Skip to Content
My List (
Tufts Digital Library
Comments about this page?
Back to Video Player
Add to List
Download Video File
Plantation Dispossession and the Futures of Black Embodiment
Welcome everybody to our final Mellon Sawyer Seminar session for
this fall semester.
My name is Lisa Lowe, I'm the director of the Center for
the Humanities here at Tufts.
And with my co-conveners, professor Chrisman Chopra and
professor Kamen Rustigor we're convening a moment Sawyer seminar on
comparative global humanities.
This session plantation dispossession and
the futures of black embodiment is a wonderful jewel of a session
that I'm really eager to hear and I'm sure all of you are too.
So I wont to say too much I'm just gonna introduce our three speakers
as well as Chrisman Chopra who will be explaining the format and
also telling us a bit about the theme of the session.
Our first distinguished visitor is professor of history at
Wesleyan University, where he specializes in 19th century U.S.
history, intellectual history and the history of blacks in the Americas.
In addition to a number of essays and articles on black intellectual and
cultural history, he's also the author of The Political Languages of Emancipation
in the British Caribbean and the US South.
A wonderful book and
co-editor with Carolyn Allen of Sylvia winter a trans cultural
list rethinking modernity a special issue of The Journal of West Indian literature.
His current research projects include an exploration of the interconnections
of the discourses of hierarchies of race and cast as well as
an examination of the role of ideas of history, nature and human differences
in the 18th century enlightenment with a special reference to the German McLaren.
Katherine McKittrick on the end of the table is Associate Professor of
Gender Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada her
research is interdisciplinary attends to the links between black studies,
theories of anti colonialism and liberation and creative texts.
Katherine also researchers the writings of Sylvia Winter
of whom you will hear quite a bit today I think, with part of this work
being put forth in the edited collection, Sylvia Winter on being human as praxis.
She's the author of Demonic Grounds, Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle.
And she co-edited with Clyde Woods Black Geographies and the Politics of Place.
She's currently working on a monograph titled Dear Science and Other Stories.
And Alexander Weheliye is Professor of African-American studies
at Northwestern University where he teaches black literature and
culture, critical theory, social technologies and popular culture.
His first book, Phonographies Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity.
Was awarded the Modern Language Association's William Sanders Scarborough
Prize for outstanding scholarly book of black American literature or culture.
And his 2014 book, Habeas Viscus, Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics,
and Black Feminist Theories of the Human, is a remarkable rethinking of black
studies as a corrective to the universalizing discourses of life and
bio politics exemplified by the works of George O Gambon and Michel Foucault.
Currently he's working on two projects.
The first femine, R and B.'s technologies of humanity offers a critical history of
the intimate relationship between R and B music and technology since the late 1970s.
The second black life Short zine situates blackness as
an ungendered ontology of an belonging.
And finally Chrisman Chopra is associate professor of history here at Tufts and
interim director of the consortium of studies of race Colonialism and Diaspora.
He's a historian of transnational modernity with special attention to
South Asia and Germany and is the author of Age of Entanglement German and
Indian intellectuals across empires.
He set work on a brilliant global history of plantations and
the transcontinental entanglements that made industrial agriculture possible.
Focused especially on the circuits of labor, capital, culture and resistance
that developed between the Caribbean and South Asia over hundreds of years.
This project also triangulates the special place of German speaking Europe and
the emergence of plantation complexes.
So without further ado, Chris.
>> Well I'm so excited for this time that
we have together for plantation dispossession in the futures of.
I'll just say a few words to provide a rationale for
the discussion that will unfold by our three brilliant visitors and speakers.
And I think it's important to begin by acknowledging and
recognizing the moment in which we gather.
Of course this was not planned that this
should be the concluding Sawyer seminar for two thousand and sixteen here nor
was it planned that this should be the first meeting that we should really have
in the more Melon Sawyer seminar since the election of November 9th.
And [COUGH] we can think of that election and the moment that we're in,
certainly as an interregnum, as literally a pause, a hiatus between two regimes.
But we can also think of it, I think, as a seizure of power.
And we are awaiting what we know to be a seizure of the grounds on which we thought
we stood on the terms that we thought were the going terms of discussion.
And the ways in which we thought force and
violence are used in society.
Having said all of that I think the scholars that we are gathering around
today have made in different ways the points that the monumentality of violents.
The spectacular forms of violence which we are familiar with in
history are often focused on in ways that overlook the everyday
monumental forms of violence that take place in society.
And in fact black experience plantation dispositions is a way of
speaking about that monumentality that hides in the mundane.
That supposedly invisible form of dispossession, violence, and destruction.
That is, in fact, anything but invisible.
But is visible in every social space in every environment
of the United States and in western modernity.
So having said that, I'd also just on another level say that when we gather
here together my sense is that we have all been waiting for a breath.
We've been waiting for a moment to pause and a moment to
think about the world in ways that allow us to imagine beyond.
This current moment and having these three speakers with
us today feels to me like a moment of fresh air, a moment to breathe.
So I just want to first thank you all for coming and giving us this moment together.
And now a more formal kind of discussion of the terms so
that we go into plantation dispossession in the futures of black embodiment in
the sense of of some landmarks.
That set up the discussion.
The material existence of black bodies and black embodiments have
been developed through and against colonial and racial processes,
of commodification, of natal alienation, of captivity, of forced migration,
of slave labor, cultural dispossession, and of violent despeciation.
And work coming out of the work of the deep root of Professor Sylvia Wynter.
We know that, since the 1400s and even before,
there has been a dialectical emergence of the construct of whiteness.
The construct of proliferating units of the white species human.
And the attendant racial myths, the legal categories,
the property relations that stabilize and
establish this order that make the white human into man and
over represent that man in the field of the human.
And that formulation is very much a formulation from Professor Wynter.
Black embodiments, as the chief other against which this emergence has
taken place, provide a living archaeology of the ongoing racial, institutional, and
capitalist violence that hides at the core of the modern world.
And black embodiments have articulated and
continue to articulate the epistemological and cultural futures, or
the still unforeclosed possibilities, that exceed and
resist the repetitive logics of sequestration and incarceration.
And in this session, we explore the place of the black body and the black
embodiments in the history of the present and in the futures to which it signals.
So with that, I turn it over to Alex.
>> Thank you, and thank you and Lisa for
bringing us together and providing the occasion.
Can everybody hear me?
>> Yeah, it's better.
I feel like I have to climb into it.
So I've been thinking about Chris' words and
some of the materials they sent us before.
And trying to distill what I think the future is of black embodiment.
This sounds really weird, is that?
>> [CROSSTALK] >> No, it's good, it's perfect.
>> Okay, I don't believe you, but.
[LAUGH] >> [LAUGH]
>> In any case,
what I would say is that the future of black embodiment is
also the past of black embodiment, right?
And my own particular take on it and what I'm gonna present from today
is thinking more deeply about Hortense Spillers' notion of the flesh but
also the question of engendering.
And there are a number of different moving parts to this.
And I've distilled a lot of them.
One of the things that I won't talk about but that I would like us to maybe consider
in the discussion is how the plantation appears in spaces that
are thought to be putatively free of plantations historically.
And, therefore, free of black people.
And one of the things that I'm trying to understand in this project is how does
blackness or black life come about in spaces where it is not supposed to exist.
I mean, it's not supposed to exist anywhere, but in particular places where
the presumption is that blackness is not supposed to be there.
And, more specifically, thinking about Western Europe.
So let me just start.
