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Exit Omarosa Manigault Newman, sometime perpetrator of, and latest victim of, palace intrigue in the Trump white house.
On Tuesday December 12, General John Kelly, Donald Trump's chief of staff, fired Manigault Newman and had her unceremoniously tossed from the white house. Manigault Newman was ineffectual and not well liked among the population she was assigned to work with, African Americans. But that's almost certainly not why she was shitcanned. Commentators have seen for a long time that her influence over Trump would make her a target for the chief-of-staff's re-organization of white house staff. And yet several other members of Trump's senior staff besides Manigault Newman must share responsibility for helping him become the least popular president in polling history at the end of the first year in office. So why was it Manigault Newman's turn to go?
To understand, we need to be clear on a few things about Kelly. Apparently, Kelly had feuded with Manigault Newman for months because Kelly disliked her access to Trump. Manigault Newman, uniquely among other hangers-on in Trump's circle, seems to have posed a psychological threat to Kelly's organizational plan. Why? Because of the role Manigault Newman had in affecting Trump's mood, in triggering his infamous psychic meltdowns. In September, only a month after Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as chief-of-staff and began cleaning house, The Daily Beast was already reporting on Manigault Newman's ability to "trigger" Trump as a problem that Kelly would have to deal with:
Multiple sources in and outside the Trump White House told The Daily Beast that, until recently, it was common practice for aides to slide into the Oval Office and distract and infuriate the president with pieces of negative news coverage. [Omarosa] Manigault [now Omarosa Manigault Newman], they say, was one of the worst offenders.
“When Gen. Kelly is talking about clamping down on access to the Oval [Office], she’s patient zero,” a source close to the Trump administration said.
It appears that Kelly targeted Manigault Newman partly because of her habit of storming unannounced into Trump's office, waving the latest outrageous fake news allegations in Trump's face, and setting him off on one of his infamous Twitterrhea explosions. (Actress Janice Hubert called Manigault Newman "Trump's suppository.") Never mind the mantra of absolute personal responsibility that conservatives like to stab at the rest of us. Kelly disciplined Manigault Newman, not Trump, for failing to regulate Trump's erratic behavior. The psyche of Donald Trump outsourced its ego defenses to John Kelly. And Kelly knew right away which figure he wanted to remove.
the department of ego defense
Kelly, of course, has made his name and identity as a defender of the borders of the most sacred places of the u.s. imperial homeland. His prototypical targets come from the swelling ranks of the victims of the u.s. empire's ongoing global genocide of Black and brown-skinned peoples. He is, after all, the former secretary of homeland security, responsible for restricting the travel and immigration of dark-skinned people from central America, South America, and the Caribbean, and Muslims from across Asia and Africa. Before that, he was head of Southern Command, the u.s. army command that is militarizing the border with Mexico and points south. In the several capacities in which he has served, Kelly has long advocated extending the enforceable borders of the U.S. well into South America and beyond, so paranoid is he about the encroaching dark hordes of the world.
So when Manigault Newman, resisting her reported firing, tried to enter the white house residence, the holiest of holies and homiest of homelands, she set off alarms in the white house, but also, it appears, in Kelly, who, along with his boss, had no problem having the Secret Service summarily revoke Manigault Newman's security credentials and having guards remove her forcibly from the property. Forgetting her service to their cause-- Kelly saw the residence as just another wall to defend to keep the dark hordes out. And Manigault Newman had become a horde of one.
That's Omarosa, we can already imagine some people commenting. Always starting some shit. Her reputation for losing white house jobs is legion, and we may be inclined to revel in her recent fate or at least chalk it up to the ongoing difficulties she has had with workplace relationships. Some people might even point out that Manigault Newman has since been allowed back in the white house and attribute this whole thing more to her momentary behavior than to the toxic soap opera-meets-psychological thriller reality TV environment Trump oozes everywhere he goes, like miasma from a bog.
Indeed, it could hardly be that simple, given what we know about Kelly. For instance, two months prior, he campaigned to discredit another Black woman, representative Frederica Wilson. Rep. Wilson (Democrat-Florida) is a long-time family friend of a dead u.s. imperial soldier, Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, killed in a covert imperial operation in Niger earlier in 2017. She had spoken up for Johnson's widow against insensitive comments Trump made in a phone call. And Kelly pounced on the opportunity to essentially slander her.
You may recall that Trump's outbursts against people like Gold Star families (families whose members had been killed in some "honorable" manner during u.s. imperial genocides overseas) and his dangerous and unnecessary bragging and flexing at other global nuclear powers had damaged his credibility, even since before the election. Kelly had been brought into the Trump administration, and later to the chief-of-staff position, as one of several "adults in the room," older mostly military men whose gravitas would supposedly allow them to temper child-like Trump's ill-advised outbursts.
Needless to say, Kelly getting into a fight with Rep. Wilson, Johnson's former teacher and the congressperson of Johnson's still-grieving widow, didn't look like the behavior of an adult assigned to watch over a child. It looked like whatever disease that made baby Trump act so shitty had quickly spread to his caretaker.
It served no long-term political purpose for Kelly to call Wilson an "empty barrel" in the same breath with which he spoke of the loss of his son in combat. It just made it obvious that Kelly was willing to sell his credibility cheap-- credibility he had gained in some circles as a Gold Star father himself. In the end, Kelly inadvertently elevated the woman he attacked and used his own dead son's bloody shirt to clean his boss's latest dirty diaper, which would be soiled again almost immediately. Again, Kelly served not his country, nor even himself, but the ego of Donald Trump. He became little more than a proxy for the (already very active) defense mechanisms of Trump's ego. Sad.
