Stop trying to make Black happen! In this episode, Alyssa & Brendane return to the game Defund Reform Abolish to think discuss and clarify (no pun intended) light skin privilege, the one-drop rule, and white passing. Our What’s the (Unclear) Word segment covers the basics of Afropessimism, as well as the difference between economic Afro-pessimism vs Afro-optimism vs. Afrofuturism. In our What We’re Reading segment, we discuss the essay “Black Feminist Theory for the Dead and Dying” by Patrice D. Douglass to understand how Black feminist theory and Afropessimism can come together to undo the theorizing of violence against Black women into non-being. Finally, we bring on fellow Daughter of Zora, Chloé Samala Faux, 5th year Anthropology PhD candidate at Columbia University, to help us delve deeper into Afropessmism and its critiques and get to the bottom of ‘what is Black?” The conversation gets productive when we debate about whether Meghan Markle is Black, whether it’s useful to consider her a non-Black woman of African descent, and the way partus sequitur ventrem (the law of slavery that says “that which is brought forth follows the womb”) ultimately does and undoes her. Finally, we remember Breonna Taylor on the one year anniversary of her murder with a moment of silence.
It’s a long episode and we still didn’t get to everything we wanted to talk about!
By the time you’re listening, Alyssa will be in the thick of her PhD qualifying exams – send good vibes and gifTs (though she loves gifs too)!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Fourteen
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Guest: Chloé Faux
Title: Afropessimism: Anything But Black!
Total Length 1:55:56
[00:00:00] Chloé Faux: You also see that operating in places like the Caribbean where they have multiple gradations and hundreds of ways to say that you are between Black and white. The upshot is actually you just don’t wanna be Black.
Brendane Tynes: Yep.
Alyssa James: Yep.
[00:00:33] Alyssa James: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Zora’s Daughters, the podcast where we discuss popular culture with a Black feminist anthropological lens. I’m Alyssa, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. When y’all hear this, I will be in the thick of exams, so be sure to send me some positive energy and gifts. I like gifts! That was gifts with a “T,” not a meme [laughter] please.
[00:01:00] Brendane Tynes: Don’t. No memes. She will be offline [laughter] taking her exams. So, hey everyone! I’m Brendane, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. And yes, make sure that you send the positive vibes, the love, and all the clarity her way. And if you do happen to be a hater listening, first of all, why are you wasting your time? [Laughter] Second of all, we are going to be sure to send that energy back to you with all of the love and light. We are so excited to bring to you all our long-awaited episode on Afro-pessimism.
Alyssa James: Long awaited.
Brendane Tynes: Y’all have been begging, begging for this. And so now, Alyssa and I are not experts, by any means. So, we will be bringing on the brilliant Chloé Faux to help us talk this out. We’ll also be getting into the Meghan Markle debacle, gendered state violence, and some of the things y’all do so you don’t have to redress Black women’s suffering.
[00:01:57] Alyssa James: I’m really excited about this episode, but before we get started, we wanted to say a big thank you to all of our supporters! Thank you to LaShelle, Mayyadda, Tina, and Sophie for your generous donations. We value all kinds of support, so donate, send us an email, follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at zoras_daughters. And of course, you can buy some ZD swag at our website zorasdaughters.com/shop.
Brendane Tynes: Right. And you might have missed it, but the podcast and yours truly were featured on Savage x Fenty’s Instagram page. Wooo.
Alyssa James: Ayyyy.
Brendane Tynes: And, ha, we like to think that Rihanna knows our names and that she actually listens. Which, if you do, hey girl [laughter]. I don’t really do celebrity culture, but she is among the few who I fangirl over and I’m pretty sure I’ve bought enough Fenty to at least cover a couple of light bills at the factory. So, this feels like [laughter] recognition deserved honestly.
[00:02:57] Alyssa James: A couple? Don’t you have like super VIP status at Sephora [laughter]?
Brendane Tynes: [Laughter] Yep, yep, yeah. My partner is always talking about how I have Rouge status at Sephora. The only reason why I wear make-up is because of Ms. Rihanna Robin Fenty, so, you know.
Alyssa James: Okay. Girl, you’re obsessed.
Brendane Tynes: Thank you. I’m obsessed. It is.
Alyssa James: That’s okay. You definitely put me on to Savage [X] Fenty and, you know, here we are. I’m actually just thrilled that they see value in your dissertation research and advocacy work enough that they wanted to share it with literally the world. They have a global platform, a global stage and they put you on it! That is dope. And of course, when you told me and you were like “RiRi might know your naaaame,” she might know your name.
Brendane Tynes: Yo, the idea that Rihanna might be somewhere mispronouncing my name is actually bringing me such joy [laughter]. Such joy, honestly.
Alyssa James: Would you let her call you Be-ren-da-nay?
Brendane Tynes: Look, as long as she is calling me, yo, she can call me whatever she wants. A friend, supporter, you know, just all of it. I really love her and her philanthropy work. Like she puts her money where her mouth is, I love that.
[00:04:31] Alyssa James: right, well we are going to throwback to a game we haven’t played since the first semester of the podcast. So here we are, we’re gonna go in with a little “Defund, Reform Abolish,” you know, just to wet your palates [laughter] for the rest of the episode. And I think you’ve come up with a bit of a doozy for me and our listeners.
Brendane Tynes: Yeah, it’s a, you know, it’s a doozy! I’mma say that. So, Alyssa, defund, reform, or abolish: light skin privilege, white passing, and the one-drop rule.
Alyssa James: Alright. Alright, I think this is great actually because you’ve literally put it in the order that I’m going to send it back to you in, so. And y’all keep in mind the premise of this is that they all should be abolished, so my responses are just circumscribed within in this game [laughter]. I’m going to defund light skin privilege, like just let it starve financially because Black and non-Black people have been trading and profiting off of it for years. People need to stop profiting off of it. It’s been to the detriment of dark-skinned Black folks, so we can defund that. I’m going to reform white passing, not because it needs to stay. Although, admittedly it was, you know, a way in which people stayed safe in previous years. Although even that was tenuous. Like the safety that you had as a white passing person.
Brendane Tynes: Yeah, you made sure you didn’t have no kids to tell on you.
Alyssa James: [Laughter] Save that for later [laughter]. So, I’m not saying that it should stick around but what I think needs to be done is that there needs to be a clarification. And it’s that there is a difference between white passing and white presenting. People have called people like Meghan Markle and Rashida Jones and Nicole Ritchie, they’ve called them white passing and it’s interesting that they’re all women. I’ve been thinking about, I’m like who are the men that people call white passing. The only one I could think of was Wentworth Miller.
Brendane Tynes: I don’t even know.
Alyssa James: This is the guy from Prison Break, The Human Stain.
Brendane Tynes: I would have to look that up.
Alyssa James: He was in The Human Stain.
Brendane Tynes: I’mma have to look that up [laughter] Oh man, I’m exposing myself right now, oh man [laughter].
Alyssa James: So, these folks, they are white presenting. White passing implies that you are actively living your life as a white person. So, you’re hiding that you have Black ancestry, as Brendane said earlier, you’re not having kids because you don’t want them to tell on you. That’s white passing, it’s an active choice. White presenting means that you could pass for white, if you chose to, but really, it’s that white people and some Black people do not immediately perceive you as Black. And so then, finally, I will abolish the one-drop rule because it has been allowing us to center non-Black people and Black people who do not experience anti-Blackness at the same levels as others. And I think we’ve been centering them, you know, centering these people that have Black ancestry in our fight for freedom and we don’t need to be doing that anymore. So, that is the Mary had a little lamb on that.
[00:08:04] Brendane Tynes: Woo, and still, I ooop, yo [laughter]. Well, um.
Alyssa James: Yeah. I mean, do you have, would you do anything differently? What do you think?
Brendane Tynes: I, let’s see. I think I agree with you. I think I did lay it out in a way that kinda fits with all of these things. And absolutely in thinking about something that we watched last night, a video that we watched last night about how we choose who we choose to center in our fight for freedom, is what matters most, right? So, I wanna hammer down that this is not just about who you choose to date, who you choose to interact with, who you choose to befriend, right? This is about the politics of it all and how we achieve freedom. Lighter skinned people don’t have the same stakes that darker skinned people do in the game. Don’t have the same kind of skin in the game, even if we are all Black, so.
Alyssa James: [Laughter] I see what you did there.
Brendane Tynes: Y’all can’t see what I’m doing but I’m like “doo, doo, doo” [laughter]. We don’t have the same skin in the game.
Alyssa James: I see what you did there. That might be the episode title [laughter].
Brendane Tynes: Ohhh. You know, it was off the dome [laughter].
Alyssa James: I’m not mad at it. Alright, so let’s get into our word for the day! Brendane, what is our word?
[00:09:24] Brendane Tynes: The word for today is Afropessimism. Some of y’all love it. Some of y’all hate it. Some of y’all love to hate it. And some of y’all might be like “What the hell is that?” But don’t worry. We got you.
Alyssa James: Yeah, I mean that’s pretty much why we’re here. But wait, hang on, so, who hates it? Who’s hating?
Brendane Tynes: Woo, child, okay. Where do I begin? So, there’s one set of people who are usually Black, who are invested in the idea of racial reconciliation and progress. So, they hate Afropessimism because of the way that it is very much attentive to slavery. So, these people believe that the Black can exist outside of the category of the slave, and they point to social markers of “success” to demonstrate that. So, one example is representation of Black people in authority and the belief that that is liberation in and of itself. There’s another group of people who are hesitant to identify as Afropessimist because it implies that you don’t have “hope” for the future. So, they really fixate on the pessimist part and they’re like, “but what about hope and change?” And as one of our listeners and friend mentioned, you know, Obama is the great white hope, right [laughter]. Like, you know, what about hope. And my response to that is always I don’t have hope for a future that willfully denies the past, especially when our present is a reproduction of the plantation. So, for me, it requires some type of blinders about where we are in the world. There are also some feminists who are hesitant because many Afropessimist theorists are Black cisgender men who actually don’t attend to gendered experiences of Black life, particularly those of Black women. And then Afropessimist theory employed by some can be transphobic because they exclude trans people from their imaginations of Black (non)being.
