“A School Shooting”; or, Necropolitics Again

I went to bed and woke up with the same troubled conscience of all decent people. Yet another school massacre, and all the senses of hopelessness that come with the news. Knowing it is unspeakably sad and awful, knowing we’ll be here again sooner than later.

I didn’t wake up worrying about my kids at their school. I’ll be honest about that. I’ve gone there before, in the past, after a shooting. Continue reading ““A School Shooting”; or, Necropolitics Again”

A Thought on Erica Garner’s Passing

From 30 December 2017

A small thought on Erica Garner.

I was thinking today about the long, searching conversations I had with my Baldwin seminar last spring while we were reading his last great work Evidence of Things Not Seen. Baldwin in that book was able to make the lives of black Atlanta and the lives of murdered children speak, come alive, and communicate their individual and communal despair, as well as the link between that suffering and the long arc of African-American history. Continue reading “A Thought on Erica Garner’s Passing”

Derek Walcott, In Memory

Rest in peace, Derek Walcott.

A winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, he needs no new recognition. He was as great a poet as one can imagine. His non-fiction is fantastic. In a post-Fanon, post-Césaire world, he refashioned the meaning of the Caribbean for more than one generation of intellectuals. That is the world. For me, right here, there was no greater influence on my work in Africana studies. Continue reading “Derek Walcott, In Memory”

Five Thoughts on I Am Not Your Negro

A first handful of thoughts on I Am Not Your Negro, which is a film worth thinking about in a couple of different ways. First, as a film about race and American life. Second, as a film about James Baldwin. Those both are and are not the same thing in Peck’s film, I think. These are first impressions, but I wanted to write them down. I think Peck’s film is worth returning to and exploring. He’s a brilliant artist, and this is a work of art, which means it demands a lot of thoughtfulness.

I usually hesitate to write out first impressions. And yet, here are five: Continue reading “Five Thoughts on I Am Not Your Negro”

Do widzenia, Zygmunt Bauman

Rest in peace, Zygmunt Bauman.

In my waning days as a teacher of things European, I started regularly teaching a course on death. First, I taught it as an elective at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, then, second, I taught it as a first-year seminar at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. The course really had Heidegger’s meditations on death as a centerpiece – to me, some of the most profound stuff in twentieth century philosophy – and we used that to frame all sorts of stuff, whether readings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky stories or an interpretation of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Continue reading “Do widzenia, Zygmunt Bauman”

On the National Museum of African American History and Culture

It was a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, but my family and I managed to get tickets to the opening day of the National Museum of African American Culture and History on Saturday, September 24th. The museum is here forever, so the first day is just an especially festive day. And that it was. There were thousands of people gathered out front to witness the opening, in line to go inside according to timed entry, and inside across the five distinct floors of works reflecting on and presenting the African American experience. Continue reading “On the National Museum of African American History and Culture”

Words for Violence

I ran into three of my students while walking across the quad this afternoon. We stopped to talk. I planned to wave and nod, but they wanted to talk. All three are African-American.
 
They wanted to talk – or sound off, as much as anything – about “yet another” murder of an unarmed Black person who’d done nothing wrong. The question was what you’d expect: what are we supposed to do? Could have been asking anyone, really, but it was them asking me. I don’t know. It’s not like we grown ups are hoarding the obvious answer.
 
But while the truth is that I have no words, no words that measure up to the terrifying losses in each of these cases, and these murders are so catastrophically awful and just repeat and repeat, I also think no words isn’t always (if ever) the right response to have in these moments – especially as a white person.
 
Questions are words. I asked a question. Then more. I trusted that we know one another well enough to have questions, for them to know I wanted their inner selves, not my theories of or guesses at what they are feeling and thinking. I wanted them, not my presumptions.
 
They told me things worth putting here.
 
They are scared for their own lives and the lives of friends and family, no matter where they live.
 
They are enraged and it is slowly eating away at their love for life and being wherever (and whomever) they are.
 
They are frustrated that their white friends are completely oblivious to these realities.
 
They are frustrated that it seems special or amazing whenever a white person says even just one thing.
 
The obliviousness feeds senses of isolation.
 
The white silence feeds suspicion that, for all the partying and conversation and camaraderie on campus and in the dorm, their specifically Black lives don’t matter.
 
They don’t want to be seen as just humans because their fear and sadness and rage and anxiety is coming from being Black, not from being seen as human.
 
They want killing with impunity to stop.
 
In the meantime, they want to be seen and heard.
 
Being seen and heard is important because being oblivious is a form of “passive gaslighting” – making them doubt that they are living in reality. (That was a student’s phrase.)
 
And they don’t want to feel like being seen is a huge burden for white friends, but instead want it to feel like that’s just getting to know each other.
 
They also want white students to take Black Studies courses. And they were serious about that. “Our lives hang in the balance but these motherfuckers are taking another class about more dead white guys.”
 
It was amazing to hear them say it straight out: we could breathe better if everyone wasn’t always doubting our experience and explaining away our fears.
 
I have no words except please stop, how is this possible. Those are my words. I am passing along these words from my students today, though, because when they said it all to me, their words became words I now have. Not all words for something need to be my own. And they spoke truthfully. They said to share (I asked).
 
I hope white friends hear that truthfulness in this small report in my tiny corner of the world of social media.