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Steven Salaita initiated an important discussion on Facebook about the discourse around anti-Blackness on social media, specifically Twitter. I tweeted out a link to his post earlier but since not everyone has Facebook, Steve gave me permission to share his post here. This is what he said.
Can we have a thoughtful discussion on the relatively recent discourse of “antiblackness”? There is much in it of which I am wary, in particular the way a coterie of non-Black people takes it up and inadvertently dehumanizes Black folks in the process (I offer the benefit of the doubt with the modifier “inadvertently”). I’m curious to know what others think of the phenomenon, and I’m open to considering various viewpoints.
A few general thoughts:
—there seems to be a fixed emphasis on biology, with all the problems it entails (not least of which is judgment of a person’s opinion based on how race can be imagined in an online avatar). The authority of one’s biology is a particularly important feature of the discourse.
—Black folks who don’t accept the general tenor of the discourse are subject to questions about their ethnic authenticity (very often by people who aren’t Black).
—I see a bizarre attachment to Obama as an exemplar of Black achievement. Criticism of Obama is thus rendered “antiblack” or a “derailment” of Black conversation.
—there is virtually no analysis of class and, while there’s oblique mention of state power, very little substantive critique of imperialism, neoliberalism, or militarization.
—there is a tacit, sometimes explicit, hostility to BDS and to Palestinians more broadly. Along these lines, the general critique of the Arab World as a place of little more than slavery and racism is woefully simplistic. In fact, there’s profound ignorance of nearly all Third World politics.
—building from the prior point, the “antiblackness” discourse grafts Black American issues onto the Third World in ways neither productive nor sensible. For example, during the #BringBackOurGirls tag, antiblackness proponents kept talking of the kidnapping as a “Black” issue. While the Nigerian schoolchildren are most certainly “Black,” I find it terribly reductive to imagine that they share the same feeling of kinship with African Americans. I rather doubt that most people in Nigeria (or anywhere else in Africa) would see the sort of cultural, ethnic, political, or spatial affinity with African Americans that this community has decided is unimpeachable. It therefore constitutes an appropriation. It also limits necessary critique of American policy: those who wished to discuss American criminality on the continent were shamed for taking focus away from the “Black girls.”
—what is “antiblackness”? Is it biological? Cultural? Phenotypical? Don’t the geographies of blackness shift according to variations of location and ethnicity? Is there a developed theory worth reading? Has any good scholarship been produced around the phrase? As used, it’s more a shaming tactic than an analysis of antiblackness. To be clear, I see antiblackness as completely real and as a horrible phenomenon, inside and outside the United States. I just don’t believe that “antiblackness” as a discursive practice is a useful form of illumination or contestation. Indeed, I would argue that it exacerbates the structural problems of racism by championing the values of immutable authority.
—what is the relationship of this discourse with the long and brilliant tradition of Black internationalism?
—Suey Park generally leads the charge. Enough said.
—Finally, and most important: racism against Black people is a profound problem. It’s very real in the Arab World and in the Arab American community. Same with South and East Asia. Same with Latin America. In what ways, then, can we productively challenge it without the heavy-handed techniques of those who confuse their need for constant validation with intellectual practice?
My feeling, I suppose, is summarized in a tweet I sent the other day: there’s a significant community on twitter that tries to pass off pathology as a coherent radical discourse.
I wish I could share the more than 100 thoughtful responses Steve sparked but not all of them are public. Here’s a link to the Facebook post if you want to check it out.
Nah, you’re not gonna do this shit today. And you are damn sure not gonna do this in long-form on my watch.