Turn-Anthropology



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Turn—Anthropology—Their claims about the absolute destruction of African culture in the middle passage are factually incorrect, contemporary African-American culture can be traced back to Central African Bantu survivals that were retained during slavery.


Holloway 1990 [Joseph E., Professor of Pan-African Studies at CSU Northridge, “The Origins of African-American Culture,” Africanisms in American Culture ed. by Joseph E. Holloway p. 17]
Many other enslaved Africans were employed as field slaves. This occupation, in fact, was engaged in by the majority of Africans, suggesting that it was among the field slaves that much of African-American culture and language evolved. These field slaves were mainly Central Africans who, unlike the Senegambians, brought a homogenous culture identifiable as Bantu. The cultural homogeneity of the Bantu is indicated by a common language. Once the Bantu reached America they were able to retain much of their cultural identity. Enforced isolation of these Africans by plantation owners allowed them to retain their religion, philosophy, culture, folklore, folkways, folk beliefs, folk tales, storytelling, naming practices, home economics, arts, kinship, and music. These Africanisms were shared and adopted by the various African ethnic groups of the field slave community, and they gradually developed into African-American cooking (soul food), music (jazz, blues, spirituals, gospels), language, religion, philosophy, customs, and arts.

Their assertion of the anthropological off-the-mapness of black subjectivity mirrors white racist anthropologists and linguists who defended the idea that slavery represented an absolute break with African culture.


Asante 1990 [Molefi Kete, Professor and Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Temple University, “African Elements in African-American English,” Africanisms in American Culture ed. by Joseph E. Holloway p. 19-20]
A considerable intellectual meanness had to be combated by the initial cadre of communicationists who examined the continuity of black language behaviors from Africa to America. The racist assumption that black pidgin reflected innate inability of Africans to learn English was current at one time. In fact, as Herskovits pointed out, the linguists who studied pidgin often had no knowledge of African languages and therefore could not make informed interpretations. Lorenzo Turner augmented this position by exposing inaccuracies in the work of linguists who were quick to give assurance that there were no African survivals among black Americans. Only with the work of Mervyn Alleyne and other sociolinguists did we begin to get a clearer picture of the African contribution to English. Alleyne particularly demonstrated continuity in the West Indies. Earlier, Ambros Gonzales, like many white American linguists, misunderstood the Gullah language and arrived at the wrong conclusion. In 1922 he cited a list of words that were purported to be of African origin. Most of the words are either English words misspelled or African words interpreted as English words that blacks could not pronounce. Gonzales was thoroughly confused about what he was studying, as Turner pointed out: Many other words in Gonzales’ glossary which, because of his lack of acquaintance with the vocabulary of certain African languages, he interprets as English, are in reality African words. Among other Gullah words which he or other American writers have interpreted as English, but which are African, are the Mende suwangc, to be proud (explained by Gonzales as a corruption of the English swagger): the Wolof lir, small (taken by Gonzales to be an abbreviated form of the English little, in spite of the fact that the Gullah also uses little when he wishes to): the Wolof benj, tooth (explained by the Americans as a corruption of bone): The Twi fa, to take (explained by Americans as a corruption of the English for)…. The point made by Turner is that white American linguists refused to consider the possibility that blacks used African words in their vocabularies. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that whites unfamiliar with either African languages or Gullah made expansive generalizations that tended to support their preconceived motions about black speech habits. Writing in the American Mercury in 1924, George Krapp said that “it is reasonably safe to say that not a single detail of Negro pronunciation or Negro syntax can be proved to have other than English origins.” Other writers who voiced nearly the same judgment regarding the presence of African survivals in black American speech supported the notion of an absolute break with African culture. It was inconceivable to them that either phonological, morphological, or semantic interference could have existed where Africans retained their language behavior in connection with English.

Turn—Linguistics—The claim that culture ended at the middle passage ignores the rich and uniquely African linguistic tradition that undergirds the communication style of African-Americans.


