Afro Pessimism Core



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Impact

Impact


The reality of anti-blackness controls uniqueness on every aspect of our lives. Voting aff locks in the world of anti-blackness with a smiley friendlier face.

“Fugitive Life: Race, Gender, and the Rise of the Neoliberal-Carceral State”; Stephen Dillon; A dissertation for a PhD in Philosophy; May 2013; https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/153053/Dillon_umn_0130E_13833.pdf?sequence=1



Dillon 2013

As Omise’eke Tinsley writes, “The brown-skinned, fluidbodied experiences now called blackness and queerness surfaced in intercontinental, maritime contacts hundreds of years ago: in the seventeenth century, in the Atlantic Ocean.”40 Extending Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s definition of racism as “state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploration of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death,” we can understand race and death as a possessive spirit that works as one, born out of the genocide of conquest and slavery.41 Being placed at the “bottom of the ladder”by an expansive network of racialized management and control is Boggs’s way of describing the uneven distribution of value and disposability produced by slavery’s ongoing role in the present. Although death is sometimes a natural biological phenomenon, it is more often manufactured and distributed by regimes of power far removed from ones last breath or final heartbeat. Race is one such technology; it is a mechanism for distributing life and death, and for black people, race and white supremacy are motivated by a past of subjection, subjugation, torture, terror, and disposability that has not ended.42 Race possesses life in both the biological and biopolitical sense, ending or extending biological life for individuals and populations. While race sometimes haunts, it more often limits life chances by inhabiting and controlling individuals, institutions, and populations. In short, we are possessed by race and death and life are the outcome. The relationship between race and possession is also evident in the writing of prisoners and activists in the 1970s who connected the contemporary prison to chattel- slavery. Within this body of work, the contemporary prison is animated by logics, technologies, and discourses constructed under nineteenth-century U.S. slavery. For countless prisoners and activists, race (and anti-blackness) were instruments that transcended space and time so that the past could invade and contort the present in its image. For instance, in his best-selling collection of prison writing Soledad Brother published in 1970, George Jackson described the ways that the prison’s connection to slavery reverses, compresses, and undoes the progress of time:My recall is nearly perfect, time has faded nothing. I recall the very first kidnap. I’ve lived through the passage, died on the passage, lain in the unmarked shallow graves of the millions who fertilized the Amerikan soil with their corpses; cotton and corn growing out of my chest, “unto the third and fourth generation,” the tenth, the hundredth. Here, Jackson describes the relationship between memory, time, and possession. His captive body is metaphorically infested with the cotton and corn grown under the prison of the plantation. Time did not wash away the horrors of slavery, but rather, modified and intensified them. Jackson both lives the past and continues to live its afterlife. He feels possessed by the forms of death produced under slavery, and throughout his writing connects this to his “living death” in prison. This possession is not temporally constrained; neither the law nor the state can exorcise black bodies of this death sentence. Instead, Jackson argued that the U.S. “must be destroyed” and that anything less would be “meaningless to the great majority of the slaves.”44 Although an extensive review of Jackson’s discussion of slavery is beyond the scope of this project, his ideas and declaration that I am a slave to, and of, property” were not unique among the black liberation movement.45 In fact, Jackson’s writing was emblematic of larger political, social, and economic changes occurring in the 1960s and 1970s, and paradigmatic of the political thought of the black liberation movement. The work of Shakur and Davis are one of the lines of flights that depart from the thought of Jackson and the black liberation movement. Indeed, Davis dedicates “Reflections” to Jackson’s life (cut short by his violent death) and his struggle against his own misogyny. In addition, Davis offers a literal embodiment of how the theories, histories, and epistemologies produced by the black feminist and black liberation movements have entered the university. During the past few decades, some scholars have followed the intellectual lead of prisoners and activists in the 1960s and 1970s by exploring the legal, discursive, and institutional relationships between chattel-slavery and the modern prison. Most critically, the connection between slavery and the prison is formalized and institutionalized by the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”46 Joy James refers to this as an “enslaving anti-enslavement narrative,” since the Thirteenth Amendment recreates and repositions slavery inside the prison, even as it abolishes it in the “free world.47 This was made clear during congressional debates about the meanings of emancipation, when Senator Charles Sumner presented to Congress a notice from the sheriff of Anne Arundel County in Maryland: Public Sale.