Black Power as Thing Power: The Limits of Bennet’s Eco-Philosophy

Jane Bennet’s renowned book, “Vibrant Matter” puts the reader in contact and conversation with things. With a Frankensteinian echo, Bennet philosophically invites her reader’s to think through the notion that, “It’s alive.” In other words, Bennet attempts to challenge the normative discussion of philosophical materialist that looks to matter as an inert factor/function of life and seeks to argue for the vitality of the thing. The it is not simply a thing that is moved by persons, but the it reacts, enacts, and interacts with persons. In doing so, Bennet conceives of the idea of Thing-Power. Thing-Power is, “the curious ability of inanimate things to be animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and sublime.”[1]

In an attempt to mobilize her thoughts, Bennett tells the reader a “speculative onto-story” of five things: a black plastic work glove, a mat of oak pollen, a dead rat, a plastic bottle cap, and a stick of wood. For Bennett, these five things mesh together to perform an assemblage of vital materiality. The assemblage comes together to form a connection of reactants that engage in-the-World with life.  Bennett writes, “When the materiality of the glove, the rat, the pollen, the cap and the stick start to shimmer and spark it was in part because of the contingent tableau that they formed with each other, with the street, with the weather that morning, with me.”[2] This tableau is the assemblage that connects and continues to connect nonhuman things with human persons. To Bennett, these things are not simply scattered across the street; these things are forming relationships, circulating and spreading information and possibilities to each other, with each other, and with Bennett herself. The way they do so is through conatus – a concept crucial to Bennett’s New Materialism. Conatus is the “active impulsion” or trending tendency to persist. This concept, initially articulated by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, is important for Bennett’s conception of materiality. The work glove, the oak pollen, the dead rat, the plastic bottle cap, and the stick insist on persisting even as they begin to decay, even as they lose significance as human instruments. The power of the thing is the power to persist.

Whereas Bennett’s philosophical intervention is an important critique of old materialist discourse on matter, especially in the age of the Anthropocene, her new materialist philosophy of vital materiality still operates through a problematic that has plagued the “New World” since its inception. As Bennett witnesses this vitality, she is at awe by what she sees. However, what starts as a seeing turns into a gazing as Bennett, quoting Maurice Mearleau-Ponty says, “our gaze, prompted by the experience of our own body, will discover in all other ‘objects’ the miracle of expression.”[3] It is at this point that Bennett begins to raise eyebrows. Our gaze is prompted by the experience of our own body. If this is true, we cannot discuss Bennett’s seeing without an analytics of the white gaze. For Bennett’s white body positions, stations, and situates her seeing. Philosopher George Yancy in his book Black Bodies, White Gazes describes the white gaze as, “that performance of distortional seeing that evolves out of and inextricably linked to various raced and racist myths, white discursive practices, and centripetal processes of white systemic power and white solipsism.”[4] Bennnet’s gaze is not an objective gaze; Bennet’s gaze operates within an empirical lens that optically situates the thing in accordance to “various raced and racist myths, white discursive practices, and centripetal processes of white system power and white solipsism.”

There is no better portrayal of this specific “white discursive practice” than when blackness enters into Bennett’s eco-philosophy. The Black enters Bennett’s conversation only through a disavowal, a disavowal that showcases the full extent of white blindness that structures Bennett’s gaze. More to the point, Bennett’s eco-philosophy while challenging epistemic norms of traditional Western philosophy, sustains the epistemic norm of anti-blackness in traditional Western philosophy through her inability to grapple with the positionality of black life in an anti-Black World. When Bennett writes, “Not Flower Power, or Black Power, or Girl Power, but Thing Power,”[5] she disavows the intimate connection that has always already figured and positioned the Black as Thing. In fact, the notion of Blackness is inconceivable without this Thing-Ness. Blackness as a signifier for a specifically raced-and-marked-body does not exist without the historical-racial schema that positioned the Black as a sentient commodity to be stolen, shipped, processed and enslaved. The auction block is nothing other than the block where nonorganic life is sold as property to a property owner. The hood is nothing other than the space where nonorganic life breathes in industrial pollution, drinks led-contaminated water, sleeps with rabid rodents, lives to be killed “anywhere, anyhow” by and “from anything” for any reason. Until the World of anti-blackness is ended, Blackness will always exist as an “object among other objects.”[6]

Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist and philosopher, moments after encountering the white gaze and remarks from a child who utters, “Look! A Nigger!” muses on the situation and says, “Disoriented, incapable of confronting the Other, the white man, who had no scruples in imprisoning me, I transported myself on that particular day far, very far, from myself and gave myself up as an object.”[7] Here, one might desire to reach out to Fanon, to hold him, to form relation, to assure him that although the “individual” eyes that stare at his black body turn him into an object, he is not “actually an object.” However, this desire itself relies on liberal notions of individuality that treat the structural problem of anti-blackness as a problem of individual persons with “perverse views” versus a systemic issue crystallized into the fabric of the World. The Black body is positioned as thing, not because individual white bodies have calcified it, but because the brutal history of thingification has calcified it. Only an end to the World that made blackness equal to thingness can resolve this equation. Theorist, Fred Moten, reminds us that, “Things are in, but they do not have, a world, a place, but it is precisely both the specificity of having neither world nor place and the generality of not having that we explore at the nexus of openness and confinement, internment and flight.”[8] The homelessness of being a thing is a homelessness shared by the things Bennett discusses and the thing that Frantz Fanon embodies. What Bennett articulates from above as a Human/White/Universal standpoint, Frantz Fanon articulates from below as a Non-Human/Black/Incommunicable standpoint. These irreconcilable standpoints are attempted to be dealt with by New Materialist like Jane Bennet, but their inability to wrestle with Blackness creates scenarios that resurface epistemic violence onto new “things.”

The resurfacing of epistemic violence is at the heart of George Yancy’s white gaze critique. When Yancy describes the white gaze as being characterized by “white solipsism,” he is attempting to speak to a form of empiricism that locks the World into the ways of white modes of being and knowing. White solipsism is a condition of epistemic blindness that forces one to believe that nothing exists beyond white ideals and the immediate white world. The way that Bennett imbues her object with white liberal ideals and mobilizes their voices as voices in conjunction with the system of white liberalism is indicative of the form of white solipsism that Yancy critiques. Bennett cannot see past this World, and cannot accept that Non-Human/Incommunicable standpoints might have a completely different system of being and knowing; or, in Frantz Fanon words, Bennett cannot see, “their metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, their customs and the sources on which they were based.”[9]

This is evident when Bennet discusses the thing-power of Gunpowder Reside in a courtroom. Bennett, telling the story of a time when she was on jury duty, describes the power of the Gunpowder to bring about a conviction of an attempted homicide trial in Baltimore. Calling the Gunpowder Residue from the shooting an “object/witness,” Bennett writes, “The object/witness had been dabbed on the accuser’s hand hours after the shooting and now offered to the jury its microscopic evidence that the hand had either fired a gun or been within three feet of a gun firing. Expert witnesses showed the sampler to the jury several times, and with each appearance it exercised more force, until it became vital to the verdict.”[10] The implication of this statement is that the object/witness, as an actant, in the trial has a vested interest in offering itself up to the jury in order to eventually convict or acquit. Bennett’s solipsism does not engage with the possibility that the “object/witness” may have an entirely different system of interest that does not include cycling more Baltimore city residents into America’s oppressive carceral system. Nor does Bennett seem to have any interest in interrogating the problems that rest in every attempt to impose a white system of values onto the “Other.” Whereas the implications of such an imposition may seem trivial when the “thing” in discussion is simply Gunpowder Residue, the implications are perhaps made clearer when one listens to the narratives shared by those bodies always already positioned as thing. Frantz Fanon writes, “The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man. Overnight the Negro has been given two frames of reference within which he has had to place himself. His metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, his customs and the sources on which they were based, were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization that he did not know and that imposed itself on him.”[11] The inability of the thing to have “ontological resistance,” or resistance to the modes of being and knowing enforced as the “logical conclusions” of white empirics, is the inability of the Gunpowder Residue to resist being imbued with Bennet’s system of values. The Gunpowder Residue must then split itself in two as an object, in accordance to its own “metaphysics”, and a witness, in accordance to the metaphysics of Bennett. This is a resurfacing of epistemic violence insofar as Bennett denies the epistemic agency of the thing – even if she attempts to grant it “capacity to act.” This capacity to act, however, does not free the thing as much as it locks into new scenes of subjection. Looking at the way Bennett looks at the Thing while imbuing the Thing with Humanist values and juxtaposing this way of seeing with the objectification Frantz Fanon feels as a result of a similar gazing upon his Black body, we can see how Bennett’s inability to look to the historical-racial schema with rigor does not only recycle anti-Black modes of seeing, but recycles anti-Blackness itself.

