When the State Commits Abortion: A Poem

Below is a poem from the inaugural issue of our quarterly publication, Propter Nos.

You can download the complete first issue as a PDF booklet here:  Propter Nos- Vol 1., Issue 1 (Fall 2016)


When the State Commits Abortion
By  
F. Delali Kumavie

When the State performs abortions it does not do so while the fetus is in uterus, it lurks waiting until the baby is born, until the baby is cared for and loved, until It loves, until It needs hospitals and schools, till It needs futures.

The State waits until the baby is schooled, until the luminous detail of Its life is tattooed onto the motherfather, the first step, the first joyous wail, the tender feelings of love, the texture of Its hands, the lines around Its lips.

When the State performs abortions it does not hide the bloody dumbfounded placenta in dark unused alleys, it is exhibited on television, on phones, on the mechanical dictators of our everydays.

The State waits till the fetus becomes a baby, till the baby becomes a child, till the baby becomes… girlboymanwomanmotherfatherworkerdaughtersisterbrothertaxpayerlessorcaregiverspender

 

When the State performs abortions it does not require the latent penitent tears of mothers, fathers, sons or daughters. Its clinics are the streets; its surgical curette, the police.

When the State acts as an abortifacient it is a celebration, a festival of its silenced truths plastered in the language of equality. It is a maroon spectacle, garbed in uniforms of justice, leaving montages of subdued black bodies stitched together by the public tears of mothers.


 

Memories of Blood. To Brother(hood) Dance and all Black Movers

Below is an excerpt from the inaugural issue of our quarterly publication, Propter Nos.

You can download the complete first issue as a PDF booklet here:  Propter Nos- Vol 1., Issue 1 (Fall 2016)


Memories of Blood.

To Brother(hood) Dance and all Black Movers.

By

Mlondi Zondi

s200_mlondi-zondi


How do we who are doing work in black studies tend to, care for, comfort, and defend the dead, the dying, and those living lives consigned, in aftermath of legal chattel slavery, to death that is always imminent and immanent

—Christina Sharpe

Just imagine what might be possible if, instead of rushing to the new, we tended toward blackness—in all of its sensuous and imperceptible unfolding—that phantom site whose traces everywhere mark the construction of the material world and provide a different horizon from which to take our bearings.

—Huey Copeland

Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.

—Rumi


During my two years in Chicago, I have attended important and thought-provoking choreographic offerings by black companies and artists such as Dance Theater of Harlem, Darrell Jones, J’Sun Howard, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Nora Chipaumire, Baraka de Soleil, Kyle Abraham, Okwui Okpokwasili, Rennie Harris, and Urban Bush Women. The July 2016 performance and workshop by New York based duo Brother(hood) Dance at Dochester Art + Housing Collaborative certainly added to the richness already implanted by the innovators mentioned above. My attendance at this event provoked the following questions for me: What does it mean to care about black dance in the contemporary moment? Which modes of sensing the world do black choreographers make available to us through witnessing their work? How does black dance as a critical posture intend to move us, touch us, (dis)orient us, throw our assumptions into crisis, attend to the dead, reveal to us our complicities, and help us to seriously consider whether this is the kind of world worth saving? The performance of an excerpt from Black Jones by Brother(hood) Dance provided a number of ways to think about blackness. The thoughts I offer here zero in on those aspects of the piece that provoke questions about blackness and nothingness through the visual, the sonic, and the kinesthetic.1


The Workshop

   When I arrive at the Dochester Art + Housing Collaborative studio I am pleasantly surprised that the two Brother(hood) Dance visionaries Ricarrdo Valentine and Orlando Zane Hunter, Jr. are holding a workshop before showing a segment of Black Jones. I sit unobtrusively on the floor and observe, since I am not dressed appropriately to participate. The workshop comprises mostly of across-the-floor exercises. Participants wave and wade fluidly across the wooden floor, embodying various characteristics associated with Yorùbá Orishas Oshun and Ogun. Valentine and Hunter integrate these Orishas seamlessly into the workshop and they rigorously provide context to the participants comprising of a range of age groups. The workshop is conceptualized for anyone who is curious about the type of knowledge that this kin-aesthetic experience generates. Participants are expected to take direction without necessarily towing the line. The formal elements and the pedagogical tools they deploy produce a mode of practice that is not rooted in creating a venomous and destructive environment typical of a number of dance classes. Hunter and Valentine both labor tirelessly to refrain from foregrounding hierarchies of beauty as well as perverse sensibilities of taste, which a priori banish all variations of “the black body” from occupying any dance space. The pedagogical technique they employ is not venomous because it does not exclusively attend to the svelte, able-bodied, long-limbed, “proper” dancing body whose gender comportment fits their biological sex. Their attitude toward the line of the body is ambivalent, with no emphasis on a fixed straight line that is desirable in Eurocentric classical forms. Improvisations, drifts, curvations, inversions, undulations, and cessations inform the mode of operation in the workshop. It is phenomenal to witness such a movement that takes care of its participants, especially black participants. This is keeping with a longstanding practice that art historian Huey Copeland calls “tending-toward-blackness”—a “leaning into” and “caring for,” that “animates a range of artistic, social, political, and theoretical practices aimed at establishing an ethical posture toward black subjects and those related forms of being that have been positioned at the margins of thought and perception yet are necessarily co-constitutive of them.”2 This movement does not make unfair and impossible demands on the dancer to fit into desired standards of taste in contemporary and classical dance. The instructors assume an ethical posture that does not impose colonialism’s racialized and gendered markers that privilege uprightness. Taking care of participants is important, since the dance studio for most of my own training has been a site of unspeakable violence: a space that expedites the destruction of black self-esteem and self-worth. This violence is unspeakable because most of the time it does not manifest itself in legible ways that lend themselves to linguistic description. This type of violence is often felt— as a nauseating lump in one’s throat, as a sudden rush of blood to the head, and an abrupt contraction of the muscles. The dance studio is a space where hundreds of years of phobias and fantasies about black anatomy entangle and flourish. It is a scene of jealousy where black flesh is molded, straightened out, pronged, tucked, devoured, and belched out (with “good intentions”). For these reasons, I usually do not approach dance spaces as “safe spaces.”


