Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms


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And it does not attempt to grapple with anything resembling a single unified theory of white supremacy. Afro-pessimism is rather an informal tendency that could be designated as a constellation of theorists, ideas and artistic works ruminating upon the structural condition of black existence as indelibly marked by the residual echoes of the slave relation. For the Afro-pessimists, the advent of emancipation did not signal any substantial break with the content of slavery. Instead the passage from slavery to freedom marked the transition from one mode of racialised domination to another.

Wilderson, III.

While Wilderson was the initial conscious architect of the expression, one can also follow its theoretical elaboration within the works of Jared Sexton, Saidiya Hartman and Hortense Spillers, to name a few. In this way a genealogy of Afro-pessimism can be traced between all these thinkers who deal with the concept of the human, the existential and affective structures of being, and the ambiguities of vitalism and life.

Afro-pessimism poses a critique at the junction of political economy and the libidinal economy of white supremacy. For the Afro-pessimists, the black subject is exiled from the human relation , which is predicated on social recognition, volition, subjecthood, and the valuation of life itself. How does this negative relationality originate and maintain itself? Through a structural violence, which is the formative relation that positions the slave, making it the central ontological foundation of black existence:.

Structural vulnerability to appropriation, perpetual and involuntary openness, including all the wanton uses of the body […] should be understood as the paradigmatic conditions of black existence in the Americas, the defining characteristics of New World anti-blackness. Contrary to contingent applications of violence in accordance with legitimate cause transgression of law, as repressive strategy, as reaction, etc. It is the direct relation of force as the basis of the slave relation, which essentially structures the disposession of black existence, an ontological disposession of being.

This gratuitous violence, on the one hand, subjugates black existence to an irrational accumulation of bodies, and subsequently produces a condensed delimitation of blackness in space. Whether it was the owning and trading of slaves or the contemporary phenomena of the ghetto and mass incarceration, black existence is excluded and stockpiled as so many objects within a spatial boundary.

In this condition, life is reduced to a statistical quantity, black existence is made exchangeable with any other.


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Therefore, on the other hand, black existence is also a fungible object, infinitely malleable in its content due to the abstraction of its quality and open for use for anyone who can claim subjecthood. The endless stream of young black men shot by police borders on excess, demonstrating the pure interchangeability of such names as equivalents, meaning that such seemingly particular empirical cases are in actuality a general condition.

Blackness is as devalued as it is susceptible to all aspects of material and social containment, control and debility.

Yet, in these instances, even morally indignant liberals are complicit with anti-blackness by focusing on police shootings as a contingent rather than structural feature of black existence. Attention is then focalised on the excess of black suffering, reducing the victim to a tabula rasa upon which all manners of empathetic projection obscures the basis of a morbid white enjoyment that garners pleasure through the depiction of excoriated black flesh. In short, the violence of anti-blackness produces black existence; there is no prior positive blackness that could be potentially appropriated.

Black existence is simultaneously produced and negated by racial domination, both as presupposition and consequence. Affirmation of blackness proves to be impossible without simultaneously affirming the violence that structures black subjectivity itself.

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And these conditions that procure black existence consistently repeat the sombre refrain of anti-blackness: there is no black identity, there is no black subject, there is no black life as such. As a consequence, black existence is fundamentally marked by social death , materially living as a sentient object but without a stable or guaranteed social subjectivity.

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Frank B. Wilderson Iii: Cinema and the Structure of u.S. Antagonisms

And as such, the status of blackness forms the basis upon which white life can subjectivise itself, socially and materially through the negation of the black body. White life recognises itself as a positive counterpart to the non-subjecthood of blacks. However, Afro-pessimists claim that this relation between black death and white life is not merely asymmetrical. The distinction between the two is qualitatively different, and potential for reconciliation between whites and blacks is impossible. This particular distinction instead procures an antagonism in relation to the social totality.

Black existence forms the bottom line, the condition of possibility, of general social and material integration. Barred from the immanent capacities of living, anti-blackness is the necessary ground for the definition and propagation of life in general. In this way, Afro-pessimism also enacts a political intervention onto the terrain of identity politics and multiracial coalitions. Perhaps more generally, Afro-pessimism can be seen as a critique of the Left and all forms of activism that participate in representational politics.

In the US, the past decades have seen the proliferation of identity-based politics predicated on a politics of recognition. It is this position that was made possible by the legacies of the black struggles of the s to s, epitomised in black liberation and the civil rights movement. However, contemporary anti-racist formations obfuscate and implicitly disavow such a legacy, while simultaneously utilising their impact to promote reform and integration.

The basis of such perspectives is a wider acceptance and visibility of marginalised identities within the stronghold of civil society. Calls for unity by multiracial coalitions mask complicity with the structures of anti-blackness. They proffer an analysis that seeks to go beyond the framework of black and white racial dynamics.

In such instances, these analyses aim to discover common ground through the particularity of non-black racial identities or other oppressed categories. But this common ground is predicated on an underlying humanness, from which black existence is fundamentally barred. Such a perspective presents an atomised individual traversed by a variety of oppressions, yet these oppressions are representable and conditional to a historic instance of violence as opposed to the ontological unconditionality of violence perpetuated against blacks , and could potentially be recognised and addressed.

For it is on the basis of human recognition and self-representation from which minoritarian identities can wage their struggle. Black existence is barred from such a possibility due to the fact that such recognition is based upon not being black. As long as one can distance onself enough from blackness, then one has the possibility of integrating into civil society generally:.

