Runnin’, Runnin’ Runnin’ but Never Runnin’ Away: Latour, Fanon and the Impossibility of a Natural Black Escape

     I.

            The autobiographical never emerges within an isolated frame of reference. The autobiographical emerges within the sociopolitical contours of the World writ-large. Our stories are never “our stories” in a way that strips the biographical away from the sociological, but instead “our stories” are always radically “ours.” In other words, our stories are always stories of relationality (or of the inability to make relations), stories of sociality (or the production of a ruptured sociality), and stories of paradigms (or the socio-political spatiotemporal structures that we inhabit). Sadiya Hartman writes, “The autobiographical example is not a personal story that folds onto itself; it’s not about navel gazing, it’s really about trying to look at historical and social process and one’s own formation as a window onto social and historical processes, as an example of them.”[1] The autobiographical is a case study of the self – a self that is always embedded in a network of social and historical processes.

What follows is an example of such a case study. Frantz Fanon, in his work entitled The Wretched of the Earth, speaks to a “world divided into compartments,” a world where, “economic reality, inequality, and the immense difference of ways of life never come to mask the human realities.”[2] This world is the modern world, the world of the colonizers, the world of anti-blackness. It is in this world that multiple methods of emancipation have been attempted, only to fold onto itself and recycle the practices of subjugation. My story is a biographical account of running, running, running, but never running away. In this story, I speak to the compartmentalized political culture of the modern world which exudes anti-blackness in every direction through a story of an anti-black encounter from my youth, and the hope of escape through running to the natural. However, by conjoining this narrative with the work of Bruno Latour in We Were Never Modern, I look back on that story as a means to articulate why an escape into the natural is a (non)escape. For if the nature/culture divide of modernity is nonexistent, then the notion of escape into nature away from the culture of anti-blackness is nonexistent as well. Fugitivity, or the practice of running as a method of resistance, does not provide any possible transcendence. In other words, we can run from anti-blackness, but we can’t hide.

II.

            What young love does is confirm the self. Friendship is one thing; love is another. To be in love while young is to take the intimate affirmation of friendship and to multiply the sensation. Not only do they like who I am, they like all the hidden parts of me too. They like what I’m afraid to share with everyone else. They know my secrets and they keep them locked somewhere in this thing called, “love.” It is this feeling adults forget when they tell their children, “You’re too young to be in love. You don’t really know what love is.” The adults forget how they were once able to be loved by someone who did not quite know themselves yet; the adults forget how they once were love someone who did not quite know themselves yet. But, the children know and the children never forget – the children know love better than the rest of us.

I fell in love for the first time in 8th grade. We met in middle school in the rural outskirts of a town called North East, Maryland. With a population of 3,715, everyone in the town lived closely; and with a demographic percentage of 85.5% white people and 7.2% black people, everyone in the town lived separately.[3] It was a town that seemed stuck in what many people would like to consider the American past. But it was a town that reminded one of why Anthony Farley is correct in saying, “memories of progress up from slavery are screen memories.  We remember slavery-to-segregation-to-neosegregation as progress up from slavery but there is no progress.”[4] In previous writings I have discussed the lived experience of growing up in rural white America writing:

Our lived experience of racial terror is not only conceptual. It is alive and pervasive. It’s an explicit and pervasive racism that sits right next to you in Biology class. It’s an explicit and pervasive racism that doesn’t wish to play in your hair, but pulls it, demeans it, disgraces it. It’s a racism that calls you, “Nigger,” belittles you into silence, demeans you into suicide. It’s a post-racial racism that imitates the racism of old. It is overt and actual, yet somehow still learns to benefit and hide behind the post-racial laws of integration, tokenized tales of black success, and the optimistic masquerade of the Obama era.[5]

Yet somehow in the midst of the madness of rural white America, I had fell in love with a white girl. She was young, fiery and white. I was young, poetic and black. We had found each other in the mayhem of the Manichean World, still characterized by what Sadiya Hartman called, “the afterlife of slavery.”[6] And we weren’t ignorant to the violence of the anti-black world around us, we just believed that, as I wrote in a song called, “The Story of Determination” in 8th grade, “[W]alkin’ in this life wit so much hatin / it’s so dangerous” and that perhaps our love could, “just transform ya eyes” to see that, “I’m sick of all this pain here / but we don’t have to fight / we are one that’s what we saying.”  To be one, however, with whiteness in an anti-black world, and to identify the securitization of that oneness through a relationality of affect and intimacy between a black boy and a white girl is to fall into the neurosis Frantz Fanon calls, “a hallucinatory whitening.” Frantz Fanon, writing about interracial relationality and the false oneness that it creates states, “Out of the blackest part of my soul, through the zone of hachures, surges up this desire to be suddenly white. I want to be recognized not as Black, but as White. But – and this is the form of recognition that Hegel never described – who better than the white women to bring this about? By loving me, she proves to me that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man. Her love opens the illustrious path that leads to total fulfillment…”[7] I had found a way into a world that was not made for me.

No one could have told me at the time that we were not going to spend the rest of our lives together. I was convinced that our love was a love that cut across the boundaries of the Manichean world and opened up a space for a rupture in this compartmentalized world. However, what I didn’t know in 8th grade was what Jean Veneuse, the protagonist in a novel written by Rene Maran, did know prior to falling in love with Andree Marielle, a white French woman. Fanon, writing about the novel, states, “Andree Marielle has written to him that she loves him, but Jean Veneuse needs authorization. He needs a white man to say: take my sister.”[8] And whereas Jean Veneuse receives that authorization and still lapses into abandonment neurosis – so incapable of coming to terms with the blackness of his body that the legitimation of his white peers who grant him access to oneness with whiteness could not dismay him – I had not. Whereas Jean Veneuse was told, “In fact, you are like us, you are “us.” You think like us. You act like us. You think yourself black and others think of you as such? Big mistake! You only look like a black. For everything else, you think like a European. That’s why it’s only normal for you to love like a European,”[9] I was told, “You are not like us. You are not us. You don’t think like us. You don’t act like us. You are black, and for that reason, you cannot and you shall not continue to date my daughter.”