The Black as the Non-Human/Black/Incommunicable exist at the nexus point of “openness and confinement, internment and flight” and it is from this nexus point that we have to begin to think our questions of thingliness if we want to avoid recycling historical violence. Any analysis of thingness in this anti-Black world that either decentralizes the Black or outright disavows the Black will enable this form of violence. Donna Haraway reminds us that, “It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize system.”[12] And the Black, as that which exist liminally as the Non-Human, must be at the forefront of our New Materialist conversations. For, “The history of blackness is a testament to the fact that objects can and do resist”[13] and to think through that, is to think through what Fanon called, “The Fact of Blackness,” and to see the fact of blackness is to see that Black Power, is always already Thing Power and the history of blackness is nothing more than a testament to the fact and a resistance to the results.

[1] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke University Press, 2009), 6.

[2] Ibid, 5

[3] Ibid, 5

[4] George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008), xviii.

[5] Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, 6.

[6] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove press, 2008), 89.

[7] Ibid, 92

[8] Fred Moten, Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh), South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 112, 2013, 751, doi:10.1215/00382876-2345261.

[9] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 90.

[10] Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, 9.

[11] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 90.

[12] Donna J Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, 2016), 101.

[13] Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (U of Minnesota Press, 2003), 1.

Letters to Jonas: The Matrix of Man

Dear Jonas,

I should start by apologizing for taking so long to reply to your letter. The World seems to be spinning faster than ever lately, and finding time to write for writing’s sake has become particularly difficult as of late. Since your last letter, we have elected a white supremacist president, I have led a rally against the white supremacist president, I have assisted latinx students in resisting the white supremacist president, and I have talked and engaged critically at Freedom School with young black peers about how we could resist and survive a white supremacist presidency. With all this being said then, it is safe to safe to say – though the World may appear to be spinning faster – the World continues to spin the same. White Supremacy rules today as it ruled yesterday. Donald Trump doesn’t change that; he only accelerates it. A discussion on this acceleration may be justified, perhaps, at another time.

Aside from an introduction into the general times that we are in, this relates to some of the comments that you made in your letter. What particularly stood out to me is this:

You asked how I could consider myself Christian still. I still ask myself that. Of course, on one hand, the easiest answer is we’re all Christian inasmuch as we’re Western. And, while I think that to be at least generally true, I think it’s an exercise in avoiding the question.

First to answer in this way is not to avoid the question, it is indeed an answer to the question. But it is an answer that is simply incorrect. We are not all Western. I believe that this gets at the root of the structure of the West and why anti-blackness and white supremacy structures the foundational aspects of thought, and the Modern world. If Trump’s wall, if the rise of Eurofascism, if the perfection of slavery with the project of mass incarceration, if the election of Trump itself, provides proof for anything, it provides proof to the fact that we are not all Western. To be Western is to be Human, to have your humanity affirmed, your existence recognized. To live outside of the West, to experience life outside of the West, is to have your existence perpetually questioned or denied to you. Black bodies are those bodies that gave birth to the West through an accumulation of its death. Black bodies are womb-and-tombs, not Western. So the question is still returned to you, in a double, in fact, triple question: 1) Are you Western, like are you truly Western? 2) How can Blackness ever be incorporated into the ontics of a Western “all”? 3) How can you accept that Christianity is Western and that to be Western is to be Human and still accept Christianity? I, of course, am not trying to convert you (divert you, perhaps, is better wording); I am more interested in understanding how this notion that “we are all Western” is justified.

