Celebrating Black Diversity & Dissent

50+ voices challenging monolithic narratives of blackness

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“How can we as black people hold each other accountable, call out rhetorical abuses, acknowledge our ideological differences, respectfully disagree and STILL manage to show up for each other? It's a difficult question, but I believe it's one worth asking.”

“We continue to indulge the politically wrong-headed, counterproductive, and even reactionary features of the 'representative black voice' industry in whatever remains of our contemporary public sphere. And we never reckon with the truly disturbing presumption that any black person who can gain access to the public microphone and performs familiar rituals of 'blackness' should be recognized as expressing significant racial truths and deserves our attention. This presumption rests on the unexamined premise that blacks share a common, singular mind that is at once radically unknowable to non-blacks and readily downloaded by any random individual setting up shop as a racial voice. And despite what all of our age’s many heroic narratives of individualist race-first triumph may suggest to the casual viewer, that premise is the essence of racism.”

“What is blackness? Is it cultural (eg: Africana culture; what does Africana even mean outside of a purely sociohistorical context in or relating to American (continental) slavery)? Is it biological (eg: pigmentation, hair texture, etc.)? Is it sociological (eg: race as social construct)? Or an uneven mix of all three?”

“When are people going to realize that they don't own people? When are black people going to learn that they don't own black people? When is humanity going to realize they don't own humanity? I suppose never, which is when we'll all realize at once that we are God's children and we don't even really know God. The alternative belief is more comforting and wrong.

So it's easy to ask, where are all the black people? The answer is disappointing on the surface. The black people are still at the back of the bus. But they are not who you think they are and their reasons for being there are more than the simple answer implies.”

“One must be wary of drawing any defining lines around blackness: the concept is too malleable for containment. Blackness is not just skin colour, but a polysemous consciousness.”

“Blackness is supple for shapeshifting. Blackness is a way of seeing, knowing, smelling, moving—the thing that makes us difficult to understand is that there are so many types of blacknesses. I remember when I learned my particular kind, what we’d come to know and call ourselves in college, 'plain blacks.' Plain blacks who, when asked, 'Where are you from?', claim local cities in the US like Oakland, or Detroit, or Brooklyn. Those of us who when pressed for more, 'No but where are your people from?' and respond Texas, Mississippi, New Orleans, somewhere in the South, and when pressed more, realize that there is no record beyond that. But we keep it moving. Blackness is the greatest experimental poem. Blackness could be just about anything if…

My world is Black. My world is also very gay. When I moved into my building in LA, right across the street from Johnny’s Pastrami, a 24-hour pastrami stand, I was worried. I thought it might be too rowdy and too many cops (I was half right). I moved into my building, all black and a few brown folk. I lived there alone in a studio; all of the units were studios. I looked in my neighbor’s place and noticed that they, too, had a studio. In it lived a newborn, a toddler, and two parents. This is South LA. And while my downstairs neighbor was likely a drug-dealer, and the manager’s 'girl' drank a lot and sometimes yelled, there were moments when she smiled, danced–moments when the babies seemed to relax and when the manager was not shaking his head and giving that 'just trying to make it' nod. There was joy there, too. There was joy for me the week I moved in and I met two neighbors, two other black men, who were also gay. In my head I thought, 'Why am I surprised?' In my heart, I knew why. I too had internalized Black. A Black building meant straight, meant homophobic, meant all of these things, even though that was not my experience.”

“There is no—nor, really, has there ever been—one true 'black community.' There is no one quintessential 'black experience.' There is no 'black economic class'—there are, in fact, many, ranging from cosmopolitan elites like the Carters or the Obamas to the family still grieving Freddie Gray’s murder. And there is no collective black vision for a just America.