Memories of Blood

   Alvin Ailey, inspired by Martha Graham, drew on his blood memories to create dances such as his magnum opus Revelations. Creating from blood memories, from a black standpoint, means piecing together fragments of personal experiences that make up the fact of blackness. It is similar to what thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi means when he says “dance in your blood.” The “hood” in parentheses in Brother(hood) Dance has to do with centralizing narratives and personal experiences from the “hood” through active experimentation with form and narrative strategies, rather than clinging to biography and presenting oneself as an ethnographic curiosity. A poignant strategy employed by Brother(hood) Dance is avoiding narrative closure.  I believe the main reason the piece is able to “stay in the hold despite fantasies of flight”3 is precisely because they only present an excerpt of a larger piece, with no beginning and no ending. Its unwholeness provided a dizzy narrative arc that isn’t projected at a final resolution of conflict. Even if equilibrium and conflict resolution are part of their choreographic vision, I argue that the excerpt as a (sub)genre destabilizes that end-goal. It is in the excerpt (and not the whole) that I find revolutionary potential, at least as it relates to form.

   Blood memory work is a challenge for black artists, since making dance about what it means to be black is often received as either passé or an obsession with race. Black artists who attend to these questions in their work are often shunned in order to clear the ground for story ballets, So You Think You Can Dance, Abby Lee Miller of Dance Moms and other such great American buffoons. Those black dancers creating work about blackness also suffer reviews and “critical” analyses that either mute their technical innovations completely to focus on issues of identity or (in an “anti-essentialist” effort) relegate their innovations to experimental dance traditions in a way that distances the artists from their blackness. Brother(hood) Dance creates dances about police brutality, black spirituality, and black masculinity in this harsh cultural climate. In Black Jones, they present vignettes of the ballroom culture in New York as well as draw from a devastatingly large archive of police brutality towards black people. These moments also challenge us to expand our definition of violence and consider violence that seems small and trivial. Police brutality is not the beginning and end of anti-black violence. Violence is sometimes disguised with politeness and good intentions, and it does not always feel bad. We aim to gain clarity by taking into account violence as also metaphysical, and really sit with that idea.4 A nuanced assessment of violence also means attending to the intramural, interrogating those who are black but “appropriate” and valorize anti-black methods of policing other black people, especially those with dissenting voices that do not strive to make white people feel safe. The intramural strangulation of those black throats that dare to emit an insurgent sound—one that is not a plea for assimilation and rainbow coalitions— is pernicious, violent, and sadly commonplace. This agenda operates to make black artists tow the line, and it is done under the guise of a range of selling points such as “hope,” “reconciliation,” “joy,” and other pious narratives of “overcoming.”


“I AM A MAN”

   What does it mean to see dark skinned black men on stage and how does this register in our field of vision? What are our expectations and yearnings when we see dark skinned performers, since our practices of viewing are a site where desire and genocide become intimate bedfellows? David Marriott in On Black Men directs our attention to the interrelation between looking and devouring, what he calls “eating through the eyes.” He describes these cravings to consume blackness through the eyes as “appetites that disfigure us . . . look[ing] in the name of appreciating and destroying, loving and hating.”5 Operating in an industry that is hostile to dark skin, it is commendable that Brother(hood) Dance then departs from what South African poet Lesego Rampokoleng calls “sweaty flesh,” which Andries Oliphant summarizes as “obsequies, self-demeaning kitsch, drum beating, ethnic prancing and the vulgar display of half-naked bodies to titillate. . . reducing the black world to sweaty flesh.”6 Brother(hood) Dance drifts away from presenting us with convivial flesh gyrating happily to appeal to the highest bidder, with mouths wide open while shuffering and shmiling. Of course, this does not mean that they are not or will not be read through the disfiguring gaze which only notices skin and imposes thin-layered meanings upon it.

   The innovative partnering sequences in Black Jones allow us to confront what it means for black men to touch one another and be seen touching, [It was Joseph Beam who first pronounced that “Black men loving black men is the revolutionary act.”] Some of the moments of touch signal a love that’s not permitted in modernity’s gender policing logic. This kind of touch persists, however, in Black Jones. It is a delicate touch, sometimes with firm grasps and lifts that take care not to drop the other Brother. Is the touch an indication of love as revolutionary in and of itself? How do we avoid being seduced and lulled to slumber by the gentleness and warmth of the caress? How do we hold back from over-valorizing the space of touch as a safe space? The world writ large, and the dance world in particular, is not a safe space for black people. Hunter and Valentine improvise and fashion something akin to a “safe space” precisely because the dance world is not safe for us. Protecting the “safe spaces” we continue to build is also difficult as these spaces are sometimes infiltrated by those we are saving ourselves from. We build and ensure that our touch is not a destructive one that facilitates more damage to the dead.

   There is a moment in the piece where Hunter holds a cardboard sign with the writing “I AM A MAN”. There is a diagonal strikethrough with red ink on that writing which suggests that one who holds the sign is either not a man, refuses to be a man, or has never been allowed to be a man. The sign reminds us of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee, where workers—surveilled by armed police—carried and wore signs that read “I AM A MAN”.7 The statement “I AM A MAN” opens up an array of interpretations. First, it can be read as a speech act that affirms, rather than merely describe, one as truly a man. Second, it can be interpreted as an (un)intentional call for recognition and incorporation into the destructive yet seemingly attractive and rewarding category of “Man.”8 Whatever conclusion one arrives at, the citational element of the sign clearly indicates a continuous pattern here. The fact that the speech act is still relevant for Hunter and Valentine in 2016 to affirm black existence confirms an historical stillness, not only stillness in the form of the police halting black movement with bullets, but a more sustained stillness and foreclosure which has ensured the squashing of black progress in any direction for hundreds of years. It reveals the vices of “American democracy” that stand still and balance en pointe on black people’s throats.