[COUGH] Continuing the exploration of Hortense Spillers' notion of the flesh and
habeas viscus, my talk today focuses on black life as an ontological limit
in the workings of modern humanity.
For Spillers, the flesh, both opposed to embodiment and in a parasitic relationship
to it, represents the pivotal domain through which man marks the hierarchical,
species level difference between himself and his various others.
Particularly African descended populations, which is to say
that blackness and black life have become the negative fleshly foil for
the being of Western white man.
Yet black life is continually made to appear
as mere antique scaffolding in relationship to the world of man.
As historical happenstance rather than as a mattering
force that fundamentally structures every part of being in the world of Man.
Black life, which is intimately tied to anti-black racism but
can never be reduced to it, provides the ontological conditions of possibility for
the world that we live in.
Both the human and the non-human world is my argument.
To say it in Spiller's words, black life is vestibular.
Not merely to culture, But also life and being in Western modernity.
And one of the main ways that the spirit of natural difference between Man and
his black others enquires intelligibility, is through what Spillers refers
to as the ungendering and defacing project of African persons.
Meaning that the genders and sexualities of black life
never quite match up with the hegemonic versions of it.
That they either represent a surplus or a deficit, right?
And as the histories of racial slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow,
the prison regime, etc., they have congealed to debilitate black
subjects' ability to conform to normative genders and sexualities.
And instead of only looking at this as something negative, what my project
tries to do is to think about this as an opportunity for imagining,
not only gender and sexuality otherwise, but being otherwise for
fully and differently inhabiting and embodying the gift that is black life.
[INAUDIBLE] And I'm gonna skip over some parts here.
Post Civil Rights era has very clearly shown that what we think or
thought of as gains perhaps were not gains and
that we are still living in this regime.
Ungendering represents one pivotal mode of the engulfment in the force field of
black life as an ontology of affectability.
Which provides not merely violent objection, but opens up possibilities.
Such as Toni Cade Bambara, who asks us, and I quote, to let go of all notions of
manhood and femininity and concentrate on Blackhood.
Continuing, it perhaps takes less heart to pick up the gun
than to face the task of creating a new identity.
A self, perhaps an androgynous self, via commitment to the struggle.
And I'm still quoting from Bambara here.
I'm not arguing for the denial of manhood or womanhood, but rather shifting.
A shifting of priorities, a call to Selfhood, Blackhood, end quote.
The shift in priorities that Bambara demands with regard to the affectability
of black ungendering, I argue already exists in a variety of guises.
And we ought to consult the histories, myths, speculations,
and these conjurings in order to
embrace more fully the gift of differently enfleshed genders.
But I should also be clear that Spillers' notion of ungendering does not argue that
black people are completely devoid of gender differentiation, right?
Which is why she does not use phrases such as non-gendered or degendered,
or, Say that black people
are simply differently gendered or gendered otherwise than white people.
Instead, ungendering highlights the continuous and
violent processes of negating the gendering of black subjects.
What disability scholars Norma Alvares, in her analysis of Spillers',
calls impairment via their juxtaposition to properly human gender codes.
And in order to better understand this, We should note that the ungendering of black
life appears in the arenas of sexuality and gender expression, among other places,
in the long intertwined histories of genital policing and sexual violence that
black folks were subject to during the Middle Passage and plantation slavery.
I'm thinking of Catherine's work on the auction block, right.
I'm forgetting the name of the playwright, what's her name?
>> Robin McCauley.
>> Robin Macaulay, among many others.
And black people have been subject to since [COUGH].
And just a few examples here.
Sarah Baartman, Jim Crow, as well as the long history
of medicalized genital surveillance and experimentation on black bodies.
And including the criminalization of the transmission of HIV through black bodies,
both in the United States and in Europe.
But it also appears in less spectacular arenas, such as the Moynihan Report and
in the genital policing of Caster Semenya [COUGH].
Overall, we see a clear relationship between not only invisibility and
But also their intimate ties to the inherent killability of black
life through this genital policing.
>> [INAUDIBLE] Sorry.
>> No problem [LAUGH].
Black people's presumed excessive and pathological deviance becomes the ground
for the disposability of black life.
[COUGH] The frequently literal, and at times only intimated,
genital policing in violation of black folks I've only cursorily outlined here,
forms a crucial part and
an intensification of the persistent practices of what Simone Brown
calls racializing surveillance in slavery and its afterlives.
And also dovetails with C Riley Snorton's argument about the different ways
the Western world firmly encases black sexuality in a glass closet,
which he outlines as being defined by hypervisibility and
confinement, spectacle and speculation.
My argument asks how we can deploy the violent ungendering of black subjects,
past, present, future, a black embodiment, as a condition of possibility for
alternate ways of existing in the world.
And to echo a phrase from Sylvia Wynter that I'll be coming back to later,
asking how do we be human?
This means excavating inhabitations and embodiments of the flesh that
bring to light the relational being in the world of black life.
And in the process,
making the constitutive ungendered displacement of black life,
from origin and belonging, habitable in the present and in the future.
This is a very long sentence.
I need to cut it up.
So I'll just skip over it.
It's a beautiful sentence, but very long [LAUGH].
>> [LAUGH] >> In focusing on the affectability of
ungendered mattering, my aim is to highlight the different ways the histories
of black life and [FOREIGN] offer an archive of
altrnatives to being in the world of man in the vein suggested by Tony Ben Barr.
And I quote here again.
Because we are confronted with the terrifying and overwhelming possibility
that there are no models, that we shall have to create from scratch.
And, as a result, affectability stands in the flesh as both the fiction of
empires and as self-creations.
That's an illusion to Dionne Brand, not Warwick, as I almost said.
>> [LAUGH] >> And I am really tired, sorry [LAUGH].
Therefore, the synapses are not always matching up.
In order to think more deeply about black lives' relationship to
today I will talk about one example, a part of the Henrietta Lacks saga.
But in the larger project, I look at Jackie Kay's Trumpet, Audre Lorde's Zami,
Samuel Delaney's Stars In My Pocket, Octavia Butler's novels, Jewel Gomez and
Luke Sutherland's Venus As A Boy.
As well as the ungendering of black public figures such as Michael Jackson,
Sun Ra, Prince and Grace Jones.
And at the moment, I'm imagining the project as a series of enfleshed elements
in an alternate periodic table of black lives mattering.
Some of the elements include blood, glitter, water and cloth, and so forth.
[COUGH] Switching gears here a little bit.
Does anybody have the time?
How long have I been talking?
The recent embrace of all that is not human and inhuman in the broader field of
cultural studies appearing under the guises of posthumanism, animal studies,
new materialism and object-oriented realism, has once again, not surprisingly,
failed to systematically address the question of blackness and
the mattering of black life.
Even though, as Zakiyyah Iman Jackson states, and I'm quoting here,
the very terrestrial movement toward the non-human is
simultaneously movement toward blackness, whether blackness s embraced or
not, as blackness constitutes the very matter at hand.
Which is to say that there's no sphere of the non-human untouched by
the forces of racialized gendering and vice versa.
This means that seeking to better understand the non-human, we would do well
to route this journey through, and root it in the relational mattering of black life,
the fleshy ether of concocted bloodlines.
And if negro blood, indeed, has a message for the world,
as WEB Dubois prophesied in 1903.
And in this project, I'm taking the blood literally, right.
What does the blood at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean
signify in our contemporary moment?
How is it transmitted when making generations is not an option, and when
you've always already lost your mother, father, siblings, aunties, and uncles?
Which is another way of asking how the message of black
life radiates when the blood is not pumping through the veins of individuals,
bless you, designated as black?