Asante 1990 [Molefi Kete, Professor and Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Temple University, “African Elements in African-American English,” Africanisms in American Culture ed. by Joseph E. Holloway p. 19-20]
That something of the African backgrounds of black Americans survived is not difficult to argue despite intense efforts to prove that blacks were incapable of cultural retention because of slavery. No displaced people have ever completely lost the forms of their previous culture. The specific artifacts may differ from those employed in a prior time, but the essential elements giving rise to those artifacts are often retained and produce substantive forms in the new context. It is my contention that black Americans retained basic components of the African experience rather than specific artifacts. To seek the distinctive retention of African words in black America as Turner, Herskovits, and Romeo Garrett attempted to do is to search amiss. What they sought to do is an interesting, provocative, and valuable addition to our knowledge, but it is not convincing from the standpoint of cultural survivals. It is cast in too narrow a mold and often depends on the continuity of specific words from several ethnic regions of Africa. Although African lexical items may be found limited supply among African-Americans, they do not make the argument for a more general retention of African linguistic behavior applicable to most black Americans. What my research suggests is that combinations of classes of sounds, units of meaning, and syntax behaviors are to be considered in regard to survival rather than concentrating on any single one of these factors or on simple lexical characteristics. Earlier writers seem to have preferred African lexical discoveries in African-American language; they are, after all, easily identifiable phenomena. But the relationship between African languages and African-American speech behaviors can be more clearly ascertained on a primary level in the “communication style” of the person. While this concept is difficult to define, it means simply the verbal and nonverbal behavior patterns that distinguish one person from another. Even whole groups may be distinguished in such a manner. On a secondary level, there are observable relationships in the substantive social fabric of language behaviorproverbs, riddles, dozens, call-and-response. The combination of communicative styles and “folkloristic modalities” constitutes an approach to the sense of a language. It is this sense of language in African-Americans that is uniquely more African than European, other factors aside. This is not a rejection of linguistic structure, inasmuch as I hope to demonstrate that certain structural matters underscore my basic thesis.

Black communication style is a generative form of resistance the represents the ontological plenitude as opposed to dereliction of black folk. You should reject their theorization of blackness for its dismissal of and disregard for a key counter-hegemonic tool against white supremacy and cultural imperialism that affirms agency and is a key resource for the transformative struggle against oppression.