There are those who want universal healthcare, and there are those who want to amass generational wealth. There are those who want full-scale, bloody revolution, and there are those who advocate for reform at best. There are those who descended from American slaves, and there are those whose parents emigrated from Africa 30 years ago. There are those whose blackness serves as a wellspring for illustrious artistic, literary, or academic careers, and there are those whose blackness has gotten them killed. There are those who find comfort in casting 'blackness' all over their work, art, or entire lives, and there are those who want to become the next Socrates or Einstein without being reminded of the color of their skin every second of the day. And there are those who just want to be known by their name.”

“The greater reality is that black Americans themselves are highly diverse and unequal themselves. What destroys one strengthens another. Inequality is not equal to injustice. And what is actual injustice against a few black Americans does not dim the prospects for the many. But with racial inequality being the focus of so many people, it ultimately distorts the truth. The truth is that black Americans live everywhere and do everything and it is stupid to compare what they do to anything other than what they want to do. In other words, if I improve my self and my life, then it is only proper to compare me now with me before, not what some English king did or what some ghetto drug addict did. (Unless of course, my aim is to be a ghetto drug addict or English king).”

“Some view racial membership as an immutable status — you are born black and that is it. I do not. I view choice as an integral element of membership. In my view, a person (or at least an adult person) should be black by choice, with a recognized right of resignation.

Carrying through with that contractualist conception, I also believe that a black person should have no immunity from being de-blacked. Any Negro should be subject to having his or her membership in blackness revoked if he or she pursues a course of conduct that convincingly demonstrates the absence of even a minimal communal allegiance.”

“At the same time as we’re celebrating ourselves by defining ourselves, we’re excluding people. That’s always something I’ve felt strongly about as a mixed-race person. That’s another discussion that I think needs to happen. For example with Black Twitter especially, we’re touting our Blackness all the time, and that’s wonderful, but there’s a limit to that where we’re sometimes excluding people. To use another good example, Blackness for a long time has involved putting Black men on a pedestal and not holding them accountable for the things that they do to people. And when you are celebrating Blackness so much that you’re not being critical, that’s when problems start to happen.”

“I feel, being a Black man, as if we’re always in some kind of paradox or a clusterfuck of trying to figure out who we are and what that means in relation to other people. It’s constantly changing. I want to capture the idea of code switching—if that wasn’t a thing, if Black men and Black people in general didn’t have to constantly morph into a different person based on the context of their surroundings, what would that look like? That’s how I handled the question of unpacking Black masculinity—if it was free and didn’t have limitations based upon societal standards, within the Black community and outside of it. What would Black masculinity look like if it was able to be fully free and not tainted by whiteness, if it wasn’t being monitored and policed by that colonialism?”

“A never-quite-vanquished nationalism remains a poignantly unavoidable source for frictions between the articulation of group identities––those persistent fictions––and individual negotiations of either more-or-less orthodox cultural allegiance or cosmopolitan openness (even assimilationism). For most minority entities, then, a measure of cultural nationalism––or group unity––has been a prize element of their steady existences as quote-unquote communities. The hazard of nationalism––its tendency to decay into fallacious myths, misty romanticisms, and blood-rite fascisms––persists, then, despite the globally swaddling and homogenizing embrace of IBM and Coca-Cola.

Black intellectuals possess no immunity against the potentially toxic allure of nationalism. Rather, we have been notorious for being either ‘too’ doctrinairely race-conscious, or nation-conscious (consider Malcolm X), or for not being conscious ‘enough’ (consider Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).”

“I am what my friends would identify as a 'Nigerian Black American'. So when I talk about black issues, specifically being a Nigerian woman who was raised in America, I'm talking largely about the issues that are plaguing what we would identify as Black America. So if we're talking about mass incarceration, if we're talking about police brutality, if we're talking about all of these different phenomenon - a lot of times we're identifying those as a Black American issue.

So what does my family say? 'Fumilola always wants to talk about the Black Americans as if they are all one people.' But I'm like 'we are'. It would serve us to acknowledge our sameness. But what do I hear on the African-American side? That 'Africans think they better than us. Cuz y'all come over here and, oh, so y'all just better? Y'all don't wanna be Black Americans?'