If the words of her father were not enough to break through the illusionary whitening, then the will of the network of institutionalized anti-blackness was. The father of my lover did not only say we could not be together, because of my blackness, he even called the school and told the school that he wished to keep us separate and the school followed his orders. From school administrators to teachers, there became a devoted effort to ensuring our separation. We could not sit together. We could not walk together. We could not be seen with each other. We could not under circumstances be with each other. It was my first encounter with the implementation of a powerful surveillance of my black body. To be or not to be was not the question. The entire world has begun to conspire towards my (non)being, and the will of the anti-black world had been working effectively. In response to this situation, I wrote in the same “Story of Determination’, “Obviously I’m walking in a darker place / I disagree wit folks that see me in a darker way / my allies see smoke / but I just see some harder days.” The will of the Manichean world had to be sustained and any ounce of innocence and purity I thought I could retain had to be devoured in order to sustain it. Young love confirms the self, and I bared a body unworthy of confirmation. Not only was she supposes to despise who I was, she was suppose scatter my secrets to the world to be surveilled. Not only was she supposed to fear me, but she was supposed to collaborate with the rest of the world in policing me. I am black, therefore, I was/am unworthy of white love. For, “The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity. Obedient to the rules of pure Aristotelian logic, they both follow the principle of reciprocal exclusivity. No conciliation is possible…”[10]

In response to this violence, I must have thought – even if subconsciously – to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors. I must have thought that running, like my ancestors had done, had some intrinsic liberatory value that had to be tapped whenever the world seemed at its end.  I must have thought that running would bring the pain of heartbreak and anti-blackness to an end. The 8th grade boy wrote in a song called, “Hold Hands and Run, “I said my mind already set to keep you here forever girl // I don’t wanna see you cry // so let’s run into forever girl.” To run into forever was to run into an eternity outside of the world we inhabited. I wanted to sustain the sensation of love, but suspend the intensity of anti-blackness. I wanted the force of the political world to become still; I wanted to find an outside of anti-blackness. At the time, I must have, in my own way, figured that following the footsteps of my ancestors might have opened the door to some emancipation. I must have found inspiration in the narratives of fugitivity. I must have thought of running as more than an act of exercise, but instead an exercise in action. But where does one run when the paradigm that one is entrapped is one that ensures social death, the inability to form relationality, and exteriority? Where does one go when it seems like the sociopolitical world is mapped to recreate and recycle violence? In eighth grade, my answer to these questions was simple: You run into nature. I wrote, “We can go into the mountains / drinkin’ from fountains / slinging shots at animals / and singing to flowers / camp on the beach wit the waterfall showers / we can sail on the atlantic / just stare at each other / leave a letter on our table / tell our family we love them / and never look back.”

Nature provided the safe haven from a political world bent on my destruction. Nature was outside the political. Nature was where the world of anti-blackness could not go. Nature was where blackness could not be pathologized, where blackness could not be expropriated, made into an instrument, devoured, negated, and harmed. Nature was where young love could go to be young love without the historical racial schema. Nature and its inhabitants lived outside of history. Nature was natural, and therefore the unnaturalness of the social construction of blackness had no impact on its configuration. And whereas this idea appeared true on face-value, this idea was symptomatic of the persuasive influence of modernity and the “hallucinatory whitening” that still remain internalized. Bruno Latour hypothesizes in his We Were Never Modern that, “the word ‘modern’ designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective, but have recently begun to be confused. The first set of practices, by ‘translation’, creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by ‘purification’, creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on the other hand; that of nonhumans on the other.”[11] The latter practice of purification is the practice that establishes a “partition between a natural world that has always been there, a society with predictable and stable interests and stakes, and a discourse that is independent of both reference and society.”[12] In other words, the practice of purification purifies hybridity in order to create a dichotomy of nature and culture. By subscribing to this notion, I subscribed to the script of modernity which did not allow me to see how nature itself is tainted with the history of anti-blackness.

The Atlantic I wrote about running to is not just an oceanic body of water; it is an oceanic body of water still imbued with the nutrient cycles of dead black bodies thrown overboard from slave ships navigated by white slave merchants.[13] The beach, or the eastern sea shore is where the doors of those slave ships would open only for my ancestors to recognize that the door of the ship had opened up to what Dionne Brand has called, “The Door of No Return.”  I thought I ran to nature to find sanctity, however, I did not know of the Latourian analysis that ruptured the nature/culture divide only to give language to the always already hybrid nature of both. Nature is embedded in a cultural matrix of anti-blackness historicity. The trees are stained with reminisces of noosed black necks; the rivers with the corpses of suicided and drowned black bodies; the mountains and trails with marooned and running black fugitives, and the list goes on and on. It is no wonder that in the same song quoted above, in the same verse quoted above, yet later in that verse, I wrote, “Come and get it if you want it / I feel ya and I want ya / I’m yo man / let’s hold hands and go where / there’s nowhere.”  Indeed, nowhere is the only place I could run. If the nature/culture divide is as Latour describes it, then the Manichean World is embedded there, even in nature as well. Anti-blackness does not end where the entrance to the woods begins. But instead the entrance of the woods begins another encounter with anti-blackness. Henceforth when we, “run innocently across vast acres of grass, formerly stained with black blood,” we must remember that, “only fifty years ago, red faces flew Confederate flags next to black bodies hanging from tree branches. And even though we no longer see the black bodies hanging, the Confederate flags still wave as a symbol of a vanguard that will undoubtedly ‘rise again.’”[14] For we can keep we running, running, running, but we can never run away from the fact of anti-blackness.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Grove press, 2008.

———. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007.

Farley, Anthony Paul. “Perfecting Slavery.” Loy. U. Chi. LJ 36 (2004): 225.

Gillespie, John. “Rural Niggers.” Propter Nos 1, no. 1 (2016): 20–22.

Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route. Macmillan, 2008.

Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard University Press, 2012.

“North East, Maryland,” City-Data, accessed April 12, 2017, http://www.city-data.com/city/North-East-Maryland.html

Saunders, Patricia J. “Fugitive Dreams of Diaspora: Conversations with Saidiya Hartman.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 6, no. 1 (2008): 7.

Sharpe, Christina. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke University Press, 2016.

[1] Patricia J Saunders, “Fugitive Dreams of Diaspora: Conversations with Saidiya Hartman,” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 6, no. 1 (2008): 7.

[2] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007), 3–5.

[3] “North East, Maryland,” City-Data, accessed April 12, 2017, http://www.city-data.com/city/North-East-Maryland.html

[4] Anthony Paul Farley, “Perfecting Slavery,” Loy. U. Chi. LJ 36 (2004): 229.

[5] John Gillespie, “Rural Niggers,” Propter Nos 1, no. 1 (2016): 20.

[6] Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route (Macmillan, 2008), 6.

[7] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove press, 2008), 45.

[8] Ibid, 49.

[9] Ibid, 50.

[10] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 4.

[11] Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Harvard University Press, 2012), 10.

[12] Ibid, 11

[13] This remark is in reference to statements made in Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke University Press, 2016), 39–40.

[14] Gillespie, “Rural Niggers.”

On Fucking (and Loving).

I want to apologize before I begin if what follows does not make much sense, if what follows is not clear, or if what follows is absolutely incorrect, generalizing, or simply false in its attempt to explain what has escaped explanation since time immemorial. I want to plead with you, whoever you may be, wherever you may be, to follow what follows to its end because what is written is in need of the same kind of consolation as the one, the writer, who writes it. The same love as the one who writes it, with love. What follows is a meditation, a musing, on fucking, and the relationship between fucking and loving. I should be clear that the love that I’m primarily discussing is of a romantic sort, a relationship between two/more partners. My question being: Why must I fuck you in order for me to prove I love you?

To ask this question is not to attempt to return to a Puritanic discourse on fucking where “real” love is ONLY that love which can exist in excess of fucking, but instead it’s to ask for a kind of romantic asexuality that locates itself at the point of the “occasional” or at a “from-time-to-time” where sexuality may go dormant, or where one may decide to scream-shout-yell-sing “I Love Yous” without this fleshly encounter. But it’s also an attempt to push against the former sentences’ attempt at defining “I love you, but I don’t want to fuck you” as an asexual remark. It’s an attempt to redefine the relationship between fucking and loving as something so consensual that it’s not implied that they who love will fuck, as it is not implied that they who fuck will love. I am trying to expand the understanding of love in order to open up the possibility that I may love you, but may not want to fuck you, and may not want to be just your friend. I may want to hold you; I may want to help you; I may want to never go days without you; I may never want to see you suffer, struggle, hurt. But fucking, no, fucking I can’t do. Fucking you will mean nothing, and I may want everything we do to be in a vortex of something; or vice-versa, fucking may mean something horrid, something miserable, and I may want everything we do to be within the context of a perfect nothingness.

Now against what I have written, whoever you are, wherever you are, you will say, “What distinguishes what you have described from being asexual?” And here is where may I lose you, here is where you may begin to think that the secrets, the darkness, or the plague of this piece begins to come to light. But remember, you have promised to hear what I have to say to its end, to its conclusion. You are here now, whoever you are, wherever you are, stay here and hear. What if I love you, and we love each other, and I don’t wish to fuck you, but I wish to fuck other persons that I love? Assuming, as I believe to be true, that our love is capable of loving more than one; and in fact, that our love, and our world would perhaps be better if we all, men, women, and non-binary folks, accepted and transitioned to a polyamorous worldview. Additionally, assuming, staying stuck in this world we are in, that my love for you and my love for this other person is both transparent and consented to by all parties involved.

Is there reason to believe that I love that other person who I most certainly can/do love, more than I love you whom I most certainly can/do love, but don’t fuck? Is there any reason to believe that there is a POSITIVE relationship between loving and fucking?  I know scientist will speak of the adrenaline, the sharing of fluids, and of the mind and bodies in synchronization, and the religious will speak of the consummation of love. But I, the philosopher, will speak of fucking. I will speak of fucking because there is a tendency to conflate “sex” when that sex is with one who one loves as equal with love. That somehow love erases fucking, somehow love has some auto-transformative quality that makes all fucking with the one who one loves “love-making” or “sex.” This auto-transformative quality in “love” makes the word “fucking” or the act of “fucking” not just undesirable, but impossible when the body in contact with fucking is one whom one loves. But, I am skeptical of this separation. In fact, I believe this is an attempt to make all sex with a lover a “sexuality from the heights,” or, “a sexuality that recreates the moral ideals of the oedipal family, or the subjectified couple, founded on promises, principles, and mutual expectations” as Phillip Goodchild put it. Versus a “sexuality from the depths,” or a sexuality based on “sordid carnal pleasures,” as Jared Sexton put it. But following this thinking we would be right back at where we trying to avoid – a kind of Puritanism that occludes “fucking” to the depths and love somewhere far away from it close to some transcendental morality.