George Yancy 2004 [Pennsylvania State University. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 18.4 (2004) 273-29]
Attempting to understand this new colonial reality within the framework of their understanding of Nommo, the power of the word, Black folk had to feel a sense of double-consciousness or what Docta G refers to as the phenomenon of "linguistic push-pull" (146). Through the power of Nommo, Black folk performatively spoke (and continue to speak) a new reality and a new sense of identity into existence. Crossing the horror of the Middle Passage—which could take anywhere from thirty-five to ninety days, and having to contend with feces, lice, fleas, rats, disease, and dying Black bodies—failed to break the power of the African spirit; failed to silence the power of Nommo, which said "NO!" to white imperialism, "NO!" to white cultural hegemony, "NO!" to colonial brainwashing, and "NO!" to linguistic-cultural dispossession. There was a "deep structural" cultural awareness that the word can radically alter the world (54). Docta G notes: The oral tradition, then, is part of the cultural baggage the African brought to America. The pre-slavery background was one in which the concept of Nommo, the magic power of the Word, was believed necessary to actualize life and give man mastery over things. She further notes: In traditional African culture, a newborn child is a mere thing until his father gives and speaks his name. No medicine, potion, or magic of any sort is considered effective without accompanying words. So strong is the African belief in the power and absolute necessity of Nommo that all craftsmanship must be accompanied by speech. Nommo is an essential ontological register of WHO WE BE. Nommo is capable of concretizing the Black spirit in the form of action, action that is necessary within the framework of a contentious and oppressive alien cultural environment. It was imperative that Diasporic Africans create syncretistic constructions of reality vis-à-vis "deep structural" linguistic-cultural (African) patterns and practices acting as the general framework through which new cultural elements were absorbed, synthesized, and reconfigured. This process is less like a Kuhnian paradigm-shift and more like a form of "adaptive fusion." It is a fusion (don't let the Jazz motif pass you by) that bespeaks the ability of Black folk to keep keepin on in the face of oppression and white terror. This process of fusion is indicative of the fact that Black folk live their lives within a subjunctive (indicative of our possibilities) ontological mode of existence. Docta G observes that African American Language (or what she also variously refers to as Black English, Black Idiom, African American English, African American Vernacular English, and Ebonics) "reflects the modal experiences of African Americans and the continuing quest for freedom" (101). Given the above emphasis on the power of Nommo and the sheer protean and metastable force of African linguistic-cultural, psychological, and existential endurance, what then is African American Language? The Docta is worth quoting in full: THE EBONICS SPOKEN in the US is rooted in the Black American Oral Tradition, reflecting the combination of African languages (Niger-Congo) and Euro American English. It is a language forged in the crucible of enslavement, US-style apartheid, and the struggle to survive and thrive in the face of domination. Ebonics is emphatically not "broken" English, nor "sloppy" speech. Nor is it merely "slang." Nor is it some bizarre form of language spoken by baggy-pants-wearing Black youth. Ebonics is a set of communication patterns and practices resulting from Africans' appropriation and transformation of a foreign tongue during the African Holocaust. From jump street, let's dispel certain assumptions. AAL ain no slang. "True, Black slang is Black Language, but all Black Language is not Black slang" (Smitherman 2000, 2). Also, we must not conflate AAL with Nonstandard American English. As for the latter, examples are "the pronunciation of 'ask' as 'axe,' use of double negatives, as in 'They don't know nothing,' and the use of 'ain't.' Such features of American English are often erroneously characterized as Ebonics. They are not" (Smitherman 2001, 20). Keep in mind that Ebonics is known for its multiple negatives (this really frustrates the gatekeepers of European American Language), not simply the double negatives disapproved of by European American Language (EAL). Docta G provides an example of multiple negation from a member of the Traditional Black Church sometime during the sixties: "Don't nobody don't know God can't tell me nothin!" And drawing from Lonne Elder's play, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Docta G provides another example: "Don't nobody pay no attention to no nigga that ain't crazy!" Mutiple negation, in this example, signifies a form of linguistic, sociopsychological resistance. Docta G explains: Because "nigger" is a racialized epithet in EAL, AAL embraces its usage, encoding a variety of unique Black meanings. And "crazy niggas" are the rebellious ones, who resist racial supremacist domination and draw attention to their cause because they act in ways contrary to the inscribed role for Africans in America.

Turn—Cultural Resistance—The survival of African religion also disproves the idea that black culture has no ontological reach since it was a key element of slave uprisings and revolts.