But what's most important here is that, once again, Kelly's impulse, as an extension of Trump's ego defenses, was to attempt to dramatically humiliate a high-ranking Black woman-- this time a congresswoman-- using unsubstantiated information to make his point. Perhaps it's random fortune that keeps him getting into vicious conflicts with Black women. Or perhaps he is continuing his SouthCom mission of extending the enforceable borders of white Amerikkka-- this time into the white house and the House of Representatives. But what is clear is his need to police the borders not merely of the nation but also of the white ego Trump embodies, and his need to do so not merely by disagreeing with but by utterly attacking and discrediting Black women, both Democrat and Republican.
wages of white supremacy
Kelly's moves, like those of his boss, are not shrewdly calculated political maneuvers so much as reactions to their own deep-seated psychic impulses thinly disguised as matters of state. They give us an insight into what an earlier entry here on cosmic hoboes-- borrowing from the work of Jared Sexton and Frank Wilderson-- called the libidinal economy of antiblackness.
Think of libidinal economy, like any economy, as a systematic way that people exchange and assign value to things both real and symbolic. But unlike the material economy (political economy), which assigns value to items based on how much capital they gain or lose you, the currency of libidinal economy is not coin or capital but emotion-- unconscious fears, phobias, anxieties, fantasies, and desires. Libidinal economy and political economy are always present side by side in human social interactions, but sometimes people's actions are based more on one than on the other.
Although libidinal economy isn't always more powerful than political economy, it often is. People don't always do things purely because of the material gains or losses they think their actions will yield in the political economy of capitalism. Sometimes people act based on the economy of emotions-- accumulating that which one desires, avoiding that which one fears. And this isn't necessarily "false" consciousness.
Have you ever found yourself getting with a girlfriend/boyfriend against your better financial or material judgment? That's the libidinal economy at work. You might love this person deeply but have no idea how your relationship would work in the real world where you have to go to work and pay bills. Now imagine billions of people feeling just as deeply, except instead of love for another person it is fear of Black people-- or, in the emotional language of the unconscious, fear of "the Black." And they feel that fear so deeply that they will follow it and act on it, even when it's costing them money and material well-being. You've just thought about what it's like when working-class white people vote, time and again, against interests they share with working-class Black and brown people in the political economy of capitalism.
To be clear, in electing Trump, white people voted against protections of their right to unionize, against workplace safety, against living wages, against single-payer health care and affordable prescription drugs, against regulations that protect water quality and the right to sue banks. They voted for someone who is going to continue to send them and their loved ones into ineffective military quagmires and who is refusing to enact policies to stem several negative trends that will affect this and future generations, including record levels of environmental disasters, decreasing life expectancies, and increased inequality and debt. A majority of white women voted for someone who bragged about sexually assaulting them.
And why did they vote for him? Because he promised to build a wall against the dark-skinned other lurking at the southern border ready to take their jobs and rape white women. To add a touch of white supremacist humiliation, he promised to make the victims of that wall sink themselves deeper into poverty in order to pay for it. We can see damn near every day that sometimes, the fear of the dark-skinned other, and especially of Black people, is worth more than money. Sometimes people will give up their rights and their resources just to prevent Black and brown people from moving in next door.
In his impulse of repelling and removing Black people from the spaces white people claim as white spaces, Kelly is defender of the so-called "homeland" and the white ego. If the white house is built like an ego, Kelly seems to see himself as the last line of defense of its inner- innermost sanctum. In his unconscious motivations, he seems to be clear on who his enemies are, who he needs to keep out. Manigault Newman's access to Trump's psyche was not just a political threat. It, or she, was also a trigger for Kelly's negrophobia.
"the Black" and negrophobia
Some of the best insights we have on negrophobia come from Black revolutionary psychiatrist Frantz Fanon's Black Skin White Masks (original French publication 1952; English translation 2007, Philcox) and Black psychoanalytic theorist David Marriott's Haunted Life: Visual Culture and Black Modernity (2007). Marriott's seventh chapter, "Bonding Over Phobia," uses Fanon's book to examine the deep-seated and widespread impulse to keep Blackness at bay.
For Marriott, white psyches are most destabilized by fear of the "other." And the most "other" other of whiteness ["the true other," as Marriott quotes Fanon saying (220)] is an imaginary figure called "the Black." This figure, a figment of white imagination, is what they project onto us every time they see us or something associated with Africa, Africans, and the African cultural diaspora. Dark skin, full facial features, tightly curled hair texture, hip-hop beats/dances, R-and-B music, ways of pronouncing certain words, ways of styling one's hair or clothing-- anything symbolically linked to people with so-called Black features triggers a response called negrophobia. Negrophobia is a well-known set of irrational fears of us Black folks. These fears are numerous, but Fanon briefly lists a few:
cannibalism, backwardness, fetishism, racial stigmas, slave traders, and above all, yes, above all, the grinning [Sambo-like] Y a bon Banania. (Fanon 92)
The fears arise any time the symbolic figure of the Black is present among non-Blacks-- in the form of, say, Black hairstyles, music, manners of speech, etc.-- but they are especially strong when actual Black people are physically present. And you can usually tell them when people respond with overkill-- more force or drama than they need. Like Kelly going after Rep. Wilson, they be doin' too much.
One time, when I was 11, I was the only Black person at a swimming pool that otherwise had lots of white people, and I overheard a white woman say under her breath, "I'll be alright once we get all these Black people out of here." I was the only one, but, in her psyche, the image of me getting into the same pool she was going to swim in transformed me into multiple Black threats all at once. I was a horde of one.
Fanon exposed this negrophobia when he described a moment on a train when he looked into the fearful eyes of a white French child looking at him. It really dawned on him in that moment that he-- Fanon-- was himself the source of the projected fears gazing at him-- not only from outside but also from within.
"Look! A Negro!" It was a passing sting. I attempted a smile.
"Look! A Negro!" Absolutely. I was beginning to enjoy myself.
"Look! A Negro!" The circle was gradually getting smaller. I was really enjoying myself.