And so, where I sit is right in the middle of that conversation. Translating between the two communities and saying 'you have more alike than your differences' and it would serve you to function in coalition and engage in a contemporary pan-Africanism - but we would have to respect each other's differences in order engage in a contemporary pan-Africanism.”

“The ontological essentialist view has often been characterised by a brute pan-Africanism. It has proved unable to specify precisely where the highly prized but doggedly evasive essence of black artistic and political sensibility is currently located, but that is no obstacle to its popular circulation. This perspective sees the black intellectual and artist as a leader. Where it pronounces on cultural matters, it is often allied to a realist approach to aesthetic value that minimises the substantive political and philosophical issues involved in the processes of artistic representation. Its absolutist conception of ethnic cultures can be identified by the way in which it registers incomprehending disappointment with the actual cultural choices and patterns of the mass of black people. It has little to say about the profane, contaminated world of black popular culture and looks instead for an artistic practice that can disabuse the mass of black people of the illusions into which they have been seduced by their condition of exile and unthinking consumption of inappropriate cultural objects like the wrong hair care products, pop music, and western clothing. The community is felt to be on the wrong road, and it is the intellectual's job to give them a new direction, firstly by recovering and then by donating the racial awareness that the masses seem to lack.

This perspective currently confronts a pluralistic position which affirms blackness as an open signifier and seeks to celebrate complex representations of a black particularity that is internally divided: by dass, sexuality, gender, age, ethnicity, economics, and political consciousness. There is no unitary idea of black community here, and the authoritarian tendencies of those who would police black cultural expression in the name of theit own particular history or priorities are rightly repudiated. The ontologically grounded essentialism is replaced by a libertarian, strategic alternative: the cultural saturnalia which attends the end of innocent notions of the essential black subject. Here, the polyphonic qualities of black cultural expression form the main aesthetic consideration and there is often an uneasy but exhilarating fusion of modernist and populist techniques and styles. From this perspective, the achievements of popular black cultural forms like music are a constant source of inspiration. They are prized for their implicit warning against the pitfalls of artistic conceit. The difficulty with this second tendency is that in leaving racial essentialism behind by viewing 'race' itself as a social and cultural construction, it has been insufficiently alive to the lingering power of specifically racialised forms of power and subordination.

Each outlook compensates for the obvious weaknesses in the other camp, but so far there has been little open and explicit debate between them. Their conflict, initially formulated in debates over black aesthetics and cultural production, is valuable as a preliminary guide to some of the dilemmas faced by cultural and intellectual historians of the modern, western, African diaspora. The problems it raises become acute, particularly for those who seek to comprehend cultural developments and political resistances which have had scant regard for either modern borders or pre-modern frontiers. At its worst, the lazy, casual invocation of cultural insiderism which frequently characterises the ontological essentialist view is nothing more than a symptom of the growing cleavages within the black communities. There, uneasy spokespeople of the black elite-some of them professional cultural commentators, artists, writers, painters, and film makers as well as political leaders-have fabricated a volkish outlook as an expression of their own contradictory position. This neo-nationalism seems out of tune with the spirit of the novel Africentric garb in which it appears before us today. It incorporates commentary on the special needs and desires of the relatively privileged castes within black communities, but its most consistent trademark is the persistent mystification of that group's increasingly problematic relationships with the black poor, who, after all, supply the elite with a dubious entitlement to speak on behalf of the phantom constituency of black people in general. The idea of blacks as a national or proto-national group with its own hermetically enclosed culture plays a key role in this mystification, and, though seldom overtly named, the misplaced idea of a national interest gets invoked as a means to silence dissent and censor political debate when the incoherences and inconsistencies of Africalogical discourse are put on display.”

