Sunday, January 28, 2018

Why I Am (Not) an Afropessimist [VIDEO]

by Danae Martinez

ok so let me first say a little about me so you know where i am coming from. 

i don't consider myself an Afropessimist really, but i think the analysis helps explain a lot of what i have seen throughout my life and speaks back to some of the harmful things i see within social justice circles. i am, however, marrying an afropessimist, and Frank Wilderson, along with other Afropessimists who i know personally, has been instrumental in my level of development as of late. 

having said that, i was raised in the bay area and have travelled to several black/African countries, including living for somewhat long periods of time in Jamaica and South Africa and visiting briefly to Cuba. I have been in this movement in various ways throughout my life since i was 13. I trained and learned with black marxists, Afrocentrists, pan africanists, black feminists/womanists, and revolutionary nationalists in the US, South Africa and Jamaica.

let me be clear: i went back to college to learn how to do a revolution, not to be a professor or even to get a job. yes, very naive, but it has helped me to center even my research on what i believe is important for the struggle for freedom for all. but my concentration is more focused on people of African descent all over the world. i believe i came to the earth to be as much help as i can to absolutely destroying this destructive system. 

my masters thesis was supposed to be how socialism, african spiritual systems, and violence/nonviolence can come together to defeat the capitalist white supremacist patriarchal system worldwide. I was trying to find that out through interviewing Black/African people from the US, Jamaica, and South Africa who had actually been involved in “violent” struggles to gain black power and take down the system. Needless to say, when starting to write it, it didn't quite work out to cover all that i wanted it to. I narrowed it down to the legitimate use of violence in black power movements. Frank was one of the people i interviewed for the thesis, along with about 15 other people.

there are several things i think need to be taken into account when considering afropessimism and its place in emancipatory struggle. Frank, who is the first self-proclaimed afropessimist, came out of studying as a youth in the panthers' afterschool programs, watching the panthers and loving them, being around for the black power movement, then moving to south africa during the anti-apartheid movement. there, he was an above-ground peace activist while secretly running guns and being actively involved in the umkhonto we sizwe underground movement under Chris Hani’s direction and leadership. (he was raised by liberal black parents who, like many, just wanted an equal chance at the american dream and thought he was crazy for being involved in the way he was.)

because of umkhonto we sizwe's willingness to violently resist the violent structure of apartheid, the movement in South Africa progressed and became increasingly socialist and increasingly able to actually defeat the white supremacist capitalist system (or give a huge blow to it in Africa). but at that point, Mandela and other ANC folks came in and disarmed the movement. the ANC traded black access to electoral politics for a capitalist economy controlled by the same antiblack white supremacist capitalists. and not only that, they actually ended up torturing some of the folks that Frank was down with and kicked Frank out of south africa for being too radical. 

even the socialists (especially the white ones) went along with this shit at the expense of black people. FRANK WAS THERE. HE SAW ALL THAT! i'm sure he had to do some work inside himself to explain what the hell he was seeing in both the civil rights/black power movements and in the anti-apartheid movement. he saw things not just in marxist terms (cuz he was a marxist at some points), and not just in terms of white supremacy, but also in the ways in which antiblackness grounds conceptions of what it means to be human, that white psychic wellness is dependent upon the constant suffering of Black people, the constant policing of us to keep us from ever reaching a state of being or humanness, our constant public death, in other words our social death.

and this policing is most prevalent when we attempt to defend ourselves and try to get free. it damn near isn't even allowed to be spoken. i mean how is black lives matter considered "anti-white" unless whiteness is dependent upon our death and destruction? this means that our war is not JUST against capitalism (even though capitalism is essentially antiblack and anti human so to be an afropessimist one really must be anti-capitalist) and not JUST against patriarchy (though afropessimism is against patriarchy) because even the concept of being gendered means you are considered a person-- someone who can be raped or molested-- a someone.

and it's not JUST against racism of all different colors (though racism is antiblack and antihuman, and it must be destroyed). if one were to get rid of racist policies, or racist outbursts of so-called hate, and even if whites are to have love for black people, if their humanity in fact rests on the ability to kill black people in order for everyone else to have personhood, then even after those are rooted out, we would still be in the firing line and the target of that anticapitalist, antiracist group of people. we would still be targets even if people couldn't gain materially from our death or even what they gain from their racism. how do you explain secret sites in chicago with the purpose of torturing black people, totally off the grid? for monetary gain? I don't think so.

though they are called Afropessimists, people mistake that meaning, thinking it means that they have given up on freedom altogether. that IS NOT WHAT IT IS ABOUT!