"Maman, look, a Negro; I'm scared!" Scared! Scared!
Now they were beginning to be scared of me. I wanted to kill myself laughing, but laughter had become out of the question. (91)
At least one translator, Ronald A.T. Judy ("Fanon's Body of Black Experience" 1996), points out that the French boy's words-- "Tiens! Un negre!"-- are better translated not as "Look! A Negro!" but as "Look! A nigger!" And that's an important difference to note. The word "Negro" at the time Fanon wrote was still a relatively mild term that many Black people used in the English-speaking world to refer to ourselves. It was considered a designation for human beings. The word "nigger," however, signals the kind of overkill that shows us that more is at work in the little boy's description than a dispassionate scientific observation that someone of African ancestry is in front of him. "Nigger" has only ever been a designation for human objects, exchangeable human cargo, sub-human animals, unworthy of being seated across from a little white boy, available for removal, forcibly if need be, and many other forms of violence. He was speaking from the fear Fanon's presence stirred up deep in his unconscious. Fanon fleshes out the image he sensed the boy projecting onto him:
The Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad, the Negro is wicked, the Negro is ugly; look, a Negro; the Negro is trembling, the Negro is trembling because he's cold, the small boy is trembling because he's afraid of the Negro, the Negro is trembling with cold, the cold that chills the bones, the lovely little boy is trembling because he thinks the Negro is trembling with rage, the little white boy runs to his mother's arms: "Maman, the Negro's going to eat me." (93)
The little French white boy is not alone in this negrophobia. Negrophobia cuts across culture and time. In the first place, the figure of the Black-- here signaled by the boy's use of the word "nigger"-- has been and continues to be shared across widely different places and times, not just between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, but all the way to China and Japan, Israel and Iraq. Familiarity with the "nigger" connects the psyche of this little boy to the centuries-old global libidinal economy of antiblackness that white europeans created when they expanded on the African slave trade the Arabs had hipped them to. This antiblack libidinal economy would "go viral," proliferating through u.s. military force and the cultural hegemony of the hollywood image-making factory.
It's important to remember that this slave trade wasn't just a material relation of those with force and money controlling those without it, of haves and have-nots. When europeans on the deck of the slave ship forced us Africans into the hold of the slave ship, they didn't call themselves "the rich" or "the powerful" and us "the poor" and "the weak." (The poor they always had with them, and, according to historian David Eltis, they could have enslaved their own poor more profitably and less violently than they enslaved us. But that's not how it went down.)
The europeans began to call themselves "white" and they called us "Black" or, as the French boy says, "nigger." "Nigger" meant that we belonged in the cargo hold because we were chattel animals, uncivilized beasts, items of cargo to be locked in chains and passed around for the violent libidinal enjoyment and material profit of others.
Simultaneously, they called themselves "white," not because they liked the color white so much, but as a way of distinguishing themselves from us. Calling us "niggers" helped them build a wall between themselves on top of the deck and us in the cargo hold. They designated themselves as protected by designating us as unprotected. "Niggers" were unfit to be on the deck controlling the ship. Shoving "the nigger" from the deck into the hold was a way of vouchsafing the deck as their own protected place-- a way of making the deck great again by expelling the dark object of fear-- us.
Ever since that inaugural moment, it has been impossible to actually understand whiteness and Blackness without thinking about both the material economy of profit and force and the libidinal economy of enjoyment and fear introduced in that founding moment when european became "white" and African became "Black." Toni Morrison explains it this way:
[I]n that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free but also, with the dramatic polarity created by skin color, the projection of the not-me. (Playing in the Dark: Whiteness in the Literary Imagination 38)
And that is why the fear the little boy has of Fanon connects him not just to his fellow white colonizers and slave masters present and past; it also bonds him with Fanon himself. After all, if the antiblack structure forces "nigger" to mean "slave" or "nonbeing," how could any psyche see the image of "the nigger" in the mirror-- or in a scared child's eyes-- and not at least want to say "not me"?
displacing the Black psyche
It would be one thing if negrophobia didn't matter, if we could allow antiblackness not to effect us, if we could just fortify ourselves with enough self-love as Black/African people to make it so we could really not care what them white folks think. Unfortunately, we must contend, day by day and second by second, with the material reality of force white people have at our expense, an advantage over us that they intend to keep at all costs, an advantage that they use against us every time we start to love ourselves as Black. And so even if we reserve the park and hold "Black self-love day," which we should, the presence of the park police, and the order they preserve, can still vamp on us at any time and we know we can't do anything about it (even if we like to hope or fantasize otherwise).
In case you didn't notice, the most serious, effective, and protracted self-love movements among Black people over the last 500 years have ALWAYS needed armed accompaniment. Sometimes conditions were so bad for Black people that self-love had to come in the form of an armed insurrection, as when Assata was liberated from the imperial prisons or when members of the African Blood Brotherhood helped defend the Black community of Tulsa during the 1921 massacre. Sometimes conditions are so bad that self-love movements take the form of stopping us Black people from killing each other, as with movements to create truces between rival street gangs in Black and brown communities. More often what happens is that movements like the Civil Rights Movement are able to adopt non-violent tactics while pushing for often-important electoral and policy reforms because of the more- and less-organized violence of armed Black elements. If it weren't for those elements who were willing to lay down their lives and freedom just so those movements could be heard, the movements wouldn't have survived long enough merely to say "I am a Man" or "Vote." In areas of violent-ass Mississippi in the 1960s, Akinyele Umoja shows, the white folks would have long-ago committed Dylann Roof-style massacres of Black people every day and twice on Sundays if the Black folks there hadn't shown that they would shoot back, no matter the odds. Sometimes Black self-love has to be violent, and the violence must be focused intelligently.
But when you're Black in an antiblack world, the force of state and civil society impedes your ability to love yourself at deep psychic levels, and Black self-love movements often cannot directly address these internal psychic fractures before they find themselves under assault.
