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.”

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#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.

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

Love is Not Colorless

           The Huffington Post recently posted an article on Romeo Miller, hip hop artist and No Limit Forever record label founder, entitled, “Romeo Miller Can Teach Us All Something About Interracial Dating.” The article highlights Romeo’s new relationship with Toneta Morgan, a blonde haired white girl from God knows where, and goes on to talk about the backlash Romeo received from the black community on Instagram for being with a white women. Romeo responded to this backlash in foolishly colorblind fashion saying, “Love is colorless at the end of the day,” a quote which the Huffington Post just praised.

            “In other words, love has no limit,” Taryn Finley wrote to close out the article. But the fact of the matter is, Romeo’s statement proves the complete opposite to be true. Advocacy for colorless love implies that love’s limit lies within the confines of blackness as a significantly, recognizable aspects of a person’s identity and personhood. Romeo’s will to colorlessness negates the fact of blackness and anti-blackness that manifest within the social and private sphere of black social life. Love doesn’t render Romeo free of the white gaze that imparts criminality onto him regardless of his status and celebrity. Love doesn’t render Romeo free of the unconscious and preconscious racism that will find itself conscious and distinguishable the moment the “Negro” attends the first white family dinner. Love doesn’t render Romeo free of white murmurs that will forever question the integrity of the relationship as a relationship consummated by affection and tenderness first, and sexual phantasms of the “animalistic black phallus,” second.

            Love is full of color, struggle, and power dynamics. The interracial relationship is not exempt from that, on the contrary, the interracial relationship is permeating with the socio-political context of race and gender. Whereas the black man (and it is different for a black women), being a man, may dominate the private sphere with physical prowess, the white woman, being white, dominates the social sphere by being the institutional queen of white supremacy. Her position as queen in the systemic structure of white supremacy will become known when the police stops you on the highway and wants to ask her and her alone if she’s “okay.” Your position as dominant in the private sphere will become known when her Aunts, friends, and cousins want to know if, “What they say about you [the black] is true.” It is this fact of blackness that made Fanon say, “Whoever says rape says black man.”

Interracial love is a power struggle built on an asymmetrical racist, patriarchal foundation. But to love and love truly is to love the struggle you’re engaging in. For Romeo, a black man, and Toneta Morgan, a white woman to be involved romantically they can’t ignore this crucial part of the struggle. They can’t cast color to the wayside as if anti-blackness doesn’t cast a question mark on Romeo’s entire existence. The problem has to be faced head on. It has to be discussed, argued, disagreed on, and solidified as part of the communicable discourse in the relationship. Race is as significant, perhaps more significant, as the rest of the discourses that make the struggle in love worth the struggle of love.

As a black man, in an interracial relationship, I’m not here to say whether or not you can be pro-black and date a white women. Personally, I love black people, and I love my white Hispanic girlfriend from the Basque Country. But what I am here to say is that interracial love is not and cannot be colorless. It has to be as color-conscious as the world is, and this consciousness need not be an obstacle. To love and love conscious of color is to love the person as the person is in their fullness, whether it be black and ostracized to the margins of civil society, or white and postured as the symbolic beacon of civil society. And truly, if the person you love can’t love, can’t handle, or won’t attempt to understand your blackness, then that person loves a false imago of you that’s neither helpful nor honestly loving.

Fanon’s Minister: Towards A Decolonial Theology

When one first looks at the colonial situation, one is immediately brought face-to-face with the permeation of death. Death, in the form of social death, insofar as social death is, “having no social existence beyond that which [one] has with [their] master,”[1] haunts the colonized. This is, of course, until their social death collides with their physical, leaving in return no memory, no residue of existence, no posturing position in the social order capable of differing the colonized from any other aspect of the colonizer’s personal items. The fact that death characterizes the entire colonial situation is not a surprise to the colonized. To be colonized is to be dehumanized, to be stripped of oneself as a self and to dwell existentially in a state of non-being. In the words of Aime Cesaire, “colonization = thingification.”[2]