afropessimists are pessimistic about ever gaining real freedom within the modern world (which is the only world we really conceive of right now), a world that is based on the constant suspended death sentence and genocide of black people and indigenous people. it maintains that, in the long run, we can't just stop at anti-capitalism, anti-patriarchy, or anti-racism, but we must in fact create a very powerful movement with tactics that can be used to destroy this world as we know it. this means it also must destroy our conceptions of who has being-- and what it means to be human-- in this world. and this ain't really that new, though it is being articulated differently.

the ethnic studies movement was started and headed by African/Black people, yet other groups who are against white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism are consistently turning against African/Black Studies departments and even attempting to weaken and destroy them. even the civil rights and Black Power movements benefited others more than they benefited us, even though it happened for the most part on our backs and as a result of our deaths. it's the same with the apartheid movement. In fact, looking at the numbers in South Africa, things have gotten worse for Black people there since the end of apartheid. I think afropessimist analysis helps to explain what is going on at the psychic level to make that shit happen all over the world and time after time.

now, why is that analysis emancipatory? Let me start by saying that in my research, ALL of the people I interviewed said in one way or another they didn’t really realize how long and how much force it was going to take to win. they didn’t fully understand how long the struggle was going to be, and therefore their plans for action were short-sighted. they also did not recognize the extent to which the systems of oppression would go to suppress Black Freedom. they did not recognize the level of sustained force needed because it was not JUST the changing of material reality needed to win. it went much deeper than that! there was still the psychic level of antiblackness in black people and the psychic level of antiblackness in nonblack people that needed to be contended with. Frank helped me to understand the limits of multiculturalism and liberalism because it attempts to keep this shit going constantly trying to make the system better instead of trying to destroy it. this system tends to not see Black people as a group of lesser humans but as a group of NONHUMANS with no rights to safety, no humanity.

in other words, we black people actually don’t matter in this world,tand our not mattering helps to make everyone else matter at least somewhat. They matter because they not us! It is emancipatory in allowing us to know that in this system there is no real safety for black children. it’s not just the practices of bad policing or even racist policies that is the ultimate problem. our death lies in the everyday mundane practices of a system that sees us as things who are fungible-- absent-- not people who are beings, who are alive and have the right to exist.


that’s not to say don’t work towards communism/socialism and don’t work towards destroying patriarchy. it's to say those are huge needed steps in getting to our freedom but they in themselves will not stop black non-humanness. they will give temporary relief to what black non-humanness feels like. and it helps us to understand why, when others get what they want, they tend to abandon and even turn on the black people who invited them to join the struggle in the first place. should we just be caught off guard by that or know it going in?

now, i think what people tend to do is forget that when we look at Frantz Fanon, we see him after his death. if we were to be alive when Fanon was producing, we may have critiqued him and said "how does an analysis get us free?" what if we stopped at Black Skin, White Masks and wrote him off? and, taking it outside the personal, what do we get if we stop at just where an anticolonial analysis is by one person at one time period instead of taking things in the breadth of where the work goes beyond one person’s life into the work of all those who come after? afropessimism is super fucking young and all of the people working on it have to still exist in an antiblack racist capitalist world where they only have so much space to even think and act (not to mention the health difficulties such as cancer of those writing afropessimist work today). There are some awesome thinkers in this group (both academic and non academic) who doing real shit and i can’t wait to see how this will go-- jared sexton, patrice douglass, john murrillo, art mcgee, and yes, my love omar ricks.

it is interesting to me how people seem to have such a strong reaction to afropessimism. i have never seen it as against the ideologies that i hold dear-- including pan-Africanism, anti-capitalism, anti-homophobia, anti-patriarchy, etc.-- that ground me in the work i do for Black liberation. it only feeds it and gives me more tools to help my students, my kids, myself, and others to understand what we are seeing when we see it.

and, honestly, it ain't all that new! lots of the creative artists are making this same argument with their images. (See Mick Jenkins "Drowning," October London "It's Hard to Be a Black Man in America," Kamau "GRā (feat. Nkō Khélí)," Jidenna "Knickers"-- hell, even Underground, the new Roots, Get Out, and Lemonade!) all my revolutionary elders say stuff like "I gotta go to my plantation tomorrow" (when talking about work and their treatment by not just bosses but the racism and antiblackness they face). in fact, it fits quite nicely into an analysis of the paradigms of the above-mentioned systems.

afropessimism is, however, at this point, not prescriptive. yes, i struggle with this still. it does not give us step-by-step instruction for getting out of this shit. what it does give us is an in-depth analysis so that we know the level of force needed to get free. i look to others for the how. Black First/Land First and Fees Must Fall in South Africa, the examples of Thomas Sankara and Maurice Bishop, Cooperation Jackson in the USA, etc.
lastly, on a very personal note, it helps me to understand how, no matter what i say to my white family, they can’t hear me. 

yes, they love me! 

and yet my freedom just can’t be heard! 