Additionally, I think that your disagreement about my conception of God is, in fact, an agreement. God is like Race. This means that God does have a referent to which it signifies, or to which the name of God is applied. There is no distinction to be made between the socio-institution and the facticity. God is discursively-instituted and factually real. God has Being, God is socio-linguistically-derived, God is objectively real, and God is paradigmatically constructed. However, that signification is not an unification. God is not One. God signifies something different for different people and different bodies and different ideologies, and all of these are real insofar as they create/enforce an action into the immanent World. For different bodies have different conceptions of Being, of Language, of Facticity, and of Historicity.

Lastly, on the difference between intersectionality and the Matrix of Man. I have thought extensively about what constitutes the difference between intersectionality and my concept of the “Matrix of Man.” And I have come to a bit of a conclusion. Intersectionality implies that who I am when I say, “I am a cisgendered, heterosexual black man who grew up in working-class black family in white rural America” is an identitarian claim. Intersectionality teaches that these are identitarian claims that are denied to me through the White Male construction of the Law. However, I wish to cast off the shackles of identity, but not in the sense that the Alt-Left, or better yet, White Marxist would like me to; or in the way that liberal Black folks wishing to frame the “Negro Problem” in terms of a struggle for Civil Rights do either. I want to contextualize my blackness, my cisness, my heterosexuality, my ableness, my working class background, my rural geo-location as positions within the Matrix of Man. I am in all these positions, these locations, across a spectrum of subjection, power and privilege. What separates this from identity is that identity implies a simplistic space-time frame in the position of a subject in relationship to World. Identity says: I am here, as one subject with multiple identities. But, no, in the Matrix of Man, I am in multiple positions in relationship to access and denied access to power and privilege. The Matrix of Man says: We are here at the same time (inside the same paradigm) phenomenologically experiencing that time differently because of our positions, and we are occupying multiple spaces – positions – within that paradigm. Blackness is the position of absolute dereliction. It is the position that gave birth to the universal, globalized “transatlantic” comprehension of the Matrix. It is what orients, structures, stabilizes, and gives vital energy to the Matrix. It is the Matrix’s condition of possibility.

Sincerely from a Friend,

John Gillespie Jr.

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.

Post-Racial Racism and Kendrick Lamar: How Do We Know Racism Is Still Bad in America?

There used to be a time where your neighborhood racist was easily distinguishable. Well, not your neighborhood, but the white neighborhood that still just so happens to be close enough for you to see the crosses burning in the back yard and the black bodies still hanging from the “party-down-at-the-square.” This racism, this overt racism, has been arguably destroyed. Arguably, because the black population still sees that symbolic cross burning over futures left standing in the flames of poverty, institutional racism and white supremacy, and covert discrimination in housing markets, conflict governmental policies, and school-to-prison pipelines. Arguably, because black bodies still hang from white police chokeholds, spinal breakages, and white nationalist gun shells; because black bodies still hang from their social death, their status of fungibility, and what is essentially, the hazardous de-facto unlawfulness of that black body. Nonetheless, we will say, arguably, American racism in its former form has diminished.

But does this mean that racism has? Now, I can hear conservative pundits with their fist-raised and their cheeks glowing that disdainful red exalting, “Of course! No one is hung any longer! No crosses burn any longer! And your argument that ‘crosses are burning over futures’ or that ‘bodies are hanging from police bullets’ is not only an inflation of contemporary reality, but a negation of the truth.” And I can hear the left and the black nationals contemptuously refuting their claims with piles of evidence to support that it is not an inflation nor a negation, but a fact that conservatives aren’t willing to acknowledge. Since this is the case and the articles are piled high with people trying to prove or disprove that either racism exist or that it may exist, but its “getting better,” I wish to redirect the conversation for a moment.