Mulira 1990 [Jessie Gaston, Associate Professor of History and Ethnic Studies at CSU Sacramento, “The Case of Voodoo in New Orleans,” Africanisms in American Culture ed. by Joseph E. Holloway p. 37]
It is more difficult to measure and evaluate the persistence of African culture elsewhere, especially in the United States, outside the core areas of New Orleans and the Sea Islands. In many “pocket areas” in the southern states and in cities and towns through the United States, remnants of African culture abound: in language patterns and vocabulary, in literature, in techniques of storytelling, in folktales such as Breb Rabbit and Tar Baby, in music and dance forms, singing, and rhythm, in foods, and in ways of eating certain foods. The extended-family concept and respect for elders in many rural areas were African transplants. Africanisms are of course most prevalent among black southerners because the South was the heart of the slavery system in the United States. These people took their traditions outside the South once they migrated. The most dominant and intact African survival in the black diaspora has proved to be the religion voodoo. The survival of African religious and magical systems is directly linked to their importance in everyday life. In addition, their ability to accommodate and be associated with various facets of other established religions strengthened their chances of survival. Ancient deities in the African pantheon were often given Catholic saints’ names. The most tenacious African religious retentions in the United States are found where Catholicism has been particularly strong, including New Orleans. By appealing to traditional deities and mystical forces, the slaves were able to keep alive their link with Africa. During the early stages of slavery the link was reinforced by voodoo priests and root doctors who continued to be represented among the newly arrived slaves. The priests in particular led the crusade for the survival of their religious practices by identifying African deities with Catholic saints in Haiti and Brazil. And African concepts of good and evil found counterparts in the Christians’ belief in heaven and hell and Christ and Satan. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the root doctors have been more visible in practicing their craft than the priests. From its beginning, voodoo encompassed certain elements such as divination, manipulation, and herbalism that gave it the appearance of a magical rather than a religious system. In the early days of slavery, magic was often the strongest element because of the suppression of voodoo as a religion by the authorities and slave owners. These antivoodooists managed to limit the number of voodoo meetings among slaves, but they found it impossible to stop the making of voodoo and hoodoo objects in the slaves’ cabins. (Hoodoo is the negative component of voodoo.) Magic helped the slaves to cope with their daily situations, to win the affection of the ones they desired, to cause harm to their enemies, and to feel protected from harm themselves. Its main value was and continues to be psychological. Magic is intimately related to voodoo, as it is to most religions, but is not its essence. Voodoo contains some elements of magic, and magic receives much of its strength from the voodoo deities and rituals. African religious and magical systems also survived because of the organizational role they played in slave revolts throughout the New World but particularly in Haiti and Brazil. Revolutionary protest appears to have been engraved in voodoo upon its arrival in the Americas. Revolts in the early period of slavery were largely the work of African priests and medicine men. In conducting insurrectional meetings disguised as religious ceremonies, voodoo leaders often promised the gods’ support for any rebellion the slaves decided to engage in. The assurance of supernatural support to both leaders and followers and the priests’ promise that the ancestors were aiding the struggle for freedom gave the slaves the necessary inspiration, courage, and determination. Various charms, gris-gris, potions, and small parcels containing bits of paper, bones, or potions hung around the necks of the fighting men provided protection and good luck by warding off bullets. The slave insurrection in New York in 1712 was led by a conjurer who convinced the fighters they were invulnerable. A leader in the 1822 insurrection in North Carolina, “Gullah Jack,” also was a conjurer and root doctor; his charms, chiefly of animal claws, were designed to make the insurrectionists invulnerable. Voodoo priests also helped suicide victims by telling them what to do to ensure their return after death to their homeland in Africa.

Culture is an indispensable resource for collective struggle against anti-black oppression that posits blackness as absent of culture and identity. Identifying a usable past is the raw material for the creative self-making and in turn self-determination of Afro-Diasporic peoples that exists as a transnational architecture for effective combat against global white supremacy. Identification with African culture is the best means of scaffolding rhetorical devices and points of affinity and solidarity that translate into actual social mobilization and change.


