The intertwined domains of political action and critical thought have undergone a renewed interest in the “anti-” and the “non-” as generative frameworks and approaches. This issue of Propter Nos is interested in the relationship between these two prefixes, generally thought to index a negative orientation toward any given concept or practice. The critical fervor surrounding “the negative” often fails to pro- vide a safe home for such thinking and practice. More often than not, this posture is ostracized, considered “unproductive,” heretical, and criminal—all designations which fall heavily on those positioned as the ‘negativity’ civil society aims to liquidate: the Black, the Prison Slave, the Native. From this perspective, the negative blemishes the neatness of “rational” and liberal-progressivist thinking; it stubbornly and myopically forecloses possibility and plentitude in favor of despair and fatalism. Due to this general aversion to the negative, the finer points of detail between various articulations of negativity are often collapsed, and any sense of nuance is evacuated from this discussion.
Thinking with/in the negative, not merely as a psych0-affective register but as an amorphous system of philosophical sensibilities and theoretical dispositions that tarry with negation as the locus of structural critique, this issue considers the following questions: Are “anti-” and “non-” collapsible terms? Are the “anti-” and/or “non-” only thinkable in opposition to an affirmative posture; or, is there a mode of accounting for the space between, and outside of, these terms? What do “anti-” and/or “non-” offer as approaches to aesthetic practice, political action, or theoretical inquiry, rather than mere descriptors? What is the generative potential of the (perceived) passivity or resignation of orientations toward the “anti-” and/or “non- ”? And need there be the promise of generativity in order to ground a politics?
Lorenzo Komboa Ervin will be giving at talk titled “Anti-Fascism in the the Trump Era.” It is a massline political education event, so bring your family and friends. He will tell the history of Black anti-fascism & explain how any worthwhile struggle against racial capitalism must be led by (& based on the material demands of) oppressed Black, Brown, & Indigenous people.
We are avid readers of Hortense J. Spillers and believe this bibliography of her life’s work will be a useful tool for people interested in reading and learning. Two summers ago our collective held a reading group, exchanging our thoughts on Spillers’ collection of essays Black, White, and in Color(2003). Through that experience we became most familiar with her work. Professor Spillers is a Black radical literary and cultural theorist who is oft cited for her essays “Interstices: A Small Drama of Words” (1984) and “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” (1987). Yet, her life’s work in papers, essays, speeches, and interview transcript spans over FOUR DECADES, and she is writing and teaching to this present day. Please take some time to get to know and appreciate her philosophical outlook. Below is a list of every work (to our knowledge) that she has published since 1970. We’ve also attached a zip file for ya’ll to download most of the titles listed below. Enjoy.
If there are any missing essays, articles, interviews, or titles that you find,
please contact our collective and let us know.
None of the materials are original creations of TLP,
but are republished online for educational purposes only.
Hortense J. Spillers
Working Bibliography and Source Book
[last updated 7/3/17]
“Letters to The Black Scholar (with Paul F. Johnson and Robert Boyd.” The Black Scholar 2:3 (1970): 53-54.
“Martin Luther King and the Style of the Black Sermon.” The Black Scholar 3:1 (1971): 14-27.
Fabrics of History: Essays on the Black Sermon. Dissertation. Brandeis University, 1974.
“A Lament.” The Black Scholar 8:5 (1977): 12-16.
“Ellison’s “Useable Past”: Toward a Theory of Myth.” Interpretations 9:1 (1977): 53-69.
“A Day in the Life of Civil Right.” The Black Scholar 9:8/9 (1978): 20-27.
“Gwendolyn the Terrible: Propositions on Eleven Poems.” In Shakespeare’s Sisters, edited by Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert, 233-244. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.
“Formalism Comes to Harlem.” Black American Literature Forum 16 (1982): 56-63.
“Black American Literature and Humanism edited by R. Baxter Miller (review).” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 82:4 (1983): 583-586.
“A Hateful Passion, a Lost Love.” Feminist Studies 9:2 (1983): 293-323.
“‘Turning the Century’: Notes on Women and Difference (review).” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 3:1/2 (1984): 178-185.
“Interstices: A Small Drama of Words.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carol Vance, 73-101. London: Routledge, 1984.
“Kinship and Resemblances: Women on Women.” Feminist Studies 11:1 (1985): 111-125.
“An Order of Constancy: Notes on Brooks and the Feminine.” The Centennial Review 29:2 (1985): 223-248.
“Chosen Place, Timeless People: Some Figurations on the New World.” In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition, edited by Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers, 151-174. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
“Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17:2 (1987): 64-81.
“Moving Down the Line.” American Quarterly 40:1 (1988): 83-109.
“The Permanent Obliquity of an In(pha)llibly Straight”: In the Time of the Daughters and the Fathers.” In Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women, edited by Cheryl A. Wall, 127-49. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
“Changing the Letter: The Yokes, the Jokes of Discourse, or, Mrs. Stowe, Mr. Reed.” InSlavery and the Literary Imagination, 25-61. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
“Notes on an Alternative Model—Neither/Nor.”In The Difference Within: Feminism and Critical Theory, edited by Elizabeth Meese and Alice Parker, 165-187. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1989.