On Feeling Good

   The post-performance discussion at Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative involves going around a circle and sharing what we all felt and thought. It is also a way to pose questions about Black Jones. The audience-participants each pose sophisticated questions about touch, visuality, personhood, citizenship, and freedom. One of the points that linger is about being touched and or moved emotionally by the dance. It is indisputable that participating in and watching dance can be an extremely entertaining and healing process. Feeling good is great—and necessary in these ever-cataclysmic times—but we must also recognize that just “feeling good” is not and cannot be the totality of our set of revolutionary principles. It is incumbent upon us to reconsider how we have been cathedralizing good feelings and conflating them with freedom. It is too hasty and irresponsible to shout “we feel good, therefore we have arrived at our destiny, freedom is hither!” I find it irresponsible to conceptualize and accept our freedom as a future utopia we cannot yet touch or a kind of “waiting for the glory of the coming of the Lord.” I find this to be a cruel, uncritical, and premature celebration of the figment that is paradise. What are we left to do with a world that cannot and will not usher in our freedom, because its existence is contingent on the premise that we remain the antithesis of the Human? Martinician poet Aimé Césaire in Notebook of A Return to My Native Land advises us: “The only thing in the world worth starting: the end of the world, for heaven’s sake.”9 In this sense, we end the world of our “death-bound subjectivity”10 by any means necessary.

   Individual performances and embodied experiences allow us come up with our own individual definitions of freedom. What feels nice and what releases endorphins might drive an individual to make claims about being free. However, these valid and fleeting feelings do not unniggerize the individual performer who is positioned and operates as part of a collection of nothingness. This nothingness entails being (mis)seen, perceived, and treated like a void whose flesh can be severed at a whim by those who are not black because—through racist perception—black flesh is devoid of personhood.11 Black individuals with class privilege cannot escape how this mode of perception affects them, because it is an attack on blackness as a collective category of non-Being. The stage where black performers enact and intensely feel their freedom and pleasure is also a danger zone. This is why Saidiya Hartman calls upon us to seriously confront the question of black performance as always happening within the context of coercion.12 I am not prepared to refer to the state we’re in as freedom. We cannot truly claim to be free when we are still fixed as a collection of nothingness, despite some of our individual convictions that we (are) matter. It is crucial that as black art-makers we attend to our suffering not as “inferior social subjects,” as Hortense Spillers advises in her essay “Interstices,” but from what she calls the “paradox of non-being” where under “the sign of [a] particular historical order black female and male are absolutely equal.”13 Selamawit Terrefe, a careful and unflinching reader of Spillers puts this succinctly: “While the foci of violence against Blacks of all presumed genders may appear to have differential modes or loci (according to where they are positioned along a lateral hegemonic axis of white, heteronormative patriarchy), unrestrained violence positions all Blacks, regardless of their various gendered subjectivities, along a vertical axis driven and perpetuated by antiblackness.”14 Anti-blackness stitches all black life to death, those who are presumed to be female and those who are presumed to be male (and I urgently propose a radical departure from reducing black gender to this bifurcation). This is why black artists, even those who understand themselves as “queer” need to pause and think twice before appropriating a common grammar of “queerness” to explain both their suffering and freedom. We can’t purport to be free when we still signify nothingness in the flesh. Freedom is not enduring a “fatal way of being alive”15 while waiting for your flesh to be whimsically executed. Our mourning cannot be reduced to catharsis. Our mourning cannot halt at “getting over it.” Our movement cannot be restricted to a choreographic score of “moving on.” What we leave behind when we “move on” matters because it never leaves us. Our mo(u)rning is not possible here!


Aporetic endings, To Brother(hood) Dance

   Thank you for a choreopoetics of aporia—a series of vignettes that avoided narrative closure even if we might have felt it was best for us.16 Black Jones offers catharsis not as an end goal, but as a map and not the destination. The workshop established a practice of “tending-toward-blackness” while the Black Jones performance excerpt presented the transient nature of our feelings of freedom. This approach reveals to us love as a pleasurable danger zone. Thank you for not being seduced and thus seducing us in with a messianic moralization and sanitation of the black struggle. The black struggle cannot be reduced to nice feelings and moral outcomes. Dissenting black voices and actions cannot be reduced to fatalism and self-pity. Moments in Black Jones truly came close to Terrefe’s description of black performance as a catachrestic term for runaway slaves.17


ENDNOTES:

  1. This mode of inquiry is made possible by my engagement with the work of black thinkers such as (but not limited to) Christina Sharpe, Athi Mongezeleli Joja, Selamawit Terrefe, Jared Sexton, Hortense Spillers, David Marriott, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Patrice Douglass, Frank Wilderson III, Saidiya Hartman, Cecilio Cooper, Nicholas Brady, Andile Mngxitama, Mayfield Brooks, John Murillo III, Abdul R. JanMohamed, Huey Copeland II, Andile Mngxitama, Jaye Austin Williams, Tyrone Palmer, Joy James, Frantz Fanon, and Orlando Patterson.
  2. Huey Copeland. “Tending-toward-Blackness.” October156 (2016): 141-44.
  3. Frank B. Wilderson. Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2010.
  4. For a full discussion on metaphysical violence see: Patrice Douglass and Frank B. Wilderson. “The Violence of Presence: Metaphysics in a Blackened World.” The Black Scholar 43:4 (2013): 117.
  5. David Marriott. On Black Men. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000: 27
  6. Andries Oliphant. “A big Step, Abject bile and revolt in the work of Lesego Rampokoleng.” In Positions: Contemporary Artists in South Africa, edited by Peter Anders and Matthew Krouse. Auckland Park: Jacana Media, 2010.
  7. Of course, this statement must be read alongside Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” (1851). For more information on the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis see the following URL: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_memphis_sanitation_workers_strike_1968/
  8. For a thorough critique of the category of Man, see: Sylvia Wynter. “On How We Mistook the Map for the Territory and Re-Imprisoned Ourselves in Our Unbearable Wrongness of Being, of Désêtre: Black Studies Toward the Human Project.” In Not Only The Master’s Tools: African-American Studies in Theory and Practice, edited by Lewis R. Gordon and Jane A. Gordon. Boulder: Paradigm, 2006: 107-69. Also see Wynter’s “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Toward the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument.” CR: The New Centennial Review 3:3 (2003): 257-337.
  9. Aimé Césaire. Notebook of a Return to My Native Land. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1995.
  10. Abdul R. JanMohamed. The Death-bound-subject : Richard Wright’s Archaeology of Death. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005.
  11. Hortense J. Spillers. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” In Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Also see Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto, 1986.
  12. Saidiya V. Hartman and Frank B. Wilderson. “The Position of the Unthought” Qui Parle13:2 (2003): 183-201.
  13. Hortense J. Spillers. “Interstices: A Small Drama of Words.” In Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  14. Selamawit Terrefe. “Phantasmagoria; or, The World is a Haunted Plantation.” In The Feminist Wire. Posted October 10, 2012. The article is accessible at the following URL: http://www.thefeministwire.com/2012/10/phantasmagoria/
  15. Marriott (2000).
  16. To conceptualize a “choreopoetics of aporia,” I borrow from Wilderson’s work in “Social Death and Narrative Aporia in 12 Years a Slave.” Black Camera 7:1(2015): 134-149.
  17. Terrefe (2012).

“Massacre at Attica” Black Panther Newspaper. (’72 Reprint of 9/18/71 Article)


In lieu of the prison strikes, our press would like to share with you this article from the Black Panther Party newspaper, written in January 1972. The article presents the Party’s perspective on the Attica uprising, as well as the subsequent reoccupation of the prison and violent reassertion of dominion by the racist state. We hope it will be useful for folks to read, so circulate it far and wide. Please keep historicizing and theorizing the implications of the strike. Please embrace prisoners’ voices as they carry out the strike. Please reflect on the strike in a broader historical context. And please, above all: keep locating and challenging the contradictions in which this nationwide strike reveals. 

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Download your copy of the article here:

bpp-newspaper-massacre-at-attica-1972

We also must remember that it is not only the exploitation of prison labor that must be challenged when describing the prison regime as chattel slavery. The prison’s function in the United States is not merely to generate a cheap or disposable labor force. We must emphasize the distinctly anti-Black/racial dimension of industrialized punishment as well. That is, while the exploitative dimension of prison labor is indeed important to recognize and challenge, the regime’s PRIMARY function is to warehouse and disappear poor and working class Black (and in many regions Brown and Indigenous) people. Its purpose is to immobilize and liquidate white America’s “undesirables” from society—to render Black/Native people civilly and socially dead.


Shout out to the Southern California Library for digitizing this article! 

The SoCal Library documents and makes accessible histories of community struggles that challenge racism and other systems of oppression so we can all imagine and sustain possibilities for freedom. It holds extensive archival collections. All people are welcome to come and use them. Some examples of their collections include: Black Panther Party Newspapers (1967-1972), documents from Mothers Reclaiming Our Children (1990s), the Clyde Woods Collection (1957-2011), records of the Association of Street Vendors (1986-1995), the Civil Rights Congress papers (1940s-1950s), histories, reports, and photos from the Watts uprising (1960s), and collections from the Chicano Movement (1968) and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (1993-2006).

A link to the library’s website is here:

http://www.socallib.org/

*Reproduction of this document is for educational purposes only

Policing and the Violence of White Being: An Interview with Dylan Rodríguez

Over the next few weeks we will be posting select chapters from our new quarterly publication, Propter Nos. Below is an excerpt from the inaugural issue. 


 

Policing and the Violence of White Being

An Interview with Dylan Rodríguez

Download the full issue of Propter Nos at the following url: Propter Nos. Vol. 1 Issue 1


Casey: The US white-supremacist state operates today through a different set of discourses and cultural structures than in previous epochs. Your work interrogates such shifts at a level of depth and nuance that is of particular importance for emergent struggles against racist state violence. “Multiculturalist white supremacy,” “post-racial liberal optimism,” “white academic raciality”—such terms are utilized throughout your work to interrogate a myriad of theoretical and historical conundrums that define the post-Civil Rights era, particularly in regards to racial violence and subjectivity. Can you, in very broad strokes, lay out what you are trying to accomplish with these interventions in the discourses, practices, and forms of embodiment that so violently delimit the possibilities for radical social change in the United States?


Dylan: The aftermath of American apartheid’s formal abolition has been overwhelmed by a grand national-cultural vindication of “Civil Rights” as the vessel of fully actualized gendered-racial citizenship. This fraud has, in various ways, facilitated rather than interrupted the full, horrific exercise of a domestic war-waging regime. For the sake of momentary simplicity, we can think about it along these lines: the half-century narrative of Civil Rights victory rests on an always-fragile but persistent common sense—the idea that national political culture (“America”) and the spirit of law and statecraft (let’s call this “The Dream”) endorse formal racial equality. Bound by this narrative-political context, the racist state’s mechanics shift and multiply to rearticulate a condition of normalized racist violence that is condoned or even applauded by the institutionalized regimes of Civil Rights. (It is not difficult to see how the NAACP, JACL, LULAC, Lambda, NOW, Urban League and other like-minded organizations condone or applaud domestic racial war, so long as it is directed at the correct targets: gang members, drug dealers, “violent criminals,” terrorists, etc.). In other words, the contemporary crisis of racist state violence is not reducible to “police brutality” and homicidal policing, or even the structuring asymmetries of incarceration: it is also a primary derivative of the Civil Rights regime.