“Black studies scholars have recently begun calling into question the predominance of 'resistance' as an interpretive lens. In Kevin Quashie’s The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture, he questions the 'practically unconscious … equivalence between blackness and resistance' that 'thwarts other ways of reading.' Quashie explains, 'As an identity, blackness is always supposed to tell us something about race or racism, or about America, or violence and struggle and triumph or poverty and hopefulness. The determination to see blackness only through a social public lens, as if there were no inner life, is racist.' The goal of such a critique is not to dismiss the power and importance of resistance within ongoing black freedom struggles but to ask what subtlety, complexity, and richness of human experience is lost when black life is understood exclusively as a resistance project. Is there room in our scholarly examinations for black interiority, forms of community, joy, frivolity, or contradiction?”

“Today the protest identity is a career advantage for an entire generation of black intellectuals, particularly academics who have been virtually forced to position themselves in the path of their university’s obsession with 'diversity.' Inflation from the moral authority of protest, added to the racial preference policies in so many American institutions, provides an irresistible incentive for black America’s best minds to continue defining themselves by protest. Professors who resist the Baldwin model risk the Ellisonian fate of invisibility.

Because blacks live amidst such hunger for the moral authority of their race, we embraced protest as a permanent identity in order to capture the fruits of white guilt on an ongoing basis. Again, this was our first fall by our own hand. Still, it is hard to imagine any group of individuals coming out of four centuries of oppression and not angling their identity toward whatever advantage seemed available. White guilt held out the promise of a preferential life in recompense for past injustice, and the protest identity seemed the best way to keep that promise alive.

An obvious problem here is that we blacks fell into a group identity that has absolutely no other purpose than to collect the fruits of white guilt. And so the themes of protest–a sense of grievance and victimization–evolved into a sensibility, an attitude toward the larger world that enabled us always and easily to feel the grievance whether it was there or not. Protest became the mask of identity, because it defined us in a way that kept whites 'on the hook.' Today the angry rap singer and Jesse Jackson and the black-studies professor are all joined by an unexamined devotion to white guilt.”

“Feelings and opinions have replaced critical thinking, or at least a robust critical thinking, in attempts to decenter whiteness and challenge hegemonic forces in academia. These feelings and opinions seem to have led to framings of the world that see violence against people of color in places where it may not necessarily exist, which works as an obstacle to dealing with actual racism. What's more, the prevalence of feelings and opinions over reason and facts leads to 'strategies' that, if followed to their ultimate consequences, are more effective at enhancing group dignity and esteem than in actually making progressive changes to structural racism that can benefit our students and society at large. One cannot successfully change reality if one is effectively estranged from it.

I argue that anti-racism initiatives and the narratives and ideologies that feed them result from a 'primacy of identity' that, itself, results from a strong sense of disempowerment that leads to fallacious interpretations of texts, situations, and people; an infantilization of the field, its scholars, and its students; an overemphasis of subjectivity and self-expression over empirical and critical thought; an embrace of racial essentialism; and a general neglect of rhetoric itself, especially regarding context, audience consideration, and logos.”

“In terms of its construction in the US, racialized blackness is meant to function as a reduction, a simplification, that is more about an ideological idea of black people as ‘social symbolism’ (something to revile, pity, fetishize, or project sentiment onto), rather than as a reflection of the complexity of our humanity.

In the US there is no neutral ground on which to stand when it comes to identity. And everyone is thinking about it, whether they’re making abstract paintings, or staging political interventions in art spaces, or making Hollywood films. The challenge is to envision the world as we experience it, and resist the urge to always create fantasies of racial homogeneity, as delightful as they may seem.”

“Over the years, Americans of African descent have had numerous ways of referring to themselves as a people, because they have been a people and have been made a people through the conditions they were faced. Whether those conditions were slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, disenfranchisement, job discrimination, or whatever it was, they faced common circumstances that made them recognize themselves as a people.

Every time they designated themselves as a people, that became a racial designation. When colored as a term was replaced by Negro and Negro was replaced by Black, every one of those was a way of defining a people. When it gets into the general vocabulary, it became a racial designation. When Black Lives Matter activists say black lives matter, they are not making a racial statement.

