Like many people interested in African-American studies and the history of the slave trade, I was thrilled to get the announcement from Readex that a huge bundle of materials from 1820-1922 had been digitized and would be made available shortly. It’s worth reading their words here, because this is an amazing set of materials, really. But it’s also worth thinking more deeply about this moment in terms of property, memory, and the meaning of an archive. First, though, the collection. (more…)
I hesitated to write about what can now only be called The Richard Sherman Incident. I hesitated because the rhetoric and meaning of it all was so fraught, and it seemed, and still does seem, that there are obvious ideas I find deeply offensive (the racialized language of “classy,” “classless,” and the like) and that I’m drawn to (critique of that racialized language, appreciation of trash talk in professional sports). But as I read through all of this stuff on blogs, social media, and sports journalism outlets, I did have a question: what has happened to Michael Crabtree in all of this? How can we talk about him? Or is talking about him impossible? And, if it is impossible to speak about Crabtree, then what does that say about our discourse on race and cultural politics? (more…)
Today, 17 January, is the anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961. Saying it is the 53rd anniversary isn’t a particularly round date, but, like every anniversary, it is a moment to pause and think about the memory of someone who has passed. And perhaps we ought to take a moment to read through now declassified documents from the U.S. government about covert actions before and after Lumumba’s brief moment in power. (more…)
Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver lay out some critically important ideas in their “Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’?” essay in The Stone at the New York Times website. The information is frightening, if not entirely surprising: the criminal justice system penalizes African-Americans in ways that reveals both institutional racism and mass political disenfranchisement of Black people. The numbers tell much of the story and ought to horrify all decent people. The numbers clearly have that effect on Stanley and Weaver and that shows in the earnestness of their prose and analysis.
At the same time, it’s worth asking some follow-up questions about how African-Americans appear in their essay, an essay dedicated not just to numbers and trends, but also to philosophical analysis. (more…)
The time of social media events is short, so writing a few words on Ani DiFranco’s apology (or apologetically toned press release) is at this point probably already out of date. Still, the talk around her event – a now-canceled plan to host a retreat at a plantation house – raises the most American of questions: what does it mean to be here, to remember where we are, and how do we situate ourselves in relation to the pain of the past? And, of course, what does it mean to apologize? (more…)
While I am not the biggest advocate of Aimé Césaire’s work, I’ve always been taken in – in ways that would take more words than I write below to explain – by his comment at the beginning of Discourse on Colonialism that European culture is sick. That bit from Césaire came to mind when I came across this short piece by Simon Glendinning the other day, which discusses Jacques Derrida’s work on Europe, Eurocentrism, and deconstructive critique. (more…)
What does it mean to decolonize the colonizer? In a previous post, I asked the question – which has largely been suppressed in white European thought – of what would it mean to decolonize the colonizer. First, there is the question of why this hasn’t been asked of the colonizer, but only of the colonized. My sense is that this question has only been for the colonized because at every level whiteness works as invisibility, in that it is never seen as whiteness in discourse about knowing and being, and also because the colonized are always framed (for better or worse) in terms of violence, whereas white people (the colonizers) are somehow located outside the very frame their (our) imperialism produced.
One of the central questions of my Levinas and the Postcolonial is why we haven’t asked what should be a very basic, wholly necessary question: if the colonized have been tasked with decolonizing themselves – at every level – why haven’t the colonizers been tasked with the same? I tried to sketch what that looks like, that decolonization, by examining a single thinker (Levinas). The big question comes from a very basic insight and claim, and yet it’s proven to be controversial.
Achille Mbembe’s talk at Harvard University this past Thursday (4 December) set out the terms of a new project, described in the straightforward title: “Democracy in the Age of Animism.” It was a fascinating talk and asked a lot of critical and urgent questions. A few thoughts. (more…)
In his 1964 essay “The White Problem,” dating from the period of the publication of The Fire Next Time, Baldwin sets out what he calls “two levels of experience.” These two levels operate as the dialectical tension within which whiteness as an American identity emerges. “In this country, for a dangerously long time,” Baldwin writes (more…)