For the most part we can agree that racism exist in America. The problem, however problematic this problem may be, is identifying the quantity of the racist practices or the reality of white love for black folks. How can we tell definitively if we have a race problem in America, if we live in a nation of “racism without racist” as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls it? Lewis Gordon stated in his lecture Living Thought, Living Freedom: A Lecture on Black Existential Philosophy, “We live in the great age of the post . . . postmodern, postcolonial, postracism, posthumanism, a lot of post, but all post these days ultimately means is that you continue doing the same except your admitting that you’re ashamed of it . . . Post-racism essentially means racism in a world where people are ashamed of being racist.” Even if this is true, a conflict still arises when shame becomes denial. When denial permits the continuing practice of post-racial racism and ultimately, all the maledictions of the past transfuse into contemporary forms under the guise of shameful faces and white guilt.

What results from this post-racial racism is Kendrick Lamar’s truly philosophic inquiry in The Blacker, The Berry, “You hate me don’t you? You hate my people your plan is to terminate my culture?” What is so philosophic and significant about this inquiry in our age is that it is the race question of our age. Do white people hate black people still? How pervasive is this hatred? And why do we feel all too often as black persons in America that are lives are secondary, our existence is fungible, and our body is an absence-desired-presence? Why do we feel like black lives don’t matter? The question bring us to Du Bois. Whereas Du Bois was asking, “What does it mean to be a problem?” We are forced to ask, “What does it mean to exist as a problem while living in a world ashamed and unwilling to admit that we are one?” Du Bois didn’t have to ask if white people hated him. It was clear that they did. He wasn’t blind to the bodies, to the cross, to the segregated cities, to the howling souls of black folks scratching with bleeding nails on the stern walls of white supremacy, begging for acknowledgement, opportunity, and humanity. Kendrick isn’t blind either; however, the bodies Kendrick are seeing are hidden behind a cloak of shame, guilt, and relentless dismissal of his reality, the crosses being burnt are churches with “bad electric wiring,” the segregated cities are poverty stricken enclaves dominated by the “lazy” and “thuggish,” the howling souls are hip hop artist “poisoning the youth” with notorious tales of their reality.  How can we know if the white Other is not racist, apologetic to racism, or silent and submissive to racial realities?

Black Lives Matter! That is how we know. The discontent this phrase raises in the white Conservative right is a discontent of black lives. It is an uneasiness on behalf of the right to face the cries of black persons in this country. It is a wish to return to silence, to the swept-under-the-rug racism of post-racial America. The importance of this phrase for white people is truly in its opposite. Black Lives Don’t Matter!

This is the articulation of those who remain silent in fear of saying, “Black Lives Matter.” For when your sister cries, “I feel insignificant. I feel worthless. Do you love me?” And you stare at that broken black body and dismiss her, you would have done better just saying, “I don’t.”

This is the articulation of those who say, “All Lives Matter.” For when sorrow reigns in the heart of your brother, and he says, “I feel insignificant. I feel worthless. Do you love me?”

And you say, “I love everyone.” Your brother will spurn your inflated humanism as inconsiderate to his current condition and situation.

What Black Lives Matters is saying truly is, “I love you,” to a group of oppressed persons burned by the weight of historic oppressions, suffering under the disaster that is post-racial racism. When Kendrick Lamar asks, “You hate me don’t you?” And you answer with silence or you answer with, “I love everyone,” you are unwilling to say you love him. Put plainly, you are unwilling to say you love or care about black life. And that is how we found out. That is how we know how bad racism is in Post-Racial America. We discover the secret racism in post-racial America in its unwillingness to be outspoken in its love for black life and its unwillingness to be considerate to black suffering. And the dreadful silence that has occurred in the aftermath of the Dylann Roof shooting, the dreadful silence that has occurred in the aftermath of the burning of 8 black churches in America, the dreadful silence that has occurred in the wake of mass incarceration, on the school-to-prison pipeline, on the cases of police brutality, on the rise of rape cases to black women, on the rise of black suicide, on the decline in opportunities for black persons, all make it painfully clear, that the post-racial America is just as racist as the racist America of the past.