“Black, White, and in Color, or Learning How to Paint: Toward an Intramural Protocol of Reading.” Paper presented at the “Sites of Colonialism” retreat, Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture, University of Pennsylvania, 1990.
“Who Cuts the Border? Some Readings on America.” In Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, edited by Hortense Spillers, 1-25. New York: Routledge, 1991.
“Reading the Future, Future Reading.” The Women’s Review of Books 8:5 (1991): 20-21
“Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Post-Date.” boundary 2 21:3 (1994)
“Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory (review).” African American Review 1 (1995)
“All the Things You Could Be by Now, If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother”: Psychoanalysis and Race.” boundary 2 23:3 (1996): 75-141.
“A Tale of Three Zoras: Barbara Johnson and Black Women Writers.” diacritics 31:1 (2004): 94-97.
“The Idea of Black Culture.” CR: The New Centennial Review 6:3 (2006): 7-28.
“First Questions: The Mission of Africana Studies: An Interview with Hortense Spillers.” Callaloo 30:4 (2007): 1054-1068.
‘“Watcha Gonna Do?”: Revisiting “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book”: A Conversation with Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly Eversley, and Jennifer L. Morgan.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 25:1/2 (2007)”: 299-309.
“Imaginative Encounters.” In Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory, edited by Marleen S. Barr, 3-5. 2008.
“Views of the East Wing: On Michelle Obama.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 6:3 (2009): 307-310.
“Long Time”: Last Daughters and the New “New South.” boundary 2 (2009): 149-182.
Cali friends and those who travel there frequently: 34 Trinity Arts and News is a radical newsstand, art space and used bookstore in downtown San Francisco. You can now find the first two volumes of Propter Nos in fancy print form, available for purchase at 34 Trinity!
This publication would not have been possible without the water protectors who risked their lives and livelihoods to advocate for Native sovereignty and the protection of Mother Earth’s resources. To them I’d like to say: Wopida taŋka ečičiyapi ye. I am especially grateful to Antonia Juhasz and Simon Moya-Smith who created and made the important videos I analyze in this article available to the public. The personal conversations I had with each of these filmmakers illuminated their commitment to Native feminist values and the project of decolonization that are reflected in the videos. I look forward to continuing conversations with the filmmakers to build upon the analysis presented in this article.
On October 28, 2016, just days after hundreds of water protectors1 were arrested and physically assaulted by the Morton County Police Department, leaders of the No Dakota Access Pipeline (NODAPL) movement called on jingle dress dancers to come to the resistance camps adjacent to the Standing Rock Reservation. A large conglomerate of approximately 50 dancers arrived to dance on the frontlines of the action just a day later, with police and armored vehicles just down the road. In this paper, I ask: How can we understand the jingle dress dancers’ movements across colonial configurations of space and time as the embodiment of an indigenous radical tradition? I contend that while the U.S. settler colonial state perpetually demands that indigenous people disappear through processes of assimilation and physical elimination, the act of dancing on the frontlines of a fight for Native sovereignty forces the state to acknowledge a level of indigenous autonomy and incongruity with white settler society.
The form of dance practiced in this contested space serves as a simultaneous embodied remembrance and imagining. The jingle dress dancers call on the memory of ancestors and cultural teachings to collapse impositions of settler time, space, and patriarchy. The act of dancing in the tradition of ancestors conjures a double presence that recalls the resistance of ancestors and proves that bodies not only remember the violence and pain of colonial conquest, but also the power of indigenous knowledge to subvert and overcome settler-colonial structures. Hence, the dance proves powerful because of its insistence on refusing to be regulated by normative colonial movements. This form of dance, as it accesses embodied memory, gives shape to the notion of indigenous autonomy as it generates the power to move between planes and provides the freedom to define oneself and to determine the parameters of indigenous identity. It legitimates the freedom to practice spiritual traditions regardless of restrictions imposed by the settler government.
Ultimately, the jingle dress dancers engage in an indigenous radical tradition of imagining an alternative mode of existence rooted in non-heteronormative interpretations of spatial and temporal relations and connectivity. Heteronormative space restricts mobility, especially for Native women. It seeks to confine them to designated domesticated spaces. In the same vein, heteronormative capitalistic notions of temporality are normally calibrated through ideas of sexual and economic productivity; however, this works differently for Natives. Natives are denied both coeval temporality and future temporality. They are primarily talked about as existing in a ‘tragic’ past.2 For jingle dress dancers to so visibly move across this contested space and call upon ancestral knowledge in their imaginings of futurity is to fundamentally challenge colonial heteropatriarchal space and time. In other words, their movements and embodied memories map an unbounded spatial-temporal plane traditionally restricted by the settler state. Additionally, where heteronormative expressions of connectivity emphasize intimate relationships amongst men and women, the jingle dress dancers in the context of the NODAPL movement, express non-hierarchical connections that go beyond the human. Their movements engage a connection between the water, the Earth, ancestors, and animals. Thus, they connect not just to humans, but to energy and to other sentient life forces. These connections assert a precarious freedom, as it is incredibly powerful to be able to assert sovereignty through these reclamations of space, temporality, and futurity; however, these assertions are met with extreme repression to suppress sovereign claims.