Do Americans have to say that other Americans, and for that matter, other human beings’ lives matter? To have to say, 'black lives matter,' and open yourself up to an enemy who tries to trump that with 'all lives matter,' when in fact the slogan BLM always meant all lives matter. It was a way of saying, 'yes, ours too.' I don’t like the way they had to say ours too as though there could be a question about whether ours matter, because everybody’s matters.”

“So the thing about police shootings of black people is that it’s always the same story, over and over again. Similar details, similar outcomes, just again and again. And it struck me that these people were living their lives before they got defined by this story, the police shooting story, and these lives were all unique and different stories, but this one story was always the same, a singular story that invaded other stories like an infection.”

“I think we’ll get even more diverse stories, more complicated and complex stories. We are going to get things that I don’t agree with or you don’t agree with but that should have a space to be shown and debated. You know what I mean? So I think that’s what’s so interesting about this moment — we’re getting a lot of different perspectives that are really deepening the notion of what it means to be Black.”

“Even if we were to define blackness as a sort of lived experience, there are always exceptions, always outliers, which statistically we are prone to eschew as 'those who do not belong,' but who nonetheless should always serve as the new margins from which we conceptualize a global, as opposed to exclusive, experience. It is also totalizing for me to give an inevitably faulty working definition for what blackness means, for my experience is not the universal experience, nor is/are the experience(s) of the person or cluster of people at the 'center' of Swarthmore’s black student 'solar system,' or those of any Black person. The way we experience, understand, internalize and engage with our blackness is different, for our lives as Black people take meandering paths and it is not the destination which makes us who we are, but the people we become along the way.”

“There's harm done to society when we insist that these color categories are real or meaningful and that you can fit people into these boxes. The term for me is what Glenn Loury called 'transcendent humanism'. Life is lived on the individual level. We have to have values and ways of belonging to each other that unite us. Not blood and skin and these kinds of ideas that have caused such human suffering over the past half millennium. I really think that you can't redeem the language - I think we need a new language.

These terms - black, white - not only are they so vague that they fail to capture life as it's lived on the individual level, but our language produces our reality as well.”

“To argue on behalf of a de-racialized world while simultaneously suggesting that Coates and his peers are in any meaningful way the ones preventing it, that they have been nearly as forceful in keeping racist and racially essentialist ideas alive as the Kardashians and their 600 million followers, a rap music genre that has for almost 30 years pushed the most racist tropes about black male sexual nature, the tens of millions of white kids around the world who devour the music daily, slave and race play in porn, black athletes, actors and, yes, writers and academics who (in the words of Thomas Jefferson) believe in white women’s 'superior' beauty to that of black women’s, the cops who shoot and kill plainly unarmed black men, the jurors who exonerate them, Fox News, the viewers who love it, and, of course, Donald Trump, is simply not tenable.”

“Black people are not a this or a that. They are a population in excess of 30 million, with cultural patterns as variegated as one would expect in such a large aggregation. Moreover, American society is a polyglot mixture where cultural dynamics influence one another. For example, some middle-class, suburban white kids download rap music produced by black artists from the inner city. These musicians come to have a market substantially influenced by the preferences of their middle-class white customers. To a certain degree, they play to that audience, including that audience’s stereotypes about thuggish behavior. Along comes a schoolteacher who announces: 'Rap music is bad, and it’s pathological. Can’t you see just how troubled black people are?' This is ludicrous—how is it that a few hundred musicians and artists responding to a national market consisting mostly of white customers suddenly become emblematic of black culture or black people?”

“I will not allow identity to trump my rationality and my individuality. I’m a human being first. I think about politics and I come to the conclusions that I come to. It doesn’t stop me from being black. Sometimes those opinions are conservative. No apology is being offered for that here.”

“House Negro. Token. Sellout: words that, until recently, I hadn’t heard directed at me in my adult life. Following a decade in the British Army my tolerance for offence is set fairly high, but this was different. That the worst abuse I’ve experienced came exclusively from the black community is as shocking as it is disappointing.