[00:11:41] Alyssa James: Hmm, okay. So there sounds like there’s some well thought out, well deserved critiques and others who aren’t reading it as closely as they possibly could, but we will try to give you all an overview now. And this is, again, introductory because, as we’ll talk about a little bit later, this is really—Afropessimism is based on a very long trajectory and genealogy of thinking, so yes. I think to start off, we could say that Afropessimism was conceived at UC Berkeley, by Jared Sexton and Frank B. Wilderson, who are now both professors at UC Irvine, David Marriott, who is now a professor at Penn State, and Saidiya Hartman, who was actually Wilderson’s advisor at Berkeley, and is now a MacArthur Fellow and professor at Columbia.
Brendane Tynes: Whoop, whoop, whoop, heyyyy [laughter], whoop, whoop.
Alyssa James: [Laughter] And so, others I think you’ll hear called into Afropessimist critique are Christina Sharpe, Claudia Rankine, Fred Moten, Joy James, Patrice Douglass, Denise Ferreira da Silva, and you know, so many more. But those are kind of the big names.
[00:12:50] Brendane Tynes: Yes, so one thing we want to say right, is don’t discount those relationships you’re building in grad school! You know, you might meet someone who you can actually build an entire framework with, you know?
Alyssa James: Revolutionize Black Studies [laughter].
Brendane Tynes: Right. Black Studies has not been the same since Scenes of Subjection hit. Period. According to the 2018 Oxford Bibliographies entry written by Patrice Douglass, Selamawit Terrefe, and Frank Wilderson, Afropessimism is “a lens of interpretation that accounts for civil society’s dependence on anti-Black violence—a regime of violence that positions Black people as internal enemies of civil society.” So, what does that mean? Afropessimists assert that human life, that is, society as we know it, is fundamentally built upon the exclusion, enslavement, and death of Black people.
Alyssa James: Right, so in a few interviews, Wilderson talks about how throughout his life experiences he was developing an analysis of how the world operates. And I think that we could all say that we’re doing something of the sort. That is what we do, when we walk through the world, we theorize it. And that’s why we use anthropology as well, because you’re really allowed to say that people are theorizing the world in which they live. So, he and the others, they’re all studying together, they’re thinking together, they’re reading these “canonical” theories like Marxism and postcolonialism, psychoanalytic feminisms and all of these kinds of things. And they’re like, alright these concepts, they hold these dichotomies that can’t actually hold Blackness. These theories are not useful containers for the experiences of Black people in the United States.
So in order to understand Black suffering and anti-Black violence, they build on ideas put forth by scholars like Orlando Patterson, who wrote about social death—that’s the condition of people not fully accepted as human, Hortense Spillers and the idea of the persistence of the conditions in the hold of the slave ship, Sylvia Wynter, and her letter No Humans Involved and her notion of the genre of Man, Frantz Fanon’s psychoanalysis of the Black, and Lewis Gordon’s claim that we live in an “antiblack world.” So, one thing while I was doing my research, I found out that Orlando Patterson doesn’t think that African Americans currently are in a state of social death and he actually finds his influence on Afropessimism “ironic” [laughter].
[00:15:35] Brendane Tynes: I mean, he is a sociologist so, [laughter] and that’s all I’mma say on that.
Alyssa James: what I think is important to note here though is that the theoretical scaffolding on which Afropessimism is built is dense and elaborate. And that’s actually one of the critiques is it makes it pretty inaccessible to most people. And so, this was actually the first time, I think, we thought, “alright, I think we can actually talk about this,” we can try to approach Afropessimism in the podcast because we’ve already talked about necro politics, we’ve already talked about Hortense Spillers, and Christina Sharpe, and Sylvia Wynter. And so, we were like okay, now we kind of have built our own scaffolding, or our listeners have had some introduction to each piece of it so that way we can finally talk about it. Nevertheless, you know, Frank B. Wilderson was saying that he does get invited to do workshops on Afropessimism, you know, with activists across the globe. So, people are finding use in it and I think we’ll talk about that a little bit more [laughter] later.
[00:16:40] Brendane Tynes: You know, [sigh] Black radical theory and what it’s done for radical movements around the world, that’s definitely something that we might even have to do like a separate little special something on, one of these days. But we’ve also discussed before that academia and especially theory is a conversation, and they all operate within a genealogy. One thing that we want you all to keep in mind is that most of these scholars have cautioned against turning Afropessimism TM—as Savannah Shange would say—into a doctrine or philosophy. Really this is an ongoing conversation between intellectuals who are interested in an interrelated set of questions. So, all of the people Alyssa laid out for us earlier are in a conversation with each other sometimes—I would say sometimes. And they’re pushing these ideas further in order to understand how it was possible to enslave, lynch, imprison, and kill Black people—a genealogy in and of itself—and people who are racialized as Black. They understand anti-Blackness as fundamental to US society. And that could be expanded to say the structure of the modern world because it wouldn’t exist today were it not for the process of racializing Africans and then enslaving them. If you want to understand racialization, you can check out episode eleven, which is the episode where it was the word. We’re citing ourselves here, it’s beautiful. [Laughter]
[00:18:11] Alyssa James: You love to see it [laughter]. So Afropessimists are quote “theorists of Black positionality who share Fanon’s insistence that, though Blacks are indeed sentient beings, the structure of the entire world’s semantic field—regardless of culture of or national discrepancies—is sutured by anti-Black solidarity” end quote. That’s from Wilderson’s book Red, White, and Black and what he’s saying here is Afropessimists theorize the way the world understands that Black people are sentient. So, people know that Black people feel and perceive, however the structure of the world is held together by a tacit agreement around perpetuating anti-Blackness. A large part of white supremacist culture is actually keeping other white people in line, right. It’s about making it uncomfortable to talk about race or to talk about other things that belong to white supremacist culture. And so that’s why the common refrain you’ll often hear is like, whenever you wanna talk about difference is “Oh, I never thought about it.” YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO! [Laugher] You’re not supposed to.
Brendane Tynes: Right, the literal point [laugher].
Alyssa James: And it’s uncomfortable to because you share—if it’s uncomfortable for you it’s because you share a common interest with the other people who are also uncomfortable talking about it, and that interest is maintaining power.
[00:19:42] Brendane Tynes: Absolutely. And even—you may want to maintain power without even consciously knowing it. Right, so, whew. But we put the question on Instagram and on twitter and I’m curious to know, Alyssa, what were some of the questions we got about Afropessimism?
Alyssa James: Yeah, so, one of the questions we got was whether Afropessimism was the opposite of Afrofuturism. And so, I think that there are actually quite a few afro-isms going around these days. So, this use of Afropessimism is different from the uses of Afropessimism by journalists in the 80s. They were basically talking about sub-Saharan Africa as beyond the point of political and economic redemption. They’re basically like, “these are the reasons that Africa cannot govern themselves.” It’s the typical story that you’ll hear and see—that it’s a continent of war, poverty, despair, hunger, hopelessness, you know, all of these kinds of things. Which you can see the beginnings of and the encapsulation of in this book The Heart of Darkness.
Afro-optimism is the response to that. Afro-optimism emphasizes the modernity of Africa. It’s all positivity and celebrating ‘Africanness’ and economic growth and political reform, and all of these vibrant cultures within Africa. So, that’s Afro-optimism. These are kind of just like popular and media representations when people talk about like the 80s use of Afropessimism and Afro-optimism, so they’re kind of like in a binary together, as a response to each other. Now Afrofuturism, which is what our listener asked about, is more of an aesthetic, and it’s a cultural aesthetic. So, that means it’s a particular style and philosophy that you’ll see in films, literature, visual art and things like that. That has its origins in African American science fiction and explores the intersection of the African diaspora with technology, so you can think of like Octavia Butler’s book, Sun Ra’s Music, and Black Panther, all of these would be examples of Afrofuturism.
[00:22:01] Brendane Tynes: Yeah, and it’s really interesting to think about the ways that western ways of thinking penetrate us, and things are thought of as binary when they actually don’t necessarily need to be, right. So Afropessimism does not need to be in contention with thinking about Black futures. And I want to bring us back to thinking right, what good does it do for us to think about a future that is not grounded in the realities of the past and of the present. How will we ever achieve a future that we can’t actually grapple with what’s happening now, which Joy James talks about when she talks about the captive maternal in one of her articles.
And so, I want us to keep that in mind as well as two other things. First, Afropessimism isn’t about a performance of race or a performance of Blackness—it’s not about an interpellated identity. And if you want to know more about what we mean by that, check out episode 11—honestly just keep it running while you sleep, honestly [laughter]. Afropessimism theorizes structures and the way they are upheld by anti-Black violence. Secondly, I think it’s important for us to note that in this framework, Blackness is coterminous with slave-ness. The state of slavery is structural and ongoing, and it’s actually permanent if these structures continue to exist as they do today. Every Black person is always a slave, always stripped of personhood, and thus available to be killed without penalty. Which, I think, really brings us nicely to what we’re reading today.
Alyssa James: Yes. So, what we’re reading today is Black Feminist Theory for the Dead and Dying by Patrice D. Douglass
[00:23:44] Brendane Tynes: For those of you who don’t know who Patrice D. Douglass is, put some respect on her name. Patrice D. Douglass is an Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. She holds a PhD and MA in Culture and Theory from the University of California, Irvine, a MA in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Riverside, and a BA in Feminist Studies and Legal Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her first book project, tentatively titled, Engendering Blackness: The Political Ontology of Sexual Violence, deconstructs antebellum case law to examine the history of sexual violence under slavery. This project interrogates how the adjudication of sexual violence as a possible injury against the enslaved is absent in the legal record. By engaging Black political and feminist theory, Engendering Blackness interrogates how the narrative of gender suffering hinges upon an understanding of rights, will, and consent that situates the nexus between Blackness and gender as a belated concern. Today we are reading one of her articles, “Black Feminist Theory for the Dead and Dying.” So, let’s get into it!