This article explores the extent to which the jingle dress dancers conform to Jaqueline Shea Murphy’s conception of ‘doing indigeneity’. 3 This concept encompasses an understanding of indigeneity as more than a static identity. Rather, much like Maile Arvin’s notion of an analytics of indigeneity, this idea engages indigeneity as something in-process, generative, and imaginative—rooted in traditional “stories protocols, epistemologies, and reciprocal responsivities.”4 As such, to ‘do’ indigeneity is a performative process of using indigenous methods of engaging with the world to ground and envision decolonial possibilities. I hope to illustrate that this method (re)maps—as in constructs and re-signifies—an indigenous feminist space over patriarchal social, geographic, and bodily colonial arrangements. The act of dancing, laughing, and loving in the face of immanent threats to life, freedom, and sovereignty is emblematic of an adamant rejection of the settler’s terms of order.
This topic necessitates a theoretical analysis of cultural production because the NODAPL movement relied so heavily on images and videos to spread their message. This movement has relied greatly on social media to garner support and to hold the state accountable for its inherent violence. Thus, the videos I am analyzing are found on news outlets and social media sites like Twitter. It should be noted that in contrast to many forms of analysis, I will not be detailing the cultural aspects and meanings of the jingle dress. While this form of analysis may be important in some instances, there has already been scholarship that speaks to this topic. Furthermore, the goal of my paper is not to make the jingle dress dance a ‘legible’ form of cultural expression. In fact, making the dance legible runs counter to the claim I wish to make—that it is, in part, the illegibility of the dance that makes it so powerfully subversive to the white settler state. Thus, this paper engages in an extension of Audra Simpson’s theory of ‘ethnographic refusal’, by refusing to unpack the anthropological genesis of the jingle dress for a racist academic audience.5 This work is not meant to make sense of the jingle dress dance in a way that facilitates cultural appropriation. Rather, my analysis aims to draw attention to the jingle dress dancers and their filmmakers as proponents of forceful assertions of sovereignty.
To ground this analysis, it is important to describe what I am tentatively calling an indigenous radical tradition. This term derives from Cedric Robinson’s discussion of the ‘Black radical tradition’. Robinson describes this tradition as Black people’s revolutionary practice of consistently resisting the terms of order that premise their oppression by obstinately opposing the worldviews that rationalize white supremacist mythology (i.e. scientific racism, manifest destiny, democratic nation-building, and so on).6 Robinson explains that the root of Black resistance is located in a distinctly African consciousness, which in turn facilitates what Ashon Crawley, among many others, calls an imagining of being/existing ‘otherwise’.7 We see a similar form of consciousness existing in various Native-led resistance movements, particularly in the actions engaged by NODAPL water protectors. Their resistance gives us insight into the process of imagining an Otherwise realm of existence, in contrast to the terms of settler colonial order. Though the oppression faced by Black people in the United States should not be assumed commensurate with the oppression experienced by Natives, there is comparable overlap in traditions of resistance. Like the Black movements described by Robinson, which are influenced by a metamorphicized African consciousness, Native people have also held-on to—and consistently (re)constructed—indigenous consciousness. This consciousness is mobilized in resistance to the destructive forces of settler colonialism. The NODAPL movement, and other movements like it, are underpinned by a Native-based ontology,8 as evidenced by NODAPL’s insistence on prayer based resistance, their emphasis on the power of women, and the assertion of a symbiotic relationship between men, women, ancestors and the Earth’s resources. Thus, any analysis of Native social movements must acknowledge both their grounding in indigenous epistemologies and their locus within a tradition of radical resistance.
Before I commence the discussion of the jingle dress dancers, it is important to also call attention to the inextricably gendered context of the NODAPL movement. First, it is important to note that Native women still experience sexual assault at rates higher than any other demographic in the United States.9 There is a trend of increased sexual assault when pipelines are built adjacent to Native communities. In the North Dakota Bakken oil fields, ‘man camps’ provide shelter to the primarily male temporary workforce. The communities adjacent to these camps have experienced increased levels of sexual violence, prostitution, and drug use.10 Many of the activists arguing against the Dakota Access Pipeline have used this as an example of how the Dakota Access Pipeline not only poses environmental risks, but also heightens the risk of patriarchal-misogynist violence against Native women.11 Instances of sexual assault have long been used as tools of settler colonial governance and rule, and many scholars have called attention to the interrelation between this violence and the lethal human conquest of Mother Earth.