What is pivotally important about this state of death and commodification imposed on the colonized by the colonizer is the way this manipulation of power manifests itself across every aspect of the colonized life. Colonial occupation, as an act of violent usurpation of another’s social, political, economic and spiritual livelihood, casts the shadow of death upon all social, political, economic and spiritual aspects of the colonized existence in the world. This shadowed death inside the spiritual world consolidates the relationship of social death in a pacifying way, as Fanon puts it, “The colonized subject also manages to lose sight of the colonist through religion . . . The individual thus accepts the devastation decreed by God, grovels in front of the colonist, bows to the hand of fate, and mentally readjusts to acquire the serenity of stone.”[3] When religion, specifically in this case Christianity, plays a role in the pacification of a people suffering from debasement and enslavement, it will not only continue the state of social death for the oppressed, but perpetuate spiritual violence. Violence in the colonial situation is not only something that occurs when colonized subjects are shot, raped, beaten, battered, or bombed, but violence occurs institutionally in the colonial situation at the level of status quo. This means that colonized subjects encounter the psycho-social effects of the colonial situation in their everyday lived experience regardless of the other minor and major potentiated attacks directed against them. The colonial situation and the institution of violence occur simultaneously and inseparably from one another. It’s a world where you “are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything”[4] and accepting the religion of the oppressor makes it no different. This why the decolonization process is more than just an economic, political, and social revolt against an oppressor. It’s a spiritual revolt as well, and it is the task of decolonization to make anew all those aspects formerly instilled by the oppressor in order to foster a whole new world in the economic, political, social, and most importantly for our review, spiritual realm.

The fact that Christianity has been utilized as a mechanism of power by white oppressors in the task of pacification, “civilizing,” and occupation of the oppressed is socially and historically undeniable. These circumstances have resulted in many African intellectuals, especially Fanon[5], to consider the position of Christianity in the liberation and decolonization process as antithetical to the struggle for freedom. The argument follows along the logic of: If decolonization is creation of a new man, then the religious must too be made anew, and Christianity, being the religion of the oppressor must be done away with. There is considerable thought that must be given to the idea that Christianity in and of itself is a spiritual war waged against colonized subjects. In fact, it could be argued that there is no greater theodicy than the relationship between the Christian God and African persons all across the world. The high concentration of Christians in the African-black community is undeniably a result of effective colonialism, imperialism, and European domination, not only of the black psyche, but of black spirituality. However, the answer to the crisis in black religiosity in reference to those persons who are Christian who wish to maintain their faith, but are troubled by this critique, is not a retreat to some pseudo-pre-colonial African spirituality that can never be retrieved in the honest meaning it had prior to colonialism, or the move towards anti-Christian atheism. Colonialism creates a new world, and any retreat to pre-colonial religiosity does not take seriously that creation and the impact of the creation in the making of a new world, and atheism may not be who the colonized are and who they wish to be. Instead the colonized through the process of decolonization, “must work and struggle in step with the people so as to shape the future and prepare the ground where vigorous shoots are already sprouting.”[6]  If these “shoots” just so happen to include some aspects of Christianity that were imported into the colonized religious psychology, since Christianity may be as much a part of the colonized subject’s new personhood as the new economic urban centers that sprung about as a result of the same colonial occupation, these aspects have to be taken seriously as a part of the collective thought processes of the African persons. However, just as the rest of national culture must, “work and struggle in step with the people” in order to, “shape the future,” Christianity, if it wishes to remain in the lives of the colonized, must do the same. Christianity must be decolonized.

