I wanted the reader to be kidnapped, thrown ruthlessly into an alien environment as the first step into a shared experience with the book’s population - just as the characters were snatched from one place to another, from any place to any other, without preparation or defense.
Toni Morrison, Beloved, xviii
In understanding or comprehending the institution of amerikkkan slavery it is important to know and remember that Transatlantic/Transmeditterean slavery irreparably transformed relations between human beings, their ontology, and the comprehensiveness of capital (private property). The uprooting of Africans and the commodification of their bodies, their work, and their subsequent freedom, broke open history in such a way that Human Beings have been thrown into an inescapable hell of unresolved horrors, unmitigated terrors, incentivized by material rewards of flesh and wealth and power. Chattel slavery is the only system of dehumanization, extermination, reproduction, domination, subjugation, death, violence, and terror in Human history that has, for all intents and purposes, been managed to remain a fluid, yet stable, element of modern civilization. Its tragic continuity, or what Lewis Gordon and Jared Sexton call the afterlife of slavery, is one aspect of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved that I have identified. My reading of Beloved deepened my understanding of the comprehensiveness of the effects and ripples that racial slavery had and has in a so-called Post-Emancipation world. Beloved speaks on the power of systems of racialization and the well-documented horrors (both mundane and spectacular) that mark the lived experiences of Black people in amerikkkan history. This tragic continuity is an aperture that is diligently analyzed and examined, lived in, loved in, lost in, an opening into a world whites do their best to not see - only seeing as much as they are willing, or told, to see.
Beloved has its many moments of enjoyment, triumph, and victory - not to harp or focus singularly upon the light that gives birth to its shadows. But attention must be paid to the place from which the rays of oppressive light shine, so as to find its source, and snuff it out, if the object is to plunge the two worlds into darkness: the white world and the Black world.
Morrison firmly holds her reader within the context of white supremacy, and its constitutive cultural, political, and economic institutions. Whiteness is always the unspoken backdrop, looming in the ether like dark matter, manifesting itself in the myriad (re)memory and rehashing of all of the despicable acts practiced, all of the violations, the disappointment, and having no other choice but to settle…which drive Sethe to take the reins, as she attempts to shine a looking-glass into the face of the White World which took everything from her.
Thus there is no equilibrium in the mise-en-scene as Morrison takes the reader frantically across and between space-time, abducting the reader’s ability to comprehend the situation unfolding by way of the narrative. What this does thematically for the novel cannot be understated. Take not for granted the fact that the structure Morrison so deliberately obliterates and excludes from the narratology can be taken as a cryptic message. Not cryptic in the sense that it is coded (Morrison explains the reason for the anachronistic anti-structure of the book in the Foreword in the First Vintage International Edition, June 2004) but cryptic in the sense that (white) amerikkkans are ideologically, epistemologically, and ontologically unconditioned and oblivious to this message by default. Morrison’s deliberate exclusion of a certain compassion for the reader needs to be taken seriously, a certain plea-for-sanity to readers to get the picture, to pay attention, to stand against the injustices of the world. Morrison wants the reader to engage critically with their own internalized anti-blackness which the narrative structure of the novel is designed to unsettle and disturb. Ideological complacency should be the enemy and object of scorn for those interested in freedom - and whiteness is a key culprit in perpetuating injustice past to present, globally.
Remembering for Toni Morrison is integral, as the text of the afterlife of slavery is constantly replaying in the present and going unrecognized and unacknowledged. The cancellation of this reality pre-empts anger over its injustices, and thus the possibilities for creating conditions to critically engage with and dismantle our structures of antagonism (political and cultural systems that reconstitute antiblackness and white supremacy). The whites responsible for the creation and sustenance of the slave trade shrouded themselves in benevolence: as so-called Enlightened Servants of their white God and their White Jesus, yet they were the ones who justified the pain inflicted by way of Christian Humanitarianism, the ones who reaped the material and psychic rewards of its production; the coffers of gold overflowing in the Vatican and the industrial and infrastructural development of the kingdoms of Europe and the incomprehensible, foundational greed and inhumanity of chattel slavery and its continuity make freedom today a ruse of whiteness, and a far-off dream to Black people who do not want to sell their souls to entertain the white masses by way of winning their Affection.
Beloved is an alternative. Beloved does not bemoan victimization, nor does it synthesize Blackness with Victimhood. Beloved screams creative resistance to whiteness. Morrison relentlessly drives into the reader’s mind that slavery was not a system of forced labor - it is and was a system of turning bodies into goods in a global economy run by white people. Because slaves’ bodies were the property of white people and continue to be imagined to be so through cultural artifacts like 2013 film “The Purge”, it was common practice to force slaves to procreate, for slave-masters to use sex as a weapon of subjection. In “The Purge” the male head-of-household spends much of the film fearing that a Black man who has ‘invaded’ his home by way of being let in by their son will rape and kill his white daughter and wife. By the end of the film the Black man, a homeless veteran serviceman, proves his loyalty to the white family that inadvertently saved him from being “purged” by a gang of white yuppy students headed by a beady-eyed Aryan in a Catholic school uniform. The message of the film romanticizes and fleshes out the liberal post-racial fantasy of whiteness’ preservation and Blackness’ submission to new forms of domination. Justifying acts of gratuitous violence against Black people requires merely updating the systems by which Black people are dominated - reform.
Amerikkkan political, cultural, and social common sense, when it comes to the making and maintenance of all policy, all property, is anti-black at it’s core. And if its authorizers do not work at dismantling the ideological, and onto-epistemological structures built within them (which were built without their consent by the seemingly external social force of race-making institutions, and the productive apparatuses of state and civil society), then there is deliberate complicity with an ordering of the world that stratifies human beings into a caste-system created over a thousand years ago. See the world with blinders on, and blindly you navigate its course.
