In his youth, Wilderson lived around or near colleges or universities as his father was a university professor. He began engaging in activism at a young age. In middle school in Chicago, where his family lived when his father was on sabbatical, he organized a civil disobedience campaign to make the "Pledge of Allegiance" non-mandatory at his school. He continued to organize protests and engage in civil disobedience while in university and was suspended for two years after being arrested in relation to a protest against the poor conditions of immigrant construction workers there. While suspended, Wilderson worked as a labourer, freelance writer, and garbage man, hitchhiking around the U. Back at Dartmouth, he participated in work at the Afro-American Society house there, was president of the Black Student Union, and a member of the historically black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.

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But another look reveals that the two poems are actually symptomatic of the fact that violence against Native Americans is not analogous to the violence by which Blacks are elaborated and positioned.

The imaginative labor of these poems is symptomatic of this difference. In the first section of Sand Creek, the poem establishes the filial integrity of the people who are being massacred "men [who] think…[and] women who grab hold of children, loving them, and saving them for the generations who would enjoy the rain…" So, what we have is an intuition on the part of the poet that even though the people being killed are seen as a degraded form of humanity, their humanity is fundamentally acknowledged; and, in addition, there is a symbiosis a kind of cruel interdependence between the genocided victims in the opening part of the poem and the descendants of those committing the genocide "skilled butchers, aerospace engineers, physicists…".

In other words, the relational status of both the Indian victims and the White oppressors is established—a reciprocal dynamic is acknowledged between degraded humanity, Indians, and exalted humanity, White settlers. This reciprocal dynamic is based on the fact that even though one group is massacring the other, both exist within the same paradigm of recognition and incorporation. Their relation is based on a mutual recognition of sovereignty.

At every scale of abstraction, body, family, community, cosmology, physical terrain, Native American sovereignty is recognized and incorporated into the consciousness of both Indians and settlers who destroyed them.

This means the violence the Indians suffer has a utility confiscation and occupation of land that makes it legible and coherent. Absence of humanity. In fact, the poem suggests that a family of murdering, inanimate bullets could have its grief and loss processed as grief and loss more readily than the family of a Black murder victim. There is—in this poem—no mutual futurity into which Blacks and others will find themselves.

The future belongs to the bullet. Filiation belongs to the bullet. Our caring energies will be reserved not for the Black but for the bullet. Reciprocity is not a constituent element of the struggle between beings who are socially dead and those who are socially alive—the struggle between Blacks and the world.

Afro-Pessimism offers an analytic lens that labors as a corrective to Humanist assumptive logic. It provides a theoretical apparatus that allows Black people to not have to be burdened by the ruse of analogy—because analogy mystifies, rather than clarifies, Black suffering. Afro-Pessimism labors to throw this mystification into relief—without fear of the faults and fissures that are revealed in the process. The antagonism between the postcolonial subject and the settler the Sand Creek massacre, or the Palestinian Nakba cannot—and should not—be analogized with the violence of social death: that is the violence of slavery, which did not end in for the simple reason that slavery did not end in Slavery is a relational dynamic—not an event and certainly not a place in space like the South; just as colonialism is a relational dynamic—and that relational dynamic can continue to exist once the settler has left or ceded governmental power.

And these two relations are secured by radically different structures of violence. Let me state the proposition differently: Human Life is dependent on Black death for its existence and for its conceptual coherence.

There is no World without Blacks, yet there are no Blacks who are in the World. The Black is indeed a sentient being, but the hobble of Humanist thought is a constitutive disavowal of Blackness as social death, a disavowal that theorizes the Black as degraded human entity i. The Black is not a sentient being whose narrative progression has been circumscribed by racism, colonialism, or even slavery for that matter.

Blackness and Slaveness are inextricably bound in such a way that whereas Slaveness can be disimbricated from Blackness, Blackness cannot exist as other than Slaveness. There is a compulsive and repetitive "failure" in the poem titled "Law Abiding," as though, in writing the poem, I unconsciously realized the futility of asserting something within Blackness that is prior to the devastation that defines Blackness Judy , and the force of the repetition compulsion with which the poem roils within this devastation is vertiginous.

