, anything less than an absolute overturning [End Page 59] of the order of things, the violent destruction
and annihilation of the full structure of antagonisms, is deemed as “[having nothing] to do with Black
liberation” (quoted in Zug 2010). Of course, the desire for the absolute overturning of the currently existing world, the decisive end of
the existing world and the arrival of a new world in which “Blacks do not magnetize bullets” should be
absolutely affirmed. Further, the severity and gratuitous nature of the macropolitics of anti-Blackness in relation to the possibility of a
movement towards freedom should not be bracketed or displaced for the sake of appealing to any non-Black grammar of exploitation or
alienation (Wilderson 2010, 142). The
question I want to pose, however, is how the insistence on the absolute priority
of framing this world within a rigid structure of formal ontological positions can only revert to what
amounts to a kind of negative theological and eschatological blank horizon in which actually existing social
sites and modes of resisting praxis are displaced and devalued by notions of whatever it is that might
arrive from beyond. It seems that Wilderson, again, is close to Agamben on this point, whose ontological structure also severely delimits
what might count as genuine resistance to the regime of sovereignty. As Dominick LaCapra points out regarding the possibility of
liberation outside of Agamben’s formal ontological structure of bare life and sovereignty, A further enigmatic conjunction in Agamben is
between pure possibility and the reduction of being to mere or naked life, for it is the emergence of mere naked life in accomplished nihilism
that simultaneously generates, as a kind of miraculous antibody or creation ex nihilo, pure possibility or utterly
blank utopianism
not limited by the constraints of the past or by normative structures of any sort. (LaCapra 2009, 168) With
life’s ontological reduction to the abjection of bare life or social death, the only possible way out, it seems, is the
impossible possibility of what Agamben refers to as the “suspension of the suspension,” the laying aside of the distinction between bare life
and political life, the “Shabbat of both animal and man” (Agamben 2003, 92). It is in this sense that Agamben offers, again in the words of
LaCapra, a “negative theology in extremis . . . an
empty utopianism of pure, unlimited possibility” (LaCapra 2009, 166). The
result is a discounting and devaluing of other, perhaps more pragmatic and less eschatological, practices of
resistance. With the “all or nothing” [End Page 60] approach that posits anything less than the absolute
suspension of the current state of things as unable to address the violence and abjection of bare life, there is
not much left in which to appeal than a kind of apocalyptic, messianic, and contentless eschatological future space
defined by whatever this world is not.
7. Materiality DA: Wildersonian calls for the end of the world reify the position of
ontological blackness by theorizing through a matrix that can only breed ressentiment.
Even if they win that the world is structured by antiblackness, it is a question of what
is done in the face of that --abjection leaves Black people without methods of
resistance and saps them of their energy, ultimately a form of spirit murder. Tactical
flinches are key to subverting humanism.
Barlow Jr. ’16 (Michael A. Barlow Jr. graduated in 2016 with a Bachelors degree in Sociology from United
States Military Academy at West Point in West Point, NY. “Addressing Shortcomings in Afro-Pessimism”,
http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1435/2/addressing-shortcomings-in-afro-pessimism) /NoWa
Is it materially possible to both
call for a disruption of civil society while finding points of productivity in society? The answer is yes, at
the margins. It is here that this paper makes another substantive departure from conventional pessimistic theorization, and again, it is
useful to refer to Wilderson’s work. His theorization of the Black’s antagonistic relationship with the world
concludes that the world is parasitic on Black life. Thus, he forwards the end of the world as the only
ethical alternative. Afro-Pessimists are often criticized for their highly theoretical abstraction with this concept. Though there are no
The question remains of how to create consistency in ontological and intra-ontological resistance.
explicit specifications of what the end of the world is or how Black resistance movements are to specifically get there, it is widely accepted that
In addition, Wilderson calls for
Black refusal to engage in civil society in an unflinching paradigmatic analysis meaning that any form
of engagement with civil society would require Black abjection. This is the point of friction that this
paper seeks to address. Even though Black bodies stand in an antagonistic relationship to the world, there needs to be a distinction
made. The notion that any level of stability within civil society affirms Black Death has two major
problems. First, it produces the exact same pattern of ressentiment which reproduces the
internalization of self-hate which only sets the stage for communal violence in an attempt to cleanse.