My Mother: What Is Womanism? – Part 1

I didn’t know the term, “Womanism” until I came to college. But, learning the term furthered my understanding of Socrates great saying, “All learning is a recollection,” and I can honestly say I have been a disciple of a womanist the entirety of my life, and I have been exposed to the power of Womanism long before stumbling across the term. It was my good friend Bilphena who introduced me to the concept, but it was my mother who exposed me to it in practice. Let it be known, theory without practice is like a fiction lingering upon potentially prophetic pages or, better yet, revolutionary thoughts versus revolutionary activities. My mother showed me that what my friend Bilphena was talking about in theory was possible in actuality. Nevertheless, before I continue I must make three things clear: 1) My mother does not identify as a womanist. 2) Womanism is not feminism or black feminism. 3) My mother is not a feminist. My mother doesn’t uphold or accept any of the following labels (this may make the case for her being a womanist even stronger, however) and she most explicitly denounces feminism. In fact, she is astounded or perhaps, repulsed, when I mention the possibility of my wife maintaining her last name or me, hyphening my own. In fact, she passionately believes in the idea of the “women’s role” in the sense of cooking, cleaning, and nurturing. In fact, the word, “patriarchy” may be as foreign to her as the word, “womanism” is. Nevertheless, even in my own acceptance of the feminist ideology based solely in my belief in gender equality, even in her renouncement of the ideas that follow such an ideology, my mother still remains a pillar in my own acceptance of even feminism. However, this is about womanism, which as I mentioned earlier, is not feminism.

Then, what is womanism? According to prominent womanist thinker, Layli Phillips, “Womanism is a social change perspective rooted in Black women’s and other women of color’s everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces, extended to the problem of ending all forms of oppression for all people, restoring the balance between people and the environment/nature, and reconciling human life with the spiritual dimension.” My mother, the Black woman who gave life to my flesh and soul to my being, is naturally the first figure to which I can easily observe in everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces; however, there is an energy, a devotion, and a dedication to ending oppression, restoring balance, and reconciling life with an infallibly, unbreakable soul and spirit that resonates within the language and actions of my mother that cannot be broken, and this, is the very root, the very essence of womanism.

With that being said, perhaps the way in which my mother could have impacted my understanding of womanism is already starting to formulate in front of your eyes within the universal image of the great maternal mother. But we are not there yet, and there is much more to it than that. First, take into consideration her condition, conditions of which I acknowledge and understand as disadvantages (she may not acknowledge them as so, and this is mainly a testament to my mother’s vigilant assault against being labeled or accepting a loss or failure as an option regardless of the biased and unjust obstacles placed in front of her): 1) Inaccessibility to privileges (white privilege, wealth privilege, “nuclear-family” privilege, male privilege, etc.) 2) Societal and historical hatred or distaste for black women (slavery, Jim Crowe, Voting Rights, mass incarceration of black males and females, fear of sexual assault, “ideal” beauty, and colorism all effect dark black women, like my mother, more than they effect whites, black males, and light skin black women) 3) Raising two boys (almost men) after my father and her divorced. Now with the intersectional disadvantages set out and many others potentially left out, I need to make one final thing clear before the conclusion of the paper.