There is no logical or ethical reason why this must be so except that white folks, in some deep-seated and widely distributed ways, don't see us as human and want to continue the structure they inaugurated on the slave ship-- with them on the deck and us chained in the hold. white people have no ethical power behind their many advantages because whiteness has no ethical right to exist. It is based merely on force, nothing more. (Even the cultural aspects of it are largely stolen from Black and Indigenous peoples.) white people are no better looking or smarter, nor are they inherently more capable than we are. They simply have too much force for us to deny the power their fears and fantasies have to shape our material world. And because they destroy even the smallest movements among us that try to create and maintain Black self-love, they also have the power to shape our emotional world as well-- down to the very motherfucking core:
From one day to the next, the Blacks have had to deal with two systems of reference. Their metaphysics, or less pretentiously their customs and the agencies to which they refer, were abolished because they were in contradiction with a new civilization that imposed its own. (90)
Fanon tried to told us and we would do well to really sit with what he's teaching here. He's talking about "a new civilization"-- whiteness-- imposing its "metaphysics" on us. "Metaphysics" is deeper than just a colonizer forcing a colonized subject to obey new laws and go to church. For African "metaphysics" to be "abolished" meant that our whole shit was turned upside down, doused in kerosene, and lit on fire. We saved some elements of our culture from the flames, but what we have is likely such a small sliver of what we had that we can only recover a small portion of how amazing we were.
We even had to define ourselves on their terms. Defining ourselves as Igbo or Hausa, Kongo or Chokwe lost meaning when we could no longer replenish those cultural definitions with those who made them meaningful-- those who spoke our languages or recognized our sacred places. In the hold of the ship, we were all collapsed into the category created by the folks on the deck-- the category of "the nigger." We rebuilt that category into the category "Black people and community," and they keep trying to knock it down. But we lost pretty much everything, everything we knew about our bodies and how to heal them, about ourselves, about life, about family and community, about spirit, about the universe. Hortense Spillers says that "at least gender difference"-- the way we assigned cultural meaning to our bodies and desires and the ways we passed on meaning through our families-- was demolished.
Look, it's kind of hard to overstate this. We think Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey were bad-- and they were, but at least after those storms there were ways for us to link back up with family members and friends who survived. But the slave wars and middle passage and the shit they have done to us Black folks over the last 500 years is damn-near unimaginable-- like living death. It meant that our ways of being were destroyed again and again, and we had to start building every single thing about us all over again, only each time, we had a motherfucker as horrible as twenty George Zimmermans with a whip, a gun, and a dog looking over our shoulders ready to tear it all down again for any reason or no reason at all.
How, under those conditions, can you build any "positive semblances of self" (Marriott 210) that doesn't have to pay no mind to that motherfucker and his fucked up fantasies that are "inescapably and all-pervasively there" (218-219)?
Flash forward from the middle passage to a 20th century train riding through Lyon. Fanon, a descendant of enslaved Africans, sees a descendant of those who enslaved his family looking with fear and disgust at him. It is no wonder, then, that these ongoing 500-year-old conditions even shape how Fanon is able to view himself. "[T]he Other, the white man... had woven me," Fanon says, "out of a thousand details, anecdotes, and stories" (91). And that's true not just of Fanon, but of all us Black people, even those of us who gain some influence in academia, sports, entertainment, media, medicine, military, business, law enforcement, and government-- even in the white house. white fantasies shape the psyches of Black people in fundamental ways. Jared Sexton instructs us to always be aware of white fantasies because tomorrow they will become law. Not only will they become law, but they will also shape how you see yourself as Black. As Marriott shows, the violent force backing that libidinal economy of antiblackness is powerful enough to actually disrupt or pre-empt the formation of a Black psyche (a "positive semblance of self"). It replaces what would otherwise be a Black psyche with a white one in a Black body. It produces a fracturing of our very selves.
Fanon, as Marriott shows, was forced to realize that he was the phobic object, not just of this one child nor of a nation of white French people, nor just of global whiteness, but even of himself. This should be startling to us. Fanon, in other words, doesn't tremble in fear of the little boy or his mama. (A few sentences later, Fanon tells the white mother, "Fuck you.") Marriott points out that Fanon's fear is really of "the nigger"-- the image projected onto himself and all Black people. The power of that libidinal economy of antiblackness has made him see himself as his own worst nightmare ["they cannot love themselves as black but are made to hate themselves as white" (Marriott 215)]. This is the bond that stays implanted in the culture, ready to overtake Black psyches like a virus. The moment we are confronted with an image of ourselves, our psychic impulse is to push it away and build a wall to keep it away.
Marriott's careful study of Fanon shows that the white psyche requires this negation of the Black other in order to maintain its psychic stability-- and that this white psyche is also in Black people. It hates being associated with Black people similarly to the way the white psyche in white people does. The psyche reacts with extreme aggression toward any trigger that associates it with Blackness, even if that trigger is the Black body in which that psyche sits.
white violence, Black self-hate
All of this seems crucial to our understanding of the self-hate we see exhibited all around the world of Black people, not just in Omarosa Manigault Newman. The patterns of Black antiblackness are replicated at several places throughout the antiblack world. One of many examples is how the Dominican Republic today treats (and has long treated) Haitians. Dominicans, almost all of whom are of significant African ancestry, tend to think themselves white and seek to repel the Haitians whom they see as Black and inferior. Dominican president Rafael Trujillo even slaughtered thousands of Haitians in the 1930s in a series of incidents known as the Parsley massacre. He was of Haitian ancestry himself.
The need to negate Blackness or any association with it isn't just symbolic. The psyche compels people to act on it too, often violently.