The black population is often viewed as a homogenous group whose opinions, ambitions, desires and concerns align rather than contrast. We would do well to recognise that this perception, reinforced by depictions in the media, both positive and negative, reduces us to a clichéd stereotype. Those who fall outside the 'acceptable portrayal' of blackness are more likely to face criticism from those who identify themselves as the 'right' sort of black Briton, who have the 'right' sort of partners, listen to the 'right' sort of music or hold the 'right' sort of politic views.”

“What is this modern day definition of a ‘Coon’? It’s usually angrily and viciously unleashed upon blacks perceived as having ‘white’ points of view in the eyes of ‘Woke’ black people. It’s the modern day incarnation of an ‘Uncle Tom’, or ‘Oreo’, or ‘House Nigga’, or the character ‘Uncle Ruckus’ from The Boondocks who usually comes up when someone has been called Coon. It’s someone who is thought to be betraying the race for ‘White Supremacy’. One of the biggest contradictions is that it’s often used by those who would consider themselves pro-black (some of whom themselves indulge in colorism and bigotry against other brown skinned people). Consequently, both Coon and Nigga are terms designating one’s blackness, but in different ways – Nigga having good and bad contexts.

Are you Cooning? How do you know if you are? What warrants being called a Coon? Again, it often involves being black and having independent thoughts and conservative values. It could be a matter of criticizing Colin Kaepernick’s protest as Minister Jap and Oshay Duke Jackson did – both black men who were subsequently called 'Coons' and in some instances 'Klansmen' by some of their commenters – the majority black. It could be something like saying the single-motherhood rate in the black community is too high and is the major impediment of the black race’s advancement in the United States. It could be pointing out that black people can be just as much, if not more, bigoted than white people – not racist of course, because black people don’t have power. It could be the belief that black people are accountable for their actions and that everything happening in 2017 isn’t the fault of white people. It could be stating that you weren’t offended by the Confederate flags and statues. Lastly, it could be citing and believing statistics arguing that there is an unusually high rate of black crime. Cooning could be any of these things and much more.

Have I ever been called a Coon? Yes, I have on Twitter, but it was by someone no one takes seriously. Considering myself an independent – one who doesn’t belong to either political party, and who questions things, I’ll probably be called it to my face before long, but that’s okay. The important thing for me is to think critically and objectively – not solely off of emotion if I can help it, and not necessarily following the herd for the sake of following the herd. So if that makes me a Coon, then so be it.”

“In this good-driven age of white guilt, with all its paradises of diversity, a figurative gulag has replaced freedom’s tradition of a respected and loyal opposition. Conservatives are automatically relegated to this gulag because of their preference for freedom over ideas of 'the good.'

But there is another 'little gulag' for the black individual. He lives in a society that needs his race for the good it wants to do more than it needs his individual self. His race makes him popular with white institutions and unifies him with blacks. But he is unsupported everywhere as an individual. Nothing in his society asks for or even allows his flowering as a full, free, and responsible person. As is always the case when 'the good' becomes ascendant over freedom, and coercion itself becomes a good thing, the individual finds himself in a gulag.”

“The categories could go on and on, and perhaps, indeed, they will. Where do I fit? That's the strange thing. I fit into none and all of the above. I have been each of the above, or at least mistaken for them, at different moments in my life. But somehow, none feels right. Maybe that makes me a Postlatto.

I've learned to flaunt my mixedness at dinner parties, where the guests (most of them white) ooh and aaah about my flavorful background. I've found it's not so bad being a fetishized object, an exotic bird soaring above the racial landscape. And when they start talking about black people, pure breeds, in that way that before the millennium used to make me squirm, I let them know that I'm neutral, nothing to be afraid of. Sometimes I feel it, that remnant of my old self (the angry black girl with the big mouth) creeping out, but most of the time I don't feel anything at all. Most of the time, I just serve up the asparagus, chimichangas, and fried chicken with a bright, white smile.”

