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writing a few words on Ani DiFranco’s apology (or apologetically toned press release) is at this point probably already out of date.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…)
The function of the spirituals in the African-American intellectual tradition is well-known, especially in the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke – for both, the spirituals work as a foundation to the tradition. The spirituals are an enigma. They represent content as both lyric and sound; indeed, the distinction between those two forms of content is thin, at most. More likely there is no real distinction. Frederick Douglass notes the profundity of the sorrow songs in Narrative when (more…)
In “Letter on Humanism,” a letter written to French theorist Jean Beaufret in response to the claim that his book Being and Time did not contain an ethics, Martin Heidegger famously remarks that “language is the house of Being.” This is a signature moment in Heidegger’s work, one that (roughly) shifts his work from the relationship between subjectivity and ontology to the more searching, and certainly more peculiar, question of language, truth, and Being. But Heidegger underscores something very important in this famous remark: language and what it means to be are inextricably linked. (more…)