For example, Marriott cites some of the white rioters interviewed in mid-1940s Detroit by psychologist Richard Sterba, who "discerned in [some rioters'] dreams attempts to offset their Oedipal anxieties: Apparently, they could satisfy their repressed hatred of the white father only by the real and symbolic murder of black men" (Marriott 222).
The white rioters, in other words, healed themselves in a way that bears some similarities to how John Kelly heals his paranoia-- the removal of Black people. In the case of these rioters, the removal was by actually killing Black people in the streets of Detroit in 1943. In the case of Kelly, the removal of Black and brown people has had many more outlets-- combat, military interventions, Coast Guard interdictions, border walls, and even having a Black woman "physically dragged" out of the white house. Killing Black people symbolically, killing Black people through policy and military strategy, shooting actual Black people, removing Black people from one's sight: To the white psyche, it's all the same because the psyche runs on fantasy. The material reality is only important to the unconscious if it differs from the fantasy. (So when Kelly found out Manigault Newman was back in the white house until January 20, some of his libidinal enjoyment probably dissipated slightly-- at least until he can say "good riddance" and really never cross paths with her again.)
At least Manigault Newman lived to perhaps try her luck at Celebrity Apprentice again. What about the Haitians who fled the 2010 earthquake and cholera epidemic to safety in the U.S. imperial homeland? They are now being forced back to Haiti, which is suffering from more than 800,000 cases of a cholera epidemic caused by the United Nations in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people. Trump, the nazi president Manigault Newman continues to serve, has seen to it that these refugees will suffer from all of that too. Any rebuilding they have been able to do in the u.s.-- Trump is demolishing it and consigning the refugees to start all over again.
Manigault Newman is serving on behalf of Trump's ego: the ego of one who has pledged to build a wall symbolizing white amerikkka's fear of the dark-skinned others to the south, one who has vowed to deport massive numbers of brown/dark-skinned immigrants and refugees and close the borders.
There is such an obvious racist psychic anxiety in the administration to which Manigault Newman chose to attach herself that it is difficult to imagine she is not in on the antiblackness herself. Trump is driving to remove as many dark-skinned others as possible. Of course, the dark-skinned people entering the country don't have the structural power to do anywhere near as much damage as the white supremacists running the country. The irrational fear of the dark-skinned other is obvious any time white supremacists speak, and reminds us that whiteness is based on fear and domination of the other, not any actual threat posed by that "other." whiteness-- despite poisoning the planet, genociding massive numbers of fellow humans, and creating the likelihood of nuclear and environmental catastrophe-- is always more afraid of others, and less afraid of itself, than it should be. "Trump inaugurated his campaign," writes Ta-Nehisi Coates, "by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican 'rapists,' only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself."
Manigault Newman, like the rest of us, can look at how many iterations the Trump administration's travel ban has had to go through in order to thinly veil its true targets: Muslims, those supposedly dark-skinned others from southwest Asia and Africa who are imagined to represent a constant threat to the national and global order. The ban is not a rational policy response to terrorist attacks because it wouldn't have prevented most recent terrorist attacks, most notably the 9/11 attacks; every one of those alleged attackers came from places not covered by the ban. Moreover, the list has at no time contained fewer than three African nations, but attacks and threats from nationals coming from nations like Uzbekistan have not caused those nations to be placed on the list. In its latest version, the ban goes so far to conceal its Islamophobia and antiblack phobia that it even tacks on North Korea, the home of almost no one traveling or immigrating to the U.S., and a paltry number of "government officials of Venezuela." It also removes Sudan as a favor to Trump's friends who are trying to crush a rebel movement in Yemen and are using Sudanese ground troops to to help Saudi Arabia and the u.s. imperial military commit genocide against the people of Yemen.
The point is, none of this has to do with actually making the imperial homeland any safer. It just makes white amerikkkans feel safer to remove dark-skinned others. The psyche isn't big on details. It also makes the more gullible white folks feel like Trump isn't wiping his ass with their constitution, even though he is. For example, seven of the U.S. Supreme court's nine justices drank the Kool-Aid and okayed the ban until they can hear more about it and issue a more permanent ruling. (That seven includes the lone Black justice, Clarence Thomas, who, like the rest of the justices, works overtime to maintain the psychic stability of white amerikkka at the expense of Black folks.) This is the president-- or presidential ego-- Manigault Newman serves. And its racism is clearly showing for anyone to behold.
As she is likely finding out, if she didn't already know, even though concern for white psychic stability is the ongoing career not just of Kelly but of every part of the U.S. state and civil society, concern for Manigault Newman's psychic stability is almost nonexistent. The most widespread expressions of concern about her psyche come from us in the Black community: We have been wondering what in the hell Manigault Newman and Bootlickin' Ben Carson were thinking-- working in the big house with a straight-up Nazi for a boss-- in the first place.
Doubtless, Manigault Newman and Carson would say, like other Black Republicans, they are taking advantage of an opportunity to bring Black people's interests into those white-dominated spaces, breaking Black people's unhealthy dependence on the Democratic Party, and changing the racist Republican Party from within, like Esther in the Bible preventing the Persians from massacring all the Jews in that empire.
But this excuse would be pretty weak. Their presence in the Republican party shows no signs that it has tempered Trump's statements of support for police brutality or the forced removal of Haitians, Mexicans, and others who are victims of policy maker Stephen Miller, puppet of Steve Bannon (who in turn is puppet of Robert Mercer) and spearhead of the Trump administration's white ethno-nationalist tendencies. After all, while Manigault Newman is sitting in the window, serving as the diversity token, and waiting on the white supremacists to come around and realize she and others like her are human, her $180,000 a year federal job ain't a bad way to while away the time! Until, that is, her "colleagues" throw her out in the most disrespectful manner imaginable.