But I have the tendency to believe that each sexual encounter is always fucking, by which I mean, is always a “sexuality of the depths.” The question is more about whether or not that fucking includes love or excludes love. But to fuck is always carnal, it is always desire, it is always what we have psychosocially come to see as improper, wrong, or “immoral.” Love does not occlude that, no matter how much we’d wish to act as if it does. Love does not negate “fucking.” Love, and love-making, includes fucking. If one wished to debate the question, allow two lovers to fuck in public and see if their “love” is enough for us to psychosocially see it as “decent” behavior. We have been tutored, trained, forced into a kind of “anti”-fuck that I believe has ultimately hurt the very thing we wished to save it for, namely, love.

Somewhere against/with this background where we’ve learned to name love, we’ve learned to place it within this field of desire. We’ve learned to unconsciously mathematicise love with an equation that reads: (Love + Fucking = Love-Making). Thus, making [(Love – Fucking = Love) < (Love + Fucking = Love-Making)]. “Real” love has, with an almost inverted Puritan logic, become for us the place where fucking and love meet, disguised and distorted as the location where “love-making” and love meet. However, I would like to believe that love could supersede fucking or that love can supersede the love one has with a different lover that they fuck. Not because there is something wrong with fucking, but because there can be a love stronger than a love-that-fucks. There can be a love-that-holds, a love-that-helps, a love-that-cares, a love-that-struggles-with, a love-that-grows-beside, a love that is absent of fucking, but in excess of any kind of love-that-fucks. A love, whatever “love” may mean, beyond fucking.

I think here I shall conclude. I do not know if what I have mentioned here makes complete sense. What is written is a part of a stream of conscious writing, beginning at 3 am, attempting towards some kind of logic that may have only obscured something that is already obscure. I hope there was something here that you have understood, whoever you are, wherever you are, and I hope that you don’t see me as crazy, but as someone attempting to save love and to make love in a million ways, sometimes through fucking, sometimes through struggling, and sometimes, as in right now, through thinking and writing.

After #Afromation: Notes on Black Courage

It must take more than courage. For if courage was all that it took to be free, then freedom would have been reached decades, perhaps centuries ago. This must be said, and it must be said a million more times. There is a way in which courage is mythologized as the necessary and sufficient condition for black liberation as if courage has not been embedded in our blood, as if courage had not been a requirement for the sake of maintaining any fragment of black life since being brutalized into the transatlantic slave ship and onto stolen land.

Courage is the way black people survive in the status quo. There is no way for black people to march to/for courage. Courage is our entire existence. It is the way we learn to smile and encourage ourselves, against all evidence to the contrary, that “we gon’ be alright.” It is the way we learn to utilize our rage in both cathartic and political ways when all the evidence proves that the voice of reason in our rage is not wanted here, and the release of pain that our rage attempts to alleviate is incomprehensible to a world founded on black death. Courage is the way we learn to love when love for another seems to be love with a body eternally stalked and shadowed by the possibility of death.

The question of liberation must transcend courage. We have always – by necessity – have had to have courage, and re-positioning this question doesn’t necessarily mean that we must look for a void. We are not searching for something that black people have dropped along the long road of “history.” Black people came into “history” with courage, love, hope, desire and chains; black people came into “history” with courage, love, hope, desire and brands on our arms and backs; black people came into “history” with courage, love, hope, desire and a will to live and grow against the weight of a (White) world. The only lack in blackness is that which has been negated by whiteness, but whiteness has always required of black bodies to have courage in order to make it through the day.

There is often this  false causation that we are given. We are told that liberation has not been reached due to a “lack” of something we possess. We are told that it is because black people have not done something correct that black people have not become free.  We are told that our continual struggle against the course of “history” is due to something we are “lacking.” But black people have never lacked any of the spiritual requirements for liberation, and the material/metaphysical requirements (political, economic, ontological) are the very reasons why the battle we fight continues to be fought in the first place.

What we need is already set in place and has always been set in place from the birth of blackness. What we need is the same courage, remythologized, not in the form of absence-returned, but in the form of presence-surpassed. It is not that we are looking for something we lost in order to overturn a system that has required our death to fuel itself. We are creating surpluses of something that has always been there. The same courage, love, hope, desire that has allowed us to continue to exist at all. This does not mean that we must situate ourselves in optimism, or that optimist is the “myth-leading-to-liberation” (the myth that constitutes what emancipation is). It is very possible that it is the courage, the love, the hope, the desire of the pessimist that leads to liberation. It is very possible that our best hope is hopelessness. But having this be the case it does not mean that we must lose nor gain something.

We – black people – are always everything and nothing at all. In the maroon society of black bodies, where we learn to thrive, resist, and exist, we become all that we ever were, and all that we ever could be, and this is the force of uncontainable possibility. In the world, created by us, yet never for us; in the world, a world that hopes to cyclically destroy our bodies in hopes to destroy our will to destroy it, we find ourselves existing as a standing negation: to the white world, we are nothing-at-all. But we must remember how true this is, and yet still how untrue it is. It is here where Du Bois consciousness returns. We must be conscious that to whiteness (the system of whiteness as the system that constitutes the ideological backdrop for every institution of power and knowledge) we may be nothing, and it is this self that we wage war against, and we must also be conscious that to blackness – that modern positionality of negation – we are everything. We are the hands that laid the foundation for a world. We are the backs that carried it into civilization. We are the legs that globalize its notion of linear progression.

The fight for liberation is a fight towards the fantasy of a world unthinkable to the world we currently live in. Our current world is a product of a combination of white colonial violence and white supremacist mythologies. A new world – a world of black liberation – is a fight towards a world free of white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and capitalist exploitation. The fight for liberation requires a courage that has always been there, and it requires a will that has never vanished, but has always been here.