If the standard for measuring the effectiveness of Black movements is the destruction of every part of
society, then failure is the only appropriate descriptor for every Black resistance strategy in history. If
this is the case, the internalization of Black slaveness becomes all but inevitable by reinforcing
psychological, mental, and emotional chains of depression on all those who seek to resistance. The
second problem is that Black bodies have no means of creating instability at the state or societal level.
the position is more of an epistemic orientation rather than one that forwards literal destruction.
Society is a manifestation of hundreds of years of economic and political accumulation that has
yielded countless weapons against the oppressed. Simply expecting the dominant order to forgo the
use of those weapons is a fantasy. The scope of orienting towards the end of the world in terms of instability is far too large.
The end of the world is not possible. Afro-Pessimism is far too separated from the material practice of
resistance in this regard. If the justification for detaching from state involvement is that it requires a sacrificing of Black flesh, then
resistance strategies must consider the effect of a complete embrace of political refusal. Calls for absolute Black pessimism is also an abjection
of Black flesh in the same manner Wilderson bases the need for the end of the world because an open refusal and rejection to at least
For pessimists to call for Blacks to
openly embrace physical death in pursuit of theory is irresponsible and unethical.Wilderson uses the
question of flinching as a misnomer. The term seems to suggest that any participation in or any
implicit affirmation of society is an insufficient Black politic. The problem is that at its core the very
nature of Black life is one that requires a series of strategic and tactical flinches. This means that in
different situations and settings, Black bodies take different forms. If confronted on the street by a racist police
seemingly conform to degrees of social norms will have deadly consequences for Black bodies.
officer, asking for one to unconditionally refuse to recognize the position of the officer is in turn asking for Black suicidal politics. As posited
above, there is something inherently valuable within Black intra-ontological arrangements, and as such, suicide is a non-starter. Not only is this
a strategy for sustaining intra-ontological freedom, but it is also a strategy for pursuing the disorganization of civil society. It problematizes
Tactical flinches allow Blackness to become a
thousand different villains disguised as citizens. It is a protective mechanism for those who seek to fight against tyranny
without inciting the wrath of the tyrannical. This is not to say that Black resistance should ever flinch in its
orientation to civil society at a fundamental level. It is to say that in order for Black life to exist in a
world that wishes its death, it is necessary to disguise that orientation and strategically present it in
certain settings. Some will be highly critical of this notion because it will be perceived as a call to sacrifice expressions of authentic self in
an appeasement of the dominant order. Instead, this is a call to reassess the very understanding of political orientation. Black resistance
should embody refusal at the core level; that should be internalized, and it is the very process of
mystifying that core refusal in acts of fugitive transgressions against civil society that renders its violence
inoperable. This is not a sacrifice of the authentic self, but the mystification and protection of
authentic Blackness in an act of rebellion against societal production of anti-Black violence. This is an
effective means of navigating Black ontological questions. Again, Black liberation cannot be measured in terms of the
society’s ability to easily script the nature of Black life and Black resistance.
absence of white violence, but it must be measured using different rubrics. In terms of Black ontological resistance as an ensemble, this
resistance is a question is the maintenance of Black communities through the inoperability of violence by complicating perceptions of Black
criminality. Since the slave has no capacity to orchestrate the manifestation of the end of the world, then Black orientation to the end of the
world must begin with one of constructing the illegality of the body. This is the means in which Black movements must employ fleshly politics in
The end of the world should not be understood through the instability of civil
society or the state, but rather, it should be understood through the ability of Black communities to
render themselves self-sufficient which should very well include a strategic and criminal relationship
with civil society.
modern resistance strategies.
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