—The undersigned will sell at the court-house door, in the city of Annapolis, at twelve o’ clock, on Saturday, 8th December, 1866, a negro man named Richard Harris, for six months, convicted at the October term, 1866, of the Anne Arundel county circuit court for larceny, and sentenced by the court to be sold as a slave. Terms of sale, cash. Just six years later, the Supreme Court declared in Ruffin v. Commonwealth (1871) that prisoners were civically dead (dead to the law) and “slaves of the state.”49 The power of the law converted the slave into a prisoner and the prisoner into a slave. In this way, the law criminalized race, racialized crime, and allowed slavery to live on, or possess, the law. And so, with the end of one form of slavery came new mechanisms to control, exploit, and contain black bodies, labor, and freedom. As the historian David Oshinsky writes, “Law enforcement now meant keeping ex-slaves in line.” After the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, the convict-lease system emerged as one mechanism in slavery’s aftermath that extended and renewed the confinement and exploitation of black people. Throughout the south, black people (former slaves) were rounded up and charged with “crimes” that in the past would be punished by the torture and terror of the master. The theft of a pig, “insulting gestures,” cohabitating with whites, “mischief,” being unemployed, and vagrancy were now crimes that would be punished by the state. The law of the master was now the law of the land: “An offense against Mr. Shields had become an offense against the state.”51 Former slaves were arrested and leased to private contractors to be worked until death. What was once personal property was made public and since black bodies were no longer owned by private individuals but rather leased by the state, many contractors felt free to work convicts to death. As one private contractor put it, “Before the war, we owned the negroes. If a man had a good negro, he could afford to keep him.. .But these convicts we don’t own ‘em. One dies, get another.”52 Without private investment and ownership by the master, black bodies were subject to even more extreme forms of torture, terror, and violence. The legal construction of new forms of freedom ushered in new mechanisms for producing human disposability. Black pain, injury, and death did not slow the accumulation of capital in the same way as they did under plantation slavery; one could just “get another.” But the convict-lease system was just one mechanism among a massive regime of racialized power and violence that allowed the spirit of slavery to live on. Like the writing of Boggs and Shakur, the sociologist Loic Wacquant has extended this analysis of the relationship between race, the carceral, and death to encompass the twentieth century as a whole. He argues that the prison is part of a “carceral continuum” that traverses time (slavery, the convict-lease system, Jim Crow, and the early ghetto) and space (the prison, schools, welfare, and the hyper-ghetto) to manage and contain populations rendered surplus or disposable to the racial state and neoliberal capital.53 In this way, an anti-blackness established under chattel-slavery possesses and structures a variety of institutions over space and time. Thus, we might modify Foucault’s famous question, “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” to include the plantation, the slave ship, the coffle, and the auction block. Although the connections between slavery and the prison are important to this project, I am also interested in more expansive understandings of the afterlife of slavery. In particular, I am concerned with theories that can help make the connection between the market under chattel-slavery and the market under neoliberalism. In other words, the afterlife of slavery structures much more than the prison or even more than Wacquant’s “carceral continuum.” For instance, Christina Sharpe argues that our very subjectivity is indebted to, and born out of, the “discursive codes of slavery and post-slavery.” For Sharpe, engaging and analyzing a “post-slavery subjectivity” means examining subjectivities constituted by trans-Atlantic slavery and connecting them to present (and past) “mundane horrors that aren’t acknowledged to be horrors.”55 This is one of the main projects of black feminism, as exemplified by Boggs’ engagement with the seemingly innocuous institutions of insurance, state bureaucracy, and the university.56 This project is also central to Hortense Spillers’s classic essay, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar book,” where she connects slavery to the life of the symbolic world. She writes Even though the captive flesh/body has been ‘liberated,’ and no one need pretend that even the quotation marks do not matter, dominant symbolic activity, the ruling episteme that releases the dynamics of naming and valuation, remains grounded in originating metaphors of captivity and mutilation, so that it is as if neither time nor history, nor historiography or its topics, show movement, as the human subject is ‘murdered’ over and over again by the passions of a bloodless and anonymous archaism, showing itself in endless disguise. Like Jackson and Shakur, Spillers argues that slavery ruptures the progress of time. The ways meaning and value are institutionalized have been determined by the violence and terror of slavery. Slavery is a death sentence enacted across generations, one that changes name and shape as time progresses. Freedom presupposes and builds on slavery so that post-slavery subjectivities are shaped by forms of power that resemble and sometimes mimic power under slavery (force, terror, sexual violence, compulsion, torture) while they are also confined by the post-emancipation technologies of consent, reason, will, and choice.58 Frank Wilderson summarizes this more expansive understanding of the afterlife of slavery: “The imaginary of the state and civil society is parasitic on the Middle Passage. Put another way, No slave no world.”59 According to Wilderson, slavery connotes an ontological (not experiential) status for blackness, one that is shaped not by exploitation and alienation, but by accumulation and fungibility (the condition of being owned and traded.).60 In this way, slavery does not lay dormant in the past, but became attached to the political ontology of blackness.61


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