The Public Intellectual: The Series

The purpose of the public intellectual series is to shine light on the unspoken intellectuals of the academy and the unspoken intellectuals outside the academy whose ideas contribute to the intelligentsia and whose presence make them direct public servants to the world. This series has personal resonance with me as a student and advocate of, and for, public education at the University level. The Public Intellectual series will focus on academics who work in the state-University public school systems or on the ground in grassroots activism. The Public Intellectual is: 1) An intellectual whose work and presence affects people from poorer backgrounds directly, on the daily and not the families of elites. 2) An intellectual who writes, speaks, or teaches in order to say something about the world and contribute to a conversation about the world at large. 3) They are in the Humanities, Arts, or Media Studies, primarily, and only occasionally outside of these, if and only if, their ideas, research and/or outside work contributes to attempting to change something about Humans and/or Non-Humans. The idea for this series arose after contemplation on three rather inconsistent ideas and encounters, all of which solidified my idea of what a public intellectual is not, and what a public intellectual is.

The first contradicting encounter was the realization that a majority of people considered, “public intellectuals,” work at private schools that have a historic and contemporaneous interest in exclusivity and an oppressive interest in raising profits for administrators, donors, and stock-holders under the “non-profit” label. This contradicted the notion of the public intellectual since the public intellectual was so far removed from the public. They were more affiliated with institutions that tended to serve only the wealthy, elite and “promising.” For me, the public intellectual works in the public institutions or in public life. They are public servants of the people. They teach three-to-four courses a semester to students who come from poor backgrounds, students who are the first to attend college, students who were told they wouldn’t ever be able to attend college for either mental ineptitude or financial instability. They educate as much as they publish and they deserve to be admonished for their uncanny ability to juggle both sides of what it really means to be a public intellectual.

The second contradicting idea was the fact that a majority of people working in the public institutions are considered to be “lesser-than-intellectuals,” whose research interest is deemed meaningless, and this kind of ideology makes its way into their students making their students feel like, “lesser than students.” It goes without saying that students who attend public schools and Universities are consistently reminded that they “only go to a public school,” or that, “they aren’t at Harvard.” However, occasionally it takes a true public intellectual to step in and assure their students that they “can receive an Ivy-School Level education right here,” that I was motivated to pursue this series further. A Public Intellectual is an intellectual regardless of their institution. A Public Intellectual incessantly reminds their students, and the public that the intellectual strives to give intellect and ideas to the world beyond the confines of elitist institutions with histories’ born out of exclusion and oppression.

The third contradicting idea was the idea that the liberal arts and humanities did not and could do add anything to the world. A Public Intellectual gives language to a world that has lost it. The Public Intellectuals works to share ideas in a world that has commercialized the intellectual and scientized the academy. They are anthropologist, sociologist, political scientist, philosophers, cultural historians and studiers, and occasionally, they are scientist who have something to say about the implications of their science and of science for the world. The Public Intellectuals I am after are intellectuals who have dedicated themselves to the people and to the world and to changing it every day. They are not elitist educators (and I struggle to give even that word to them) who care more about writing essays for academic journals for only academics to decipher and comprehend, traveling the world with world leaders and famous persons, and ascending to the upper-echelons of the Academic world only to serve the children of the wealthy. They are Public Intellectuals because they don’t only speak of the people, they speak to the people, teach the people, and work with the people.

#WeAreMizzou: Reimagining Radical Black Politics at the Public PWI University

The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a “circle of certainty” within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them.

  • Paolo Freire

This is the only possible relationship to the American university today. This may be true of universities everywhere. It may have to be true of the university in general. But certainly, this much is true in the United States: it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of – this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.

  • Fred Moten

#WeAreMizzou created a ripple effect in Universities across the nation. A sleeping giant rose, a spark was lit, a new age of student activist was born, and predominately white institutions shuttered in the aftermath. However, what became noticeably clear after the direct action protest was that every predominately white institution didn’t function the same, and this became evermore clear in regards to whether or not the institution was private or public. For example, Johns Hopkins University black student activist were able to rapidly receive the Diverse Faculty Initiative which promised to invest $25 million dollars over the next five years in order to better recruit and retain minority faculty. Additionally, Yale University student activist were able to receive $50 million dollars for practically the same thing. These big dollar initiatives are rarely capable of being granted to public universities, even if they are flagship Universities. For example, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill received a sum total of $1 million dollars in order to “diversify students pursuing doctoral degrees in the humanities, social sciences and fine arts,” a total that can easily be seen as a “small grant” in relation to the two former mentioned Universities.

The purpose of bringing this up is to illustrate that the beast of white supremacy and institutional racism manifest itself in a multiplicity of ways, maintains itself in a multiplicity of ways, and reforms, rectifies, and adjust itself in a multiplicity of ways. With that being said, it’s not necessarily true that Johns Hopkins and Yale students have been able to achieve more than the students at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, but that the reforms and adjustments created by white supremacist private institutions, the amount of capital these institutions are willing to give up while still maintaining their place as institutions of white supremacy differ depending upon the socioeconomic and political power of the individual institutions. I will not speak much more about private institutions and the future of black student activism at these institutions, but I will urge these students to think of these initiatives like small reparations, and take seriously Frank Wilderson’s critique of the American reparations movement when he says:

The reparations people present the issue to blacks as though slavery is an essentially historical phenomenon that ended, but the effects of which put blacks at what they call an “unfair disadvantage” to those in other positions who are also chasing the American dream. Through such a move the reparations folks waste a political weapon, they dull the knife, they keep the tiger in the cage, because here is a weapon which could spew forth in untold directions: I’m thinking here of Nat Turner’s greatest night.

In other words, do not waste that political weapon, do not dull the knife – release the tiger, and capture your entire institution sparring no hall, cafeteria, and/or department.