Let me give you a concrete example.
While most of you are familiar with the Henrietta Lacks story [COUGH],
the eternal afterlife of her cancer cells and their productive vestibularity for
so many fields of science and industry, including surplus extraction,
what has garnered far less attention is how her cervical cancer cells
influenced the purported first, complete map, a genetic map, of the human genome.
Twenty years before the sequencing of the Human Genome Project in 2000,
another sequence was completed in 1981 in the UK,
albeit not using nuclear DNA, but mitochondrial DNA, mtDNA.
The primary difference between these two forms of biological mattering
lies in the fact that mitochondrial DNA
is transmitted to succeeding generations only through the maternal line.
What later came to be known as the Anderson, or Cambridge,
sequence served as the reference for both the Human Genome Project and
the Human Genome Diversity Project, the controversial project that collected
the genetic materials of indigenous groups thought to be
close to extinction, quote, unquote.
At some point in the process, it was revealed that against the grain of
previous assumptions, the Anderson, Cambridge line, now the standard
against which all other genome cartographic renderings were measured,
was tainted by both bovine and HeLa, Henrietta Lacks' specimens.
And thus did not consist of purely melanin deficient material,
i.e., British or European mitochondrial DNA.
Once this knowledge became public, The Anderson Cambridge sequence was
resequenced in 1999 with the scientists correcting, and this is the language used.
The map to conform to the Euro norm.
That's exercising not only HIRA, but also any trace of perceived Africanity.
And in that area, the fact that Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman does
not matter, because the DNA apparently conflates all forms of blackness,
[COUGH] I guess this is what happens when the family of man meets the door of
The retroactive transformation of the Anderson Cambridge sequence into a white
British human nobody else highlights that we are not dealing with mere absence, but
instead, the violent killing and erasure of black life by any means necessary.
As a result, black life must be expunged from even the perfectly most fundamental
parts of human life, in order for it to begin to resemble human life.
Whether this occurs on the street, in the boardroom, in the university, or
in the laboratory, the continuous unblackening of human life.
And while we can certainly debate whether the negro identifies, and
I'm quoting here being with life.
More precisely, with the vital force, because it's metaphysics or
an expenses ontology, as LÃ©opold SÃ©dar Senghor would have it.
We would be remiss to not acquiesce to the fact that black life represents,
for all intents and purposes, an ontology written in blood, and
that phrase is from Senghor, too.
And gonna skip over a little bit here, and move on to Heidegger.
In his philosophy of being, Martin Heidegger deploys the term Dasein,
which in German signifies a mode of being, rather than subjectivity or individuality.
And he does so with the purpose of not collapsing being with the human.
In any case, to make a somewhat longer story short, so
that I actually do get to Sylvia Winter.
Let me just say that for me,
the important thing about Heidegger's Theorization of being for this context
is that the way that he theorizes Daesin is in relation to death.
And, but what the, and this is what distinguishes man from animals and
minerals, is that man can experience his own death authentically,
according to Heidegger, but
cannot experience the death of others in any kind of authentic way.
And this is sort of where I dock my argument.
I'm left pondering in all of this.
What if, in all the hard work of black life, we cannot but
experience the death of others?
Because it is also our own most mortality.
But differently, what might all of this mean for
black life's relationship to death?
Or inside formulation, and I'm quoting here.
The intimacy of our experience with the lives of the dead,
be those who live the lives of humans or cultures, languages,
genders, origins, belongings and so on.
I'm asking how are over acquaintance with not only the dead per say, but
the lives of the dead.
Conform the basis for an ontology of on being black.
Also, thinking about this in terms of Lisa Lowe's work, and thinking about different
kinds of intimacies with death that are not legible within the world of a man,
or the sphere of liberalism, which is connected to it.
And I use the term not only to black and Heidegger, but
also because it is the translation of the English language term blackness,
as it circulates in German activists and academic circles.
And also, because, as opposed to most German words, which are clearly gendered,
right, the table is masculine, and the door is feminine.
Daesin has a neuter.
Pronoun, so what I want this a passage from Daesin to do is to
arise this ontological silhouette of the UN gendering of black life.
As the unfolded mattering of belonging to unbelonging, and here we get to Winter.
In analogous fashion, Sylvia Winter asks, and I'm quoting, how can we come to know,
think, feel, behave and subjectively experience ourselves doing so
for the first time in our human history consciously now in quite different terms?
How do we be in terms hybridly human?
In this formulation, Winter deploys.
And this is my interpretation, Catherine, who conducted the interview with
Sylvia Winter that I'm quoting from, can correct me if this is wrong.
Deploys what linguistically is referred to the habitual be, or
be with a subscript or non infinite, or invariant B.
That is one of the grammatical harm marks of African-American vernacular, English.
As Russell and John Rickford describe it, uses the verb to be as a distinctive,
in ways that dot that do not occur in other vernaculars.
And [COUGH] furthermore,
unlike invariant habitual B is more than an isolated.
If you work, it is part of the grammatical system, right?
And what this invariant being usually emphasizes is an active and
on going praxis of being, right, so to speak.
And skipping over some parts, but I also want to get to, because as important
the discussion of June Jordan in her essay about African-American vernacular English,
because it goes back to the whole question of death and life.
June Jordan says that the intimacy with the lives of the dead,
given that it has been constantly threatened by annihilation, or
at least the swallowed blurring of assimilation, end quote.
And consequently, African-American vernacular English, and
this is Jordan again, it's a system constructed by people constantly needing
to insist that we exist, that we are present.
Jordan continues her rumination on the ontological dimensions of Black English in
the following fashion.
There is no passive construction possible in Black English, for
example, you cannot say Black English is being eliminated.
You must say instead, white people eliminating Black English.
The assumption of the presence of life governs all of Black English, end quote.
And these are the last two sentences.
Thus, the b with the subscript the invariant b.
And the overall necessary ontological diversity of African-American vernacular
English, for me, provides the linguistic instantiations of black life.
Just as modifies and envelops the Heideggerian notion of design.
They represent the somebody elseness of Daesin.
Offering a glimpse of the dwelling below the viscous mattering of Henrietta
sparkling imaginary bloodlines,
as they sussurate the following phrase to the world, this is how we be human.
>> Thank you for that great talk.
It was a perfect breeding of winter.
[LAUGH] This is just my bibliography that I'm
sharing with you because I don't really want
to pepper my discussion with, as so and so says.
Although that does happen a little bit in this but
also because a lot of my ideas when I was thinking about how I'm
framing my ideas and and how so many of them don't get into papers.
So many ideas don't get into papers but come from conversations and and
books that I read ten years ago or books that I read on my way here.
So it's just a way to acknowledge people who inspire me and
I'm starting to actually just add to it with every talk and see how long it gets.
So you've got a short version this is the second version of this.
So I want to begin by thanking Lisa, Chris as well as Alex and
Demetrius for having this conversation ,as well as everybody
who's attending for participating in this important conversation.
I'm going to just call my talk based on a conversation that Elliot and
Lisa and I had last night, I'm going to title it now Rogue Interdisciplinarity and
we'll see how we do.
This paper is concerned with the ways in which black knowledge is continually
cast as biological knowledge.
Even as our scholarly questions understand the social construction of race to
be undoing scientific racism and biological determinism.
So my discussion today is a plea for intellectual disobedience and rebellion.
Which in the academy I see as radical or
rogue interdisciplinarity black studies.
And this isn't to say that interdisciplinarity doesn't have
I'm also working out the limits of interdisciplinarity in this bigger project
but for now I wanna talk about the possibilities.