The poem contains no lines, no fragments which can be cobbled together with enough muscle to check this devastation, to act on it in a contrapuntal way: This is not a case of the "compulsion to repeat," which Freud describes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, whereby the repetition is "something that seems […] more elementary, more instinctual than the pleasure principle which it over-rides" Freud , Twenty-six years ago, a Palestinian taught me the futility of longing for strategies such as these.

This presumption works only for Human subjects, subjects whose relationship to violence is contingent upon their transgressions. Neither filial conflict to be resolved, for example, through therapy nor affilial conflict to be resolved through politics and insurgent resistance has purchase in a struggle for Black redemption.

The violence against Black people, which we are witnessing on YouTube videos, Instagrams, and TV news, is conveniently gendered as violence against Black men. But there is a problem here, and it is twofold: we tend to lose sight of the fact that Black women, children, and LGBT people are losing their breath through the technologies of social death, just as Black heterosexual men are, albeit in less visible and less mediatized ways.

We also get drawn into responding to the phobic anxieties of White and non-Black civil society, the threat of the Black man, and, as such, we offer sustenance to that juggernaut civil society even as we try to dismantle it. We enhance the pleasurable circulation of the modern lynching photograph i.

And, since these images are almost always of Black males, they shape our Black Humanist agenda in profoundly gendered ways. But there is something even more problematic: we come to think of our oppression as being essentially gendered, as opposed to being gendered in important ways. This, I believe, gives us a false sense of agency, a sense that we can redress the violence of social death in ways which are analogous to the tactics of our so-called allies of color.

We want the violence against us to have a gendered integrity, in the way that it does when it is levied against the subaltern. It is not, of course, sanctuary from actual rapes, castration, or murder but the sanctuary of gendered recognition and incorporation which emplotment in a normal political discourse, a normal poem, provides.

The narrative arc of such a sanctuary would look like this: the event of gender equilibrium is now being violated, by rape or castration for women , police murder for men disequilibrium , and this turn of events is the essence of agency through which equilibrium can be restored. By parceling rape out to women, castration to men, our political language offers Black Humanist scholars, Black radical insurgents, as well as the Black masses a sense that our political agency is something more than mere "borrowed institutionality.

When this happens, Blackness will be redeemed. Filial: any community one is born into: nation, religion, ethnicity, family. Affilial: a voluntary association, a community one chooses to enter. Edward Said describes affiliation as "the transition from a failed idea or possibility of filiation to a kind of compensatory order that, whether it is a party, an institution, a culture, a set of beliefs, or even a world-vision, provides men and women with a new form of relationship, which I have been calling affiliation but which is also a new system.

Now whether we look at this new affiliative mode of relationship as it is to be found among conservative writers like Eliot or among progressive writers like Lukacs and, in his own special way, Freud, we will find the deliberately explicit goal of using that new order to reinstate vestiges of the kind of authority associated in the past with filiative order. This, finally, is the third part of the pattern.

The new hierarchy or, if it is less a hierarchy than a community, the new community is greater than the individual adherent or member, just as the father is greater by virtue of seniority than the sons and daughters; the ideas, values, and the systematic totalizing world-view validated by the new affiliative order are all bearers of authority too, with the result that something resembling a cultural system is established.

Thus, if a filial relationship was held together by natural bonds and natural forms of authority—involving obedience, fear, love, respect, and instinctual conflict—the new affiliative relationship changes these bonds into what seem to be transpersonal forms [for our purposes, mediating objects]—such as guild consciousness, consensus, collegiality, professional respect, class and the hegemony of a dominant culture.

The filiative scheme belongs to the realms of nature and of "life," whereas affiliation belongs exclusively to culture and society" Said , 19— Jared Sexton, private conversation. References Abbott, H. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Burrell, Johnnie. Accessed October 1, Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Richard Philcox.

New York: Grove Press. Freud, Sigmund. Translated by James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press. Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers. Hartman, Saidiya. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Judy, R.

Marriott, David. Haunted Life. New York: Routledge. On Black Men. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Ortiz, Simon. Sand Creek. Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death. Said, Edward. The World, the Text, and the Critic. London: Faber and Faber.

Sexton, Jared. Spillers, Hortense. University of Chicago Press. Time Magazine. Front cover, Wilderson, Frank B. Philadelphia: Freedomseed Press.


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Frank B. Wilderson III


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