As for black student activist at most public universities the economic realities of low funds from racist donors, or funds primarily from the state and/or federal governments, and the political reality of dense anti-black bureaucratic processes makes achieving even a feat like that of University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill extremely difficult. This fact requires an alternative politic. One that rearranges the notion of the radical, one that understands that radicalism is not speaking truth to white institutions of power, but that radicalism is gaining, building, and sustaining black power and not allowing the institution to assuage the student activist with “fine-dining and meetings” that create the façade of progress at the expense of what is needed, namely, a cultural-social-political-educational revolution. What does this look like? I do not intend to provide the dogma of black activism for I am as new to this as any other, but I only intend to provide an option, a possibility of a future – a future of a radical black politics at the public PWI University.

First, in the words of Sey Elemo, Bilphena Yahwon, and Korey Johnson, three remarkable black feminist/womanist undergraduates at Towson University, “The revolution must always be ratchet.” This remark reflects the alterity of the black student/black student activist at the PWI. To be ratchet is to be Other. The black student is de facto Other at any University, and even more so at the PWI because through the gaze of white supremacy and in the words of Kanye West, “Y’all know that niggas can’t read.” This idea is reflected both by the #StayMadAbby phenomena and Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s remarks on affirmative action, and black student admission into prestigious universities. For the revolution to always be ratchet is for the revolution to always maintain its otherness, to always maintain its unwillingness to be coopted, to always be principally pro-black, unabashedly attached to black culture, black thought, black students, and black people. This concretely means three things: first, that culture is to be taken seriously – hip hop (conscious or trap) is not a black student’s plaything, it is a part of the black student’s social and psychological livelihood. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are as instrumental to that psychical survival as Migos and Young Thug. Second, that black parties are not spaces where blacks simply go to have fun, black parties are revolutionary spaces of the subaltern where black people go to, in the words of Alice Walker, “possess the secrets of joy.” When those spaces are heavily policed and militarized they mirror the policing practices of the rest of black America and remind black students that their University is nothing more than a microcosm of the macro-manifestation of anti-black structures that plague the rest of America. Third, black sexuality and conversations on black sexuality regardless if the conversation is being had with smiles and giggles, or sincerity and seriousness is a sexuality and a conversation not to be disavowed. Embracing and radicalizing intersectional sexual orientations, practices, and methods of discussions are a part of the ratchet revolution that must take place at the PWI University.

Second, in the words of Baby Joker in a screenplay written by record producer, actor, filmmaker, and rapper, Ice Cube, No more locked doors!” What this mean is that there needs to be a deconstruction of white bureaucratic ideals of privacy, logistics, and fictitious appearances of progressivism for the sake of public relations. In a world of what Bonilla-Silva calls, “Racism without racist” the task of black student activist is to publicize and criticize every event, every act of racism, every meeting with institutional power-holders, and to open the space up to accountability. Accountability both politically and psycho-politically, a remark I will come back to later. Nevertheless, the purpose of this principle is to radicalize the process of change. Change does not occur over coffee, tea, and shirts and ties; change comes through revolutionizing even the process of bringing about that change. It comes from creating alternatives to the current, and breaking down contemporary conceptions of the possible. This means taking seriously the idea that “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” The master’s process of change is not ours. Thus we must open the doors.

Third, the radical politic must be driven by radical love. Black radical love is the relationship between two persons, one of whom is black, who embark on the ontological quest to be radically political, radically anti-racist, and radically anti-oppressive to one another; all the while additionally, being radically subversive to any one or any institution that dehumanizes. The position of radical love is pluralistic in that it denies the unified whole in favor of loving the multiple layers of personhood that make up the black identity. These layers include race (in this specific case, black) class, gender, and sexual orientation, etc. Emphasizing this love makes this love more than a social love or a kind of simple social bonding. Black radical love is a black radical political theory. For a black person to love themselves is a radical step forward, not only individually, but socially and politically. The same logic must be applied to black radical love for each other. Therefore, we have to assess blackness through the lens of black particularity, black feminism, black anti-capitalist exploitation, black sexual politics, black anti-elitism, and black anti-hierarchicalism. This provides a complete denunciation and critical analyzes of white supremacy: how it functions, what caused it, and how we cannot only destroy it, but more importantly transcend it. Solidarity, for black persons, must be a pluralist solidarity.

Fourth, transforming what is typically known as radical activism to what we call, “Radical Therapy.” This means shedding the idea of an activist since the activist is primarily focused on transformation of the political. The radical therapist is primarily focused on the psycho-political. Second-wave feminist constructed the feminist mantra that, “the personal is political.” The radical therapist’s mantra is that, “the political is psychological.” In Robin Kelly’s excellent article “Black Study, Black Struggle” he quotes Naomi Wallace in order to critique this idea. She says:

Mainstream America is less threatened by the ‘trauma’ theory because it doesn’t place economic justice at its core and takes the focus out of the realm of justice and into psychology; out of the streets, communities, into the singular experience (even if experienced in common) of the individual.

However, I tend to disagree with the supposed separation of the psychological and its potential for an economic-political-racial critique of institutions. Psychological trauma invoked by oppression, repression, and subjugation can result in a psycho-political analysis, like that of the work of Frantz Fanon, where structures of domination are psycho-politically analyzed and deconstructed for the sake of structural political, economic, and racial transformation. This means the black radical therapist is dedicated to black mental health and devoted to transforming the psychological effects of the structural political situation that is damaging to the totality of black personhood, which includes psychological health. The radicalism is sparked by the openness of the process, the virtue of community building of the process, and the trust and faith in the rest of the persons who become radical therapist in the process. In Robin Kelly’s own words:

[R]esistance is our healing. Through collective struggle, we alter our circumstances; contain, escape, or possibly eviscerate the source of trauma; recover our bodies; reclaim and redeem our dead; and make ourselves whole.

Radical therapy is group therapy, radical therapy is community-creating therapy; radical therapy is family-making process; radical therapy is subversive, political, and transformative.