So I want to argue that a methodology that is relational,
intertextual, interdisciplinary, interhuman and
multi-disciplinary not only looks back in honors black studies.
So here I'm thinking of the work of Frantz Fanon, W.E.B.
Du Bois, Richard Iton and Sylvia Winter and many many more.
But also provides an ethical intellectual framework through which the study of black
life cannot be reduced to authentic biological data that emanates some kind of
truth about racial oppression.
Part of this discussion is to get us to think about how methodological and
as well as disciplinary commitments foreshadow our intellectual projects.
Foucaultian frames, delusian frames, human geography frames,
gender studies frames, each of these will lead us in a particular direction.
This is not to say that these starting points won't bring us knowledge,
they'll bring us all sorts of knowledge.
But if we want to do radical black studies,
I'm arguing our starting point must be one of disobedient relationality
that is not legible always legible with an academic logic.
Which means that black studies will take us, as Glissant writes,
to an unknown that does not terrify.
So my discussion is framed by a series of academic tensions, precisely because
the disciplines and subdisciplines where black studies can and cannot thrive.
So geography, sociology, English, gender and Women's Studies, ethnic studies and
as Winter and many others note in many cases African-American studies,
are on their own unkind to blackness.
What I mean by this is that a singular discipline or sub discipline or
framework cannot seem to capture the complexity of black life on its own.
A singular discipline or frame because they emerge from and are invested
in colonial logics, can only understand liberation as an extension of colonialism.
A singular discipline or framework because that discipline was and is intended to
track and make data out of black life, can only value blackness as knowable and data.
A singular discipline or framework writes about black death for profit
just as it names itself an anti-racist social justice socially engaged locale.
A singular discipline or framework finds black people,
to nod to Audre Lorde, too alien to comprehend.
A singular discipline and framework knows in advance that any black
knowledge produced within the perimeters of disciplinary knowledge, so
here I'm thinking of the subdisciplines or
offshoots like black geographies, black sociologies, black feminism.
So any black knowledge produced within the parameters of disciplinary
knowledge systems interrupt that discipline.
A singular discipline profits from replicating itself and does not value and
is not fond of interruption.
A singular discipline and framework seems to adore the abject black body but
cannot bear black intellectual life, black generosity, radical black studies,
black voices, black stories and loving blackness as political resistance.
Many research projects across disciplines and
subdisciplines importantly track how the social production of race is enacted.
And how marginalized communities negotiate and
live out a range of ongoing plutocratic and colonial racial violence's.
These violence's are haunted by positivism the social scientific and empirical
verification of racial, gendered, class, queers, locational differences.
Which has led to the ongoing exposure of lingering and
false scientific racisms and biologically determine a script.
As I've argued in a different context,
a large cluster of analytical work on race and specifically blackness
draws attention to the unjust racial violence's imposed on black bodies.
Some analyses of the violated black body are coupled with oppositional narratives,
wherein black embodied knowledge is valued as a site of resistance.
Other analyses of the violated black body position it as evidence of oppression.
While this embodied black situated knowledge importantly and
rightly informs the production of space and
provides a way to rethink our collective and political epistemological grounds.
I wonder how it also continually situates biologic skin to only the bodies,
as essential to alternative non-patriarchal non-eurocentric
mappings and knowledge systems.
Put another way,
what happens when racial knowledge is mobilized solely as a site of violation,
wherein resistant corporial epistemologies are tasked with illuminating inequities.
How are discussions of race, and space and knowledge tethered to an analytics
of embodiment that can only posit black knowledge as biologic knowledge,
that scientifically proves black oppression and deselection?
Does this foreclose the ways in which alternative racial configurations are or
can be collectively and relational liberatory?
Can the preoccupation with the black body,
whether it be liberating it from scientific racism or honoring it as a site
of resistance, perhaps conceal a range of black knowledge formations
that while certainly embodied are not reduced to the biologic?
Indeed we must ask ourselves and I ask myself this often, how black bodies rather
than black people are informing how we understand the production of knowledge.
And as well, how these bodies that tidally uphold our academic ideas inadvertently or
explicitly replicate a biocentric order.
This is an urgent analytical problem, because so
often black knowledge is analytically posited in advance as biologic,
an oppressed body that body knowledge emanates from.
It always proves racial violence, and
is therefore already marginal or excluded or outside to how we know.
These racial geographies and knowledges and lingering racisms can,
we also know, seep into our analyses as well.
They are disciplined through the production of academic space and
through the racial codification of scholarly rules.
Just to say, in a short handed way,
a project on black bodies will get funded before a project on black people.
So these academic codes and rules demand how races lived, debated,
departmentalized, interdepartmentalized, and mapped out in university settings.
So what I wanna think about and what I wanna discuss in the conversation
portion of this panel is how engaging interdisciplinarity, and
forging relational knowledges in genders, anti-Colonial academic research and
teaching, while also disrupting biocentric scripts,
disciplined ways of knowing, and the spatial workings of knowledge.
With these purposes in mind, the discussion cues Frantz Fanon.
Noting that black skin, white masks is,
among other things, a beautiful interdisciplinary text.
In this work, Fanon asks that we not only unsettle the fact of blackness and
the lived experience of the black.
He asks that we read across a range of text and sources, so poetry,
psychiatric study, historical archives, jazz, fiction,
philosophy, folklore, in order to make the unsettlement possible.
What Fanon alerts us to is how the act of disciplining thought, so
the process of habitually delimiting what we know about blackness through
honoring colonial parameters.
So how the act of disciplining thoughts stabilizes race and
Put differently, the biocentric logic of race, which sorts and
assesses bodies according to phenotype, and attendant evolutionary scripts,
is part of a larger common sense belief system that seemingly knows, and
thus stabilizes, the biological data that validates unevolved black deviance.
This belief system knows in advance who should live, who should survive,
who should die, who is naturally selected, and who is naturally unselected.
Indeed, this biocentric belief system is steadily carried forward,
not articulating itself in the same way over time and place, but
certainly shaping what we think we know about and how we know black people.
What kind of conceptual possibilities emerge from the kind of radical
interdisciplinary black studies Fanon uses in black skin white masks?
I suggest that paying close attention to, and drawing out and forging relational
knowledges, provides us as academics and thinkers who are invested in undoing
the normalized workings of anti-blackness, with analytical mechanisms that allow
us to do anti-colonial work in a variety of university settings that, as we know,
were not built to support or recognize black communities and intellectuals.
Part of our intellectual task then is to work out how different kinds and
types of voices relate to each other, and open up unexpected and
surprising ways to think about liberation, knowledge, history, race, gender,
narrative of blackness, and so on.
In terms of black studies, the libertarian task is not to measure and
assess the unfree and seek consolation in naming violence, but
rather posit that many divergent and different and
relational voices of unfreedom are analytical and intellectual sites that can
tell us something new about our academic concerns and our anti colonial futures.
So in my next project, Dear Science and Other Stories, or
The Revolutionary Demand for Happiness, which is really just cobbled together from
cool things that Sylvia Winter has told me or written.
So I'll work on the title, and it's getting longer,
of course, cuz it's a Winter title.
So in my next project,
Dear Science, I hope to work out some of these tensions and problems.
I've become increasingly interested in how black life is tied to creative and
intellectual, physiological, and neurological labor,
as well as the physical cost of practicing a range of black studies.
And therefore I'm not abandoning the body or the biologic, we are,
after all, flesh and bones and blood and water, as Alex just noted.