Despite the resistance of water protectors and the threat of environmental pollution Dakota Access insisted on building the pipeline. The phallic representation of a drill digging into Mother Earth against her resistance has serious undertones of sexual assault. These violations in conjunction with the violence enacted on Native women are indicative of the sense of entitlement settler society claims in relation to Native women and Native land. They never seek permission from Native people to make the land ‘productive’. Rather, they appeal to the colonial government whose interests are always invested in asserting rightful claim to indigenous land. Since Native ideology sees the Earth just as sentient as humanity, the violation of either is an egregious offense. Thus, it is ever more powerful to see Native women responding to such offenses in the form of social movements. Yet this also means they continue to bear the brunt of state repression in quotidian, day-to-day life. This is certainly true at Standing Rock, where it seems the heaviest exactions of violence were exerted on women’s bodies. By enacting violence against Native women, who are often the leaders of resistance movements, and in many cases considered the cultural bearers of Native societies, the colonial project aims to repress the indigenous radical tradition. Still, even in the face of this violence the women at Standing Rock continued to unsettle patriarchal logics and the coherence of settler self-knowledge, thereby engaging in an indigenous radical tradition that is also rooted in Native feminist praxis.
The jingle dress dancers exemplify the spirit of this Native feminist praxis. As discussed above, the American settler colonial project involves intricate injections of heteropatriarchy and hetero-paternalism into the structure of Native communities;12 however, the NODAPL movement has worked to subvert those arrangements in unique and notable ways. Both videos I examine involve powerful and strategic choices in terms of how and where the jingle dress dancers are filmed. For example, the jingle dress dancers and organizers of the action chose to position the dancers on the frontlines rather than dancing in the camps, or in spaces considered more ‘safe’. This is impressively dissident considering it refuses to be regulated by the threat of violence. This choice, when compounded with the filming choices, becomes an even more subversive move.
In the first video,13 the dancers are focused in the foreground and take up most of the frame; however, just beyond the dancers we see what appear to be military vehicles on the hilltops and a barricade created by the police to restrict the water protectors from moving into the construction zone of the pipeline.14 By foregrounding the women in the video, the colonial social arrangements of heteropatriarchy are overturned. In this arrangement, the matriarchal traditions of the Očeti Šakówin15 are given primacy over settler colonial heteropatriarchal structures. Furthermore, although there are several men in the frame, they are standing in supportive roles in a circle surrounding the dancers, and we do not see any of the predominantly white male police force. By reversing the social organization, and by positioning men and the police vehicles in the background, the dancers and filmmakers collectively redefine whiteness and patriarchy. By dancing on the land before the instruments of settler colonial violence, these Native women call out the white supremacist settler state for its violence, hypocrisy, illegitimacy, and inability to assert dominance over Natives. This new interpretation of whiteness is part of the (re)mapping of space discussed by Mishuana Goeman. Goeman explains (re)mapping space as the labor of generating new possibilities. She writes: “(re)mapping is not just about regaining that which was lost and returning to an original and pure point in history, but instead understanding the processes that have defined our current spatalities in order to sustain vibrant Native futures.”16
Thus, Native women engage in an act of (re)mapping by calling on dance as the embodiment of both traditional and contemporary indigenous epistemologies of resistance. The U.S. has been heavily invested in establishing a heteronormative patriarchal social structure; however, it’s important to recognize the interconnections between social and physical space, as for Natives, the colonization of social space is just as important as the colonization of physical space. The colonial configurations of social space are integral to the dispossession of Native women in particular, as many Native women lost their independence and their rights to own and maintain property through redefining women’s roles according to the European standard.17 Thus, to (re)map a more indigenous social space is to also imagine a (re)mapping of physical space.
This physical space is further (re)mapped through the application of Jacqueline Shea Murphy’s discussion of ‘doing indigeneity’. According to Shea Murphy, “indigenous dancers’ bodies…are a location of ways of being and knowing…[a]nd movement practices…are a tool for locating and unearthing these ways of knowing.”18 In this sense, it is not only the location of the filming and dancing, but also the very movements the dancers employ that (re)map space. The fact that the dancers are engaged in unified, but improvisational dance, and that their regalia is vastly different from person to person, makes their dance practice less legible, predictable, and controllable, and therefore, it can be regarded as ‘threatening’ to the state. The spontaneity of the dancers also introduces the notion of Native temporalities that are not confined by the disciplinary regimes of punitive linear-progressive colonial time. Such normative conceptions of time are important to the settler state because of its predictability, as opposed to the more multi-dimensional indigenous conceptions of time. This form of dance disrupts the state’s ability to expect and manipulate a future, as the future becomes tangled with the present and thus, becomes unregulated by the confines of colonial temporality and spatial organization. Hence, this form of dance compels an interpretation of indigeneity and Native futurities as multiple, contingent, and constantly being formed and re-calibrated. By disavowing colonial conceptions of linear time where the future is inevitable, the Jingle dress dancers call on indigenous epistemologies to produce an imagining of an indigeneity yet to come, and for this reason the dance can be considered to be ‘doing indigeneity’ rather than simply being an indigenous performance. The latter assumes a more stagnant identity while the former acknowledges indigeneity as resilient, inventive, and fluctuating.