Five, we must be practitioners of a world that doesn’t exist. This means creating the world we want now. Being the black professors we want now, being the black administrators we want now, being the black counselors we want now, being the black occupiers we want now. We have to teach each other by creating our own Black Studies syllabus; we have to create policies with each other that continue to create and recreate the demands of black students across all intersections of gender, sexualities, and religions; we have to be dedicated to creating self-care and counseling spaces with each other that are radical destroyers of depression and radical annihilators of suicidal thoughts that emerge from white supremacy; we have to begin to occupy and create the University we want now or the destroy the University we are in now by being living, breathing examples of what is means to be unapologetically black at all times. This means in the words of Fred Moten, we have to “steal the University,” now, and bring it back to our people. We have to “steal the University” and bring it back to the people who attend this University, people who attend other-local, regional, national Universities, people in high-school, people in middle-school, people in the suburbs, people in rural localities, and people in the hood. We have to create the world of the demands within ourselves and build the power within ourselves until the University does not only concede to those demands, but concretely devotes itself to creating and being a radical space against economic, political, and racial exploitation.

So in conclusion, I suggest we operate on five principles.

  • Sustain a ratchet revolution.
  • Deconstruct bureaucratic ideals
  • Operate on the principle of radical love
  • Become radical therapist before radical activist
  • Imagine and Build the World We Want Now

College is not about becoming what you want to be in the aftermath of graduation, it’s about being what you will be today and destroying every oppressive structure that stands in our way.

Occupying Towson: We Will Not Go Gently

Recently, I posted a statement on Facebook on my concern about Towson University’s Student Government Association’s failure to bring the demands of the black students who participated in #OccupyTowson to Annapolis during what is considered “Tiger Pride Day.” The purpose of Tiger Pride Day for the Student Government Association, according to the Towerlight, is “to meet with key lawmaking committees from the Senate and House to make their concerns known on a state level.” I considered the silence of the Student Government Association to be a silence that reified the physical, psychological, and educational violence that stifles the development of Towson University’s black student population. I considered the silence of the Student Government Association to be a silence that proved that the concerns of the black students at Towson University is seen as marginal and peripheral to the overarching vision of Towson University. In other words, at Towson University, black lives don’t matter – at least not enough to be brought to the lawmaking committees from the Senate and the House.

            My critique was met with a responses by the Director of Legislative Affairs, Pierce Jaffri and President Kurt Anderson, two response that were essentially a circumvention of the major concern in order to evade the specificity inherent to black plight, two responses that went on to promote what basically amounted to an “All-Lives-Matter” Legislative agenda. Pierce Jaffri ran down the list of agenda points and then, went on to try to argue that this “All-Lives-Matter” agenda into something that, “directly affects black students”:

  1. Keeping college tuition affordable

 Black students will benefit from this initiative because many black students struggle with paying college tuition and are burdened with loan repayment after graduation.

  1. Promoting and sustaining a University System of Maryland graduate workforce.

This specifically asks the state legislature to create incentives for businesses to hire students who graduate from University System of Maryland schools, such as Towson. You and I both know that black people need more job opportunities in this country, and this initiative directly helps (in a way) black students find jobs more accessibly in Maryland.

  1. The advancement of transgender rights.

Transgender students in Maryland will benefit from this initiative. In fact, a black student whom I will not name for privacy reasons, met with my assistant director and help us compose this initiative.

  1. Securing the operating budget.

This initiative ensures that we as an institution are able to secure operating funds from the state government that will help our university operate. This students of color just like you John, because this allows the university YOU attend to operate to its fullest capacity possible.

  1. Capital Improvement Projects

This initiative allows for students, regardless of color, the ability to have a greater experience if they are to select a major program in either the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics or the College of Health Professions. This will allow those students to get a top-of-the-line education in these fields and will make them more well-educated and better prepared for the workforce upon graduation.

 

Not only does his comment unconvincingly explain how these agenda points DIRECTLY affect black students in regards to the specificity of their plight (For example, Jaffri fails to recognize that black students struggle with college affordability, job availability, transphobia, entrance into Towson University, and success in the Sciences, Mathematics, and Health Profession programs in drastically different ways than white students), but it fails to address the true issue I had with SGA’s Legislative Agenda.

I had to reiterate to Jaffri that the agenda itself wasn’t problematic. It was, in Derridean fashion, what the agenda decided to leave out. I am well aware of the importance of college affordability for all students. I am well aware of how important promoting and sustaining a University System of Maryland graduate workforce is. I am well aware, and extremely in favor of the importance of promoting transgender rights. I am well aware of the importance of securing the operating budget and I am well aware of the significance of the Capital Improvement Project for the Sciences and Health Professions in our evermore scientific and technological nation. However, I say that Jaffri failed as a Director of Legislative Affairs not for what he wrote, but for what he forgot to write, namely, anything in relation to protecting and representing the specific concerns that plague black students at this University. President Kurt Anderson’s response was simply a technical evasion of the issue which went on to state all the other things that the Student Government Association is doing on behalf of black demands and #OccupyTowson. If what he says the Student Government Association is doing for black students is true, then the works they are putting in in the aftermath of the #OccupyTowson has been fine work. However, the work that has been done outside of Tiger Pride Day was not my concern.

My concern was about Tiger Pride Day and why the Student Government Association, on a day supposedly dedicated to making University concerns known on a State level, did not consider the concerns of black students to be significant enough to be taken to the House and Senate. Director of Legislation, Pierce Jaffri said this was because, “The SGA Legislative Agenda, under my directorship, cannot include an initiative that is exclusive to a racial group on campus.” However, this problem appears to be either a non-problem (meaning an exclusive legislative point is actually something he is capable of doing, but didn’t want to) or there must exist a racially exclusive logistical measure that permits gender exclusivity while not permitting racial exclusivity. Why? Because the third agenda point precludes any statement that attempts to say the specificity is not possible unless there is a mandate or statute that specifically states that Jaffri is not allowed to be specific to race, but is allowed to be specific for gender identification.