Rather, I want to approach the biologic as relational to black intellectual life and
I want to think about a way to honor black life in ways that
do not require beginning with, and then saving the violated black body.
Using Sylvia Winter's unpublished monograph,
Black Metamorphosis as a Foundation,
the project will explore scientifically imaginative liberations.
In Black Metamorphosis, Winter tracks how black cultural production
is a necessary and life-giving psychic and
physiological response to the brutalities of anti-black violence.
As a psychic and physiological response to anti-blackness,
black cultural producers reconfigure normative and
biologically determinist understandings of race by creating works that are in
tandem with, yet imagine futures outside colonial logics.
Many black musical texts, to give an obvious example, are lyrical and
sonic critiques of colonialism, racism, structural inequities,
and anti-black violence.
What one can also take from black music,
importantly, are the ways in which these counter narratives to colonialism and
anti-black violence are psychic and physiological experiences.
As studies on neurobiology and
creativity show, the act of making and listening to and engaging creative text,
music, visual arts and so on, brings neurological affective and
physiological pleasure, as well as as well as repair of possibilities.
The creative work is, I'm arguing, all at once resistance, critique, and
a site of neurological and
physiological experience that recognizes black humanity in meaningful ways.
What I hope to sort through are ways to understand and talk about the biologics of
race not as a location of a priori oppression, but rather
as an opening to creative and intellectual intellectual physiologies and black life.
The revolutionary demand for happiness is, then, a demand for a different analytical
frame, a scientifically creative frame, that unfolds into a different future.
This is a future that honors black creative process.
The practice of making life through, in, and as creative texts.
The creative text does not have to be good, or artful, or
aesthetically pleasing, or popular.
What the creative text is does not matter as much as what the creative text does.
And one thing black creative text and black creative process do is illuminate
narratives of black life and humanity, and at the same time create the conditions
through which relationality, rebellion, conversation, interdisciplinary, and
disobedience are fostered, thus the text is not simply a representation.
The text is bound up in acts of psychic and physiological rebellion and
disobedience that continually unveil the limits of casting black knowledge
as only emerging from a violated black body.
Part of this, part of our task and part of creative practice,
is to, and I've written about this also in a slightly different context, but
I wanna work on it a lot more.
Is to honor the creative text as a theoretical text.
If we are committed to relationality and inter-human dialogue,
if we are committed to academic practices that disobey disciplines.
Then the song, the groove, the poem, the novel, the painting,
the sculpture must be relational to theory and process.
These kinds of strategies, so re-imagining the black biologic life as knowledge.
Disobeying disciplines viewing black texts as verbs rather
than nouns engendering interhuman relationalities, asking the groove and
the poem for theoretical insight.
These kinds of strategies.
I hope provide intellectual spaces
sometimes crammed into the corners of the academy sometimes not.
But they provide intellectual spaces
to as Winter says redefine what they want us to be.
>> So I guess It's my turn right?
This is two hard acts to follow.
I should also [INAUDIBLE] Is that better?
Of course, I thought so yes.
So I too should like in join in thanking Chris and Lisa for
this very gracious invitation.
And my comments are basically reflections on this excellent
abstract that Professor Munch has sent us.
So it's actually not part of my current work although I'm
hoping to write an article that has some relation to this.
So, I shall begin with three quotations, I probably should've given to you to put up,
on the first was a little long, the next two, which I wont be able to get to in
the paper, but I still want to give them, are shorter.
So, the first is from John Winthrop who was the governor of
Massachusetts Bay Colony, because yet.
Yes you have to think locally and globally.
>> [LAUGH] >> And
if charity begins at home sort of a social transformation.
I can't see without my glasses, that's much better.
But what warrant have we to take that land?
Which is and have been of long time possessed of others, the sons of Adam.
That which is common to all is proper to none.
The savage people ruleth over man lands without title or property.
For they enclose no ground.
Neither have they cattle to maintain it.
But, remove their dwellings as they have occasion or
as they prevail against their neighbors.
And one may not Christians have liberty to go and dwell amongst them in their
wastelands and woods, leaving them such places as they have for their corn.
As lawfully as Abraham did amongst the sodomites.
For God have given to the sons of man a truthful right to the earth.
There is a natural right when men held the earth and
[INAUDIBLE] every man sowing and feeding where he pleased.
Then, as men and cattle increase,
they appropriated some process of ground by enclosing and
peculiar [INAUDIBLE] and this in time got them a civil right.
So I'm going to consider general considerations for the plantation of
a New England, with an answer to several objections very simply isn't one title.
The second it's some odd was the global so called war.
Third world interventions and the making of our times.
From the 19th century up to 1920,
more than 450 million people in Africa and Asia came under direct colonial rule.
Britain, France, Russia, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The old European colonial powers.
Were followed by the newly formed Germany and Italy by Belgium and
in a somewhat hesitant manner by the United States.
Even Japan, itself a victim of imperialist expansion at
the beginning of the epoch ,joined the club of aggressors.
And the third quotations is from Sylvia Winter, she could have imagine on
settling the coloniality of being power, truth, freedom, I think the title goes on.
Race, was therefore to be in effect the non supernatural but
no less extra human ground
in the reoccupied place of the traditional ancestor god, gods, ground.
Of the answer that the secularizing West would now give to the Heideggerian
question as to the whom and the what we are.
Using the provocative title of the seminar plantation dispositions and
the futures of black environment as my point of departure,
I should like to engage the last line of this x on abstract
conceptualized by Professor John Prine and Law.
In which it was stated that this seminar would explore the place of the black body
in the history of the present and the future as to which it signals.
However, in addition to this I should like to emphasize as also implied in
the statement put forth, the symbolic dimension of the intellectual
schema in the figure of the black would be made to serve
in severe winters formulation as the ontological other
to the dominant conception of what it means to sorry to be human.
Which has since the 18th century been optimally represented in the figure
of man, that of homo-economicas that is on the model of a natural organism one who
labors and speakers of us who goes on the order of things goes with that quite well.
This question is one that opens up onto the question
therefore what it means to be human in this present moment.
One which can be defined by the dialectical emergence of the output
apotheosis of homelike anomalies in the form of the president elect and
the anthological challenge to the to the very conception
expressed in the movement for black lives.
Both of which are in effect of what Gerald Barley has identified
as our present global problematic.
That is what Barney has identified as a globally interconnected poverty, hunger,
habitat, energy, trade, population, atmosphere, waste, resource problem.
If you permit me I should like to do so
in a frame that returns to the first part of the title of the session.
That is of plantation disposition.
For indeed the plantation takes us back to the origins of the modern role in the 15th
century, when the Portuguese would round cable or
dog the bulging cape and land in the 1440s on the shores of today.
What we know as Senegal.
The Portuguese will not only build forts and manufacturers.
Along with what we know in colonial times as on The Gold Coast, but
they will also in places such as the south, may begin to cultivate sugar.
On lands they can now be seen as portal plantations.
This means before Columbus would land in the Americas on the island Espanola,
thereby initiating the institutionalization of sugar plantation.
The idea had already begun to be implemented in Portuguese Africa
several decades earlier.
In fact Columbus had intimate knowledge of sugar production
In the Portuguese colonies.
Having traveled to Madera in 1478, 1479.
Journeys which led him to becoming involved in
the Lisbon base trading circuit that brought slaves to the Iberian peninsula.
And then with sugar cultivated in the Mediterranean basin and Northern Europe.
Moreover, it would be on his second voyage in 1493 that
Columbus would carry seeds for sugar cane from the Canary Islands to the Americas,
and thereby set in motion a process that would change the world.