   This regime is in some ways inseparable from the emergence of post-1960s technologies of criminalization that resonate with—rather than offend—the (defrauded) dream of vindicated Civil Rights citizenship. After all, the racial/racist state is still being called upon to legislate, protect, and serve the Civil Rights Citizen, even as it is the subject of militant demands for reform that will align it with the Civil Rights versions of America and The Dream. This is the contradiction that yields more and more layers of gendered racist statecraft in the post-optimist’s Age of Obama.

   The widespread, Black-populated and Black-led resistance and revolt that is responding to legally-sanctioned racist police killings should therefore be interpreted as a complex form of insurgency. It is, in significant part, a strike against the respectable, non-scandalous, legitimated forms of policing that have constituted the everyday racist truth of post-Civil Rights nation-building. This insurgency is also, then, a critique of the Civil Rights regime’s complicity in that fifty-year process of national-racial reconstruction.

   So the racist state has metastasized in the last half century, and created new infrastructures and protocols of civil and social death (the industrialized, militarized policing and criminalization complexes) as well as proto-genocidal methods of targeted, utterly normalized suffering, misery, and physiological vulnerability for peoples on the other side of White Being (the paradigm and methodology of human being that we have inherited as universal, unquestioned, and godlike—here i’m referencing Sylvia Wynter’s lifework, of course). I’m thinking, among so many other things, of the levees in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, strategic ecological disruption of indigenous lifeways throughout the hemisphere and in Native Hawaii, redirection and isolation of toxic water to the poorest, Blackest, and Brownest of places, and the seemingly endless continuity of legalized police assassinations of ordinary (and asymmetrically poor, Black, and Brown) people that stretches back as far as modern policing has existed.

   So, if shit is this bad—and it’s so, so stunningly clear that it is almost always worse than we want to believe it is—what is the historical responsibility borne by people who differently inherit and inhabit this condition?

   I am against “unity”—militantly so—and full of desire for radical community (militantly so). At the risk of making the case too bluntly: we experience and condone banal liberal calls to unity (which are often depressingly nationalist or patriotic) so incessantly that they are inescapable (e.g. those stupid fucking French flag colors that folks superimposed on their Facebook profile pictures after the street attacks in Paris, which was like global advertising for White Lives Matter; or the absurd compulsion to insist that one is not “anti-police” when mourning yet another life destroyed by the full force of the police apparatus—because it’s never just one or two or five racist cops, it’s what protects and enables them). These are concessions to a form of political life (which is to say a particular genre of human life—White Being) that cannot be tolerated as such, if some of us expect to live or see others live. I think such concessions must be critically exposed for what they are: disciplinary exercises in assimilating different peoples’ political dreams to the conformities of White Being. At the very same time—and this is the hard part—these critical gestures have to somehow participate in creating possibilities for collective exercises of radical, creative, political-cultural genius that demystify White Being and embolden (or even productively weaponize) other insurgent practices and methodologies of human life. This is difficult, scary, and beautiful work. And if more people don’t attempt to engage in it, we know who will be the first to disappear.


Casey: Could you speak a bit more on what you mean by emphasizing the need to “embolden” and “productively weaponize” other practices and methodologies of human life?


Dylan: I’m talking about how necessary it is to take seriously how peoples (in the most differentiated sense of the notion of “peoples”) have created forms of relationality, cultural reproduction, survival, revolt, and collective being under the eviscerating conditions of this Civilization. This happens everywhere, all the time. In 1496, 1896, and 2016. Down the street and on the other side of the planet. It’s the underside of human being that the official scripts and dominant narratives of the modern world can never adequately rationalize or eliminate. This is to say that decisively displacing the universality of the White Being—and of any such universality altogether—is only a fraction of what is at stake. The fact is—and this is a long-running fact, at least half a millennium old—there are other ways of inhabiting “human being” that are constituted by the violent vulnerabilities normalized by global white-supremacist power, in all of its misogynist, colonial, chattel, and sexual normative (including “homonormative”) iterations. This is just what the fuck it means to try to live under the Civilizational regime. And this work of living, of being, of figuring out ways to thrive, when and where possible, absolutely does not require trying to deform and self-mutilate into the “human” methodologies of the White Being. Peoples everywhere have proved this.

   Look, i also don’t want to be too easily mis-read here. There isn’t just one way of White Being, and we cannot overemphasize enough that White Being cannot be conflated with “white people.” Undoubtedly, Fanon is still correct in stressing the epidermalized, physiologically activated structure of power that inheres in white bodies (however white bodies are socio-politically formed and institutionalized in a given moment). My point here is that White Being constitutes another layer of dominance precisely because it is capable of hailing other beings, inviting them, seducing them—and this is yet another method to humiliate and degrade (perhaps even “de-humanize”) the “underside peoples” i am referencing.

   Finally, we have to admit to ourselves that one of the most important struggles is against the desire to coalesce with White Being, both in the sense of political affinity and the conception of good living. It doesn’t make sense to funnel all manner of insurgent activities (art, organized protest, underground political work, etc.) into demands, of this particular global racial order, that peoples targeted by White Being (now and forever) be enfolded into White Being, whether by virtue of Rights, Citizenship, Marriage, or something else. Those demands may be momentarily necessary and vital for the sake of resisting state violence, but have been demonstrated over and again to work, in the longer historical span, in the service of White Being and no other beings. What, then, would it mean to not only decisively displace the ascendancy of White Being (Civilization), but to also seek to thrive as the descendants of our particular, differentiated conditions of historical vulnerability?