This indigeneity yet to come is further enunciated through the slogan Mni Wiconi, Water is Life. This slogan invokes a notion of time that is also antagonistic to capitalistic notions of time. Settler capitalist ideologies of time place primacy over instantaneous extractive values, while the indigenous perspective espoused by Mni Wiconi calls attention to time’s continuity and generative power. Where Dakota Access ignores the environmental and health consequences of building this pipeline that will affect present and future Native generations, the indigenous consciousness informing the efforts of water protectors’ is bound up with a consideration of future generations. This consideration tethers the future to the present and continuously disturbs hegemonic structures of power maintained through the pervasive acceptance of linear time within settler society.
The most noticeable aspect of the second video is the cinematography.19 Rather than panning across the dancers or looking down on them, the video focuses primarily on the dancer’s feet, and scrolls up to occasionally film the dancers’ faces. This modality of filming from the bottom up reverses colonial implementations of a top-down hierarchical structure, and is indicative of an indigenous consciousness that focuses more on grass-roots organizational systems. This combined method of filming and dancing makes (re)mapping its central tool of decolonization. Colonial logics of seeing tend to be more removed from subjects and spaces in order to capture the entirety of a performance, and can be connected to the desire to manipulate and control the future. For example, anarchist anthropologist James C. Scott comments on the historical objective of modern nation-states to create legibility, control, authority, and engineer society, most crucially in periods of systemic unrest.20 In order to do this, state planning of cityscapes necessitates the use of airborne tools to capture entire spaces and involves a heavy emphasis on “straight lines and hard right angles.”21 The choice to film only portions of dancers’ bodies and to film from various angles defies the colonial desire to create orderly and controllable space. Thus, the jingle dress dancers and the film makers use the camera from below to (re)map space as illegible and uncontrollable—as free and sovereign. It thus locates power in illegibility and invisibility. I contend that the choice to film in a spatially adjacent position to the dancers exploits the camera’s inability to fully capture the dancers’ essence as insurgent, unruly, imaginative, and powerful. As such, the dancers’ bodies, the embodied knowledges of their movements, and the ancestors who dance alongside them can be defined as excess by the colonial state, and the indigenous futurities their bodies create refuse to be subsumed under colonial logics. The video merely provides a glimpse into their embodied knowledge by filming several dancers’ feet and portions of their bodies, but it cannot fully capture their complexity. While the camera provides the opportunity to compress space-time so viewers can connect to the movement, its inability to fully contain the dancers’ bodies indicates that the camera, as a colonial apparatus, is fundamentally unable to regulate Native bodies. Thus, the dancers’ movement through contested and surveilled space signifies their refusal to be governed by colonial logics and a decision to move on their own terms.
Therefore, I assert that the NODAPL jingle dress dancers both enact and provide a model for an inhabitation of the indigenous radical tradition. Their movements and (re)mappings of both social and physical space reveal the limits of settler colonial logics of violence, heteropatriarchy, and containment. The embodied knowledge and futures created through the dancers’ movements invoke spirits of ancestors past, and together they envision futures unknown. These ghosts, like the ‘lawless’ dancers who conjured them, move freely between planes unable to be controlled or made visible. Their autonomy lies in the choice to become visible when it suits them, but they cannot be made legible. The dancers’ refusal to be made legible creates an affinity between them and the ghosts they conjure. Ghosts and dancing water protectors move on their own terms, to their own beat, and according to their own time. Their movements, remembrances, and visions of the future transport them through closed portals to realms untraveled. The settler state can’t follow them there. They are free.
The term ‘water protector’ is itself a method of resistance in its refusal to be defined by settler society’s definition of resistance/right/wrong/legitimacy/illegitimacy.
Mark Rifkin. Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination, vii. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.
Jacqueline Shea Murphy and Jack Gray. “Manaakitanga in Motion: Indigenous Choreographies of Possibility.” Biography 36:1 (2013): 242-78.
Maile Arvin. ‘analytics of indigeneity.’ Native Studies Keywords, edited by Stephanie N. Teves, Andrea Smith, and Michelle H. Raheja. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2015. 119-29.
Audra Simpson. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham; Duke University Press, 2014.
Cedric Robinson. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, 72-73, 240. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1983.
, 73, and Ashon T. Crawley. Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017.
Maria Regina Firmino Castillo. “Dancing the Pluriverse: Indigenous Performance as Ontological Praxis” Dance Research Journal: Congress on Research in Dance 48:1 (2016): 55-74.
Sarah Deer. The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, ix. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Antonia Juhasz, telephonic communication with author, September 14, 2017.
Očeti Šakówin (pronounced oh-chet-tee sha-koh-ween) is the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota term for the seven council fires. This term is used to reference the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota nations as a whole.
Mishuana Goeman. Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2013, 3.