The problem is that Manigault Newman's commitment to Trump appears to not just be about political advantage or money. After all, Manigault Newman's role as liaison has continued into her recent post-employment interviews. She recently defended Trump against accusations of racism, saying that he is "racial, but he is not a racist." She doesn't even have to defend him any more, especially after how Trump let Kelly do her. She just chooses to defend him.
And, while Manigault Newman shows no sign of being disloyal to Trump, she openly attacks Black women. She has declared "Black women's civil war" on Good Morning America host Robin Roberts after Roberts dismissed Manigault Newman's announcement that she would cash in on what she witnessed in the Trump administration by publishing a tell-all book. Moreover, Manigault Newman also apparently wasn't doing her job of outreach to the Black community very well. She cursed out six key members of the Congressional Black Caucus after a meeting in March. And even several Black Republicans have apparently accused Manigault Newman of blocking their efforts to influence Trump's decisions. And as a result of that, and her already poor credentials of being someone Black people trust, few Black organizations anywhere on the political spectrum wanted to deal with her. Again, as with Kelly, when Manigault Newman rejects Black people and tries to humiliate them, regardless of their politics, it is hard to conclude that their politics was the real problem.
Of course, Black folks know that Manigault Newman's presence in the white house of an openly white supremacist president has never really been about growing Black communities' support for that presidency, or the GOP. One of the central ways the modern empire has seen fit to use its ultimate slaves has been as human-shaped pieces of window dressing without actually changing what's going on inside those windows, the proverbial lipstick on a pig. Examples of this role include public relations consultant Iris Cross, whom BP hired to put a Black face on something Black people had no hand in: the massive Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the largest oil spill in history and one that continues to poison sea life in the Gulf of Mexico. Like Cross, Manigault Newman, Carson, Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell and other Black people are used optically to legitimize a destructive agenda. They are kept silent in creating policy and if they speak they are often ignored because they are chained to serving a symbolic role only. This is, of course, only marginally different from electing a neoliberal Black president to be the figure head of (or, as one writer said, to "re-brand") an empire that continues to thrive (as it has since its founding) on genocide and slavery.
So, after all that Manigault Newman has done to legitimize an openly white supremacist administration daily inflicting harm on her people, after that administration censures her for her bridal photo shoot, tosses her out on her ass, and does whatever else she saw that made her "uncomfortable" during her brief 11-month tenure-- the first attacks she leveled were at other Black people.
In this disparity, Manigault Newman reveals the other side of Marriott's "bond" that white and Black people share: Her psyche is fractured by the presence of a white unconscious that hates her and all Black people. Black people, socialized in an antiblack world, are also thoroughly imbued with the phobic rejection of Blackness. While Marriott and Fanon would say that this is true of all of us, the tendency to encourage Black antiblackness is powerful in certain institutions. We tend to mention Black conservatives like Manigault Newman, Carson, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Tim Scott, J.C. Watt, and Clarence Thomas. But liberal institutions too help cultivate Black antiblackness. Barack Obama was always all too willing to moralize about "bad Black men" when he was president. Donna Brazile faithfully served the Democratic National Committee for years, and it is hard to believe that she would have been as shocked as she now says she was to learn that Hillary Clinton was rigging the Democratic party primaries.
But with Black conservatives who are in office, there is a special kind of self hate that is apparent in their willingness to accept the terms of the white supremacist vanguard elements they hang out with and serve. Obama's Clinton-style politics may be the vanguard of a milquetoast multicultural neoliberalism that will kill Black people first, but it is mildly restrained by the need to at least appear accountable and legitimate. Trump's Bannon-style politics is an even more accelerated and undisguised killing of Black people. Since it is a movement to abandon liberal humanism altogether in favor of "blood-and-soil" white ethno-nationalism, it feels no need to legitimize itself to those outside of elite elements of global whiteness. Public relations departments are rife with neoliberals, but Trump's policies are so genocidal that public relations press secretaries tasked with legitimizing them (see Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders) just look ridiculous. As we see above, the psyches of all Black people in the modern world must already accommodate "a phantom unconscious which appears to hate [them]" (Marriott 209), and there are lots of low-level Black staff in the white house who tolerate the antiblack toxicity of the white house and keep their mouths shut just so they can feed their families. But it takes a different degree of self-hatred for someone Black to actively justify a nazi presidential administration-- even if only by one's presence in that administration. Where that degree of self-hate comes from, in people like Manigault Newman, Ben Carson, and Sheriff David Clarke can be harder to discern.
According to Manigault Newman's Wikipedia entry, prior to obtaining notoriety as a blindsider and villain on Donald Trump's reality show The Apprentice, Manigault Newman graduated from two Black colleges-- Central State University in Ohio (whose marching band was in Dave Chappelle's Block Party) and Howard University in Washington, D.C.-- and came up in the Black church. As one who has attended a historically Black college/university (HBCU), I can assure anyone who needs reminding that they are no bastions against Black self-hate, having had long histories of racist colorlines, especially those maintained by Black Greek organizations, as Spike Lee's film School Daze (1988) depicted humorously. Although Black colleges are often places rich with experiences in which Black youths can find Black community in the process of learning in and out of the classroom, the same results of miseducation and antiblack psychic structure follow us to these schools as follow us anywhere else.
I don't know what Manigault Newman's experiences were like at her HBCUs. In my HBCU experience, the emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) crowded out funds for dedicated Black studies classes--let alone a department-- that could help Black students develop critical or even radical perspectives on the forces shaping our psyches and communities. I had great classes-- like environmental science with a Nigerian chemist who taught us about Ken Saro-Wiwa and environmental racism, introduction to sociology with a Black american sociologist who squeezed consciousness about intersectionality into our lessons where she could, and constitutional law with a white Jewish political scientist who coached us in mock trial and celebrated our successes at his home every year. And of course there was the marching band, the independent performance projects, the step shows, the trivia competitions with other HBCUs, and the chance to meet Black people from all over the world. But there were also ignorant folks, just like anywhere, who showed all the signs of the "miseducation of the negro" and didn't want to let that ignorance go. There were Christians who would say stupid shit like "At least slavery brought us to Jesus," brothers who would say stupid shit like "I can't be with no Black women cuz they just crazy," and lots of "Yo mama so black" jokes. You might hear people say the exact same shit at a predominantly white institution (PWI) (think Morris Chestnut in Higher Learning). With all the kissing up to white corporations like apple, microsoft, and bank of amerikkka that HBCU administrators have to do simply to keep the doors open, HBCUs are under siege. Mine was, at best, a passive space where Black students could form study groups to address topics like Black self-hate. And the administration, like those at PWIs, could often be actively antiblack in which professors they denied tenure to and which student groups they refused to fund.