Singh 2004 [Simboonath, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, “Resistance, Essentialism, and Empowerment in Black Nationalist Discourse in the African Diaspora: A Comparison of the Back to Africa, Black Power, and Rastafari Movements,” Journal of African American Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3]
The resurgence of black consciousness and pride in the Caribbean a la the Rastafari and Black Power movements illustrates the power of activism to inspire individual and collective ethnic pride and consciousness. The construction and reconstruction of history and culture to redefine the meaning of ethnicity is an important aspect of ethnic movements. All three movements initiated a cultural reconstruction process by substituting dominant oppressive symbols (colonialism, domination, exploitation, subjugation, and European cultural imperialism and hegemony) for more positive and liberating African symbols. This cultural inversion marked an important departure from the acculturation approach, in that both the Rastafari and the Black Power advocates attempted to reverse the dominant structure that has characterized the Caribbean region--one based on colonial dominance and control, resistance to slavery, indenture ship, and plantation society--to an emphasis on the positive and resilient character of the oppressed, i.e. the descendants of former slaves, namely, Afro-Caribbean peoples. The centrality of black diasporic culture in all of the movements points to the relevance of historical struggles in shaping and reshaping identities. Black diasporic culture, then, is concerned with struggles to be different. An awareness of shared histories of enslavement, racist subordination, cultural survival, resistance and political rebellion is the core of the black Diaspora (Clifford, 1994). The term Diaspora encompasses not only notions of transnationality and movement, but political struggles aimed at defining self and community in historical contexts of displacement. Diasporic cultures with their emphasis on displacement and a desire to return to an original homeland, be it real or symbolic, can be placed in the context of the Rastafari, Black Power, and Back to Africa movements. By recasting the cultural material of the past in innovative ways, ethnic movements reforge their own culture and history and, as a result, reinvent themselves (Nagel, 1994). In constructing an ethnic identity, a look backward in time, or what Dag Blanck (1989) calls a "usable past," acts as an essential ingredient in the identity creation process. Anthony Cohen (1985, p. 99) writes, "in constructing culture the past is a resource used by groups in the collective quest for meaning and community." Rick Fantasia (1988) describes a "culture of solidarity" that arises out of activism. "'Culture of solidarity" is defined as the emergence of a collective consciousness and shared meanings that result from participating in collective action. From this perspective, it can be argued that ethnic movements are the embodiments of cultures of solidarity because they challenge negative hegemonic images and institutions by: (i) redefining the meaning of ethnicity in appealing ways; and (ii) using cultural symbols to effectively dramatize grievances and demands (Nagel, 1994, p. 166). Ethnic groups engage in the construction of culture by using particular aspects of their culture and history in order to create common meanings, build solidarity and ultimately launch social movements. Joane Nagel's (1994, p. 164) shopping cart metaphor to describe the dynamic character of ethnic culture is instructive here: "we construct culture by picking and choosing items from the shelves of the past and present." Culture and history, therefore, are essential aspects of ethnicity, and in the context of social movements they have been specifically employed as mobilization strategies to redefine and reconstruct identity and culture. The Rastafari, Back to Africa, and Black Power movements used culture and history to define a common purpose, create common meanings, build ethnic solidarity, and lay claims to self-determination. The manipulation of ethnic symbols, culture and history in these movements supports the idea that culture, ethnic identity and customs are not "fixed." Indeed, the black cultural nationalists and Black Arts proponents, in conceding that blacks were assimilated enough to engage in acts of self-hatred, such as modifying their looks to conform to white standards, were implicitly acknowledging that black culture in the Diaspora was essentially hybrid (Robinson, 2001). In other words, the idea that identity and culture are fixed and natural phenomena is a romantic and essentialist conception. Hybridity, then, becomes a remedy for essentialist subjectivity (Hall, 1994). Cultural renewal and transformations are, therefore, important aspects of ethnic movements. Activists use cultural icons, imagery, symbols and claims as part of the mobilization process (Nagel, 1994, p.165). David Snow et al. (1986) contend that social movement activists utilize culture such as specific types of rhetorical devices, and cultural themes and cultural discourses as a way of recruiting members, gaining political currency and achieving movement goals. Similarly (Gamson, 1988) illustrates the relationship between culture and ethnic mobilization by showing how cultural symbols and themes are used to serve movement ends. Protest, therefore, becomes a crucible of culture. These movements created a New World nationalist consciousness in which notions of "Africa," "black ethnicity," "black pride," and "black nationalism," instilled a strong sense of deep cultural resonance among diasporic Africans. By subscribing to the idealization of Africa perspective in which Africa represents a symbol of identity and home, the Rastafari, Garvey, and Black Power movements represent a symbolic confrontation of the status quo in their respective societies (Chevannes, 1998). This was expressed in the symbols they employed: religion, dress, hair, drugs and music. Both movements represented symbolic attempts at restructuring reality--an ideal concept of reality in which social change and social action were manifested in more symbolic rather than concrete forms.

Challenging the negative cultural depictions of blackness through the reclamation of an African past provides the most effective resources for resistance and the self-determination of black identity.