 “Womanism manifest five overarching characteristics: 1) It is antioppressionists. 2) It is vernacular. 3) It is nonideological. 4) It is communitarian and 5) it is spiritualized” (Phillips). The manifestation of these characteristics within womanism is a “gift of power” revolutionized in the realm of the common day exhibitions of maternal love, but magnified by the occurrence of intersectional oppression and unconditional love. The quotes of my mother, and the philosophy of my mother and how it relates with these five overarching characteristics will be examined in the next paper, entitled My Mother: The Womanist, but understand what it means to be a womanist is essential in first understanding why I say my mother is one.

Works Cited

Phillips, Layli. “Womanism: On Its Own.” Introduction. The Womanist Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006. N. pag. Print.

Pop Culture and Politics

The Grammys and Oscars have passed and the lights and glamour of celebrity (predominantly American) have subsided while the whole world watched pop culture prove once again its upcoming and invasive impact as an agent of major socialization and political upheaval. Excited by awards and legacy, actresses, actors, musicians, directors, and more hit the red carpet to be extended into pop culture history. Pop culture is currently becoming an essential component of American and international affairs, society, and politics. I found it important to note one of the most interesting parts of this impact is the international component. America is by far the hegemonic leader in mainstream pop sensationalism. The outsourcing of American pop culture and, with it, American ideology to the rest of the world is intriguing and should cause many to ask: What does American media represent? What does American media stand for? And, what are the politics of American pop culture?  Anyone who seriously wants to understand the social implications of what is exported to the rest of the world has to understand that pop culture has an impeccable influence on the rest of the world, and that every celebrity is a public figure with a voice that shapes, molds, and changes society and with that, the individual.

   Never before has pop culture had the impact it has in this moment. One of my professors spoke about it in an ironic way saying, “One thing I hate about celebrity and the media is that the media seems to take these celebrities who have no university education, no expertise in other subject other than acting or music and ask them their unqualified opinions on major philosophical or political issues. Like, ‘What is the meaning of life? Or, how can we solve issues of poverty in the black community?’” Although, the notion that one must have a university education in order to have quality insight into these kinds of questions is a bit modernist and elitist, there is something fundamentally captivating about public intrigue into the philosophies and politics of these celebrities. Take for example, Kendrick Lamar’s comments on Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. His one statement spiraled back and forth commentary on the truthfulness or misguidedness of his logic by academics and prominent rappers alike. The relentless attention given to a few words that have probably been said before by many other politicians, educators, parents, friends, and family members alike is a result of Lamar’s popularity and influential prowess. One man had the power to spark rabid intellectual discourse.

Nevertheless, this kind of situation is just a solo moment in the increasing popularity of celebrity insight and influence into political situations. The Grammys left twitter feeds buzzing with Prince’s, “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” Then the Oscars left twitter feeds buzzing with Common and John Legend’s statement that, “America is one of the most incarcerated countries in the world,” and Patricia Arquette’s, “All women deserve equal pay.” And I couldn’t leave out the dialogue on race and power that emerged in reaction to Kanye’s “almost” interruption of Beck or Sean Penn’s comment about Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “green card.” My insight into why this has emerged is due to our current moment of history. The postmodern moment.

Philosopher Fredric Jameson, in his essay entitled, Postmodernism and Consumer Society, writes, “The second feature of this list of postmodernism is the effacement in it of some key boundaries or separations, most notably the erosion of the old distinction between high culture and so-called mass or popular culture. This is perhaps the most distressing development of all from an academic standpoint, which has traditionally had a vested interest in preserving a real of high or elite culture . . .”

That statement is Fredric Jameson saying to my professor, “Your pissed because you were born into the postmodern era in which Kendrick Lamar’s opinion holds way more importance or, the same importance as your own.” Nonetheless, the decaying of the modernist idea of elitism in terms of opinion has withered away and Kendrick Lamar, Prince, John Legend, Common, and Kanye are as important a catalyst for social change and conversation as any politician, academic, or activist.