Alyssa James: Let’s get into it! First thing I’m going to say is that this is one of the tougher texts that we’ve read for this podcast. I had to read it twice! [Laughter] And that was just for me to be able to come on here and talk about it. I would not teach this yet [laughter], I am not there yet. So, I just wanted to say that to everyone because learning and understanding really is a process, so don’t think that if you’re reading something and you don’t understand it immediately, that you’re doing something wrong. Literally it’s just like it takes time, going back through it, using the dictionary for every single word that you think you have a handle on [laughter]. I do that a lot [laughter]. I’m like, “yeah, I think I know what deracinate means,” but sometimes it’s good to look at the definition again and be like, “okay, there are all of these additional meanings.” Like I generally understand it but there are these other little threads that you can pull on in a definition, or something like that.
Brendane Tynes: That was a word I had to look up too though, [laughter] I’m not even gonna lie. That was definitely. I was like, dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, here I am.
Alyssa James: Deracinate.
Brendane Tynes: Deracinate [laughter].
[00:26:17] Alyssa James: And then, you know, I’ve said before, I’m a word nerd, and you can even go deeper into that and look at the etymology of the word. It helps you with kind of an analysis and thinking about how—because I think a lot of authors you know, they choose their words very carefully, right? One would hope. And so, looking deeply into the etymology and stuff will help you kind of understand what it is that they were trying to get at and why they might have chose “deracinate” over “unreading.”
Brendane Tynes: Hmm. Oh, yes, let’s get into it. I’m excited to hear that. [Laughter]
Alyssa James: Okay so, let’s start with a frame for this article before we really get to the nitty gritty. Douglass relies heavily on Afro-pessimist theory and Black cultural theory and so, I would say it’s at the confluence of Black feminist theory and Afropessimism. Namely, she cites Hortense Spillers “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”—which we discuss in episode 2—Jared Sexton, Frank Wilderson, Sylvia Wynter, Saidiya Hartman. She also employs Black feminist theory written by Beth Richie and Andrea Ritchie. She argues that the category of gender does not encapsulate the gendered experiences of Black people with violence. In fact, gender excludes Black people—Black trans and cis women in particular—because “woman’ was defined in contradistinction to the Black female body. She uses Black death as a Black feminist theoretic to “challenge the discursive capacity of gender” to describe Black people’s experiences with the state. It kind of made think of that feminist anthology All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. She’s really taking apart feminism—white feminism—for being unable to contain Black (non)gender. And then she’s sort of questioning whether Afropessimism deracinates—or un-reads—gender or whether gender is always already inexistent because violence eliminates these gender differences among Black people. Lots. Lots to go with there. Lots to go with.
[00:28:30] Brendane Tynes: I mean, to that last point and something that I think I think about in my research is not whether violence eliminates Black gender but whether violence actually constitutes the category of Black women versus other women. Yeah, and I think that’s one of the main things that she kind of hones in on with this article. And she uses the conditions of Korryn Gaines’s state-sanctioned murder, the actual conditions of it, like how she was killed by the state and also the reactions and the responses around it to really ground us in thinking around Black gender and its connection to state violence. If you are unaware, I do research on Korryn Gaines so this is why I know this, but this month is actually the five-year anniversary of the traffic stop that would lead to the warrant that the SWAT team used to enter into her home to kill her.
Douglass points to this absurdity of Baltimore County using a militarized SWAT team to serve a warrant for traffic court. Like the police stop you while you’re driving and if you don’t go to court, they send a SWAT team after you? Right. Which the “world,” which also includes other Black people, justified that action by saying she was insane and that she was a bad mother. And this is only possible because Korryn was a Black woman and, I would argue, particularly because she was a Black mother. She was robbed of her innocence as a victim of violence. And for a lot of people, her behavior served as enough explanation for the brutal force that she experienced and that ended her life and disabled her son.
Douglass asserts that the violences of anti-Blackness affect those of all Black genders through “various truths.” So, it’s not just that violence of anti-Blackness affects all of us equally but that each of us have various truths around the extent of that violence. And she brings us to her first set of questions. There are so many questions in this article [laughter]. But her first set of questions, right, which is, how do we account for these different forms of Black death when the “grandiosity of Black death”—right, the magnitude of it, the visibility of it, the kind of gratuitousness of it, right—structures all of them? She asks us, “Where do the structural and experiential collide and coalesce? Can this conversion emerge in theory without tension?” So, this idea of the gendered experience of state violence. Where does it come together? Where do they stay together? Can we talk about this in theory without butting heads?
[00:31:16] Alyssa James: Hmm. I will also just add— “gratuitous” that is something that also comes out of Afropessimism. The gratuitous nature of violence against Black people. So, I think what Wilderson has said or talked about is that when it comes to violence against indigenous people or white women or something like that, there’s a logic to it. There’s a logic to those violences. There is no logic, there is no reason for the violence that Black people are subjected to in the U.S. I also don’t want to imply—he’s not implying that there’s a logic which means it’s justified. That’s not what it is. It’s more like, there’s a reason in like, if the state were to be a person, in the mind of the state there’s a reason for it. So, they need to take land for the purposes of accumulation, so violence against indigenous people as an example. There’s a logic. But with Black people there’s no logic, and for that reason it is gratuitous. It’s an excess. Everything happens in excess.
Brendane Tynes: Right, right. I’m speeding so you stop me, you arrest me—in the Korryn Gaines case, right—I miscarry—because she was pregnant at the time—because of the stress of being in jail for speeding. When I don’t show up to court because I’ve been so brutalized by the state, you send a militarized police force into my home. What else were they gonna do but kill her, is the question. But yeah, that logic, right. Because I was driving my car in a way that was whatever, I deserve to be killed by the state. That is not logical, right, but that speaks to what you’re saying, the gratuitousness and grandiosity of it.
Alyssa James: Yeah. Going back to the question that Douglass wrote, “Can this conversion emerge in theory without tension?” It would seem that for Douglass, it can exist with minimal tension. The justification of Korryn’s murder exemplifies what Saidiya Hartman says in Scenes of Subjection, “this repression of violence constitutes female gender as the locus of both unredressed and negligible injury.” Douglass tells us that the “Black female gender, which is always undone, unrealized, and violated, is central to slavery and its afterlife” (108). She takes us back to African lands, where Black women were captured on the basis of their bodies. So, while ungendering—a concept developed by Hortense Spillers—allowed the enslaved to be assigned labor on the plantation without regards to gender, sex structured how people interacted with enslaved people. Their genitalia were measured, fondled, assessed for “health” and perceived reproductive capacity. Their Blackness was then asserted through gendered violence in ways that exceeded normative definitions of gender. We see that in police violence against Black women. Black women are not afforded the same “protections” one could say—putting that in very deep air quotes—against violence that make violence against white women for example, an aberration.
[00:34:30] Brendane Tynes: Right. So, Douglass tells us we can actually visibilize the ways in which violence makes or genders Blackness in certain ways through encounters between law enforcement and Black women. They “illuminate the openness and gratuity of (un)gendering violence” (109). State violence against Black women can be framed as “private violence,” which is a frame that Kimberlé Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum is now developing. I don’t know if you’ve seen those posts. It’s a new frame they’re trying to put forth about violence against Black women as framing it as “private violence.” And they’re saying it because most of the police violence that happens against Black women occurs in their homes. Whereas against Black men, it usually is out in public places like the street or the store, things like that.
I personally don’t think Black women experience “private” violence because of the ways that the state intervenes into Black women’s lives and the ways that it actually disrupts what it means to be public and private. And what we see is that the narrative about the disposability and vulnerability of Black women is actually reinforced publicly through how we grieve violations against them. What happens in these mainstream feminist movements is that—which Douglass has an explicit critique on in this article, right, a searing critique on—is that Black women’s vulnerability and their violent experiences are collapsed under the identity of “woman.” She says this is why we must employ Black death as a theoretic and analytic. Because it actually allows for us to uncouple this thing called “identity,” that actually crowds out the violence of anti-Blackness.
So, what she means by that is we refuse to “allow the grammar of suffering that lends discursive capacity to the terms of race, gender, or sexuality to crowd out that which cannot be said about the extent of anti-blackness” (111). What she means by that is we can’t let “coalition” or “solidarity” along the lines of race, gender, or sexuality—so all the Blacks experience, etcetera, all the women’s experience, etcetera, all the gays, if you are a gay, experience, etcetera—to crowd out what is actually the gratuitousness of violence against Black people. Which is to say, in short, in Brendane’s words, right, what “y’all” experience will never be to the same extent as what we experience as Black people. And so, this grammar of suffering, which is like this kind of prescribed understanding of what it means to suffer, which kind of goes with that logical thing that you were mentioning earlier. Is what we read as a society as kind of “typical” women’s experiences with violence. And they often fall far short of what Black women actually experience.
[00:37:36] Alyssa James: One of the questions that she asks—and I might be skipping ahead here a little bit—but you know, she says “where was the march for Korryn?” So. she’s talking about, you know, the women’s march that happened in 2017. And they’re all marching in the name of like, Angela Davis, and Marsha P. Johnson, and Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, and it’s like where’s the march for Korryn? You’re saying in your mission statement that you want justice for police and state sanctioned violence against Black people but you’re not marching in the names of people who were killed by state sanctioned violence—of Black women who were killed in the name of state sanctioned violence.
Brendane Tynes: Because the only Black women they know is, I mean, come on, Rosa Parks. I mean, sorry girl. I know we said we wasn’t gonna bring you back [crosstalk] [laughter]. But like, you know, Harriet is probably tired of them too. But like, that’s, when you point to Black suffering—which is another thing if you think about the Black as a slave. When people imagine Black people suffering, what do they imagine? They imagine slavery and that condition of being tied to that, or they imagine some kind of abject condition, or lesser condition. That is all wrapped up in anti-Blackness right and thinking about Afropessimism for sure. For sure.