Singh 2004 [Simboonath, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, “Resistance, Essentialism, and Empowerment in Black Nationalist Discourse in the African Diaspora: A Comparison of the Back to Africa, Black Power, and Rastafari Movements,” Journal of African American Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3]
My perspective on the Rastafari, Garvey, and Black Power movements has illuminated the relevance of the theoretical approach guiding this analysis. These three movements with their distinctly Afrocentric orientation brought to the fore a clearer understanding of the development and transformation of African diasporic culture and consciousness in the New World. They served to crystallize and establish the dynamic and transformative nature of ethnicity and culture. Notions of "Africa," and "blackness" and other core concepts and symbols were given new and revived meanings inasmuch as they reversed the traditional representations of black people in the New World as peoples without a past and without a culture. The Rastafari, Garvey, and Black Power movements were the crucible within which cultural transformation in the African-Caribbean Diaspora occurred; they laid the foundation for the continual remaking and reshaping of black ethnicity in the Americas. What motivates groups to construct and reconstruct their identity and culture? By challenging the negative cultural depictions of blackness, the Black Power, Back to Africa and Rastafari movements were able to redefine black ethnicity by injecting into the minds of the masses such things as "pride of past" (African culture and history), and "collective memory" (the experiences of slavery and colonialism) as their strategy for transforming culture and ethnic identity. By recasting black ethnicity into a more positive light, they were able to recreate and re-imagine African history and culture, thereby redefining African-Caribbean identity, and thus creating a New World African diasporic identity. The Black Power, Garvey, and Rastafari movements illustrate the power of activism to inspire individual as well as collective forms of ethnic identification, ethnic consciousness, and ethnic pride. Irrespective of whether the outcomes were real or imaginary, or merely symbolic struggles to reverse social structures and ethnic identities, the Black Power, Garvey, and Rastafari movements were, nonetheless, instrumental in allowing particular segments of the African-Caribbean community the opportunity to reinvent and redefine who and what they were and wished to be. It would have been a failure of the imagination not to have recognized in a world that has used racism as a means of exploiting people of color, that the very political, psychological and philosophical attempts to resist such systems would necessarily take the form of a validation and reassertion of the denigrated.

Turn—Their positing of the black subject as existing in a state of total objectification suffocates black transgression and resistance, preventing us from thinking the individual dimension of politics in any coherent way and thus robbing us of the ability to cultivate everyday energy towards revolutionary struggle in the interim between this round and “burning it all down”


Allen 2011 [Jafari S., Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at Yale University, ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba, p. 82-83]
For black folks, resistance always takes place in a field already constrained by the lingering question of black abjection with respect to subjecthood. Frank Wilderson in his fine polemic “Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?” (2003) argues that blacks “impose a radical incoherence” upon the assumptive logic of a subject constructed through its relation to labor exploitation. Wilderson’s thesis that “the Black subject reveals Marxism’s inability to think White supremacy as the base” (n.p.) resonated with Cedrick Robinson’s Black Marxism (2000), which carefully details historical and philosophical (dis)articulations of black(ness and) Marxism. Wilderson points out that if we follow Antonio Gramsci’s expansion of Marx, depending on civil society as the site of struggle (i.e., “war of position”) we reify racial terror, since for black subjects civil society is the site of recurrent racial terror. Where I have to depart from Wilderson is in his contention that the black subject is thus in a position of “total objectification… in contradistinction to human possibility, however slim,” required for a war of position (2003: n.p.; emphasis mine). Wilderson finds the black subject in a “structurally impossible position.” I must argue, following bell hook’s use of Paolo Freire, however, that “we cannot enter the struggle as objects in order to later become subjects” (1989: 29). Part of my friendly disagreement with Wilderson is ontological, or, I readily admit, spiritual. Unlike positions that deny notions of a deep psychic self, I want to affirm the inherence of inalienable innate human dignity, and what I might gloss here as “spirit,” which is offended not only by force but by any extrinsic practice that threatens the individual’s sense of personhood. On another score, Wilderson’s “stress on objective contradictions, ‘impersonal structures’ and processes that work ‘behind men’s backs,’” as Stuart Hall describes the conventional culture and discourses of the left, “disable[s] us from confronting the subjective dimension in politics in any coherent way” (Hall, Morley, and Chen 1996: 226). Thus, in some ways Wilderson takes us back to the “old” Marx that Gramsci, Hall, and others attempted to rethink apropos of our new times, even as he points out the limits of Gramsci to contend with these social and historical facts of blackness. This orientation leaves no air for black transgression or resistance outside of “the final solution.” In the interim, however, what will condition, reeducate and raise consciousness towards revolution?