Jean M. O’Brien, “‘Divorced From the Land’: Resistance and Survival of Indian Women in Eighteenth-Century New England.” In Native Women’s History in Eastern North America before 1900: A Guide to Research and Writing, edited by Rebecca Kugel and Lucy Eldersveld Murphy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. 333-67.
Jacqueline Shea Murphy. The People Have Never Stopped Dancing Native American Modern Dance Histories, 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
When the idea for this essay originally came to me, I was at a neighborhood vigil for the late rapper Lor Scoota, an influential figure in the Baltimore hip hop scene.1 After hours of Black tears and suffering, due to the murder of yet another Black person, a burst of black joy emerged as if from the ashes, as folks listened to Scoota’s hit single “Bird Flu” on repeat, and danced around the neighborhood. This burst of black joy must have shook the entire city. Consequently, the Black mourners-turned-dancers were met by the police state issuing a curfew, forcing everyone to go home. The police, in riot gear, surrounded the mourners with guns pointed in their direction and helicopters that circled the West Baltimore neighborhood. Newscasters and cameras poured into the neighborhood as flashing lights beamed down throughout the darkness, where the shiny metallic balloons that read “SCOOTA” still danced in the wind. We were occupied in every direction.
There had been no riots, but the police prepared for war as if Baltimore was burning. I could not help but be mesmerized at the militarized guns, the riot shields, the coordination and discipline of the force. I could not help but observe the size and number of police officers-turned-domestic-military. I could not help but be enamored by the spectacular power of the State, and recognize this as the social utility of occupation—to stiffen black existence, to sustain the simulation of white superiority and black inferiority. I could not help but think about the need for a revolution. I was taken by an impulse to destroy the simulation and return to a new Real—a “zero degree of transformation,” a “turn toward blackness.”2 Yet I was also struck by the thought that if a revolution were to come, we could never win.
We could never win a revolution, and the death that swallowed Lor Scoota is the same unceasing death that surrounds the people who mourned him, and anyone who attempts to challenge the anti-Black world. It was not easy to come to this conclusion. I still obtain glimmers of hope for the future, but the historical record shows that if the future is anything like the past, the only thing guaranteed is fungibility and accumulation. I remember running home, crying, and writing the beginning sketches of what would become this essay. These sketches became the building blocks for a theory of weaponization—one blackened answer to the question of “how should we live” in the unending age of anti-blackness. I did not write this out of self-righteous radicalism. In fact, I believe that those who write radicalism self-righteously forget that, “Normally people are not radical, normally people are not moving against the system: normally people are just trying to live, to have a bit of romance and to feed their kids.”3 I wrote this out of the sad belief that once we have lost all hope in the prospect of black lives ever being able to live, to matter, to sustain romance and feed their families without an unmoving proximity to death, once anti-Blackness has sucked every bit of spirit we have dry, our only hope is to lose hope, to recognize we cannot win. The end of the World begins once we recognize that a Black sentence is a death sentence, and learn to weaponize it.
learning to die
in the anthropocene
must be done
for those who
were never invited
Black life is lived in a white hyper-reality. By this I mean, black life is lived inside a constituted white fiction which concretizes itself as fact. Black life is a life lived in non-existence; blackness “exists” as a symbol of death that is, but is not. Blackness “exists” only insofar as White Being structures it onto a map of anti-black violence.4 Achille Mbembe corroborates this in his Critique of Black Reason, stating:
Racism consists, most of all, in substituting what is with something else, with another reality. It has the power to distort the real and to fix affect, but it is also a form of psychic derangement, the mechanism through which the repressed suddenly surfaces. When the racist sees the Black person, he does not see that the Black person is not there, does not exist, and is just a sign of a pathological fixation on the absence of a relationship. We must therefore consider race as being both beside and beyond being.5
The reality that replaces that which is is a white hyper-reality. This white hyper-realism fixes blackness as “a sign of a pathological fixation.” White hyper-realism is the paradigm whereby consciousness is unable to distinguish between the fictions created by White Being and the Real.
It is this fact that permits black death to be subsumed in simulations by each and every (analytic) encounter with Whiteness and the World. Questions like, “Can the Black suffer?” and “Is it capable for the Black to be wronged?” arise due to the inability to access a grammar of suffering to communicate a harm that has never ended, a harm that can never end without ending the World itself. It is for this reason that viral videos of black death, more than opening the possibility for liberal notions of justice, seem to suture the relationship between the mythical and the real that perpetuates itself through the reification of black trauma. Black death, more than deconstructing the ontics of the Human, seems to extend its hyper-reality. Black death makes it harder to distinguish white fictions from any sense of real harm being done to human flesh. The Black is meant to experience its death over and over and over again; and the World itself recycles all its fictions-as-the-Real. Put differently, the White World subjects the Black to perpetual, gratuitous violence, and then uses that violence as evidence to further suggest that the Black is not Human. For how can a Human endure such a thing? The experience of gratuitous violence secures the semiotics of the white hyper-reality. White Disneyland stays intact.