Alyssa James: Right. Black gendered death framed the anxieties and demands of the Women’s March. I did skip ahead a little bit [laughter].
Brendane Tynes: It’s okay, you brought it back.
Alyssa James: Yeah, there you go. Black gendered death framed the anxieties and demands of the Women’s March yet Black women die in ways that are unimaginable or unthinkable for other women. Gendering is a violence that disorients Blackness and equates experiences that are not the same. Let me say that again. [Laughter] Gendering is a violence that disorients Blackness and equates experiences that are not the same. PERIOD.
Brendane Tynes: Periodt.
Alyssa James: So, the absence of critical reflection on the fact Black people experience more than “increased vulnerability”—you know, this was in the mission statement—it’s not just an increased vulnerability, it is way deeper than that.
Brendane Tynes: Right. It’s a proximity to death, right? Or actual death.
[00:39:56] Alyssa James: Yeah, and I mean there was the part where she was talking about—what was it—Jared Sexton, who talks about the trauma representation, which basically are like the images that are shared of Black death which basically operate to remind us that we are all one step away from being killed. Without any kind of justice, people can do it with impunity, etcetera. Okay, so, the Women’s March in 2017 and in the general panic after Trump’s election, it was rooted in people’s perception that their lives would be proximate to death like Black people. They were like, “Oh damn, we about to be some niggras.”
Brendane Tynes: Mhm, you know, that’s scary though, ain’t it? Isn’t it scary?
Alyssa James: Isn’t it, though? [Laughter] So, as I was just saying, the Women’s March, they marched in the name of these Black women revolutionaries, they acknowledged the effects of police brutality, but they didn’t march for the women who actually died at the hands of police. There was a point where, if you were watching it or if you read the think piece that came after, they actually turned off the mic for Black trans woman leader Raquel Willis during her speech.
Brendane Tynes: Yeah, I saw that. I was like—and that’s right when she was getting to talk about the actual lived experiences and precarities of Black trans women and calling out the fact that like, as you said right, we over here marching in the name of changing women’s lives but where the Black women at? Why am I one of the few? And they turned the mic off.
Alyssa James: And they didn’t wanna hear it. They’re like, “Well, we’re all women, so it’s fine.”
Brendane Tynes: You don’t wanna put your pussy hat on girl? [Laughter] Okay. [Laughter] What!?
[00:41:51] Alyssa James: So, I think what Black feminism does, that white feminism simply cannot, does not, refuses to, is recognize that the normative category of woman does not include Black women and corrects the assumption that all women experience the same kind of gendered violence. It demonstrates the way that white feminism cannot reconcile that “gender” does not fully encapsulate the continuum of violence at the heart of US antagonisms. And that kind of violence is underwritten by settler colonialism and slavery, of course. As Douglass writes “women of color become racially othered by white feminist theories,” and I would add that Black women become invisibilized. Often our needs contradict those of white women and other women of color. So basically, they theorize us into an abyss.
Brendane Tynes: Yep.
Alyssa James: Bye-bye.
Brendane Tynes: Bye-bye. And anti-Blackness allows that. It actually collapses the intensity and the scope of Black suffering such that it actually becomes indiscernible from violence experienced by others. And I would like to add to all of this, and I think Douglass speaks to this perfectly, right. What does it even mean to be “woman” when you are unprotected by patriarchy? So, a lot of times people talk about patriarchal violence as something that kills women, harms women absolutely, one hundred thousand percent agreed, destroy the patriarchy. But what does it mean when you’re not even afforded the protections the patriarchy affords white women? She talks about this in this work and also some of her other work by thinking about how we actually recognize what it means to be women. And when we recognize a woman is Black by what can be done to her and through her, right. So, a Black woman can experience violence and that violence cannot be redressed and that actually affirms that they are Black versus the violence that white women experience, there’s a call for protection. There’s a societal push to end that violence because it actually—lots of people have theories around trying to protect white women because they’re the ones who birth white babies, and so this whole push for the continuation of what it means to be white. And so white women are actually protected under patriarchy in ways that non-white women are not.
Alyssa James: Which is why they are so invested in its maintenance and in the maintenance of white supremacy.
Brendane Tynes: Literally.
Alyssa James: Well like I said right, you share a common interest, and that common interest is the protection that is afforded to you under a white supremacist patriarchal culture.
[00:44:33] Brendane Tynes: Yeah. Can’t be mad at us for pointing to that. Okay. Yeah so, Afro-pessimism permits analysis of Blackness that asks whether gender is applicable to the captive community. So that’s like Hortense Spillers and thinking about ungendering versus this kind of feminist project that attempts to write Black experiences into this category of gender that typically exemplifies white women’s experiences. Both Black feminism and Afro-pessimism contend that gender ™—I like saying “TM” now [laughter]—does not adequately tend to the inner-workings of Black gender that may not be gender-specific. Which, I know I just said gender a bunch of times, right.
But basically, saying that actually the experiences of Black people, even though we have gendered experiences might not actually be all that specific to our gender but might be much more aligned with the experiences of our Blackness. And holding both of these theories allows for us to actually avoid theorizing Black women into a void. So, what you were talking about earlier, right, of just like theorizing us into the abyss. By holding these two together we actually can avoid doing that. And so, if you’re interested in thinking about how that actually works, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson has a book called Becoming Human but also an article about theorizing in the void that I thought was really illuminating. But also, one of those it-takes-a-few-times-to-read articles as well as Evelynn Hammonds’ classic article about Black women as a void, for sure.
[00:46:20] Alyssa James: I think just you saying, “I’ve used gender so many times in a sentence,” is like [laughter], I think it’s interesting. Douglass was really trying to unpack something that I think we don’t have the words for yet. When I was reading, I was kind of getting confused and it seemed like there was some slippage between when she’s using gender versus when she’s using Black gender versus ungendering, and I think we can just put it to that. But it just goes to show that it takes time, it takes work, and this is really just part of the conversation. You know, the conversation of theory. That it’s all building on one another and somebody’s gonna come and be like, alright, Douglass did this dope work, I’m thinking this other dope work and now, here’s what I think we’ve been trying to convey over these several generations, for example, of scholars.
Brendane Tynes: And then there are some people who hop in the pool and think they’re doing something new [laughter] and they’re not [crosstalk]—
Alyssa James: We’re gonna talk about that [laughter].
Brendane Tynes: —and they’re not. Douglass’s scholarship is an example of kind of this intersection of Afro-pessimism and Black feminism and something that I imagine myself to be doing. And I don’t think that Afro-pessimism and Black feminism actually have incongruent projects, but it definitely matters who is doing the writing. Wink, wink. And if you know what I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about. So, an asterisk to that, gender is not just a “woman’s issue.” Black cis men will continue to die and continue to kill us “by the wayside of gender” as they lament their inability to access “real manhood” defined by the white supremacist state. With that being said, let’s—
Alyssa James: Perfect segue.
Brendane Tynes: [Laughter] You know. Let’s bring on our guest for our next segment, What in the World?!
Alyssa James: What in the world?
[00:48:27] Brendane Tynes: Like, what in the world. So, today we have with us Chloé Samala Faux who is a filmmaker and a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Columbia University. Hey! [Laughter]
Alyssa James: Columbia Anthro!
Brendane Tynes: Columbia Anthro in the house. [Laughter] Sixty percent of us are here. Her research investigates the intersections between race and gender, sacrifice and ritual, violence and desire, in South Africa. By way of Black critical theory, and psychoanalysis, her work attends to the way Blackness animates and enervates anthropology’s assumptive logics of recognition, reciprocity and incorporation. So, thank you so much for sitting with us today, Chloé! Welcome to the Zoom studio. And we just like to get started with, we want our listeners to know more about your work and how it’s informed by Afro-pessimism if it is informed by it.
Chloé Faux: Okay, so yeah, my research examines the historical and emergent dilemmas around group identity in contemporary South Africa. So, in the post 1994 moment which one scholar, Briana Lahangan refers to as “Mandela’s magic trick of a new South Africa” and what the second President Thabo Mbeki calls an “African Renaissance.” My work is trying to situate my research in a context in which Black women are assaulted by a double bind that sutures race to reproduction. And so, on the one hand, they’re kind of invited to reproduce in the service of white capital, particularly during the eras of colonization, segregation, and eventually apartheid. And then on the other hand this sort of invocation to not reproduce precisely because they are the sort of bearers and responsible for this thing of Black pathology. Which is to say, excessiveness.
In terms of this double bind, I kind of understand it to be not just about the sort of double entendre of the word “labor.” Which is to say, as work on the one hand and childbirth on the other but a historical artifact that is subtended by comparative anatomy, phrenology discourse from the nineteenth century, racial slavery as well and then eugenics in the twentieth century. I’m also thinking about the way in which efforts to limit Black reproduction in South Africa earlier on, so early settlement segregation apartheid, understood by many South Africans to sort of be a Black genocide, has given way to a more neoliberal configuration in South Africa’s actuarial age. Which is the present moment that understands the structural precarity that constitutes and evaluates the Black life through the metric of a thing called risk. And my premise in my work is to kind of say that the metric of risk is insufficient to understand what it is to be a Black person and to suffer.
And so, I ask what vocabularies and epistemologies of life, death, race, gender, violence, and desire, how my ancestral realm help us think through what the actuarial framework of risk cannot. And so, in terms of what I’m thinking with, my project is focused on what I’m calling “ancestrality.” Kind of taking into account the active role that [unclear] or the ancestral spirits have in Black social life in South Africa. Which while also taking account sort of vulnerability to premature death. So, thinking with the soft of presence of death and the dead together. And so, “ancestrality” in that vein offers on the one hand the sort of explanatory idiom for the sort of ruptures that characterize what it means to live, to die and not yet be born in South Africa and it also offers a sort of methodology. And in this problematic of reproduction or reproductivity, abortion is also kind of central to that. I take it to be a sort of structure of interruption that engenders or produces understandings of life and death, politics and economics, understandings of what it means to have a soul. So, the question of political ontology or being and this connection between creative origin, mother, the sort of understanding of gender, the survival of the family and the sort of very viability of civil society, or in this case, the nation state.