Casey: Thank you for clarifying that point. Given your work as a scholar and student of radical movements that are engaged in political activity from within what you consider to be civil society’s carceral underside (i.e. the US jail/prison), what would you say are the most significant contradictions or points of antagonism arising between the terms of engagement which define the current phase of popular movement addressing criminalization and police violence and the current (and ongoing) work of imprisoned activists and intellectuals? One place we might start is recalling the aftermath of the assassination of Yogi Pinell last year at New Folsom. In this moment, it became rather apparent that a number of theoretical and practical fractures still exist between popular mobilizations on the “outside” and the political labors (and lives) of imprisoned activists “inside.” Just going off the basic fact that news of the murder of this beloved elder in the Black/Prisoner liberation struggle (clearly orchestrated by the CA prison regime) scarcely circulated in the public discourse, barely galvanizing the sentiment of free world activists (outside of certain political circles), I believe, is revealing of the types of slippages and antagonisms I am alluding to.


Dylan: This is difficult to cleanly answer, because in my view (and experience), there are sites and moments of overlap between these forms of political and cultural movement that both illuminate and blur the assumptive alienation between prison/jail and the “free world.” Further, my perspective is deformed by the fact that i am at best a reader, theorist, and interpreter of incarcerated radical praxis. Still, i think it’s possible to identify a couple points of contradiction and antagonism between: 1.) movements by and of incarcerated people and 2.) movements of revolt against anti-Black racism and homicidal police violence that are based in spheres of civil society.

   First, while it is not always the case that carceral insurgencies are led or predominated by Black people held captive, it is very often a fact that such movements explicitly recognize the carceral regime as a paradigm of anti-Black violence. This is why recent political and cultural movements by incarcerated people so consistently make use of the rhetorics, symbols, and legal archives of racial chattel slavery in their internal and public discourses (including platforms and demands issued by captive people engaging in hunger strikes in places like Georgia, California, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere). On the other hand, i think there is work to be done to adequately understand whether and how current, free world-based struggles against anti-Black racist state violence may be hanging onto a fraudulent dream of (Black) citizenship even as they catalyze forms of art, critical thought, liberationist praxis, and (Black) human being that push the imagination against and past the delimited institution of citizenship (a stand-in for White Being) and toward other kinds of political-cultural vistas. That’s one thing.

   The other thing is this: the weight of institutionalized dehumanization (and that’s what the carceral regime is, in its gendered-racial violence) is mind-numbing, vast, and almost entirely incalculable. We can recite statistics all day, but there is no way to adequately communicate how the last half-century of criminalization and human captivity has permanently altered peoples’ worlds. Here’s the thing, though: people who are or have been incarcerated for any length of time spend a lot of energy—during and after their actual incarceration—trying to narrate and communicate this mind-numbing, vast, incalculable violence anyway. Consider it the voice of a human species that is illegible to White Being, and is largely illegible to those of us invited by or seduced into the ceremonies of White Being.


Casey: It would be helpful here if you could briefly walk us through how the “inside”/“outside” relation operates in the discourses and political imagination of the Establishment Left. I am also really curious to hear you speak more on the possibilities that “Black Lives Matter” offers as a mobilizing paradigm capable of disrupting this “inside” versus “outside” mode of thinking and seeing?


Dylan: Central to the formation of the contemporary Establishment Left in the US and elsewhere has been the emergence of a nonprofit/NGO complex, planned and funded by a collaboration between state, philanthropic, and corporate bodies (that is, both individual people and officials representing organizations). It barely takes three clicks into a Google search to see how the “inside/outside” relation is established by the Establishment Left. Incarcerated people (and formerly incarcerated people) are overwhelmingly addressed as clients or impersonal constituencies, and are invoked in rhetorics of state criminological reform. This is what leads to the Establishment Left’s persistent return to notions of “nonviolent crime,” “disparity,” and “mass incarceration.”

   In their totality, these rhetorics reproduce problems inherent to liberal- progressive political desires, including the fabrication of a vacillating definition of those worthy of decarceration, and those whose criminality requires their civil carceral death. In none of this is there anything approaching a serious attempt to clarify, much less directly engage with, the unfolding half century infrastructure of gendered racial domestic warfare. “Disparity” is a bullshit concept, when we already know that the inception of criminal justice is the de-criminalization of white people, particularly propertied white citizens and those willing to bear arms to defend the white world. “Mass Incarceration” is worse than meaningless, when it’s not the “masses” who are being criminalized and locked up. So there is some furtive and fatal white entitlement involved in this discursive political structure. As far as Black Lives Matter goes, i think it’s imperative to appreciate the spectrum of people and political positions that inhabit this movement, and to constantly pay attention to how its place in the public discourse creates both opportunities for radical departures and burdens of political respectability that constantly attempt to domesticate its own insurgent tendencies.


Casey: And it’s these liberal-progressive political desires that we must now more than ever be vigilantly criticizing in our writings, analyses, discussions, and pedagogy, correct? Even amidst the possibility of having a classically “Right-wing” reactionary iteration of white nationalist subjectivity, once again, residing in the Oval Office? I know you have written about a particular notion of fascism, as it relates to the idea of liberal capitalist democracy—one that builds on the incarcerated writings of Angela Davis and George Jackson from the early 1970s. Would you say a broader public conversation about fascism and its relationship to the liberal-progressive political desires you are speaking about is necessary?