Turn—Their dogmatism reifies the failures of defining static identities—Blackness is reduced to incapacity and the black is thus forced to embody such abjection—the result is a recreation of the violence of universality by actively refusing to define blackness as contingent


Marriott 12

[David Mariott, “Black Cultural Studies”, Years Work Crit Cult Theory (2012) 20 (1): 37-66]



However, this is also not the entire story of Red, White, and Black, as I hope to show. For example, in Chapter One (‘The Structure of Antagonisms’), written as a theoretical introduction, and which opens explicitly on the Fanonian question of why ontology cannot understand the being of the Black, Wilderson is prepared to say that black suffering is not only beyond analogy, it also refigures the whole of being: ‘the essence of being for the White and non-Black position’ is non-niggerness, consequently, ‘[b]eing can thus be thought of, in the first ontological instance, as non-niggerness, and slavery then as niggerness’ (p. 37). It is not hard when reading such sentences to suspect a kind of absolutism at work here, and one that manages to be peculiarly and dispiritingly dogmatic: throughout Red, White, and Black, despite variations in tone and emphasis, there is always the desire to have black lived experience named as the worst, and the politics of such a desire inevitably collapses into a kind of sentimental moralism: for the claim that ‘Blackness is incapacity in its most pure and unadulterated form’ means merely that the black has to embody this abjection without reserve (p. 38). This logic—and the denial of any kind of ‘ontological integrity’ to the Black/Slave due to its endless traversal by force does seem to reduce ontology to logic, namely, a logic of non-recuperability—moves through the following points: (1) Black non-being is not capable of symbolic resistance and, as such, falls outside of any language of authenticity or reparation; (2) for such a subject, which Wilderson persists in calling ‘death’, the symbolic remains foreclosed (p. 43); (3) as such, Blackness is the record of an occlusion which remains ever present: ‘White (Human) capacity, in advance of the event of discrimination or oppression, is parasitic on Black incapacity’ (p. 45); (4) and, as an example of the institutions or discourses involving ‘violence’, ‘antagonisms’ and ‘parasitism’, Wilderson describes White (or non-Black) film theory and cultural studies as incapable of understanding the ‘suffering of the Black—the Slave’ (they cannot do so because they are erroneously wedded to humanism and to the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan, which Wilderson takes as two examples of what the Afro-pessimist should avoid) (p. 56); as a corrective, Wilderson calls for a new language of abstraction, and one centrally concerned with exposing ‘the structure of antagonisms between Blacks and Humans’ (p. 68). Reading seems to stop here, at a critique of Lacanian full speech: Wilderson wants to say that Lacan’s notion of the originary (imaginary) alienation of the subject is still wedded to relationality as implied by the contrast between ‘empty’ and ‘full’ speech, and so apparently cannot grasp the trauma of ‘absolute Otherness’ that is the Black’s relation to Whites, because psychoanalysis cannot fathom the ‘structural, or absolute, violence’ of Black life (pp. 74; 75). ‘Whereas Lacan was aware of how language ‘‘precedes and exceeds us’’, he did not have Fanon’s awareness of how violence also precedes and exceeds Blacks’ (p. 76). The violence of such abjection—or incapacity—is therefore that it cannot be communicated or avowed, and is always already delimited by desubjectification and dereliction (p. 77). Whence the suspicion of an ontology reduced to a logic (of abjection). Leaving aside the fact that it is quite mistaken to limit Lacan’s notion of full speech to the search for communication (the unconscious cannot be confined to parole), it is clear that, according to Wilderson’s own ‘logic’, his description of the Black is working, via analogy, to Lacan’s notion of the real but, in his insistence on the Black as an absolute outside Wilderson can only duly reify this void at the heart of universality. The Black is ‘beyond the limit of contingency’—but it is worth saying immediately that this ‘beyond’ is indeed a foreclosure that defines a violence whose traces can only be thought violently (that is, analogically), and whose nonbeing returns as the theme for Wilderson’s political thinking of a non-recuperable abjection. The Black is nonbeing and, as such, is more real and primary than being per se: given how much is at stake, this insistence on a racial metaphysics of injury implies a fundamental irreconcilability between Blacks and Humans (there is really no debate to be had here: irreconcilability is the condition and possibility of what it means to be Black).

