Blackness

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At the risk of taking a liberty for which I have no true authority, I’m going to say something about blackness. Small (b) blackness has been characterized by Bayo Akomolafe as a quality of being, as a metaphor beyond the constraint of racial identity. In the most general sense, blackness is framed as a statement about culture and history in a world—what we call Modernity, or if you prefer, late-stage capitalism–increasingly untethered to either. blackness is a quality of presence, consciously and unapologetically bringing history into the moment as a way of making meaning, making visible its intrinsic garments. In that sense, blackness is separate from superficialities like pigmentation. It’s an implication of the unexpected, an embodiment greater than physical dimensions. It is the language of uprising, the voice of the whole heart. It arises from instinctual guidance rather than the inertia of mass culture. It’s an expression of wholeness beyond the atomization and categorizations of modernity. It’s the fugitive self, the unchained, the unbowed, the uncolonized by modern convention.

blackness is a mark of independence, whether momentary or perpetual. It is disruptive, appearing from somewhere beyond the sharply codified ‘civilized’ landscape, arising from the relational, the tribal, re-enacting the alchemy of kinship, the recovery of natural authority, the intuitive recapitulation of one’s source, a perpetual invitation to and reminder of the inherent precarity of life. blackness is an escape, a temporary reprieve, however brief, from the Plantation; it is also a recovery of something rapidly receding from human memory. 

blackness is not owned solely by Black people. It may be embodied by anyone, and its enactments are not trivial. As an elementary example, it’s Colin Kaepernick kneeling and it’s also Eminem kneeling (at the Super Bowl). It’s disturbing, enlivening, seductive, anarchic and destabilizing. Its implications reside in hidden capacities, in the molecular algorithms of traits, inherited wisdom, communal practice, shamanic rituals borrowed from the bones of the more-than-human, in whatever remains of traditional cultures everywhere. It threatens to redefine self, family, social responsibility, community, and economy. And it’s definitely an affront to the State. Most of all, it’s a crack, breaking through the cultural obscuration of existential allegiances.

In the conquest and founding of North America, settlers, refugees, religious extremists, and revolutionaries escaping monarchic Europe brought their treasured ethics with them. The entire project of Christianity since its origins had been the transformation of the primary spiritual relationships sustaining every culture it encountered.  Instead of relying on one’s horizontal and historical bonds with land, gods, tribal practices, and pagan customs, the unconverted were called to discard all of that and replace it with a vertical relationship to a single deity. And if they refused, they invited extermination.

Christian whiteness is built on a limited foundation of sacred rules and structures supporting, from an animist perspective, a narrow definition of God, to the exclusion of all other possible sources or views. Its relationship to the irrational, the lustful, the profane, the un-christened disorder of a complex, tangled and uncontrollable world is the essence of its original denial of blackness. blackness strikes fear in the heart of the modern Crusader. No wonder Christianity is obsessed with missionary zeal.

The morality of the Christian compendium of rules, aligned with capitalist interest, requires incremental repression and restriction. The denial must always be reinforced in ever more confining ways, at increasing cost, to manage spontaneous stirrings or any unbridled celebration of what institutional Christianity might regard as the ultimate threat—the discovery of divinity in everything, all the time. In this light, Christianity, for centuries and especially as it came to America, was always a radical departure from the typical inclusion of unseen forces, the witness of animal, of stone and sky, of forest and river in the cosmology of tribal cultures. blackness is a force of nature. If we do not know it, we cannot love it.  Resisting its resonant freedom relegates us to a life compacted in purgatory, neither fully arriving at the new nor being able to return to the old.

Europeans and white slavers from North America also brought their bias with them. It wasn’t on social or political grounds that slavery was undertaken. It was mercantilism supported by a religious certainty that any culture or people relying on anything other than the promise of eternal salvation could never be worthy of equality or the abundant promise of the New World. Even now, American religious extremists are still embedded in the belief that America was originally a religious endeavor in search of unimpeded freedom and that even democracy itself was sourced in religious principles, never mind what the Constitution or its framers might say. For them, church and state could never truly be separate, and some peoples are marked by God to remain eternally superior. Conversion can never even truly erase their primal nature. To Rome, conferring Roman citizenship to conquered barbarians of the North could never change their intrinsic identity. It only changed their allegiance.

The shadow of racism was never solely an issue of color; it’s an institutionalized denial of the pagan Other, the utter refusal to regard any vestige of social and spiritual structures of indigeneity worthy of equal regard.  And even after 400 years, Black people in America can never totally outgrow their roots even if they aren’t exactly familiar with them. They cannot live their way to authentic equality because blackness is unforgivable. Even behind the appearance of total assimilation, they are viewed, along with other ethnicities, Jews, Asians, and Native Americans, by many white people as beyond assimilation—beyond homogenization. 

Racism is much more than a denial of the dark recess of one’s own being. The purpose of structures and elaborations, both the subtle and obviously brutal controls, the hierarchies of the State, the elimination of Black history is to preserve racist preferences, to protect whiteness from any direct experience or confrontation with the Other. Unapologetic, full throated, fully empowered blackness today is the undoing of white hegemony. The more so it becomes, the greater the threat it poses to the privilege of white supremacy and the greater the violence employed to tame it.  

Globalization has been the project of the West for much longer than the appearance of neoliberal economics. Wherever it goes, cultures are undermined and slowly dislodged from their indigenous foundations, the ancestral, historical, cultural, and spiritual anchors that sustained them, to be discarded in favor of the religion of the market. Yes, globalization is a religion. blackness carries an intrinsic challenge to its narrowly defined cosmology. It implicates a receding past and a present increasingly beholden to the techno-driven bureaucracies and efficiencies of modernity. blackness can be an electric charge that shakes whiteness out of its delirium, its narrow view, its privilege, and complacency. blackness is a call to connect with the subliminal, the repressed, denied, and buried pre-colonial common human heritage. Its power lies in drought-resistant derangement, in its disregard for the ceremonies of exclusion, the protocols of inequality.

blackness is messy, uncontrollable, uncouth and…in opposition to the dominant ethic of the time, irrational. blackness is the paradoxical, unruly, weedy, muddy, and unpredictable ongoing-ness of person-making. It is the intergenerational transmission of rules from the inside out, from the ground up. It’s the inversion of Artificial Intelligence. It’s the continuous shedding of the memory of chains, defying the relentless marketing of the new ‘freedom,’ the pseudo-individualistic human whose true identity is quietly digested by the modern anaconda, The Machine. And at the same time, blackness, wherever it manifests, recalls, and gives us a glimpse of authentic freedom.

blackness will always demand to be known, even if it is not speaking. It cannot be categorized. It resides in irrepressible social choreographies. It can be denied, it can be sequestered, controlled, or brutalized. But it will not die. Blockades of rules and regulation can be constructed to thwart it, silence it or to put it ‘in its place.’ But blackness will eventually make itself known because it is somewhere deep in all of us. It is the crouching jaguar biding its time, a savage lesson to the big-game white hunter, to supremacy in any form, to whomever may seek its submission.

blackness is in everyone’s ancestry. The catechism of the mainstream co-opting and monetizing the unconventional is a denial of ancestry, a denial of polyamorous culture for the sake of the sterile and the puritanical. The monomaniacal adherence to monogamy, monotheism, monoculture, monopoly, to a monolithic, monochromatic, and mono-typical digital world is the ultimate objective, a utopian flatland, the Great Reset, the ideal of the Metaverse, the erasure of culture, not simply the ultimate dominance of Western modernity, but the complete structural capture and eradication of blackness.

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