Dylan: I think people are already having the conversations about white nationalism and fascism in various ways, although once again, the problem is that these problems are reduced to a narrowed, particular, spectacular set of articulations (i.e. Muslim expulsion, Great Wall of ‘Merica, Blue Lives Matter, etc.) rather than analyzed as the generalized political framework through which most acceptable, or “hegemonic” notions of politics and political culture unfold. I think Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump are pretty much first cousins (though maybe estranged first cousins), in this sense. If we take a serious approach to the analytics of fascism, updated for the contemporary condition, the differences across this hegemonic political-cultural spectrum tend to be a matter of degree, not of kind. It’s pretty easy to see, for example, the ways that Trumpism installs assumptively extremist positions and proposals into the public discourse in ways that catalyze and legitimate reactionary white (and overwhelmingly male) violence through symbolic, state, and physical forms. What a lot of us are in denial about, however, is how much this moment of reactionary white nationalism overlaps with the prior decade of multiculturalist white supremacy and the refabrication of US patriotism via “postracialism.” So while not everyone agrees with subjecting Muslims to an American Inquisition, for example, there are some guiding agreements about whether and how people of Arab and Middle Eastern descent ought to be subjected to rationalized, responsible forms of profiling and policing. And the bottom line of this still-unfolding, historically specific policing and criminalization technology is, of course, the Civilizational formation of racial chattel and land-ecological conquest as the permanent (that is, not historically episodic) condition of political discourse generally. So what we are seeing now is a pretty fucked up situation in which some of us are actually surprised that people who look like us, and share genealogical blood with us, are fully in favor of Trump’s Bozo the Clown burlesque act. We are indignant and shocked silent when we encounter other Black, Brown, Indigenous, and queer people outside of academic left and activist circles who tell us they might—or will— cast a worthless ballot for that dude. We should not be that surprised.


Casey: I agree, we cannot be surprised. And, accompanying these reactionary articulations, there is an entire other side of the fascist problematic, right? The gradualist reformers who “mediate” the crisis . . . who co-opt, defuse, and redirect oppositional energies into the projects of the Establishment Left. Here you have a range of “compassionate” and “caring” folks—from petite bourgeois liberals to progressive nationalists to an array of “color-blind” white left-folk—all of whom, it seems, desire more so to distance themselves from the backwards or “regressive” whiteness embodied in the Trump campaign, rather than challenge it in any serious or politically meaningful way. And when the desire to confront it does exist—when it is out there, loud and visible—that very desire appears to be a force that legitimates their own privileged positions. They become the “reasonable” whites . . . the “civil” whites . . . the transcendent historical subjects capable of continuing the white-supremacist nation-building project. “I am not Donald Trump,” therefore my presence and manner of being/Being is universally justified. Or “I am not that murderous pig,” therefore my imagined physiological integrity, my chauvinistic comportment, my freedom of bodily mobility couldn’t possibly be linked in a parasitic way to the policing and criminalization of Black people, or that which necessitates the crisis of racialized capture and incarceration. It’s a kind of postracial desire characteristic of left-liberal whiteness in the post-Civil Rights era: a move (whether conscious or not) to disaffiliate from the cultural and political spheres of “old-school” white racist identity, which in turn only serves to shore up and affirm their own comfortable inhabitations of civil society, of “rationality,” of white life, of “White Being” (as you have so eloquently described it). But I guess that’s what you’ve been saying throughout this entire interview, right? It’s a constant evasion of political and “ethical” responsibilities that is systemically condoned. The problem lays with White Being as a larger, enveloping aspect of the fascist social condition we all (albeit differentially) inhabit.


Dylan: And to add to your entirely appropriate and necessary polemic against (white) liberalism—a task that i am happy you embrace so urgently given your own social and gendered racial position in the world—i have to stress that there are other layers to the violence of White Being that have nothing to do with the “problem of white people.” There are specific ways, in this moment of compulsory diversity and institutionalized multiculturalism, where the post-apartheid United States is actually doubling down on gendered-racist state violence by fostering delimited avenues of social mobility (i.e. affirmative action and its aftermath) and ideologies of “empowerment.” These are usually affixed to spectacles of dark-skinned peoples’ exceptional achievements, talents, and rarified “opportunities” that work, always and incessantly, to ideologically crowd out the everyday social truths of systemic degradation and evisceration. This is just a glimpse of the mess that the ascendancy of White Being creates in its extra-supremacist moments, when it thrives on gestures of seduction, invitation, and inclusion that accompany the sturdy apparatuses of warfare, policing, and incarceration. A lot of us would kill (and sometimes do kill) for the chance to have “White People Problems” on a constant, uninterrupted basis, you know? That’s the fatal, violent, sometimes auto-homicidal and suicidal dilemma i’m talking about.


Casey: So then, what would you suggest . . . or maybe . . . how do you envision a revolutionary politics being further proliferated in the current historical conjuncture; in terms of organization and strategy, principles and program? For instance, given the current political climate, how might a more deeply radical consciousness be fostered in the institutional and organizational spaces one inhabits? Are there useful historical approaches to oppositional intellectual work that could be revisited and revised to broaden the public discussion of political possibilities?


Dylan: I’m only capable of offering a minor, situated, fragment of a response to this question, given my own limitations of experience, position, and insight. Here’s how i’ll respond: the question is not whether there is some kind of activist praxis, organizing method, or cultural strategy that can incite radical-to-revolutionary possibilities in-and-of-themselves. Rather, in this particular moment, i think the question is how to create, exemplify, and experiment in rigorously scholarly, thoughtful, historically situated forms of praxis (which may or may not take a typically “activist” form). Whether people are nourished by Sylvia Rivera or Malcolm X, the Zapatistas or the Panthers, AIM or Idle No More, there are so many exemplary forms of radical work that are also radical in their intellectual-theoretical contributions to the historical record of revolt against Civilization. This fact should enable us to engage in our creative, experimental practices in a manner that is both humbled and deeply emboldened.


Casey: I have some questions prepared about revolutionary organization and the politics of “spontaneity” that I would like to briefly pose before we wrap this interview up. First off, what are some central themes that must be accounted for in the formation of principled “aboveground” and “underground” counter-state organizational structures? Do you see something still useful in distinguishing a relationship between the two? What must occur differently today than in past iterations of the above/below-ground split?