When the mise-en-scene of Beloved is such an uncanny representation of the antagonisms of Black life in amerikkka today and bears such insidious identification with our current socio-political structuration (eg page 176-177 when whites try to take Sethe’s children to “raise them properly” and ponder its resemblance to the current juvenile justice system of capture and punishment without crime, DCYF and social work apparatuses) how can the premise that our civilization is a just one stand against all of the evidence significantly substantiating the opposite premise?
Do not trust the world.
A few months ago, a woman that I work with (light-skinned Latina) took a photograph of another female employee (who is Haitian, Black) without her knowledge or awareness of it.
Eventually she was told, but not before her photograph was posted on Facebook and made into a meme which was shared amongst some of the (white, light-skinned, Latin@, and Black) employees at my workplace. The meme was designed to mock the what a few employees perceived to be “lies” the Black female employee was telling about her background and her current life situation.
From the moment I saw it I wasn’t going to let that shit fly, so I called it out - it’s not right. This shit just isn’t right. Not only because I work in a “multicultural center”, with the clearly-stated goal of providing a “safe space” for students of all background, but because this was being done completely behind her back, in a cruel and violent fashion. From the moment I expressed any indignation or dissent, I was attacked personally. Which tells us certain things about the mechanics of power at work within this seemingly trivial, “everyday” occurrence.
When I stepped up to argue against the illicit surveillance, photography, and publication of the photographic evidence of activity, I was immediately met with the so-called “legitimacy” of this practice. This was articulated to me in the form of pleas against my sanity, perception, and ideology. I was told that I was seeing “racism” in a place it couldn’t exist - coming from “brown people.” Not only is this absurd, it contradicts the longue duree of antiblack racism and social death in the Caribbean and Latin/South America by colonized brown peoples, and assumes that this history or past no longer plays out in the spaces of the state and civil society in the apartheid civilization of Euro-amerika. To assume that any society enfolded in antiblack ideology/structure is redeemable from its established place in the making of race at any given moment in time is absurd. Especially in a situation of extreme invasion of privacy, where the body is an object of surveillance by civil society’s junior partners.
I got abusive messages from two of the people who had nothing to do with the employment of the surveillance, and messages from the woman responsible arguing that the employment of hidden surveillance on bodies is harmless, unproblematic, playful, and enjoyable. The messages from the two people complained about me being “preachy,” “paranoid,” “dogmatic,” for arguing that this type of surveillance and secretive humiliation was antiblack in character.
When you make bigger decisions than what shirt to wear or if you should take a shower or not, then you can lecture me on ethics. Till then, keep your preaching to yourself. Don’t worry, I will repeat this to your face when I see you, so don’t think I’m hiding behind a computer…
Not everything is a fucking civil liberties issue! Nothing in the meme mentioned her being black! You just seek any opportunity to make your tiered moral judgments and that got old about three seconds after I met you.
This is a sample of the message sent by one of the people who was complicit in alienating my interpretation of the situation. Notice that he automatically defaults into colorblindness and indifference (also as a side note, this person resorted to ad hominem attacks yet went on to describe us both as “philosophers” when he wanted to make it appear as though we would just have to “agreeing to disagree”, which I never do - I never back down from an intellectual war of manoevre).
When the situation involving non-black “people-of-color” utilizing internalized antiblack racism is pointed out for its political problematic, it also becomes a non-issue for “people-of-color” because the singularity of blackness as slave or being-for-the-captor is rendered invisible in the colorblind ideological paradigm. The label “people-of-color” provides for, in this situation, the hiding of whiteness beneath a cloud of racial ambiguity that makes blackness indiscernible from the various systems of oppression at work in an apartheid regime with multiples historical trajectories of colonialism and genocide upon Black and Brown people. Although, the gratuitous aspect of antiblack violence seems to be the key feature of global white supremacy that doesn’t register in other forms of racist state violence.
The highly developed system of surveillance and policing of Black bodies plays out in the everyday here, where we are least likely to see and identify it. The highly developed self-reproducing structures of antiblack violence inherent in this system of policing and surveillance are cloaked in the air of post-raciality, which is conveniently deployed like a fog by “people-of-color” to disavow blackness and Black bodies without making it appear racist. While they do the work of a white supremacist political context, they complicate their own position(s) as oppressed people by continuing to participate knowingly in the quotidian forms of racial violence and humiliation fundamental to the preservation of white civil society and its apparatus of roundup.
"People-of-Color Blindness" by Jared Sexton
"Prison Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal" by Frank B Wilderson, III
"Black, White, and In Color" by Hortense Spillers
In some ways it was easier for my generation. Racism was blatant and obvious. The “Whites Only” signs let us know clearly, what we were up against. Not much has changed, but the system of lies and tricknology is much more sophisticated. Today young people have to be highly informed and acutely analytical, or they will be swept up into a whirlpool of lies and deception.
Taken from her book “Assata: In Her Own Words” (page 31)
The realities of the New Jim Crow: The incarceration rate for African-Americans is so high that young black men without a high school diploma are more likely to go to jail than to find a job, thereby causing the breakup of families and instilling further poverty upon them.
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, locking up about 500 people for every 100,000 residents, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. (The US has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.)
The incarceration rate for African-Americans is about 3,074 per 100,000 residents, which is more than six times as high as the national average. Black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma are particularly vulnerable: with an incarceration rate of 40 percent, they are more likely to end up behind bars than in the workforce, Pew Charitable Trusts reports.
“Jails & prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo - obedient to our keepers, but dangers to each other.” - Angela Davis
The new chattel slavery…
Adrian Piper, Vanilla Nightmares #2 (1986)