Turn—Their argument isn’t afropessimism, but absolutist despair—their facile antihumanism doesn’t chart us a path towards the end of the world, but instead limits us to total resignation


Marriott 12

[David Mariott, “Black Cultural Studies”, Years Work Crit Cult Theory (2012) 20 (1): 37-66]


In the concluding pages of Darker Than Blue, Gilroy restates why he finds the ongoing attachment to the idea of race in the US so very unsatisfactory in comparison, say, to the anti-racism of Frantz Fanon: [Fanon’s] ‘audacious commitment to an alternative conception of humanity reconstituted outside ‘‘race’’ [...] is something that does not endear Fanon’s work to today’s practitioners of the facile antihumanism and ethnic absolutism so characteristic of life on US college campuses, where class-based homogeneity combines smoothly with deference to racial and ethic particularity and with resignation to the world as it appears. Fanon disappoints that scholastic constituency by refusing to see culture as an insurmountable obstacle between groups, even if they have been racialized. He does not accept the ‘‘strategic’’ award of an essential innocence to the oppressed and the wretched of the earth. Their past and present sufferings confer no special nobility upon them and are not invested with redemptive insights. Suffering is just suffering, and Fanon has no patience with those who would invoke the armour of incorrigibility around national liberation struggles or minority cultures’. (pp. 157–8, my emphasis) Whatever one might think of the cogency of these remarks (if only because the notion of a non-racial life is predicated on the idea that the human can somehow reside ‘outside’ of race, a humanism that would always then be constitutively compromised by the racism at its frontier), the question of whether US culture can ever escape racial antagonism is the primary focus of Frank B. Wilderson III’s powerful Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms, as part of a more general reading of US film culture. And indeed Fanon’s anti-philosophical philosophical critique of racial ontology (historically blacks were seen as part of existence but not, as yet, part of human being, a not-yet that forces Fanon to rethink the teleological form of the human as already and essentially violent in its separation from the state of nature from which it has come) forms a major part of Wilderson’s conception of anti-blackness as the major structural antagonism of US history and culture. It is against the conception that racism could ever be simply contingent to black experience that Wilderson protests, reflecting on the fact that racial slavery has no parallel to other forms of suffering, and perhaps most strikingly social death is the constitutive essence of black existence in the US. In brief, slavery remains so originary, in the sense of what he calls its ‘accumulation and fungibility’ (terms borrowed from Saidiya Hartman), it not only has no ‘analogy’ to other forms of antagonism— Wilderson’s examples are the Holocaust and Native American genocide— there is simply no process of getting over it, of recovering from the loss (as wound, or trauma): as such, slavery remains the ultimate structure of antagonism in the US. Whether at a personal level or at the level of historical process, if ‘black slavery is foundational to modern Humanism’, then any teleological appeal to a humanism beyond racism is doomed from the start (p. 22). The problem with Wilderson’s argument, however, is that it remains of a piece with the manichean imperatives that beset it, and which by definition are structurally uppermost, which means that he can only confirm those imperatives as absolutes rather than chart a dialectical path beyond them, insofar as, structurally speaking, there is no ‘outside’ to black social death and alienation, or no outside to this outside, and all that thought can do is mirror its own enslavement by race. This is not so much ‘afro-pessimism’— a term coined by Wilderson—as thought wedded to its own despair.


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