Whereas redress for grievances can be sought and gained through these minoritarian struggles, ultimately they rely upon the further subjection of blacks in order to achieve such goals. Violence deployed against non-black minoritarian positions is contingent and effectively communicable through shared experiences, and therefore could be formulated into coherent demands that might be met or not. If these demands are recognised and met, they necessitate anti-blackness as a sine qua non for further integration.

It is inside this ambiguous nature of empirical demands that black existence introduces a categorical antagonism reaching far beyond any empirical enunciation for socio-political recognition. For Afro-pessimists, there is no possible empirical redress for its structural position in relation to civil society, for it is the very condition that enables civil society to cohere in the first place. And this condition is that of an inordinate suffering that is not commensurate to mere experience.

For this reason, black existence figures as an antagonism that transcends any empirical injustice, an antagonism that splits the world between black or human. Consequently this antagonism entails a total disorganisation of what it would mean to exist in the world at all.

Black existence is essentially a structural position that positions itself as demandless, an antagonsim which is irreconcilable, and without any possible future of organic synthesis of black existence and humanity. For the form of freedom that would enable the abolition of black existence is not empirical but ontological in nature. It would entail a war against the concept of humanity and a war that splits civil society to its core, a civil war that would elaborate itself to the death.

Image: An illustration of racial segregation with Census data, black-white dissimilarity score is White supremacy is not some obscure hieroglyphic to be discerned by an attuned eye. White supremacy in itself is not a coherent system.


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It does not possess a hidden essence that could be interrogated and revealed. It is instead a formal practice without coherent content. White supremacy simply is a set of social and material practices. And its formal practice aims to generate the primary distinction between black and white or more precisely, non-black. Thus the racial distinction was a consequence, and not the cause, of slavery.

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From its origins in slavery, the racial distinction was reproduced through historically specific institutional arrangements that enabled black subjection to continue. After Emancipation, the Southern economy was decimated by the Civil War, the destruction of fixed capital and land, and the collapse of the Confederate currency. It was particularly the newfound mobility of freed blacks and their refusal to immediately enter into voluntary contractual relations with former slaveholders that prompted extraeconomic means to enforce their compliance.

Freed blacks, situated outside the constraints of wage labour, needed to be integrated economically yet excluded socially. What would it mean for a slave to become a free individual? Therefore the central concern after the abolition of slavery for white civil society was managing the transition from the legalised subjection of slaves to the informal and racialised subjection of blacks. In short, violence remained a significant device in cultivating labor discipline. Undeniably, inequality was the basis of the forms of economic and social relations that developed in the aftermath of emancipation.

During the period of American industrialisation in the 19th century, the construction of the labour contract and a submissive working class necessitated the regulation of unemployment. As industrial capitalism developed with the institution of slavery, there was a transmission of techniques in labour management between industrialists and slaveowners, creating a line of continuity between the plantation system and the factory:.

Not only did the crisis of industrialization — problems of pauperism, underemployment, and labor management — occur in the context of an extensive debate about the fate of slavery, but also slavery informed the premises and principles of labor discipline […] the forms of compulsion used against the unemployed, vagrants, beggars, and others in the postbellum North mirrored the transition from slavery to freedom.

The contradictory aspects of liberty of contract and the reliance on coercion in stimulating free labor modeled in the aftermath of the Civil War were the lessons of emancipation employed against the poor. In the construction and maintainence of the labour contract, blacks had to be set apart from whites in general, whether rich or poor. Thus the exercise of police power performed a differential operation: supplementing the outer limits of the wage relation through enforced integration and control while containing and separating blacks apart from whites.

In America, it is well known that the history of policing finds its analogical surrogate with slave patrols. Initially an informal cadre of whites that banded together to enforce the slave codes, slave patrols and the disciplining of disobedient slaves in general aimed to regulate the mobility of blacks, spatially fixing them to the confines of the plantation.

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Patrolling was a duty and obligation for all whites, whether they owned slaves or not. After slavery, such instances of patrolling were devolved upon the institutionality of the police, a professional body that regulated the movement of blacks according to the spatial configurations of both Jim Crow in the South and the black ghettoes of the urbanising North.

In both instances, the racialisation of space that was enacted by these institutions defined white life as immune from police violence. It is a multi-layered narrative of a life molded in struggles for human dignity in America and Africa, at once a gripping story of race politics and a biography of his soul. Mark my word. In this unsettling work, Frank B. Wilderson III theorizes the singularity of anti-Blackness as he refines our understanding of how political economy, popular culture, and law are shot through with identification and desire, pleasure and pain, sexuality and aggression.

Anti-Blackness, which is carefully distinguished here from White supremacy, is not only an ideology and an institutional practice; it is also a structure of feeling with pervasive effects.

Red, white & black : cinema and the structure of US antagonisms. [Book review] - DRO

This last, crucial point is glossed over by too many authors in their haste to provide rational analyses of and challenges to racism. Pairing analyses of film representations of U. Favianna Rodriguez is an interdisciplinary artist, cultural strategist, and organizer. Her art and collaborative projects address migration, economic inequality, gender justice, and ecology. The Yes Men are climate justice activists known for satirical interventions at business events, in the streets, and in the media.

Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms
Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms
Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms
Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms
Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms
Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms
Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms
Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Red White & Black - Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms

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