For indeed in 1513, the first sugar mill would be established on Hispaniola,
illustrating the possibilities of land use.
Such a recognition only intensified the competitive rivalry that had begun
a half century earlier off the coast of West Africa a mong the European
imperial powers for newly discovered lands, now these in the Americas.
Furthermore, here the dynamic would be even more forcefully instituted
in which people from the continent that we now Africa would be
brought to the Americas in a historically distinct mode of transmigration and
would be coerced to work on plantations
situated on lands expropriated from the indigenous populations.
Indeed, here would be the twin birth of the economic basis that directly
led to the rise of Western hegemony, both materially and symbolically.
And I say the latter because this process was enabled,
as Winter has detailed, by the invention, the reinvention of models of being human,
now in an increasing secularizing modality.
One in which the peoples of Africa and of the Americas would no longer be known
purely within the author-centric terms of their own self descriptions, but
rather within a secular Judeo-Christian conceptual categories.
That is, as Indios and Negros, Indians and Negroes.
Modems of identity that they could not have phenomenologically experienced before
their respective encounters with Europeans.
In the context of British North America,
the plantation complex would reflect this dynamic from its settler colonial origins
in the Chesapeake Bay beginning with King James I's Joint Stock Company in 1607,
And with religious separatists on their way to join the settlers in Jamestown,
landing instead in 1620 where they established Plymouth colony.
The second major settlement of that after Plymouth would be the Massachusetts Bay
Colony, of which the Puritan John Winthrop whom I cited at the beginning,
served as the first, and repeatedly elected ,19 times, governor.
>> [LAUGH] >> Winthrop has been considered
the leading political theorist of the founding generation of
settler colonial New England.
Before embarking upon what he understood as a providential mission, he attempted to
allay concerns about the Atlantic venture of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
And that's what I read from the beginning.
His general considerations for
plantation of New England with an answer to several objections contained, and
still contains, much of the theoretical architecture upon which the conceptual and
institutional structures of Western colonialism would subsequently be built.
Such can be seen with its invocations, on the one hand,
of Christian derived equality and universalism.
And on the other,
the assertion of particularistic distinctions that implied differential
treatment in hierarchy of those not behaving according to his way of life.
Rather than interpreting this dynamic only as a contradiction,
it can also be understood as a constituent element of what Winthrop
has identified as the coloniality of being.
Winthrop's representation of lack in the modes of existence of the indigenous
peoples, eg, having a lands without titles, enclosing no ground with cattle,
living as nomads, anticipated things that became even more central to the more
comprehensive enactment and realization of secularizing liberal humanism,
ones whose ultimate reference point always remained Judeochristianity.
A revelatory moment in the trajectory of colonial thinking
occurred with the philosophical assertions of John Locke,
a central thinker in the development of liberal thought.
Operating within the intellectual genealogy of Winthrop,
Locke advanced a theory of society on the basis of natural and
civil distinctions in which the indigenous peoples
of the Americas became the paridigmatic embodiment of the of the salvage.
A figure who lacked the industriousness of those existing in civil political society.
The preoccupation with industry, that is with labor, stems from the determinant
role that he obvious plays in the generating the value of property.
Lack provided an explanation, in effect, a justification as to how what
allegedly belonged to all humans became individualized.
Maintaining that with labor,
at first began a title of property in the common things of nature.
It doesn't to belong to the people there.
These are common things of nature and therefore, they can come and take them.
Fusing natural imperatives with theological ones,
Locke contended that God gave the world to men in common.
But since he gave it to them for their benefit, and
the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it,
it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated.
In other words, they don't cultivate it.
For this reason, he insisted, God gave the world, by which he principally meant land,
to the to the use of the industrious and
the rational, with labor being the title to it.
Such an understanding necessarily implied that the lands not
tended according to European agriculture practices were represented as wastelands,
which could then be legitimately expropriated.
This as a measure argued to be for the benefit of all, yet they are all,
I'm quoting Milock again, yet they are all still great tracks of land to be found.
Which the inhabitants thereof, having not joined with the rest of mankind
in the consent of the use of their common money, lie waste and are more than
the people who dwell on it or can make use of it, and still so lie in common.
These conflicting perspectives are being reenacted as we speak today, between
the water protectors at the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas on the one
hand, and the imperative of the conception of being human as homoeconomicus,
That sees our planetary habitat as natural resources, which are increasingly scarce,
as the premise of economics, that necessarily calls for the digging of
a pipeline to secure the benefits for the society, on the other hand.
And here we do not want to romanticize the indigenous conceptualizations
as being purely in harmony with nature.
But at the same time,
to stress that whereas both are social culturally constructed,
the respective ecological understandings produce vastly different worlds.
The latter of which most probably would not have produced the current
Whereas the plantation complex in the north had immediate direct if
not genocidal effects with indigenous populations, in the context of Virginia,
it would not only have this effect on the original peoples of these lands, but
as well as those brought here to serve as socio-symbolic objects of property,
of course, labor.
As Edwin Morgan has detailed in his classic work American Slavery,
American Freedom, The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,
tobacco produced by slave labor on plantations, in the tidewater region,
became the most valuable product for the colony.
Not only did it serve as the basis of the economy, but in the absence of coin,
tobacco became the principal medium of exchange with promissory notes.
Often been stated in pounds of tobacco.
Moreover as Morgan further noted, the plantation produced tobacco figured so
largely in international economic relations that during the era of 1776 when
the rebelling colonies needed assistance of other countries especially France.
The single most valuable product with which to purchase assistant was tobacco
produced by slave labor.
This development led him to conclude that to a large degree,
it may be said that Americans bought their independence with slave labor.
When one moves from what Morgan identified as King Tobacco diplomacy
in the 18th century,
a similar role can be detected with King Cotton diplomacy in the 19th century.
Most of the world's supply of cotton in the antebellum era came from that
which was produced by slave labor in the US South.
And in the case of Great Britain it was three fourths.
Exported cotton generated more than half of the foreign exchange for
the United States, illustrating the necessarily interacting and
global nature of antebellum slavery.
In his classic work, Capitalism and
Slavery, Eric Williams forcefully made this argument.
Illustrating, for instance, the development of the insurance industry
in the wake of the imperial British slave system planted in the Caribbean.
More recently, following in the trajectory of Williams,
Sven Becker's highly acclaimed Empire of Cotton: A Global History, also illustrates
the way in which US cotton agriculture could only exist in a transnational,
and I would add here trans-imperial economic context.
Based on large sources of credits.
Secured by mortgages on slaves.
Which, as William had also stated, often centered on the London Stock Exchange.
Indeed, he pointed out, this is Becket.
One of the modern financial tools that emerged from the plantation complex
would be the futures market.
Okay. I'm going through my Brothers Bank.
I'm going to go through all that.
Sold to European and US.
No, that's still part of the parentheses. Sorry,
the futures market in which goods and
shipments that were to arrive at a time in the future, could nonetheless be traded.
And by the mid-19th century, even be used as collateral for bank loans.
Although I've emphasized the economic aspect of the plantation,
I should also like to make clear, there was not only an economic institution.
And in fact, it was in its signifying dimensions that we can see much continuity
to which the movement of black lives is the latest response
in the history of black contestation and counter cosmogonies.
By this I mean that the underlying ontological and conceptualizations.
The reclassification of the indigenous peoples of Africa and
the Americas as indios and negroes, and thereby its land and their land and labor.
Modalities of expropriation were indispensable in the instituting and
stable replication of the plantation system.
This was of course much better understood by its theoreticians
who defended the Plantocratic order, such as John C.