My better treatment, yes, but my freedom, my ability as a Black person to not be targeted by police and the education system, to be healthy, to have food, TO EXIST, etc., just for some reason can’t even really be considered. 

When my white family members are deeply hurting my black children because of their blackness, my white family members think everyone had a great time. And when i tell them different, they are angry at US especially at me for being the one to voice our issues. 

How dare i protect those Black children!

It explains why when i do well, my mom is not just negative against me, she is resentful and sees my success as a symptom of WHY SHE CAN’T MAKE IT and the downfall of white people (even though she can’t articulate that). It helps me to understand how instead of being proud of me-- that despite her not helping me, despite my growing up in a home where i was sexually abused at the hands of her husband, my stepfather-- i raised three (sometimes four and more) children while on welfare, while having to be in domestic violence shelters, while my children's fathers were in the prison-industrial complex, while getting my graduate degree and becoming a professor, while consistently being an activist/organizer and getting better at understanding systems of power-- despite my doing all that, according to her, i still don’t know what i'm talking about, and my demands for acceptance, outside of what she needs from me, still can't be heard.

It helps me understand why that same white family actually blamed me for the molestation and said i caused it, or why, in a letter to my mom about the molest, never once mentioned the damage it did to me. 

No concern for me. 

My name did not even show up in the letter once! 

ONLY their concern that my white grandfather would be upset to not be able to still be friends with my stepfather. 

The one that molested me! 

Their concern that my grandfather could not be ok in the world unless my dehumanization as a 10-year-old could be erased. It was not even at the level of justifying it-- it HAD to be erased. 

I didn’t exist, not in that letter, not in that WORLD. 

And why didn't he feel betrayed by his friend? that never entered the conversation. 

Was that feeling even there?

My grandfather was a retired cop. 
if what we do at work affects the way we do things at home-- as Michel Foucault might have said-- shouldn't the need to protect a child-- HIS child-- have kicked in (even by habit)?

it took us a long time to even tell him because i thought he would try and kill my stepfather. but he and my family wanted to stay friends with the man who molested me.

Let that sink in. my family wanted to stay friends with the man who molested me.

Maybe patriarchy could explain that behavior?

Yet, when my white cousin was raped, the family rallied around her. 

so why did the patriarchy not protect me?

I never even got an "are you ok?" 
Not even a call. 
Not even my name in a letter concerning what happened to me.

And yes they love me.... Like the dog that they pet lovingly...for their comfort.

Some people might see my story and think that i am a survivor-- and i am-- that i must be strong-- and i am. but they might see in my story that there is hope within this system or say that there is no antiblack structure. but i have the scars to prove otherwise. 

Yes, i'm strong and i survived, but i survived at a very dear cost to me and to my kids. 

I love my family, but what they did is literally killing me to this very day. When i see the statistics about the cumulative impacts racism has on black women's health-- regardless of whether they are rich, middle-class, working-class, or jobless-- i know that that is #MeToo.

afropessimism DOES NOT cancel out my African-centeredness. i know in my self that i'm not a slave, that i'm not a thing. African-centeredness grounds me and allows me to heal, to make decisions that help me save me inside myself. i know i come from a great, great people. 

Harriet Tubman, Queen Nzingha, and King Hatshepsut give me FYAH!

AND i can yell "i'm an african!" to my family a million times (in fact i think i did when Run DMC's "i'm proud to be Black ya'll" came out), and it wouldn't/didn't change my family's reaction. 

AND it doesn't change the way i have to move in the world because nobody cares what i consider myself, except maybe other black people who the world also thinks are "nobody." my knowledge of my Africanness doesn't overpower my family's NEED to NOT recognize me. they're silent about that, silent in the way of "let me neglect that in order to avoid it because it makes me uncomfortable." and they succeed in neglecting it because that's what white people get to do-- cause Black suffering, my suffering, because they can, and ignore it because they can. 

AND that "can" equals violence to me--in me--on me--
AND my children

Having some understanding of afropessimism has helped me to understand what i am seeing. i understand that actions taken for my freedom, and the freedom of all Black people, cannot be legible as love in this antiblack world. instead, my very success and happiness and existence is perceived by white people-- even my own flesh and blood-- as in some way threatening to their very being and they will fight me and us, neglect me and us, avoid me and us viciously to keep all the power and privilege they have. 


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