Ultimately, the situation amounts to a disregard to the demands of the black students of #OccupyTowson and then, a disavow on behalf of the Student Government Association when asked to be held accountable and transparent about the reasoning behind their decision making. Nevertheless, this just means that we all need to be reminded that even in inaction there is an action, typically of indifference. This is a reminder that we must not #OccupyTowson, we must be #OccupyingTowson. This is a reminder that we will not and cannot go gently into that good night until every last demand is met.

The Towson University Demands

What is #OccupyTowson?

 

Black Schizoanalysis and Yahwon’s Nomadic Tale: A Brief Review and Analysis of “teaching gold-mah how to heal herself”

Does gold-mah learn to heal herself? This is the question that hauntingly shadows the entirety of the brief story told in Bilphena Yahwon’s first book entitled teaching gold-mah how to heal herself. To say that this story and the questions that it raises comes right on time would be an understatement, especially as it finds itself adding a literary voice to the much-needed commentary on the notion of “self-care” in black/African American social justice circles. Additionally, Yahwon’s beautifully written, eloquently rich story of the African immigrant experience in the US adds an interesting dimension to the nature of the African identity once it comes in contact with the hyper-militarized, patriarchal anti-black police-state of the United States. In other words, more than asking simply, “How does gold-mah heal herself,” Yahwon asks more inquisitively, “Who is this gold-mah that needs healing,” touching on subjects of blackness, gender (non)conformity, love, and language.

This question of healing, Yahwon treads carefully around throughout the entirety of the story, never revealing explicitly what exactly gold-mah must do in order to heal herself, only conjecturing that it is the poetic process itself, a meta-commentary on the process of storytelling, that has become her chosen methodology of healing. As Yahwon writes:

my relationship with my poetry can be quite violent at times you see. it wants out. i want in. it wants to be told. i want it quiet.

so we go about this back and forth thing. where nights are sleepless and days are spent with certain words pushing themselves out of my finger nails. and i, frustrated, walk away from my keyboard. from my pen.

you see, my poetry can be quite intrusive . . . but it means well. these stories, these memories are festering. they are explosives. they need to be cleaned out.

and so, like any relationship. we compromise. that compromise are the words you are reading in this book.[1]

The fact that this methodology of healing is called “violent” and “intrusive” leaves the reader with an uneasy disposition as to not only what constitutes the nature of black healing, but a skepticism towards what methods are useful to that healing. In fact, this statement even calls into question the possibility of a healthy black healing itself. Following then, in a Fanonian register, gold-mah’s poetry emerges, “After having driven [her]self to the limit of self-destruction,” it is then, a “leap, whether deliberately or impetuously, into the ‘black hole’ from which will come ‘the great Negro cry with such force that the pillars of the world will be shaken.”[2] This violent poetic therapy, this lyrically dangerous compromise that Yahwon alludes to in this passage is the schizoanalytic character of Yahwon’s story. gold-mah heals herself in a destructive compromise, a disastrous excavation of explosive memories and festering stories. To heal for gold-mah is to, “Destroy. Destroy.”[3]

That Yahwon’s story is a schizoanalysis of the African immigrant experience is evident in the hypertextual, nomadic structure (or unstructure) of the narrative as the narrator attempts to adventure psychically upon each pages towards self-care. The story flows from one tale to the next through poems, journal entries, brief lyrics essays, one-liner pages, and epistles following no formal linearality tied together only by the common theme of African deterritorialization (“to the immigrant children who had to split themselves in two. one self for home. the other self for the country they laid in.”[4]), a revolutionary gender (non)conformity that through a defiant parental antagonism verges on the Anti-Oedipal (“the hair was the last thing she had to cling to with hopes that this wolf of a daughter would return to her sheep ways. but shearing a sheep is important to its survival, now isn’t it”[5]), and a rhizomatic desire for the multiple in linguistic expression and the formation of storytelling. It is a story that it is filled with a “movement that comes from without, that does not begin on the page (nor the preceding pages), that is not bounded by the frame of the book; it is entirely different from the imaginary movement of representation or the abstract movement of concepts that habitually take place among words and within the mind of the reader.”[6] It is a story dedicated with wholesale devotion to the “scouring of the [African immigrant] unconscious”[7] and to the scission away from the structures that disable black healing.

teaching gold-mah how to heal herself begins and ends nowhere and everywhere. Every page resonates with a deep sense of finality, and a conflicting sense of a grand introduction. And although ultimately, the process of writing, the schizoanalytic process of writing, reinscribes the violent structures it seeks to destroy, what Yahwon produces is nevertheless a profound enunciation of womanism’s proclivity towards care and love-of-thyself as a revolutionary act. In 78-pages of fire, fury, precision, and beauty Yahwon may not have answered if or if not gold-mah heals herself, but she does remind us in exemplary fashion that gold-mah’s poetry, like the black/African woman’s body is, “not for everyone.”

TO PURCHASE “teaching gold-man how to heal herself click here

[1] Bilphena Yahwon, “teaching gold-mah how to heal herself.”(Self Published: Createspace), 10.

[2] Frantz Fanon, “Black Skin, White Masks.” Translated from the French by Charles Lam Markmann (Grove Press, Inc.), 199.

[3] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Penguin Books, 2009) reprint edition, 311

[4] Bilphena Yahwon, “teaching gold-mah how to heal herself.”(Self Published: Createspace), 1

[5]Ibid, 20

[6] Deleuze quote found here: http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/deleuzenomad.htm

[7] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Penguin Books, 2009) reprint edition, 311