Blackness exists at the nexus of fact and fiction, possibility and (non)value, inclusion and exclusion. Blackness is trapped even in saying it’s trapped because the “trapped-ness” of the Black extends to locations where the diction and syntax of White “words don’t go.”6 The Black does not have the grammar to speak against where and how it is trapped since Blackness can only articulate itself through the semiotics of Whiteness. That White Being continues to center black death as the matrix of possibility for its hyper-realist structure indexes the promise of death insofar that White Being is promised futurity. The Black was rendered fungible through the conjunction of the political and the libidinal economy of the anti-Black world. Blackness gave birth to the commodity and the economy of signification that structures the cartography of the Human’s coordinates. This could be said to be astill birth, insofar as the nature of Black life in a white hyper-reality is conducted on a plane that guarantees natal alienation, social, and ontological death. The Black body lives to die; the specter of death shadows it everywhere.
What matters crucially here, in our invocation of the hyper-real, is the importance of the Symbolic. The Symbolic is what “structures the libidinal economy of civil society.”7 The Symbolic here is understood as “the representational process” that structures “the curriculum and order of knowledge” and/or “the descriptive statement of the human” in our contemporary World.8 And in this World, white symbolism is everywhere. In fact, in an anti-Black paradigm, white symbolism is everything. White symbolism over-determines itself as the Symbolic itself, and denounces anything that challenges its genre-specific mode of knowing, seeing and understanding the World. In other words, white symbolism holds a monopoly on the Symbolic in ways that operate “lawlikely so within the terms of their/our order-speciﬁc modes of adaptive cognition-for, truth-for.”9 There is no outside to whiteness, to white semiotics, to white constructs of value and reality, to white structuring of libidinal value. And for this reason, like Wilderson, “[I] am more interested in the symbolic value of Whiteness (and the absence of Blackness’s value)…”10 in a world of white hyper-reality.
If Blackness is lived in the hyper-real, then there is a hyper-intensification—an overrepresentation—of semiology that dictates the coercive violence of the Black’s (non)existence. The semiotics of White Being is the factitious fiction that simulates the entire World. White Being and black death are part of a globally blood-soaked symbolic exchange that has extended itself over the terrain of the World to such an extent that there can be no distinguishing between the Real and the Non-Real. White Being is that Being for whom ontological capacity exists, whereas the Black is the antithesis to Being, that fleshly matter whose essence is incapacity.11
If “language is the house of being,”12 as Heidegger puts it, then Blackness is trapped at the very center of White Being. Dionne Brand puts it concisely when she writes, “We are people without a translator. The language we use already contains our demise and any response contains that demise as each response emboldens and strengthens the language it hopes to undermine.”13 This abject positionality was codified through a violence so epochal that Modernity itself can be said to have been inaugurated through it. However, at the same time, “the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it.”14 That black death and anti-blackness exist in this liminal positionality posits the impossible possibility of a rupture in the moment. For that which is inside the structure, only through being outside the structure, enables the possibility of both sedimentation and disorientation. Jacques Derrida writes, “The function of this center was not only to orient; balance, and organize the structure—one cannot in fact conceive of an unorganized structure—but above all to make sure that the organizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call the freeplay of the structure.”15 If black death centers the structure, then it is somewhere in the perfection and expansion of this antagonism (the inside-outside antagonism) that the cartography of gratuitous anti-Black violence is laid out. What might happen when what orients the structure becomes insurgent, attacking the structure through that which centers its very Being? What might happen if black death became weaponized in order to further limit the freeplay of the structure—the expansion of White Being?
Afro-Pessimist thinkers, in favor of a diagnostic analysis, tend to veer away from the tradition of critical social theory that prescribes solutions to the analysis in the conclusion of their work. However, one finds throughout Afro-Pessimist literature a battle cry, a prophetic vision, a pulsing pessimist hope for the “end of the World.” For if Whiteness ended Worlds through its colonial simulations and violent transmutations of Africans into Blacks, then the only way out is an end to the White World. White Being is irredeemable, and so is the World it fosters. Sexton says, “In a world structured by the twin axioms of white superiority and black inferiority, of white existence and black non-existence, a world structured by a negative categorical imperative—‘above all, don’t be black’—in this world, the zero degree of transformation is the turn toward blackness, a turn toward the shame, as it were, that ‘resides in the idea that ‘I am thought of as less than human.’”16 It’s only through black vigilance that the simulacra of White Being is made clear and the spectacle of gratuitous freedom is made visible. It is somewhere in this structural antagonism, that on the one hand conditions the possibility of the World, and on the other hand conditions the possibility of its end, its limitations, its disorientation, that we found the language to say the unsayable and do the undoable. As Frank Wilderson reminds us:
Black Studies in general and Afro-Pessimism in particular present non-Black academics with more than an intellectual problem. It presents them with an existential problem. The reason is because there’s an aspect of Afro-Pessimism that we don’t talk about…which is that were you to follow it to its logical conclusion, it’s calling for the end of the world…it wants the death of everyone else in the same way that we experience our death, so that one could not liberate Blacks through Afro-Pessimism and be who one was on the other side of that. That’s the unspoken dynamic of Afro-Pessimism.17
If we are engaging in a war in which the symbolic value, the semiotics of this World itself, positions “the Black as death personified, the White as personification of diversity, of life itself,”18 then resistance needs an “unspoken dynamic.” It needs a space where “words don’t go”—a form of guerrilla linguistics, a submarined syntax, an undercommon communication. Perhaps, here, where the conversation is blackened, and the theory is phobogenic, and the journal is Propter Nos, we can allow ourselves to excavate insurgent dictions still lost in the lingua franca of White Being, but full of the specter of black terror, black disorientation.