It is also important to consider that Manigault Newman has apparently lost several close loved ones: her partner (the actor Michael Clarke Duncan), an older sister, to early deaths, and at least two close relatives to violence, including her father and brother. Many Black families face these problems. As a recent fivethirtyeight.org piece reminds us, since slavery, death has always been something the u.s. (not to mention the modern world) has foisted onto Black communities. If, as Achille Mbembe said, "Politics is... death that lives a human life," and if modern capitalism has to have somebody die prematurely-- someone to live in areas where toxic oil/chemical refineries, agricultural wastes, lead poisoning, and the violent trades in sex and illicit drugs are concentrated-- Black communities are where the forces producing premature death will be pushed. If the trauma of several premature deaths so early in her life played a role in Manigault Newman's willingness to serve a nazi president, we need to understand how trauma transforms into self-hate rather than into an analysis of the forces producing that trauma.
Experiences of trauma shape everybody. But when Black people experience trauma, we experience it at an industrial scale and often in segregated environments where the only faces around look like ours. As a result, we often end up linking our traumas only with the actions of other Black people. From there, the gravity-like tendency of the antiblack society to turn everything possible against Black people, along with the psychic antiblackness Marriott examines, can trigger us against Blackness itself, against our very selves-- making it so that moments that force us to face what being Black means in this world are themselves traumatic all over again. And those traumas can shape us from very, very early in our lives.
in us but not of us
So if Black antiblackness is in us, what do we do about it? How do we prevent the formation of more Omarosa Manigault Newmans and Clarence Thomases? (Clearly, there are apparatuses in place on the other side that intend to produce more of them!) This blog is not really a place for specific prescriptive gestures. It's not that new policies and practices can't be considered here. The problem is that so often, we don't understand the mechanisms at work in making us hate ourselves, let alone what creates thoroughly self-hating Black people who elevate self-hate to the level of a political career to the extent that Manigault Newman has done. When we get a clearer diagnosis of the problem, then we can start prescribing the cure. And we need to figure out what gets in the way of Black people developing critical perspectives on the forces that generate Black antiblackness.
Know this: Black people do not, and cannot, generate antiblackness-- we can only pass it on. It's important to understand that so that we don't look to our own Black self-hate as its own genesis. When we know the locations from which antiblackness is generated, our movements, cultural practices, and political formations can address them.
Look at this video from a recent replication of the famous Mamie and Kenneth Clark doll studies.
When we watch this video, we see the effects of a whole bunch of different forces. These forces all converge on Black people, and others, from the time we are very young. They reinforce the notion that Blackness means all that the racist culture says Blackness means. Bad. Ugly. Violent. Stupid. Rejected. How is it that almost all of the children in these doll experiments have an instant response to questions like "which is the bad doll?" and "which is the ugly doll?"-- and they consistently answer by picking the Black doll? This Black doll resembles the other doll in every way except the color it's painted, but it also resembles the child herself/himself. And they pick it as the "bad" and "ugly" doll. It is heartbreaking to see. The children have been turned out on antiblackness. They have internalized it already.
The libidinal economy of antiblackness gets to us early and systematically and it shapes us all our lives. It starts even before we are born, for example, by affecting Black maternal health outcomes: the cumulative lifetime stress of racism impacts Black health-- including the health of expectant mothers-- independently of poverty. But even the fact within the political economy of capitalism that Black people are more likely to be poor is itself a function of racism, due to patterns like intergenerational poverty, job discrimination, the denial of loans to Black families and businesses, the over-policing of Black neighborhoods and the over-incarceration of Black youths-- among whom are potential wage-earners-- racial disparities in court fines, racial disparities in insurance pricing, the tendency of landlords to overcharge and of real estate agents and bankers to steer Black people toward high-interest subprime loans. All of those things, and more, were already working on those children before they were even born. And that's just the beginning of the risk factors that antiblackness and capitalism dump into Black communities. There are many more.
But if these children grew up seeing the concentrated racism and poverty that results from the above practices, they are bound to experience traumas. There aren't enough religious and nonprofit afterschool and sports programs to prevent those traumas from shaping youths who live in and around the ravages of intergenerational poverty and structural antiblackness. No movement seeking policy adjustments can convince Black children that their lives matter if the overwhelming weight of those traumas keeps accumulating on Black children and everyone they know. So if those children do not have a thought framework for how to comprehend what they see as the structural and intentional result of antiblackness and capitalism, it is not difficult to imagine how those traumas can lead to them hating themselves as Black and preferring whiteness, like the children in the doll study video, or, like Manigault Newman and Obama, breaking into the growth industry of serving white supremacy.
In other words, to explain the tendency of Black antiblackness, we have to start by understanding how antiblackness works systemically. This means that it comes at us from a whole bunch of different angles, again and again, in patterned ways. It works on us constantly by making those same connections-- "bad," "ugly," "Black"-- in countless little ways. And before you know it, not only do we believe it, but we can't remember thinking any other way and we think "that's just the way it is." It doesn't mean we all turn into Omarosa Manigault Newman and join the Trump campaign. But its roots lie in the ways the antiblack structure shapes the psyches of all Black people to aggressively attack other Black people in ways we don't dare attack white people, whether your name is Omarosa Manigault Newman, Bill Cosby, Umar Johnson, or Cornel West.