[00:53:54] Brendane Tynes: So your dissertation is about to be a whole—um, I mean for lack of words, a gamechanger in thinking about the ways that Blackness, “womanhood” and the duties that come associated with that—reproduction, the labor, which I think you so astutely pointed to, right. The labor of reproduction which is giving birth and also the affective labor that comes through. Yeah, you speak to affect, you speak to just thinking about the state forms of reproduction, social forms of reproduction, which I think is just really excellent. And I look forward to, if you ever want somebody to read your dissertation [outside of your committee], I’m looking forward to it. Chloé was one of the first people that I met when I came to Columbia and she has been such an important part of my experience there and I love her deeply, so it’s just been wonderful to have you on the podcast. And if you’re curious, she is a Scorpio with a Taurus rising.
Chloé Faux: Taurus rising
Brendane Tynes: Taurus moon.
Chloé Faux: Yes.
Alyssa James: There’s a lot of Scorpio in the Zoom room today.
BT: You know.
Chloé Faux: Wait, Alyssa, where’s your Scorpio?
Alyssa James: Rising.
Chloé Faux: Ohhh. Okay, I didn’t know that. Cool, yeah.
Brendane Tynes: Yes. A lot of intensity, a lot of “look, you gon get what you gon get” from us. That’s what we bring to the table.
Alyssa James: So, I just had a question because, you know, this episode we’ve kind of gotten into Afro-pessimism, and Brendane and I were like, “we’re not experts.” But so, you’re talking about Blackness, and reproduction, and labor, in South Africa and I think one of the critiques leveled at Afropessimism is that it’s very U.S. centric. So, I’m interested to hear, because as many people know and maybe there are some out there who don’t, South Africa has a very different conception and structure around race than the U.S. So, you know, how does Afro-pessimism then become useful to you as something that some people argue is U.S. centric?
Chloé Faux: Yeah, I can, maybe by thinking about what it is. Or perhaps you could all tell me what you think it is and I can also tell you what I understand Afro-pessimism to be.
[00:56:17] Brendane Tynes: Yeah, we defined it earlier and we defined it as—we used a series of definitions so I’m scrolling up trying to find exactly where we said it but we pulled the definition from the Oxford Bibliographies entry that was written by Patrice Douglass and others [crosstalk] yes. Afro-pessimism is a lens of interpretation that accounts for a civil society’s dependence on anti-Black violence, a regime of violence that positions Black people as internal enemies of society. So, in that definition, right, it doesn’t read U.S. centric but I think it does become kind of, people see it as like a U.S. theory.
Chloé Faux: Right and I would argue that, and I would agree with the assessment. Because yeah, I know that definition. It is in fact an interpretive framework. I would also call it a hermeneutic, or sort of a way to perform a reading. I would say the locus of that reading takes place at a level of abstraction, degreed abstraction that is similar to that of something like Marxism, something like feminism, something like psychoanalysis. And so, sort of in Afro-pessimism’s framework which draws heavily from, as you all hopefully know, the work of Frantz Fanon, who argues that the Black is always a photogenic object, whose presence is the way in which society kind of works through its trauma. And that in itself [unclear]Afropessimists, so the Black for Fanon is a stimulus to anxiety.
And then I think Jared Sexton says that anxiety is the anxiety of antagonism. Which is to say a sort of—conflict would actually be the wrong word, but antagonism, which is to say that which is in fact irresolvable. So, like not a dialectic. A synthesis cannot actually be achieved. In that sort of configuration, Afro-pessimism is presupposing or arguing that the presence of Blacks in and of themselves stimulate anxiety. And perhaps that definition of what constitutes Blackness might vary but at base, Blackness is the anxiety. And so, if we think of Afro-pessimism we should think of it not just as a metatheory but also as a framework that is also intervening into the field of like critical ethnic studies for example. So, on the one hand, there’s the sort of move that Afro-pessimism is trying to make. When I spoke about degrees of abstraction from the level of the experiential and when we spoke about lived experience, I think we can kind of see why that move is important and useful to the sort of political ontological, which some people could also call structural.
And another intervention—and Jared Sexton kind of lays this out in one of his essays, Afro-pessimism: The Unclear Word—but the other intervention is to understand racism itself as a relation that is grounded in anti-Blackness rather than white supremacy. And that intervention is important because it actually says that we’re not saying that it’s anti-Blackness or racism, it’s actually saying that racism is anti-Blackness. And that is the thing that then structures the sort of division between the Blacks and the non-Blacks, rather than the whites and the non-whites. I think with that logic, one can say Blackness is articulated in the U.S. via the one drop rule, for example in some cases, or kind of adjudicated via the one drop rule in certain instances.
In South Africa, that’s not the case, there are now or, I mean—so if there are sort of four racial classifications now in South Africa, that took several years to kind of solidify it and crystalize. There were several attempts on the part of the national party, for example, to adjudicate who was a Black person, who was in between. There were also moments where, similar to here, that one could sort of change status but what didn’t actually change was the sort of opposition that is actually irreconcilable between whiteness and Blackness. And we also see that operating in places like the Caribbean where they have multiple gradations and hundreds of ways to say that you are between Black and white. And all of that is to kind of—I mean the sort of end, I mean the upshot is actually you just don’t wanna be Black, anything Black.
Brendane Tynes: Yep.
Alyssa James: Yep.
[01:01:44] Chloé Faux: I think that’s kind of, that’s where Afro-pessimism intervenes. I think it’s at that level of abstraction
Brendane Tynes: Right. And it’s like this push or move away from being Black, right, is because being Black comes with a whole set of its own meanings, right. About abjection, about your slot in life, about what’s allowed for you, what rights you have, what “right to life.” Even though rights in and of itself, I think is a problematic framework to think about how we live. But, if we’re thinking about the state and how the state structures it, right, the right to live, the right to die, the right to be killed. When you accept or call yourself Black that means moving through a particular social position in which you experience a set of violences, right. On an abstracted level, like on a symbolic level and a material level. Which is very important to me when I think about what it means to be Black. It’s not just who your ancestors are, it’s a set of experiences that we’ll definitely get into when we talk about what are our topics for today. I’m trying to think about where do we want to start first.
Alyssa James: How do we get in there?
Chloé Faux: Well, but I mean, I guess, I would also add. I would also add to that it’s about a set of experiences but on the other hand it is actually about how the world experiences us as an interruption to experience in a way. Because it’s actually about the way in which we stimulate anxiety. There’s a way in which it’s actually, or so rather it’s about—it’s not actually so much about how you see yourself but actually how the world sees you. And I think that actually, that is almost what this sort of Markle situation reveals. I would also add another point, sorry. I would also add in terms of what Afro-pessimism intervention is around Blackness. When I spoke about the degree of abstraction that it operates on, it is also trying to point us to the sort of paradigmatic status of Blackness. Which is to say, it actually cannot be analogized.
And so, the issue, so Afro-pessimism is also kind of—and this is why I said it was a sort of metatheory—because it’s actually trying to challenge the assumptive logic that undergird things like critical theories, different critical theoretical discourses. So, if feminism’s intervention is women are a crisis in the structure of kinship, which is what someone like Hodges Silverman —who is a psychoanalytic feminist—would say. Afro-pessimism would say, actually Blackness throws into crisis the categories of women and kinship. And so, it also sort of throws into crisis or like Blackness actually conditions what we understand violence to be. Blacks are subjected to a thing called gratuitous violence and that’s what separates us from—in Afro-pessimism’s hermeneutic or analytic—from that who has the unproblematic status of the human. So, their violence is contingent and the violence against the Black is not a response to a transgression.
[01:05:39] Brendane Tynes: Right, and we talked about that a little bit earlier, where we talked about just kind of how, what you’re saying. Which is that a thing as simple as walking down the street can result in death, right. And how that, it does not abide by a certain type of logic in and of itself. But it is a logic. The logic is anti-Blackness and Afro-pessimist theory kind of really points to that. As you said, it’s a metatheory, kind of un-lodges what we assume to be reasonable, right. Because what does it mean to be reasonable when confronted with Black people and violence against Black people? So where do we wanna move where do we wanna go? [Laughter]
Alyssa James: We’re talking about the way in which the Black is always—is abject, okay. I’ll just leave it at that. And I think that some people are talking about, you know, there’s a risk in framing everything through this totalizing anti-Blackness. And so, I watched a little bit of an Angela Davis talk, and you know—
Chloé Faux: [Unclear] one?
Alyssa James: Yes, see you know [crosstalk]. I knew you were the right person for this. But you know, she’s saying, anti-Blackness is something that is being levelled at “non-Black people of colour,” it contributes to this Afropessimist divestment from coalition, and it hides—what I think she was saying—it hides this kind of toxic Black nationalism. So, I think one of the questions is, why is anti-Blackness distinct from racism or other forms of white supremacist thought and action? And is making that distinction really politically useful or strategic when the ultimate goal is freedom?
Brendane Tynes: I was gonna say, just to hop in here as a provocation. I think a lot of times, people think that in order for Black people to be free that coalition or solidarity is necessary. And as I’ve said previously, if we are to take the words of Black women seriously who have written about this—who say that if a Black woman is not free, then no one is free—then what is coalition and what does it do? If in fact, if freedom looks like a Black woman living at her freest, then what does coalition do?