If the Black is death personified, then what might happen if we weaponized our death? What might happen if we recognized the inevitability of that death? What if we began to think that the non-uniqueness of that death was an opening towards the “end of Humanity?” In The Spirit of Terrorism, Jean Baudrillard writes, “When global power monopolizes the situation to this extent, when there is such a formidable condensation of all functions in the technocratic machinery, and when no alternative form of thinking is allowed, what other way is there but a terroristic situational transfer?”19 Terrorism consists of the militaristic tactics used by those who are facing globalized White Being with asymmetrical technologies of terror, violence, intimidation and war. A terrorist is any armed vigilante willing to rupture the system of semiotics through an equally cofounding semiotic. A semiotic that returns one to the “desert of the [Black] Real”—where a “project of total disorder” is unleashed upon the semiotic system.20 Black terrorism is a violence that re-appropriates the death embedded in the Black’s ontological incapacity in order to enable the possibility of a radical capacity—gratuitous freedom. White Being itself is a decentralized onto-epistemic deployment of violence, and if violent insurgency is necessary, then the decentralized approach of the black terrorist is necessary to counter the terror of White Being. This being said, black terrorism is perhaps better understood as counter-terror terrorism. We do not have the power to end the World with life. We only have the power to end the World through death. As Baudrillard writes, “The radical difference is that the terrorist, while they have at their disposal weapons that are the system’s own, possess a further lethal weapon: their own deaths.”21
The United States has an international military force, a storehouse of nuclear arms, and the capacity, within their police state alone, to “terrorize” not just one block in Baltimore, but the whole entire world. Black terrorism is what happens when we heed the Afro-Pessimist call that “A living death is as much a death as it is a living,”22 it is what happens when we take seriously the unsayable in Afro-Pessimism. Black Terrorism is (non)ontological fugitivity that disavows any need to focus on social life—black terrorism steals black death itself from White Being. It is for this reason that Baudrillard speaks to his own White Being and the specter of terror when he says:
When Western culture sees all of its values extinguished one by one, it turns inward on itself in the very worst way. Our death is an extinction, an annihilation. Herein lies our poverty. When a singularity throws its own death into the ring, it escapes this slow extermination, its dies its own natural death. This is an immense game of double or quits. In committing suicide, the singularity suicides the other at the same time—we might say that the terrorist acts literally ‘suicided’ the West. A death for a death, then, but transfigured by the symbolic stakes. ‘We have already devastated our world, what more do you want?’ says Muray. But precisely, we have devastated this world, it still has to be destroyed. Destroyed symbolically. This is not at all the same undertaking. And though we did the first part, only others are going to be able to do the second.23
We are the others. Tasked with the (un)fortunate task of ending White hyper-realism, the White World, and White Being. Well aware that if White Fascism continues the project of black annihilation, the only choice we will have is to fight. Not because we want to, but because we have to. But, ultimately, we must remember the words of Huey Newton: “[T]he first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man.”24
In the age of Trump, the perfection of slavery reaches its horizon.25 The disavowal of the lives of refugees is White Being attempting to reconcile the “Nation-State” simulation with the free track and flow of bodies it’s been attempting to murder; the deportation of undocumented immigrants in conjunction with the materialization of borders is White Being attempting to secure its linguistic and economic integrity; the rise of the private prison and the militarization of the police force is White Being attempting to innovate the system of enslavement and necropolitics for the 21st Century; the plundering of indigenous land and bodies is White Being attempting to finish off the project of genocide; the disregard for the Earth is White Being ensuring the Anthropocene will also be the Apocalypse. Trump is a reinvigoration, a call to arms, for White Being, and White Being can only be “destroyed symbolically.” Black terrorism transfigures the symbolic stakes because it steals away that condition of White Being’s possibility in a kind of fugitivity that is a zero-transformation into Blackness. This being said, we all know that the only thing that follows the absolute loss of hope is this Black Spring, this Neo-Fanonian violence, this blackened terroristic situational transfer. In Baudrillard’s words, in the Age of Trump, let us remember the gift of immorality, “Terrorism is immoral. The World Trade Center event, that symbolic challenge, is immoral, and it is a response to a globalization which is itself immoral. So, let us be immoral…”26
1 Lorn Scoota was a famous Baltimore rapper, known for his hit single “Bird Flu,” who was murdered in Northeast Baltimore.