The task of decolonial theology in the midst of the decolonization revolution is utter and violent destruction of oppressive European theology. Hence if, “the task of a good theology is acculturation—to draw upon the cultural formation that is already present,”[7] then, decolonial theology must be both cognizant of and attuned with the transformational cultural processes emerging within the colonized subject. The colonized subject at the moment decolonization begins is a subject violently thrusting forward towards an unforeseen personhood, towards a sense of self that has long been ostracized from her, towards a collective cultural understanding that is both cognizant of the precolonial period and equally aware of the contemporary thought processes that make unified revolt not only possible, but necessary. This violent thrusting is an exertion requisite for any decolonization.  For, “decolonization is always a violent event.”[8]

Decolonization is a transformation of the individual and the collective wherein being-in-itself connects with being-with-others resulting in a much needed social, political, economic, and spiritual revolution. Theology must tap into this energy and the creative exertion of violence that spurs from it, never shying away from the energy of the people nor the violence of the people, but fully encompassing the entire range of the newly developing national culture. Fanon defines culture to be, “the collective thought process of a people to describe, justify, and extol the actions whereby they have joined forces and remained strong,” going on to add that, “National culture in the underdeveloped countries, therefore, must lie at the very heart of the liberation struggle these countries are waging.”[9] Decolonial theology, then, is the Christian language used to describe, justify, and extol the actions of the colonized in the process of decolonization. What should then be insinuated in this acculturative understanding of theology and its relation to the decolonization project is that decolonial theology not only understands the necessity of violence in the process of the liberation struggle, but decolonial theology itself, is violent. That decolonial theology understands the necessity of violence in the process of liberation is not a bastardization of Christian scripture; on the contrary, it’s an appropriate understanding of scripture insofar as God, the liberation of the oppressed, and violence have always walked hand-and-hand. One needs only look to the role of God in the liberation of the Israelites in the book of Exodus to find support for such a statement. It is for this reason that Aime Cesaire describes the death of his master in, Lyric and Dramatic Poetry as, “the only baptism that today I remember.”[10] Violence, insofar as it is used by the oppressed to overcome their oppressor, is redeeming.

But how is decolonial theology violent in and of itself? Decolonial theology is violent because once again, “decolonization is always a violent event.” Decolonial theology must decolonize white oppressive theology that forces the colonized to be passive, oppressed, and docile when speaking about religion, and in doing so, they must destroy the toxemic constructions of white, Eurocentric theology and, “blow the colonial [God] to smithereens.”[11] This is the central focus of decolonial theology: bringing an abrupt and catastrophic end to the colonial God. Taking seriously the current state of social and spiritual death, decolonial theology attempts to obliterate the connection the slave has with his master in relation to God. Decolonial theology, or any offspring of liberation theology, is the only option available for anyone wishing to continue practicing Christianity during or after decolonization. Any other theological understanding permits the colonized to remain in the condition of social death whereas decolonial theology, like every decolonization project, is a resurrection. It is a spiritual uprising towards personhood, and a recognition that, “Oppressed and oppressors cannot possibly mean the same thing when they speak of God. The God of the oppressed is a God of revolution who breaks the chains of slavery. The oppressors’ God is a God of slavery and must be destroyed along with the oppressors.”[12]

[1] Erna Brodber, History and Social Death, (Caribbean Quarterly. 2012), 111-115

[2] Aime Cesaire, “Discourse on Colonialism,” in African Philosophy 1998, edited by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (Malden, Massachusets: Blackwell Publsihes Inc.), 226

[3] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (New York, NY: Grove Press. 2004), 18

[4] Ibid, 4

[5] For example, Fanon writes, “I am talking of Christianity and this should come to as no surprise to anybody. The Church in the colonies a white man’s Church, a foreigners’ Church. It does not call the colonized to the ways of God, but to the ways of the white man, to the ways of the master, the ways of the oppressor.” Ibid, 7

[6] Ibid, 168

[7] Josiah Young, Pan-African Deliverance: Providence and The Legacy of Ancestors, (Trenton, NJ:Africa World Press. January 1992), 18-20

[8] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (New York, NY: Grove Press. 2004), 1

[9] Ibid, 168

[10] Found in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Ibid, 46

[11] Ibid, 6

[12] James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1986), 61