Calhoun and James Hammond.
For this reason I hesitate to say what happens today is like slavery,
is Neo-slavery, worse than slavery, prisoner slavery, slavery as state.
Because if slavery on US plantations were defined by a brutalizing extraction of
labor, and of lives and livelihoods of the indigenous peoples.
What occurs today, while it clearly has resonances with issues of labor,
should not only be focused there.
Such as because the issue of the unemployed, the underemployed.
Not to mention the homeless and
completely despondent, needs to be reckoned with in new conceptual terms.
Every description, every conceptualization of the past of this country, and
given its inextricable link to the expansion of the Western model of being
human, including and globally.
Which many before me have called for.
Would therefore have to take seriously
the specificity of the situation of the figure of the black.
Which as the winter citation asserts,
at the same time raises the fundamental issue of who we are as human.
One of the legacies bequeathed to us from the plantation system, which in the case
of monocultural [INAUDIBLE], exhausted, not only lands, but as well as labor.
Is that whilst it would continue to depend on cheap labor.
Or the system continue to depend on cheap labor in the post labor context.
It was, it is increasingly the case that certain types of labor are going to be
Despite what the president elect claims today,
as you know of course he said about the whole question of the carrier moving jobs.
Not moving jobs to Mexico.
Despite what the president elect claims about jobs moving to other parts of
the world due to cheap labor.
And some of this can be verified.
What is not stated, and what cannot be seen or
addressed is the number of jobs being lost to automation.
And such is because labor has emancipated itself from capital as Sygmunt Bauman and
others have noted.
This means that we need to begin to conceive of society and
therefore an economy, no longer based on the industrial model of labor.
Which have become the plantations.
Such is already the reality of many, especially blacks who find
themselves caught between the so-called formal labor market, and
other modes of provisioning for themselves.
However to do this we must move beyond our present conception of what it means
to be humans as homoeconomicus.
I thank you.
[APPLAUSE] >> All right, welcome back.
These were three extremely powerful, vivid,
and clear-minded presentations that also
have something extremely vital and resonant with our moment in them.
And what I will do is make a very brief comment.
Just drawing out some themes that resonated for
me across the presentations by Alex, Catherine, and Demetrius.
And then I will stop.
And we will have time for what the real purpose is here, which is the discussion.
So I'll just say first that I am struck by the ways that all three of our
speakers are interested in the question of, how do we know?
They're interested in asking us, how do we ask our questions?
How do we form those question marks in our perception of this world?
And how does the formulation of questions, in fact,
often occlude what really needs to be asked?
And what I appreciated about the three presentations is,
the ways that they are giving us
space to ask different kinds of questions that desperately need to be asked.
I'm also interested in how asking these questions in the three
presentations involves acts of deformation,
disfigurement, derangement, unsettling,
uncoding the ways that we commonly know the world.
We, this we being the given we.
The we of a racialized order of a epistemology which
hides as much as it hides more, in fact, than it reveals.
And so another dimension that comes to me from these presentations has to do with.
In fact, the idea of the visual field and how the visual field,
as it is framed for us, makes invisible so much.
even in the way that the black body, it has been in some ways so,
has been brought so front and center in the visual field these past years.
How in that very process, there is a cunning of occlusion and of disavowal.
And this comes up in presentations in fascinating ways,
the way that even though blackness has made it to the mainstream,
made it to the digital media, made it to the nightly news, that almost
now compulsive or excessive discussion about a certain kind of black body.
Or a certain kind of African-American experience seems to be caught up
with as much, just as much, and compulsive, and
recursive and almost addictive project.
Or maybe it's a psychosis, that seeks to yet
again sequester black experience, peripheralize it and ultimately make
the forms of black dispossession and the violence against black experience.
To make this normal, to make this natural and
to hide in the center of the visual field.
To hide in the very center of the visual field, that in fact,
that the complexity of black experience.
And black experience, as the three of our presenters have pointed out in
the ways they've meditated on this metaphor of black embodiment, and
that's where I'll stop.
That black experience is here being opened up for us in a variety of ways, and
I think that's where I'm so fascinated to hearing where the discussion will go.
In Alex's paper, when thinking about black embodiment,
and he takes us in the direction, both of the symbolic, of the artistic.
But also by the end of the paper,
into the realm of the representations around genetic essentialism today.
And how blackness is constructed and
used in this very typical way of the foil for whiteness,
even within the way that contemporary science is thinking about, quote unquote,
cleansing or correcting the genetic code.
In Catherine Mechitrix's piece, the way that black embodiment,
she registers this or she interprets this, in this beautiful
play between what she calls the physical, physiological, and the neurological.
As well as her discussion at the end of the text, the body as text,
embodiment as text, and that the way in which the interpretations
of this text remain open have a futurism inherent in them, which is unforeclosed.
And finally in Demetrius Eudell's paper, the way that
he reads embodiment as he says through different registers,
one being the deep historical, taking us back to
the history of the plantation itself as an inherent, and
in fact, is the central logic for the emergence of the modern capitalist system.
But also, black embodiment as it relates to political economy,
to questions of labor, but also questions of automation and redundancy and
the futures of embodiment in a post-industrial,
in a hyper technologized world order.
So in all of these cases, the ways in which black studies becomes a lens, but
I think in some ways a privileged lens, in which to ask some of the most important
questions about not just our modern times in general, but our modern moment,
as in now, it seems to me so obvious, so apparent and so exciting.
And so with that, I wanna just turn it over to our discussion.
And as people are gathering their thoughts, if the panelists would like to
respond to something that others have said or comment on something that's come
to their mind, since, as we gather up again, you should feel free to do that.
>> I guess that, can I?
>> Yes, please go ahead.
>> One of the things that I would wanna talk about is the question of labor,
and how it appears in both of your papers.
And I was thinking on one hand, and
I'm probably gonna get both the dates and the numbers wrong.
But nevertheless, one of the students in my course,
last night I was talking about this, the story that there were
500 black slaves in the United States when the slave trade was abolished.
And I think the number was 6 million when slavery was abolished, quote unquote,
and the kind of reproductive labor that had to go into making that happen.
But I'm also thinking about what Catherine was saying about neurological and
And of course effective labor, right, in the way that, and
I'm using black bodies advisedly here, are constantly summoned to do
all kinds of effective labor.
But also in terms of the histories of the plantation and enslavement.
I always really struggle, and
this is an honest struggle, right, with calling it labor.
Given that the way that labor is conceptualized, even if it's exploitative.
That there is some kind of remuneration involved and
maybe that's just my limitation.
But I'm just wondering in what way, and this doesn't mean that I'm disagreeing
with all the points that you were making, right, about the wealth that was accrued,
futures etc and so on.
But I'm just wondering if we can collectively come up with another
kind of theory of value, right, that's not based on a classical definition of labor.
Because I mean it seems to me, for
me saying labor in relationship to the plantation, right?
Even though it might have all of the hallmarks of labor,
in some ways dis-accounts the kind of ontological
dimensions of enslavement, right?
If that makes sense, does that make sense?
Okay, does it make sense to someone else?
>> [LAUGH] >> And I'm not,
just to be clear, I'm not- >> No, it's not a problem.
>> So, I don't see the end of slavery as going from one labor
system to another, free labor.
Moses Finlay, who works on ancient Greece, he says that most human
societies have known some form of unpaid, coerced, and indentured labor.
Rather than slavery, it is free labor that is the peculiar institution.
The idea that you actually would receive something as labor as a source
of all value.