Dylan: This is not something i’d want to substantively write or talk about on the record, right now. What i will say is that yes, there is absolutely a need and usefulness to drawing clear practical, strategic and theoretical distinctions between legal and illicit, “responsible” and explosively contentious, aboveground and underground forms of praxis and organizing. I will say that i am in a privileged position to work in the generalized realm of aboveground, legal activities but this does not mean that i abstain from supporting, theorizing, and critiquing other kinds of political work.


Casey: What of political action that appears at first to be “spontaneous,” for example, street skirmishes and larger, more organic insurrectionary mobilizations such as riots? Could you say these have a dimension of organization to them as well?


Dylan: Yes, always. Spontaneity is usually in the eye of the beholder. Shit doesn’t just go down because of a random act of God, or some kind of incomprehensible magic. There is always a reason: as we know, these spontaneous irruptions are often counter- insurgency tactics employed by the state and reactionary elements who wish to provoke popular backlash against a particular community or insurgent movement; other times, people have simply had enough, and are unwilling to tolerate dying and suffering “peacefully,” or “nonviolently.” And if that’s not a praxis of human being against White Being, i don’t know what is.


Casey: Do you have any suggestions about the role of writing and public intellectual work during (and in the immediate aftermath of) rioting and other forms of open insurrectionary struggle? You know . . . these periods of heightening antagonisms that disrupt the quotidian, everyday reproduction (the so-called “peace”) of white civic life. And this question doesn’t only have to be directed towards instances such as Baltimore or Milwaukee recently. It could even be expanded to encompass the phase of struggle inaugurated this summer more generally (with its array of direct actions, traffic blockades, and protest mobilizations). These are periods when clarity and sober reflection on reactionary shifts in the hegemony of “law and order” are needed in the public discourse—especially if we wish counter the effects of a state and corporate media apparatus that dehumanizes insurgency and strives to appropriate grassroots revolt into dominant cultural and political blocs.


Dylan: We’re talking about the radical, indispensable work of speaking and writing a historical record, and compiling a present tense archive. There are so many cultural forces and institutional forms that mitigate against this work, and which try to discipline and bully people out of their obligation to undertake this labor and art form (all narrative is art, don’t get it twisted). My word of encouragement and incitement is this: while there are people who are employed or otherwise materially rewarded to do the work of writing, talking, and critical reflection, the fullest sense of the radical archive draws on the creativity endemic to the practice of human being against the ascendancy of White Being. This means the historical obligation to do the work—to produce the art—is far-reaching.


Casey: Who are some central thinkers that you would recommend aspiring young activists and students in the movement read and listen to today, in regards to the strategic dimensions of radical anti-racist and Black liberationist struggles?


Dylan: I suggest a deeper, collective, critical reading and discussion of those folks in the Hall of Fame: Audre Lorde, W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter, Angela Davis, Paolo Freire, Haunani Kay Trask, Stuart Hall, the Combahee River Collective, Toni Morrison (recall the “Seven Days” organization from Song of Solomon), Ida B. Wells, the Civil Rights Congress (We Charge Genocide, 1951), Sonia Sanchez, Vine Deloria, and so many others. The point is not merely to read and listen, it’s to read and listen actively, collectively, and in conversation with other people.


Casey: Okay, so one last question for you Dylan. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Do you see any major differences that need to be accounted for in the ways that student activists mobilize on campuses and attempt to struggle today, as opposed to previous eras? Over the course of your work in the university, have you seen any transformations in the way students mobilize around racist policing, surveillance, and imprisonment (for better or worse)?


Dylan: The campus—whether university, junior college, high school, or some other schooling site—has played a significant role in almost every major or minor transformation of oppressive and systemically violent conditions in the history of this wretched Civilization. Students face a compounded problem in the current iteration of the neoliberal white-supremacist university/college regime, however, because they tend to be subjected to untenable financial and hence labor burdens as soon as they set foot on school grounds. So students engaged in activist work today must bear even heavier demands on their energy, and are forced to survive different and often heavier physiological stresses than their counterparts from, say, 15 years ago. (Come to think of it, maybe there is a way that students today can politicize their burdens and collective immiseration in a manner that doesn’t rely on the grandstanding of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.) Finally, the most profound difference i have seen in recent years of student activism around criminalization, policing, and incarceration has been the circulation of the political identity “abolitionist.” Far, far greater numbers of students are embracing this position, and many are doing so even when their professed political beliefs are closer to anti-racist reform (of police, laws, etc.) or progressive decarceration (of those deemed most deserving of release from prison/jail). In other words, many student activists call themselves “abolitionists” when their political agendas are fundamentally opposed to abolition! So that leaves us with the task of teaching and demonstrating what it means to inhabit the long historical responsibilities that accompany the declaration that one is an abolitionist. You have to be willing and able to say that shit to Sojourner Truth’s ghost.


 
Dylan is a Professor and former Chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside. He was elected Chair of the UC Riverside Academic Senate by his faculty peers in 2016. He is the author of two books: Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the US Prison Regime (2006) and Suspended Apocalypse: White Supremacy, Genocide, and the Filipino Condition (2009). His current thinking, writing, and teaching focus on how regimes of social liquidation, cultural extermination, physiological evisceration, and racist terror become normalized features of everyday life in the “post-Civil Rights” and “post-racial” moments. How do the historical logics of racial and racial-colonial genocide permeate our most familiar systems of state violence, cultural production, institutionalized knowledge, liberation struggle, and social identity? How do people inhabit these structures and logics—make sense of it, narrate it, suffer it, and revolt against it? What forms of collective genius and creativity emerge from such conditions, and how do these insurgencies envision—and practice—transformations of power and community? The following interview was conducted by Casey, an editor with True Leap Press.