Thursday, August 4, 2011

letter to a mentor, about mayor bloomberg's plan to aid black and latino men

doc, well, we're agreed that bloomberg isn't doing reparations and that reparations is a non-starter anyway. in my last email i brought reparations up as a sarcastic figure of speech. you are partially right that anyone could make a valid claim for financial and other reparations based on past suffering, but, more to the point, there is no reparation sizable enough to compensate for the "demolished subjectivity" of being the slave of both state and civil society, as black people are worldwide and as native peoples are in various parts of the third world. as fanon says, the best thing that could happen (for the slave) is the end of the world, something that is not on the reparations movement's agenda, as far as i know (they want to preserve the world so that they can own a piece of it), and soros and bloomberg own the world so they don't want it tarnished, much less ended.

but after i said,"I doubt that the plan is intended to help black and latino men study to become political theorists," you replied that "there are no jobs for political theorists anyway."

i disagree. black people need political theorists.

collectively we need to be theorists of the political conditions that put us in the bad situation we are in. so if by "job" you meant "work" in marx's definition-- an activity from which a capitalist can extract profit-- then i agree with you that there are no jobs for political theorists. i think, however, that the state of black life right now derives from a failure on the part of our leaders to correctly do the (usually unpaid) job of theorizing the problem. and so, insofar as black people are being genocided en masse-- most recently by black presidents and executives-- there is a lot of work for political theorists of black life. if we ignore the "help wanted" ads in the news papers and just read the signs all around us, black life is screaming for help from every quarter-- every street corner and hotel room and bedroom and barracks and board room and sanctuary and security housing unit. black people want to be free. and it is going to take all of us correctly theorizing the problem that got us here in the first place. that is job one. and until it happens, none of our actions will move us further along than where we are now. and because they don't want us to really move beyond where we are now in relation to them-- i.e., at their mercy-- neither bloomberg nor soros wants that money to go toward any kind of training of black and brown people's minds that might really change the state of black and brown life.

you are not alone in what you say. many people say that prisoners in the 60s and 70s were reading too much hegel and mao. i, on the other hand, think that reading (and debating) theories of subjectivity is what many radical leaders did right. they were able to organize radical movements precisely because they were able to help people get really engaged in theorizing the politics that underwrote their subjectivities. by beginning to correctly frame the problem, they wrested their self-definitions away from a state and civil society that defined them as criminals from birth, and as a result, in a manner of speaking, they began to aim their guns in the right direction.

it's the same radical potential that you unleashed (in me, at least) when you had us reading the federalist papers closely in your constitutional law course way back when. i think that you understood that if a group of black students could cultivate the tools to make a thorough and critical analysis of liberal humanism and how we are not a part of it, we could also begin to ask not simply "how can *I* [as such] be incorporated into it?" but, more importantly, "why are *WE* [as such] not a part of it?" and, of course, the next question, by implication, is "if we are not part of it, is that exclusion an *inherent* part of capitalist liberal democracy, and, if so, how can we undo capitalist liberal democracy and build something truer to the radically democratic potential to which modern liberal democracy ultimately failed to live up?"

i think i have arrived at an answer to those questions. capitalist liberal democracy will fail to live up to its own radical possibility always.

from my perspective, blacks right now are learning that they can be incorporated individually into liberal democracy. insofar as they distinguish themselves from the mass of other blacks and are useful to liberal democracy's sense of itself as both liberal (in various senses) and democratic, liberal democracy can use them. this is what has directed most of the policies that have been called successes in relation to black folks (desegregation, affirmative action, laws against discrimination). these successes have also been short-lived, easily reversed, and have not generally been widespread in their reach.

but, and this is my big concern, no one who can be called a leader of black people is pushing us to ask the question of why blacks as such cannot be incorporated into capitalist liberal democracy. we now have well over 100 years of civil rights struggle and social policy execution to look back on. those projects have sought precisely to incorporate blacks into liberal democracy. we now know that, even when antiblack racism has proven ruinous in a material economic sense (based on a cost-benefit analysis), capitalist liberal democracy has repeatedly found an affective (emotional) justification for excluding blacks. the sentiment is something like the one that massey and denton noted in a 1985 study of michigan democrats: "not living with blacks is what makes a neighborhood a decent place to live" (quoted in american apartheid, 1993, p. 94).

massey and denton might have done better to attribute this sentiment not just to a focus group but more generally to the ongoing irony of black life. what is this irony? the world is rich with it. take your pick: the funds used to build the modern capitalist liberal democracies of the world derived directly or indirectly from african slavery and the genocidal exploitation of native peoples of the third world; on the founding document of capitalist liberal democracy, the words "all men are created equal" were penned by slaveholders because blacks (unlike women, same-gender-loving people, working-class people, and other subaltern groups) were not (and at some essential level are still not) considered human (and whatever other exclusions were implied in that originating statement of the USA, and other similar statements, there were no other exclusions from the very notion of the human); and no irony quite equals that of hegel, who said that the inhabitants of sub-saharan africa were uniquely outside of history and were not included in the movement of spirit toward its inevitable telos of freedom.

no one who can be called a leader of black folks can really be said to be thinking unflinchingly about what this affective prohibition against incorporating black people really means. what it really means is that liberal democracy cannot live up to its own most radical potential because, while it will find room for women as such (excluding black women), same-gender loving people as such (excluding black same-gender-loving people), and people of various abilities and socioeconomic strata (provided they are not black), it needs black people to signify what is outside. it needs to excrete, abject, and reject blacks. capitalist liberal democracy needs to warehouse and slaughter blacks until we are needed or until we can be replaced by some other, proxy niggers. it needs us to go away. we need leaders who think about these things unflinchingly before they act and ask that we follow them. our leadership right now consists of what my friend has called "race managers," calibrators of black rage, individuals who have been conditionally incorporated, often via programs like those that bloomberg and soros now advocate, into the service of the genocidal structure and who are accountable for the protection of that genocidal structure, not of black freedom.

bloomberg and soros and others will never be able to bear blacks having a place to think such things through and develop ourselves into leaders who analyze these realities unflinchingly and can act accordingly, nor will they ever fund such places. they will fund places for the conditional incorporation of certain black and brown people. that condition is that one prove that she or he can be helpful to capitalist liberal democracy's project of warehousing and killing all but the shining few black and brown folks, who, like themselves, can be incorporated into the genocidal project.

so a $130 million literacy and jobs program is fine and important, but it is no more than the slaves of modernity are owed from billionaires and especially from the government of one of the richest cities on the planet. it is certainly less than any one of the people who will use it is owed, because what slavery and genocide have taken away cannot be given back. i am glad that people will have opportunities. but i know that the ethical sense that motivates this action is more like a police action than a coup.

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