[01:07:51] Chloé Faux: Well, because I think also, and this is where Sexton raises in The Unclear Word is on the one hand people are sort of suspicious of the sort of—Afro-pessimisms potentiality on the one hand. One the other, we all seem to have a tacit knowledge that to speak of a free Black is in fact contradiction in terms. In terms of coalition, and I am aligned with Brendane here in the sense that I don’t think coalitional politics are viable in terms of something that we can provisionally call Black freedom. But I also hesitate to use that word “freedom” because like the work of Saidiya Hartman for example, tells us that freedom is in fact sutured and requires the sort of intensities and anxieties produced by slavery. In terms of Afro-pessimism’s intervention, there is also the question of what is freedom, actually. What is freedom’s operation, I guess, would be the question. Is it about making the world better for the sort of native who is at the center of indigenous studies, post-colonial studies? Is the goal to kind of make the world better for the woman who is at the center of the women’s and gender studies? Is the project to kind of make the world better for the worker who is at the center of our sort of critiques of political economy? Is the goal to make the world better for the Blacks or for Black people? Afro-pessimism would say no, all of those aims and goals kind of believe in or kind of presuppose that we’re living in a world that’s repairable. Whereas Afro-pessimism is saying actually, it’s the exclusion of the world that’s required.
Alyssa James: Yeah, I mean people take that as another issue. They’re like well, on the one hand you’re saying there’s like—they’re operating on a very high level of abstraction. And so, the question that people wanna know is, well than what can we do with it? What can we do? And so, if we except the logics of Afro-pessimism, then it’s like there are only two options, anarchy or a kind of Black nationalism. And people are like this is a lot. This is a lot.
[01:10:29] Chloé Faux: And I would argue that. Maybe this is a good time to kind of think through what is actually—what this sort of pessimism and Afro-pessimism is meant to signify, or the work is trying to do, to answer that question. I would argue that—I think also, just to say that I think that would actually be a kind of misreading of what an analytic does because they’re all operating at degrees of abstraction. Otherwise, we just have an assemblage of individual experiences. And as you know, those are also not reconcilable as such because we could also, if you were to kind of think through the sort of granular differentials at the level of skin tone, for example, [laughter] I’m not sure what that would actually offer. But in terms of the sort of pessimism of Afro-pessimism, there are on the one hand, these sort of colloquial affective understandings of pessimism that position it in a sort of binary opposition to something like optimism. And that opposition that they sort of posit or that many people seem to posit are inflected by Judeo-Christian understandings of faith, of hope, of virtue—
Brendane Tynes: Redemption.
Chloé Faux: —redemption. Where things like pessimism then become bad and then optimism good. And in order to kind of understand the work of Afro-pessimism, one has to kind of completely do without that binary opposition and actually not. Or so, to understand on the one hand that Afro-pessimism is not actually operating on the level of affect, of individuals or interpersonal relationship. And then also not kind of moralize—there’s no sort of moralizing of optimism or pessimism as one’s affect either. But it’s just that Afro-pessimism isn’t adjudicating about the sort of inherent goodness or badness of these affects. So, whether one is optimistic or pessimistic in the sort of colloquial sense is not actually what is at stake.
Actually, I think the more important thing is if the illusion [unclear] Gramsci, the Italian Marxist who was considered to be one of the, sort of, most important Marxist theorists after Marx—even though Marx did not consider himself a Marxist [laughter]—who wrote about class, culture, the state and then was imprisoned by Mussolini much of his life. But he was the one, actually I think it was a French person who I know cannot remember, but it’s most attributed to Gramsci, this idea of pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. And he used that to articulate what he understood to be the socialist conception of the revolutionary process. And he was specifically—and it’s interesting that you brought up anarchy for this reason, because Gramsci was actually saying the anarchists are operating at a level of abstraction that cannot actually understand the force and coercive power of a thing called the state.
They cannot understand that the necessary relation between the worker and his freedom is the establishment of a worker’s state, which is something that the [unclear] revolution kind of showed us. The socialist pessimism that Gramsci is putting forth is cognizant of and keeps in mind the intensity of the ravages wrought by World War I on the working class. The fact that they were dispersed on the one hand, they were joining unions and other sort of coalitions, conglomerations. And they did so not because they were freely able to act as political subjects but rather that they were so deeply under the sort of coercive force of the capitalist mode of production. So, for Gramsci to assume that, and these are his words, “to express their own autonomous historical will,” he’s speaking to workers. So, he’s saying the sort of assumption that workers could express their own autonomous historical will was just deep within them, that would be naïve to think.
And so, pessimism of the intellect on Gramsci’s part instead demonstrates that one recognizes the situation one find’s oneself—the working class in his case—recognizing how bleak the situation is on the one hand and understanding also that the basis for revolutionary action is not actually something that exists somewhere in the ether. It requires intense organization, regimentation—I don’t know if I wanna use that word. But that’s the thing that would require the sort of spurring up a sort of revolutionary creativity, as he called it. If Gramsci is positing that with his sort of slogan, that one can, in the revolutionary process, transform the worker into—and he calls it—a massive antagonistic identity formations that would kind of disrupt the alienation, exploitation, wage slavery that constitutes being a worker. Wilderson is interested in how that logic falls apart for the Black in terms of what Gramsci proposes. That actually the Black is a scandal to Gramsci’s entire framework, like there’s no sort of way to mobilize the Black who comes into being through unwaged, racial slavery—
[01:16:57] Brendane Tynes: Unwilling. Yep, unwilling labor.
Chloé Faux: Unwilling, racial slavery. Unwaged racial slavery, who comes into being via terror. That logic is insufficient, but I think the pessimism piece is important because it actually says—what I revealed, I think, through Gramsci and arriving to Wilderson is actually that Afro-pessimism is not in fact pessimistic about Black revolutionary potentiality. So, if Afro-pessimism is not pessimistic about Black revolutionary potentiality, it’s actually saying that it’s possible, but we also cannot assume, for example, that the realm of the cultural, the symbolic, can be the thing that will allow us to overcome the terror that actually conditions the emergence of the Black to begin with. Blackness is not about incorporation into a symbolic order as such. Blackness is about coming into being via brute physical force. And so, Afro-pessimism also, I would say, is decidedly not a nationalistic project because it’s not operating in a logic that thinks the nation state is something that should be preserved. But on the other hand, and I think Gramsci’s critique of anarchism is also good because Afro-pessimism doesn’t find it useful to abstract the state into this sort of free-floating entity to oppose. And additionally, Afro-pessimism is not nihilism. Afro-pessimism doesn’t say that there’s nothing to be done. Frank Wilderson, for example, he was a member of uMkhonto we Sizwe, which was the armed wing of the ANC. So, materially we could actually say he is one of the few scholars, you could say, in Black Studies that has actually had anything to do with, what we would call, armed struggle.
Brendane Tynes: Tea. The tea. [Laughter] The tea. [Laughter]
Chloé Faux: And I think—I’m trying to remember if you said this—but actually, if you go back to a sort of colloquial understanding of optimism, we could almost say Afro-pessimism is optimistic because it actually tells Black people that we in fact have nothing to actually lose, even though we think we do.
Brendane Tynes: Hmm. I want underscore what you just said here, right. “We actually don’t have anything to lose, even though we think we do.” And part of the fiction that we have been sold through the terror, through the subjection, right, is that we actually have everything to lose. As the former president would say, look at your life now, Black people, look at your life now, look at your condition now, right. And if it is in fact true, right, that we are at the lowest of the low, then where else can we go but up?
Chloé Faux: Yeah, yeah. There’s nothing to lose. Also, like it cannot condemn looting. It can only condemn—I mean not even condemn—it doesn’t condemn or celebrate. I think it in fact assesses and so, as a framework and a hermeneutic, is trying to understand how is looting—how do we understand looting and how do we understand something like protest when Blackness is always already criminalized, it’s always already insurgent, and so these sort of distinctions about what constitutes the sort of good activist versus the sort of unruly one actually become completely irrelevant to the discourse.
Brendane Tynes: I was gonna say in thinking along those lines, right, when we think about this kind of incommensurability, and earlier I talked about how one of the critiques of Afro-pessimism is this idea. A lot of people are invested in this idea of racial reconciliation and this idea of progress, right. We’re not enslaved anymore, we’re not forced to work, even though hello um—right, we’re not forced to work on plantations anymore, like our ancestors were. White people aren’t, you know, cracking the whip at us anymore even though, you know, I’mma just leave a space there for that. Right, so it’s like, as you were saying Chloé, this focus on the pessimist part as if it was an affective stance versus, what I think is a grounding in reality. From which we can only do political action right.
Because there are so many examples that we have of what you’re talking about, that kind of symbolic integration or cultural integration, which we could call literal integration, racial integration, representation. We have so many examples of people—we have our Black billionaires, our Black millionaires, our Black celebrities—who even in their class status make the least compared to their non-Black peers. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have all this money but when push comes to shove, honey, y’all’s images are being replaced by Meghan Markle, and Harry, and Princess Diana, right. It’s like that image, I don’t know if you saw that image of Beyoncé and Jay-Z at the Louvre—is that how it’s pronounced? But the museum in front of Mona Lisa, whatever. And then they did like a cartoon representation where they basically supplanted Beyoncé with Meghan Markle and supplanted Jay-Z with Harry, and then had Princess Diana behind them. And so, this even. You are even Beyoncé and you are even not enough, right. So, it’s like, and when we talk about who is or who isn’t Black, who is and who isn’t subjected to the violence of Blackness. All of these things have to be held honestly in reality and I think a lot of people are living, are trying to move and live in different types of reality and calling that optimism when it actually, I think, I don’t see it as such. I see it as projections.
Chloé Faux: Yeah.
[01:23:48] Alyssa James: Yep. Since you brought up Meghan Markle, we were gonna talk about this. And we don’t obviously wanna give her a large amount of space because so much has been said. She is the face that launched a thousand think pieces—a reference to Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. But it’s actually, for me, a reference to Scandal, because I am far too common to know anything about Greek mythology off hand [laughter]. But Brendane, on our IG page, she pretty much suggested something pretty controversial.
