Black struggle and white vitality

Image credit: Kathleen – Viviane Sassen

I’ve been thinking about the cycle that black people have found ourselves in: oppression – resistance – success – co-option/appropriation – more insidious, abstracted oppression. I am worried that the vision of present day activists will be co-opted and while for a moment we’ll think we’ve succeeded, that everything is much better, we come to find that the bonds have simply taken on new, strange forms.

There isn’t anything fully realised yet but I want to put down my thoughts right now, and then continue researching and thinking.

  • Black bodies are disposable bodies. We are reminded of this every time we see dead black bodies on our screens. We are reminded of this when we hear Black Lives Matter. We are reminded by the number of black men in prisons in the UK, Brazil and the USA. This is known.
  • But does blackness function in the psychic economy as simple disposability and fungibility? Is our configuration in this global system of race simply one of disposability and fungibility?
  • There is obviously something productive about blackness. We do not exist simply to be othered and exploited. We do not simply exist to be the ground zero of domination, subjugation, oppression. In terms of the system of race, i.e. white supremacy, blackness seems to have an especially crucial positive quality.
  • The conditions which bring blackness into consciousness also mean that blackness is rejuvenative in some way for the global system of race. The means by which we become racialised subjects, the consciousness that one belongs to a race, is the means by which the powerful maintain their power, the privileged their privilege.
  • After every ‘win’ of the black race around the world there is severe backlash that function to keep the black race in its place, its inside-outside quality, its social death. Every ‘gain’ for the black race has been accompanied by major material gain for the oppressing class. In fact it is directly through the putting through of the ‘gains’ of black folk that the oppressing class gains. I am thinking of reparations for slave owners in the British Empire following the abolishment of the slave trade and slavery; the Reconstruction in America, Haiti’s independence and consequent indebtedness to Britain, France and then the USA; the end of Apartheid and the deepening of black poverty in South Africa; mass incarceration in the USA and prison labour, the role of IMF and aid funds in postcolonial contexts.
  • But I am also thinking of the condition of Blackness as struggle. I am thinking about what Black culture means in the context of cultural capital and cultural appropriation. Black culture is produced under struggle, blues, jazz, rap, critical race theory, any sort of art that affirms itself as Black, graffiti. As Hortense Spillers says, Black culture is a revolutionary culture. But what does it mean when our cultural products are continually taken from us, out of context, made to produce some value for whiteness.
  • I am thinking of how blackness functions in the paradigm of modernity. Blackness is that which was made to birth modern notions of freedom and liberty. Capital, finance, loans, corporations grew to be what it is through the trade of predominantly bodies that were labelled black. It was constituted to aid in the construction of what we call the modern West.
  • I’m thinking whether blackness functions in this world to rejuvenate and transform whiteness when its position is being threatened, i.e. when capitalism is being threatened.
  • I’m thinking of how our theories are incorporated into the mainstream but our oppression carries on, but the mainstream simply evolves by taking our theories and using them to construct new ways of making value, capital while keeping us down, down where we continue to create products to rejuvenate the constantly nearly dead construct that is whiteness.
  • I’m thinking of the use of ‘diversity’ to increase profit in university, in films, in companies.
  • The only way of escaping this cycle, that of struggle, to intellectually and cultural resistant, radical, liberatory production, to the incorporation of these products into the mainstream, to the evolution of the mainstream, to the continuation of struggle. Every time the struggle changes, because the methods of subjugation change, sometimes only minimally and slowly other times quite rapidly and obviously. We become confused on how to deal with the new changes, time is required to understand these new changes and then more time to build tactics to fight and resist with, all the while the oppressing class continues to benefit, with greater increases, from our continued subjugation, and all the while we continue to die. As we build new methods of resistance, these are swiftly appropriated by white people.
  • I am thinking of the impassioned recent discussions on cultural appropriation, on attempts to define exactly what it is, how it happens, what can fall under it. I am thinking of memes and how they are a product of black resistance that are becoming increasingly capitalised by corporations, business and white people. I am thinking of the ways the circulation of these memes is being more closely surveilled now.
  • I am thinking of the inextricability of capitalism and race (racism).
  • I feel as though the discussion about cultural appropriation comes from the recognition by black people of this cyclical history. We are understanding that Western notions of freedom and liberty when it comes to cultural and even intellectual exchanges were ‘created’ alongside and through the conception of blackness as subjugated, of black people as always subjugated and needing subjugation. I am thinking it seems more than coincidental to have such theories of cultural exchange that enable and empower those in a privileged position but give nothing to the marginalised.
  • I am thinking of the post on Tumblr that asked for alternative form of resistance besides protesting to raise the awareness of people who are already perfectly aware and choose to do nothing.
  • I am thinking of Hamilton, The Get Down, Netflix’s roster of ‘diverse’ shows. The V&A’s BBZ takeover. The use of black bodies as enticement, as advert, to induce pleasure, ease guilt, to produce nothing but the permutation of the status-quo. This history goes back to the institutional European practice of enslaving Africans.
  • I am thinking of supposed liberations that always retain a recognisable vision of the future.
  • There seems to be a certain flavour within blackness where our attempts and struggle for liberation simply result in further sophistication, abstraction of the mechanisms of oppression. How can we affirm and fight for liberation for blackness that does not see it incorporated into an already existing structure, a structure whose existence is dependent on our continued subjugation in some way? Instead of liberation we enter upon a new terrain with the same relations in place, namely race. Instead of liberation we enter upon a new terrain, unfamiliar yes, but we remain familiar to each other as subjugated, and not, ‘those who were previously subjugated’.
  • I am thinking now of the Yoruba diaspora, arguably one of the most visible of the African and the Black diaspora and how it is a massive, though largely unacknowledged part of the cultures of more than a few South American countries.
  • I feel as though our propensity for amazing cultural and intellectual products is directly a function of our subjugation and that the continuation and permutation of our subjugation require the oppressor having some access to these products, if not that our subjugation simply requires these products to sustain itself. Are our products under subjugation not what the oppression class desire anyways? After all, good art is made in the midst of struggle right?
  • Blackness, on the stage of white supremacy, functions as a productive machine, a source of cheap/free labour. But blackness for those who actually have it, who are part of it know better.
  • Perhaps I am seeking ways to amplify the thoughts of those already Black, to put through our notions of blackness, our own stage, our own ethics and notions of freedom and liberation. We do not seek to make it commensurable with the desires of whiteness. The existence and functioning of whiteness depends on the subjugation and constant negation of blackness. No more. But how do we protect against appropriation of our struggle?