The question then becomes: What do we do when we understand the impact these celebrities, not only have on our entertainment, but our conversations, our thoughts, and our behavior? The answers are numerous, but here is one. From a societal standpoint, we must add pop culture as one of the influential social structures in our current society. Pop culture is like politics, economics, technology and history in that it shapes the behavior of the individual and molds and/or showcases a group within society. Pop culture is exciting in that it is indicative of everything present and changing within current society. It is a mirror to our nation’s flaws, worries, gains and follies. The questions still linger, but the simplest statement remains true: Pop culture is becoming political.

Life the Paranoia, We The Suicidal: Move On

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterward. – Albert Camus

Have you ever been in a situation where the end was inevitable, and the beginning was unforeseen? I would venture to guess that you have since this statement is the rhetorical equivalent to what just so happens to be your life. No one has ever known that they were going to live, but everyone, once alive must come to grips with the fact that they will die. This is common sense. There isn’t any philosophy that needs to be equipped with that statement and whoever attempted to be genius while making the claim, “Everyone dies,” has discovered something remedial.

So then we move on: Have you ever been in this situation and felt an unceasing ailing to discover what to do with the time in-between the unforeseen beginning and the inevitable ending? I cannot say if everyone has asked this weighted question, “What to do with my life?” But I can say that if you have you have probably felt a sense of paranoia or hysteria in the face of everything that is unknown, uncontrollable, and unstoppable. This paranoia has occasionally caused you to wake up with a fierce rush of adrenaline, a fueled fire of enmity against purposelessness, and a Godly, earth-shattering desire to achieve. Or, this paranoia has caused you to crumble with Babylonian might to solid and shameful depths only leading to a larger fanaticism and discomfort with that inevitable ending that prowls like a shadow above you. Or, this paranoia has caused you apathy, and you have screamed with unwavering tenacity that modern carpe diem (YOLO) under dying disco lights with bottle after bottle of liquid hopelessness pressed upon your lips. Of course, life is not a trilemma. But, life is indeed a paranoia. Face-to-face with this paranoia one will be under a spectrum of passions ranging from moral to immoral to anti-moral and these passions will guide your choice. And, the antithesis of free will claims will reign heavy as we must note that, regardless if you wish to make a choice, you must; because free will does not include the will to choose to not to have free will. Because even the decision of inactivity is still a decision nonetheless.

So you must move on: Have you ever been under the pressure of this paranoia, weaving day-in-and-day-out between these three main courses of actions due to this unforeseen beginning and this inevitable ending? It is a weighty battle emerging now. It is the battle of decision. This is the basis of our limited free will. Decision. We cannot choose the options. We cannot choose the consequence. We cannot choose to not choose. We must choose. Then, what is the best option from the trilemma? It is not for me to say. A life of incessantly circuiting effort may drain you beyond normal measures; you may become a slave to your ambitious. In the event that you may fail, your efforts may result in an Icarus-esque fall to depression. In the event that you may succeed, you may notice that you are not satisfied with success and are truly driven by the infinite climb of becoming an idol. Or, you may find happiness. A life of stagnation may bring you pleasing security; you may find that there is nothing more eloquent then what Maslow considered to be the second most crucial aspect of all things leading to self-actualization. But, if purposelessness begins to sink into your head, and parasitically to your heart, there is nothing keeping you from discovering that being alone with your mind is sometimes as dangerous as being among the masses. But I hope, if you choose this that you may find happiness. A life of dispassion and carelessness may bring you the rush of the ambitious life and the security (from your avoidance of the daunting aspect that is love) of the stagnant one. But, it is also the catalyst from a fall of the highest kind when your paradise is lost, and the bottles disappear and you are left alone with the inner and external virus of reality. You will feel the lowest lows from the highest highs, and the loneliest alones from the most crowded moments. Or, you may find happiness.

So you must move on. I suggest experimenting. Life should not be a trilemma. It will always be a trembling and a shaking, an eternal fright, but it is what we grow to love that becomes a Sun in the darkest vacuum of existence. It will always be a paranoia, a fearful and dreaded wait for an irreplaceable end, and we can learn to love or live in apathy. But, we must always move on.

R.I.P. to my good friends and people David Arthur, Wave, and Kasey Phipps