I, in this respect, agree with John C Calhoun and James Hammond, labor.
The plantation was a social system, that's why they went to the Civil War about it,
And so I only sort of say this, that, to try and
give us a new genealogy of how we understand the rights of capitalism.
So it's an intervention in that,
I'm not invested in looking at the plantation system but I'm.
When I alluded to those manufacturers, right.
When you think about the production of sugar, there are all these,
CLR James makes this argument very powerfully, it's clever the liquids in
the boiling that he calls it an agroproletarian that is proindustrial.
But the classical European Marxian theory of labor oversees all of that.
In fact Cedric Robinson talk about it, they call it prehistory and saying this is
the history out of which industrial capitalism is going to be born, right.
And that you have to look at it in all of its totality as dimensions,
as part of a whole of a social system that was also political,
because remember now three of the compromise of the ratification of
the Constitution is 1787 was apportioning of taxation representation,
according to a three-fifths compromise and the other of course was a fugitive slave.
This is also part of how you are going to compromise and
become yourself as a nation.
So it's part of the very formation is my allusion to our mortgage right.
So it's part of its structure of the whole social order it's not just a legal system.
To try to get our labors is to take out one aspect of it and then emphasize it.
>> Thank you, I just I want to say, yeah.
>> [LAUGH] >> One of the things I mean I need to
do a lot of thinking on labor and maybe also think about naming what
I'm trying to talk about slightly differently.
But one of the things that Dimitri said that I thought was really interesting is
we're still understanding labor is tied to a model of industrialization and
we're not in that mood.
>> It's finished.
>> Yeah. >> It's finished.
>> And one thing I think that I'm starting to understand in the work I'm doing around
creative labor is that while black labor is tracked and can be put into data,
a lot of black labor is untrackable, and unseeable, and unmeasurable.
So how do we take that unmeasurability and
not track it but sit with it and allow it to give us clues or
give us a way to think about what it means to be human
differently outside that industrialized labor model?
Because I think that's really brilliant and
that's gonna to help me sort of maybe unpack some of the things I'm thinking.
The other thing I think about is that
I don't want to sort
of say that that which is untrackable is better.
Because there is a cost and one of the things that
I've noticed in the academy is that, there's a cost to doing black studies.
And that there are affective and physiological and psychic repercussions
for doing work that no one actually wants you to do in physical.
So that's also what I'm thinking about, but
I don't want to reduce it to a kind of a model of victimization as well.
So I'm thinking across a number of registers and
scales here in terms of labor.
How do we get outside of that model where it's trackable?
How do we honor the work that we can never see but also in terms of creative labor
how do we enjoy the work that black people do to make their lives livable?
>> So we have an open point out we also have two mics,
so if you could just wait for mic.
>> Thank you, great talk for all three.
If the notion of resistance to black thoughts,
black studies is very powerful in all senses.
We would look at three cases in terms historically speaking Haiti,
the black revolution, Cuba, the death Fidel Castro, and
also you can even look at the Congo with Patrice Lumumba where on all three
cases the price paid was extremely severe.
That one cannot have resistance to capitalism and even in a sense
on the goodness of whiteness but to your centricity in all is a static form.
So looking at the human without projecting it onto what
the US intracity does, what is the role then
of the black body to have a sense
to introspect and to say that, you know what, we are going to, in a sense,
impose our own humanity onto ourselves because it cannot be done for us.
So what is the responsibility for black leader,
black thinkers in all the ways are not to be trapped into that capitalistic
model as being sort of essential and in what a view in deterministic?
>> Well, okay so this is the question of the responsibility of the intellectual
the way I take this, >> And leaders.
>> Right well,
what I appreciate about Black Lives Matter is the decentralization.
Because I think that one thing that we do is leaders become isomorphic
And leaders have to be produced by social movements.
So, the case of Haiti of course is powerful and tragic.
Operatic, and that you're quite right because after
you know the revolution in which they had too to fight for
abolition, that under Charles the tenth you have the Roy Ordinance 1825,
where they have to pay France reparations to go back to their family.
Can you imagine?
How do they owe France anything?
But that's the logic of the system.
And so on and I think that and Haiti is very instructive because it is going to be
the first third world nations the first underdeveloped nation and this is a it's
post-colonial but then it's you know they need to pay a price for that.
And I think that if you go to Bandung Conference
in 55 that there was a an attempt to say that to not have Haiti.
We have to have some kind of third world solidarity and
that of course is what Haiti did not have at the time.
And so that's why in a way they were sort of out there on their own and
of course there were contradictions also within you and
in the leadership to sand in and to Salinas well.
So I mean I but I think both instructive
examples for, to the extent that I'm supposed to be a leader.
I don't know if I want to follow me necessarily, but
nonetheless we do have a responsibility as intellectuals.
And I think that we have to acknowledge our own privilege the way in which we
exist in these systems but also how, and I think, Catherine made this brilliant
in her argument, how we have to also try to unsettle many of these notions right?
And unfortunately I think what we have done too much, leaders and
i'd even say some academics, has really been my magic, right.
Is there anything original that, from the black perspective that we have to say?
If so, what is that, right?
You can make this very well poignant book this wonderful right,
that we have to be able to speak on, to me that's very general.
And that's why I had that quote from Winter because her argument is that it
tells you something about the nature of the being a being Human, right?
And, unless we have arms, that's where we have to go, right?
We have to redescribe the human, we have to redescribe our history.
Because, as we see, as you pointed out from November 9th, if we must die,
[INAUDIBLE] our backs are really against the wall.
>> Yeah, thank you.
I love being on panels with Demetrius because, because of that.
[LAUGH] Just full Wynteresque lens, always, it's wonderful and brilliant.
And I think, I mean, I agree,
I'm a bit curious about what a leader would be within our
present system of knowledge and that it is limiting.
And, as Demetrius notes, it is like a copycat system that replicates our
existing system of knowledge, and so on and so forth.
And one of the things I think that Wynter has taught me,
is that the reason that blackness is unique.
And this is where she extends Fanon's project,
is not because it's authentically black.
But because it's produced out of that encounter, that brutal,
violent encounter but it produced something new.
Where we all have to relate to each other differently and
Glissant takes this on in a different way as well.
But I think that, what if that's our starting point,
rather than sort of looking for
some sort of true story that blackness can tell us.
And instead notice that the story that we're telling is messy and awful and
that we can move forward from that because that messy awfulness is actually
what it means to be human and what it means to be black.
So that's not striving to become human on colonial terms but
striving to become human on the terms that we are already living.
And that's why I turn to creative texts a lot in my work, is to sort of couple.
Because I think that that gives me a window into that messiness and
that awfulness that is about living life differently and
always has been for black folk.
>> You have a question?
>> Hi, thanks for everyone's remarks.
My name is Kristin, I'm a first year graduate student at Brown in Africana.
So my question has to do with kind of how do we
think about human liberation in this moment for
black people and sort of begin to conceive
from what we are liberating ourselves.
I feel like in kind of previous moments of history there might have been
a human emancipation that looked more discrete.
There was a slavery from which we emancipate
ourselves or the moment of the civil rights movement.
It looked like it just had to be kind of the civic participation that we had to
get into and therefore emancipate ourselves from that exclusion.
But in this moment, it seems like our emancipation
project is kind of a convergence and a lot of unaddressed and
un-fully emancipated work from our past and our history.
And so I'm thinking about how all might view of Black Lives Matter and
how to think about, maybe in Wynter type terms of that work
being kind of narrative reorientation of the human.
And how do we talk about ontic positionality at the level of organizing.