As Black intellectuals, we often tend to blame Black antiblackness on "the media" and "Hollywood" for brainwashing us with "racist images." That's true, and addressing those practices is essential to addressing the problem, but it's also only part of the problem. I sometimes worry that, if we think all this racism comes top down from institutions controlled by the elites, we don't think about how this racism is all around us and how it can even take root in us. Black thinkers call this racism internalized racism.
Internalized racism is like when a virus gets into your body and starts taking over cells. Viruses are so hard to beat because they reprogram the DNA in your healthy cells to reproduce more viruses. In other words, they turn your cells against the rest of your body.
In the same way, racist traumas get into us before we can consciously resist or even question them. They get into our unconscious thought and burrow into our deeply felt emotions. We get turned out on these images. In fancy psychoanalytic talk, we cathect to or form a cathexis with these images-- that is, we form a deep emotional investment in these images. And this cathexis is reinforced with every racist image we see, with every time another brother says to me that he "can't be with no Black woman." Soon enough, our thoughts and actions help repeat and extend these images to others around us. We get others turned out on those racist images that they can then pass on to still others. And on it goes. This is how we internalize racism, even against ourselves. This is how the mass psychology of antiblackness replicates and can even become a culture of Black antiblackness with deadly consequences. Antiblackness literally goes viral.
Even though I'm talking about viruses, I want to clarify something: I think we should avoid discussing racism as some kind of "illness" because I'm just not sure that gets us anywhere. In western society, folks tend to think an "illness" is something an individual "catches" and may be able to cure individually through taking "personal responsibility." The "racism as illness" metaphor would work if racism were primarily a matter of an individual's beliefs about others or herself. But that metaphor can't explain the ways racism is structural, built into the so-called "natural order of things," built even into the forces that shape our psychic structure and our commmunities. For example, how does "illness" explain the ways whole geographic zones-- like East Oakland, West Charlotte, and South Central Los Angeles-- are created and maintained by racism, designed to warehouse bodies who don't matter to the broader society? How would it explain the way racism dictates residential patterns or the directions highways run-- what communities they dissect and what communities they are designed not to inconvenience? And how would it explain the ways that those of us living in those environments are made to learn that our lives don't matter to the larger society and that's why they don't matter to some of the people on our blocks or in our mirrors? Just because I'm saying virus doesn't mean you should think I mean "disease."
Instead, I'm using the example of a virus because of how viruses spread. A virus spreads like a network, through decentralized patterns of attack from many directions. Likewise, internalized racism doesn't come at you from one direction. It invades several different places around you and turns them into new points of attack against you. It doesn't charge at you from one point. It swarms you and turns you into a source of internalized racism for others. And we need to think more about internalized racism as a network that spreads through us.
At the same time, a virus is foreign to us, even though it eventually takes us over. It may work in us, but it is not of us. It comes from places not of our control and is constantly regenerated from those places. Those places can be addressed, but first must be identified.
Again consider Manigault Newman. According to her Wikipedia page, her immediate family, like mine and many other Black families I know, has been ravaged with several premature deaths. What forces converge to create those traumatic conditions that cause so many of us to be on intimate terms with premature death and incarceration? How do those same forces surround us and turn us against ourselves as Black people and have us believe it is simply because of our own personal and collective choices? Certainly Manigault Newman's apparent outrage at getting thrown bodily out of "white" spaces unites her with most of us Black folks. How then does the trauma of physical removal turn into Manigault Newman declaring "civil war" on other Black women while she goes above and beyond to defend a president who promises to create yet more trauma for Black people, here and abroad? The sources of internalized antiblackness are many, but can we trace its sources the way we can trace the vectors through which viruses spread?
In analyzing internalized racism as viral-- a networked form of antiblackness-- we must remember one of the dictums of network theory: The only thing that can defeat a network is another network. Is it possible to swarm, locate, and eliminate the nodes of networked antiblackness that trigger self hatred in our psyches? Would it even be possible to enumerate such sources, or are they beyond counting? Are they all around us? And, if so, doesn't it make sense for us to begin conversations about where the racism hits the road and how we can address it not merely as separate issues but also as nodes in a broad, distributed networked global structure of antiblackness, maintained partly by the genocidal slave state known as amerikkka?
What happens when Black people sit down together as Black people, get into a relaxed and nonjudgmental state of mind, and just speak and listen to one another earnestly? What happens when we just talk openly about anything-- about our lives, what we've seen and done, what's been done to us, and how we feel about it all-- except, this time, free of the pressure to distance ourselves psychically from that imaginary figure the dominant society calls "the nigger"?
Is it even possible for us as Black people to have such a conversation that doesn't resort to the self-policing negrophobic bashing we can hear when one of us says, "Let's not just sit around butt-hurt about racism! Let's take individual responsibility!" or says, "If you didn't vote then you have no right to complain!" or says "Racism doesn't affect me because I'm about my money!" or says "Let's not just talk about Black people--let's talk about all people"?
Fuck all that.
Our psychic and physical health demands that we turn our critical insights toward understanding how Black people as self-hating as Omarosa Manigault Newman could emerge from Black colleges, Black churches, and Black communities; understanding how our children can grow up recognizing the ways internalized racism shapes them-- even if sometimes they do want to play with that white doll-- and still love their Black selves. Such conversations must start locally but would have to open onto the structural antiblackness that we face globally-- in Haiti, Congo, Venezuela, Italy, South Africa, Israel, the UK, Iraq, China-- Libya? And if we held down such an intramural space for Black conversation for an extended period of time-- say, years, even decades-- what long-term solutions might then emerge?
Maybe that's a good place to start with such a big problem.