Brendane Tynes: Yeah, people were big mad y’all.
Alyssa James: People were so mad [laugh]. Which was basically that Meghan Markle is not a Black woman. I’m sorry I’m gonna play devil’s avocado here [laughter], but I want to give Brendane an opportunity to expand, address the haters. Is this not a case of identity policing based on a pseudo race science? You know, we’re critical of TERFs, the trans-exclusionary radical feminists who also police the boundaries of womanhood? Are you policing the boundaries of Blackness by saying that she’s not Black?
Chloé Faux: And actually, I would also ask the question, where are we locating the debacle?
Brendane Tynes: Yeah, I think I have like my own little rant about this so I’m gonna address different pieces of it. And to kind of get to what you were saying, the last bit of what you were saying Alyssa, I don’t think that you can be trans-exclusionary and be radical or a feminist. I think actually that those terms lined up together negate each other [laughter]. And so, when people say TERF, it’s like actually if you’re trans-exclusionary, how are you radical? How are you not just upholding the transphobic system? And if so, if you’re trying to say that certain people aren’t women because of their anatomy, then you’re actually speaking to anti-Blackness, right? Which is a history of what established what it means to be a woman through this kind of biological essentialism which the Combahee River Collective made sure that we underscored that we should not run to when thinking about what it means to be a “woman.” Because those of us who are Black cisgender women, right, are sexed that way, actually do not even fit that definition.
So, with that being said, the debacle around Meghan Markle, which to me seems to be kind of moot, is people claiming—and I’mma say Black people, Black women namely, claiming Meghan as Black and then like projecting a kind of Black experience on to her because of what she experienced at the palace. And I’m of the belief that a Black experience is one that is both embodied—so not just what you identify as but the way that, you were saying Chloé, what the world sees you as, as well—and then also, ancestral. So not just, I have a Black grandmother or Black parent. Yes, that is important for Blackness, right. Not just something that 23 & me can authorize, by saying you’re eleven percent Cameroonian or whatever, but actually an experience that’s marked by the violence of anti-Blackness. So, as you were saying, the Black as a social position being brought into the world through terror and through violence. That is still ongoing and that is still experienced by people. And maybe at variant levels but I don’t think that Meghan Markle experiences that kind of violence.
And I think that I understand why people want her to be Black. Because if she is then Black, she embodies the colorist imaginations of what the perfect Black woman is. She embodies that through her non-Blackness. And she also allows for Black women to believe in this kind of Princess narrative, that somebody one day will whisk us all away from this. She’s a pathway for us to see ourselves in fairytales that are actually exclusionary towards us. The reality is actually for most Black women, which we will all know, which is why we’re vested in believing this, is that it’s not true. We always save ourselves. And so, the debacle for me is that we’ve extended our “we’re all we got” ethos to this woman, that’s allowed us to survive, to this non-Black woman of African descent who intentionally moved through the world as “biracial” as if anti-Blackness doesn’t affect non-Black people and as if her experiences threatened her survival.
Even though she said she felt suicidal because of what was said to her, she was able to leave the palace and still exist as someone in her life, with her husband, with her class status, with her fame. Her survival was not threatened by what happened to her. But a lot of Black people, especially darker skinned Black women, were projecting that kind of experience unto her. And I thought it was a deep investment in the one-drop rule that treats Blackness as a contaminant. That says, you know, you’ve got one drop of Black blood in you, that’s it, period, as if we haven’t “evolved” from that thinking. And, if we are still, I don’t know. And for me it’s like, if Meghan Markle, who doesn’t necessarily have an embodied experience of Blackness can be Black, then why were we so mad about Jessica Krug and Rachel Dolezal? Who for all intents and purposes, like they weren’t Black, right, and they’re not Black, and they lay claim to Blackness and people were upset. But Meghan Markle fashioned herself as a woman to move through the world in a similar way, as a white woman.
And also to add to my little rant, it was not necessarily Meghan herself that threatened the crown, it was the specter of her Black ancestors. Because if you look at Meghan, any concern about the skin color of her baby is ridiculous, if you look at her. It was through looking at her mother, her ancestors, her mother, her grandmother, that fear or that terror of that Black person coming. But not Meghan herself because if that were so she would not have even been proximate to the palace in the first place. Harry knew not to bring no
[01:30:54] Chloé Faux: But I think that is precisely it. I think she’s actually, in fact, the limit case.
Brendane Tynes: The limit case? Can you say more on that?
Chloé Faux: Because, okay. So, I have several thoughts. On the one hand I think a lot of what’s operating in the experience and the sort of structural position in which Meghan Markle finds herself, and also for the sort of collective us, which is to say the collective us which is actually constituted by a sort of collective white unconscious, I would say. So, even if we are interpolated and are Black structurally, Fanon also tells us that this sort of unconscious that inhabits us also too is a white one. So, we also have these sort of white violent fantasies that are actually constitutive of our psychic Oedipus’s too. And so, I say all of that because I think there’s a thing of what Sexton calls borrowed institutionality, so this kind of way of attempting to be in ways that one can never be. So, this attempt on the part of Black folks to adjudicate around whether Meghan Markle is Black or not. Whereas we also know at the same time that it’s never been ours to adjudicate, it’s actually a sort of condition that emerged, as we said, through the sort of brute force violence. Meghan also was kind of caught in that trap when she thought she could be easily incorporated, accepted. In the interview she uses the word protection and security a lot and actually I was constantly thinking when I was watching it about [unclear] because understanding of whiteness as that which has the monopoly on comfort and security. And so, she kind of assumed, and she even says. “I naively assumed that they would protect me.” And again, on the one hand, she’s narrating her lived experience and her experience seems to sort of be easily available and transposable onto the experiences of Black women. Like you’ve mentioned, people kind of see a rhyme in their lived experience with this person who sort of found herself in the locus of imperial power. At a level that’s not even symbolic, but it’s like sort of at the locus—
[01:34:00] Brendane Tynes: Nah, you right there, at the center of it.
Chloé Faux: Yeah. And sort of—
Alyssa James: Its blood is running in your veins.
Chloé Faux: The symbolic, the imaginary and the real all together. This is where power is concentrated and as we sort of adjudicate whether or not she’s Black, we’re trying to kind of say on the one hand to identify her as Black is to kind of minimize, or sort of negate, the experience of say a darker skinned Black woman who would enter into Buckingham Palace, but we also have to understand that that’s actually not possible. That’s why I alluded to Meghan as the sort of limit case. The queen has determined that Meghan has—the sort of anxiety over the darkness of her baby in fact reveals the way in which Blackness itself is the stimulus to anxiety. And Brendane earlier you’ve kind of spoken about this sort of question of reproduction. And also, that’s something that I have to account for in my work. The way in which the sort of separation between women, white women and Black women, was a matter of determining or saying that the difference between Black people and white people was a matter of speciation.
And that’s something—who writes—someone like Zakiyyah Iman Jackson writes about that. And she also is kind of tracing the sort of biocentric, scientific, eugenicist, chronological, all those sorts of discourses around classifications. So [unclear] and all of those people how actually because of those discourse the female sex, the human female sex, homo sapiens female sex, is analogized to others sorts of species of plants and animals. And so, the question of species differentiation always hinges on the question of how does the species reproduce itself. And so, there’s always an investment in how does—what happens when a Black person reproduces? What are the sort of racial characteristics that we can then transpose onto racial inferiority? So, the head size, lip size, all of those things that we know, that we can kind of identify as belonging to a eugenicist discourse, those are the ways in which Black women were responsibilized for Black inferiority writ large. Because of their sort of status as those who birth the species. And so that’s the sort of anxiety that I locate in the question they ask is Markle’s baby going to be—how dark is the baby going to be. This sort of question of, so it’s almost like, if the queen says Meghan is Black then it’s actually like then Meghan is indeed Black. And it’s actually, and I say that in reference to—and it’s interesting because Meghan is American and then is going to England and it’s like the way in which something like, I would say that part of “sequitur ventrem” actually does and undoes Meghan in a way. So, the way in which that sort of British civil law was then exported to the U.S. colonies and has its origins in Roman law and what have you. It says that the mother is the one who determines race of the child. And yeah, in fact, Meghan’s mother is Black but then the other question of—so on the one hand her mother is actually Black, so that’s more than the sort of one-drop rule. On the other hand, people want to say that actually that sort of logic is insufficient because there is the sort of leaning back onto another eugenics logic. So, people seem to actually be saying, I feel, if you kind of like strip away the accessories to the discourse, they’re saying the one-drop rule is insufficient but the paper bag test much actually be brought back into place.
Because I guess for me the question is, what is accomplished by saying Meghan is not Black? It doesn’t actually change the sort of totalizing force of anti-Blackness, but at the same time what the anxiety over the birth of her child reveals is actually this is the zero-degree site of the anxiety that Blackness engenders. On the other hand, there’s like the kind of question like do we want people to divest from their Blackness. Is that sort of like the end goal? Is the aim to say that okay, if you identify as Black, we’ve kind of adjudicated that you do not so you must divest form that. But in terms of the sort of transformational potentiality I’m not, I don’t see it. I think someone like Jessica Krug is actually really interesting.
I was like “huh” when you said that because what Jessica Krug revealed to us was that again, Black people cannot actually decide who is Black. She was accepted as Black by a whole university who hired her as a Black diversity hire in a history department. She said she was Black in her political organizing work. She was accepted by a bunch of Black activists as Black with the notable exception of Black women for the most part, from what I understand. And actually, I met her actually randomly this past summer [laughter] at a barbecue [laughter]. But no, I think actually what Jessica Krug reveals to us is her also, her sort of, the way she narrated her own story of emergence as a Black woman was through the rape of a Black woman—
Brendane Tynes: Through the rape of a Black woman, a mythical Black woman, yeah.
Chloé Faux: A mythical Black woman. But then at the same time none of that—and it’s like even that still does not become enough to tell us that she’s not Black. It’s not enough for a series of Black faculty members to have receipts that she’s not Black, it’s only when Jessica decides that she’s not Black that she is not Black. And I think that’s actually the thing that’s unfortunate but it’s like in fact the violence that we must contend with. That actually there is a sort of, I mean, so people like Hartman and Wilderson say that fungibility—so the sort of infinite substitutability and then Zakiyyah Jackson speaks of plasticity—so the way Blackness can actually be subhuman, superhuman, human actually just like according to what the situation requires. It’s a matter without form that can do whatever we need it to do.
Spillers says it’s about being for the captor and I think that’s something we have to like really take seriously, the fact that it’s actually not about the fact that Black people are dehumanized. It’s just that actually what Blacks experience most is like the violence of humanization. The fact that we’re subject to law and that law is often meant to kind of punish as Saidiya Hartman kind of tells us. I think Meghan reveals the sort of problem that we have with adjudicating what Blackness is at the level like by Black people. And how do we not rely on sort of like—and Jared Sexton says we need a “conception of non-biological racial embodiment that disarticulates interracial sexuality from miscegenation and resituates racialization in a field of power of political ontology of violence rather than a specious genetic inheritance or dubious phenomenology of perception.”
Because what’s really interesting is for me is that like eventually when one tries to arrive at a conclusion that is apart from part of sequitur ventrem if we’re being kind of most brutal about it, one actually will devolve into a eugenicist discourse. One will eventually, as I’ve seen in conversations, one will eventually say, “well, actually Meghan Markle is Black, but clearly Mariah Carey is Black” or people will say, “actually no, Trevor Noah is not, Mariah Carey is not, Rashida Jones is not.” Like, you know? And then I’m like well what is the metric. And then to get people to articulate the metric, they will start talking about hair texture, they’ll be like, “well, he’s clearly 3c, don’t you see.” And it’s like well, I mean I do see, and I understand the impulse, but we have to kind of ask what the aim is. But I think that’s like the thing. It’s like actually, we have to reckon with how sort of totalizing or like—yeah, I mean, I think plastique is a good word.
[01:44:31] Brendane Tynes: I mean, I guess. I think, and I know, “I guess” is kind of like a glib thing to say after you said all that. But I think that, because you’re right, there’s a eugenicist discourse, right? So, it’s like, “oh well, her nose, or her hair, or her this and then that,” but there is a way that people move through the world that makes them more proximate to violence that Meghan Markle does not embody. And I don’t think—yes, it is through her body that this baby comes forth, [and] they have questions about but it’s not about Meghan herself because Harry would not have brought her home if it would have been about Meghan herself. It’s about her ancestors, so it’s about her mother, it’s about the Blackness that’s in the background.
Chloé Faux: I think it’s about the anxiety that she stimulates.
Brendane Tynes: She stimulates anxiety, but it’s connected to her ancestry, it’s not connected necessarily to her embodied presence.
Chloé Faux: But I would say this, part of it is, I think part of it is operating at the level of sort of fantasy mixed with desire, mixed with repulsion, all of that and it’s like those things actually become indistinguishable from the—there’s no Meghan. Like, I think this is also the thing that Meghan herself kind of does as like a sort of trick.
Brendane Tynes: Well, she’s an actress yeah [laughter].
Chloé Faux: Yes, exactly [laughter]. And so—
Brendane Tynes: She’s an actress, right?
Chloé Faux: Yeah, because it’s actually like oh this is, somehow, you’ve made your encounter, your interface with the empire has actually become about Kate Middleton being mean to you. And so, at best—that’s maybe not generous. But on the one hand, she’s made this a thing about whose tears matter here. Because it’s so interesting, if you watch the interview, one of the first things Oprah says is, “did you make Kate cry?” And then Meghan goes, “you know, I was just constantly asking myself about why won’t they tell the truth.” And it’s like, and so we finally in the interview we get the truth, and the truth is in fact there was a dispute over the flower girl dresses but it wasn’t Meghan who made Kate cry, it was Kate who made Meghan cry. It’s almost like Meghan’s like my tears could never rise to the level of Kate’s tears and it’s like obviously. And for me it would be like yeah, it’s because you’re a negro, a negress.
Brendane Tynes: But I don’t think—I think she can not be a negress and that still be true. I think she can be a non-Black person who is affected by anti-Blackness and whose lived experiences are affected by it. Like, I think she can be a non-Black person of African ancestry whose experiences can be conditioned by anti-Blackness. But then to liken it to something like misogynoir, which is supposed to encompass the violent experiences of Black women from those who like Meghan, who I would call a non-Black woman of African descent to a dark skinned, trans, disabled woman walking down the street. Who would have very, very different experiences, when it comes to empire, when it comes to power, when it comes to the police, when it comes to men.
[01:48:07] Chloé Faux: But those are all operating in the sort of grid, There’s like a sort of grid matrix. And so yes there are like points of pressure and tensity that make a Black trans woman who is living in New York City much more available to violence, but I think we also have to acknowledge that there’s a sort of symbolic and literal availability of Blackness encompasses all of those sorts of individual positions.
Brendane Tynes: And I think that can be true even if Meghan is not Black.
Chloé Faux: But it’s actually, and this is why I say part of “sequitur ventrem” traps her, like makes her and unmakes her. Because it’s like the end of the debate should be, oh no, look at her mom, she’s Black. But actually, people don’t do that. Then people wanna say, actually, so while they’re saying look at her mom, she’s black, they also wanna talk about her sort of ambiguously ethnic phenotype or what have you. And on the other hand, you have the queen saying, oh, will the baby be Black? And it’s like, that is precisely the thing that makes people Black. It’s like that’s precisely the sort of violence of Blackness. And it’s like the additional violence I think this is what you’re narrating, is that Meghan’s like, cause I mean part of what I hear you saying is like, “okay, if Meghan’s experiences are bad, if she thinks that’s bad, she doesn’t know how bad it could possibly get.” And that’s true. Both of those things can be true, but it’s also like there’s no—like empire, I mean the proximity to empire, yes, is conditioned by her appearance in the same way that Kamala Harris is the sort of first Black vice president and that’s the limit. It’s that. It can only be Kamala Harris; it can only be. And it’s like yes, Kamala Harris and Barack Obama look like they’re cousins. That is not incidental to empires working. It’s like, yeah, then you have Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, all of that. But I think the sort of operation, more broadly, is the same.
[01:50:41] Brendane Tynes: I don’t know. I take issue with that piece of it. Because it doesn’t actually operate the same.
Chloé Faux: It doesn’t operate, it doesn’t articulate the same but it’s like, its source is the same.
Brendane Tynes: Okay, it stems from the same source. I can get with the source.
Chloé Faux: No one is gonna say. Yeah.
Brendane Tynes: No but someone has said, right, that her experiences are actually, that she exemplifies a certain type of Black woman experience, right?
Chloé Faux: Yeah, and I would say, she symbolizes in a sense. And this is why I say symbolizes. Symbolizing in the sense of like incorporation into an order comprised of s series of symbiotic codes and things. And her sort of presence does kind of abut or run up against what Buckingham Palace represents. And it shows the sort of ferocity with which whiteness institutionality, god, states, whatever, all those kinds of complexes require.
Alyssa James: Yeah, I think we’re gonna have to have a part two because we’re now at two hours and forty-seven minutes.
Chloé Faux: Oh shit.
Alyssa James: Our episodes are usually an hour fifteen. Um, [laughter] so we’re way, way over. I’m gonna have to do a lot of editing. This has been a fascinating conversation and I think we’re going to move on to our next topic and then wrap things up and schedule Chloé for a part two [laughter]. Brendane, do you wanna take us away?
[01:52:29] Brendane Tynes: Yeah, so today we are recording the day before the one-year anniversary of the murder of Breonna Taylor. On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was murdered in her bed by Louisville police officers. And we wanted to take a moment to recognize her life and the grief of those who survive her. And say that we honor you, Breonna. We thank you for the gifts you brought to this world, and we recognize the state-sanctioned and patriarchal violence that took you away so soon. In connection to what we read earlier, I wanted to draw attention to just the varied gendered violence that Breonna experienced after her death. When she was killed, police gaslit her mother. When her mother asked about how her daughter was doing—and this was before she knew her daughter was dead—the police had asked her if Breonna and her fiancé had domestic troubles. So, the plan was to say that the gunshot came from her fiancé, not from the police. And then after that, they lied to her mother about where, in fact, Breonna was. They said she was at a hospital and she was not, she was still lying dead in her bed and her mother travelled to the hospital and came back. And they stole her body out of her bed and took her to the coroner office while her mother was gone. In addition to this, the additional violence occurred when it took the elevation of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery’s murders in order for her death to be recognized and to receive international attention. With Black gendered state violence, we have to remember that Black women do not only experience a different kind of death, a gratuitous kind of death, a more violent kind of death, their memory is also erased. And the conditions of those who are left afterwards are variably affected.
Alyssa James: Thank you for that Brendane, thank you so much for being here with us Chloé, and thank you all so much for listening. This episode was produced by yours truly, Alyssa James, and my lovely co-host, Brendane Tynes. Our intern is Menkhu-ta Whaley and the podcast is distributed in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. This season of the podcast is generously funded by the Racial Justice Mini-Grant Program at Columbia University, which is funded through a partnership with the Office of University Life, the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life. Further funding has been provided by grants from the Office for Academic Diversity and Inclusion and the Arts & Science Graduate Council, and donations from listeners just like you!
Brendane Tynes: Thank you all for all of your support! We love hearing from you, and we’ve really appreciated the conversations we’ve been having with you! And again, thank you for coming Chloé with all of your brilliance. So, if you wanna learn more, head on over to zorasdaughters.com to find transcripts for the episodes, our bios, and contact info, and ways to support the podcast! Follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at Zoras_Daughters.
Alyssa James: Alright everyone, be kind to yourselves. Bye!
Chloé Faux: Bye!
Brendane Tynes: Bye!