“The rapid demographic shifts of our society—and the increasing visibility and audibility of many identities and voices—may appear to one American as a threat, while to another they are a form of hope and even deliverance. This is to be expected, and it is the duty of the thoughtful person not to proscribe, ignore, or 'cancel,' but to take measure, persuade, and engage. Of course, edifying sermons about a moderate and compromising consensus will never pierce as deep as the primal and particular certainties and grievances that animate our politics.

An inconvenient fact of human life is that we cannot and never have been able to neatly add it up. To do so would be a distortion of what it means to be alive.

What our society sorely misses now is not some sterling ideological consistency but rather a genuine liberalism that is strong and supple enough to look for ways to build on who we are, in all our human incongruity.”

“All across the country, women of color create marketing strategies, and product designs, and calculate profit margins that have little or nothing to do with race. Because we understand that the world is bigger than our own narrow bird’s-eye view.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the Kim Kardashian fantasy of a 'color-blind' world. That’s a silly, nonsense phrase. Color 'blindness' isn’t even physiologically possible. Everyone who sees properly, sees skin color. Even babies. As we should. What I am talking about is creating spaces, in our private musings and in public forums like this one, to allow for the full expression of our multifaceted selves.”

“You can’t use a word like mulatto, or colored, or Negro without surrounding it with explications and qualifications that make very clear that you are stripping it of certain things and supplying it with certain others.

It’s performance as a form of truth, not of lying. It’s very tied to a different notion of authenticity that really now does include a sense of constructed, inherited identity that keeps reconstructing, and that you can negotiate and perform with. I mean, isn’t that what we think of as identity these days? It doesn’t mean it’s any less deeply felt.

I think that as time goes on, identity will increasingly be constituted performatively, as we move away from biological links, in terms of gender and race and everything else. For example, because of our habits online, we’re beginning to be defined much more by our interests, by the people we’re friends with, and by our politics.”

“Like many African Americans, I am highly racially mixed. If I am aware of my Blackness, I am reminded of my 'difference' by either a racist society in a context of negative externalities or in a minority framework of positive internalities. If Whites are actively aware of my Blackness, I often perceive their awareness in negative terms, as this difference always points to a perceived inadequacy in a subaltern by a superaltern. Yet, if Whites are not aware of my race, I perceive this as a failure to be 'Black enough' to elicit that awareness. This failure to elicit awareness prompts me to take on ascribed differences (like listening to rap music and being perceived to be listening to rap music). Within highly homogeneous African American sociocultural groups (like I experience at Howard University), mindfulness of the ownership of one’s own racial identity is even more complicated.”

“Consider also the reductive notion of black people engaged in endless battle against a monolith of 'white people,' often benevolent but endlessly racist despite themselves, blissfully unaware of their inherent privilege, incapable of genuine empathy, and tarred as clumsy phonies for any attempt to show themselves as anything but the just-described. The lack of fit between this cartoon and reality is supposed to be fine because black people are punching up, but then King was arguably punching upper and let’s face it, this kind of professional hatred of the Other is exactly what he preached against.”

“What is at the end of white privilege? Is it a war that goes on forever? Does the white race get destroyed? When it drops below a measurable level do people continue being white? I ask this question as someone for whom the Civil Rights and Black Power movements were successful. All the major hurdles were beaten. If they weren't, then the fight for gays wouldn't have happened. Asian interests would not have been considered. It would still be 1968. There would still be no blacks on McDonald's commercials, stars in the mainstream or homeowners in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Black Americans would still be constrained to the same colleges and universities, still have their own sports leagues and barred from professional associations like the Bar or AMA. In other words, my generation had goalposts. For people I grew up with, it was the integration of Corporate America. For a lot of older folks I recall, it was the integration of the civil service. For others it was the integration of colleges and universities or suburban neighborhoods. Which is to say for most of us, it was some sort of integration. The elimination of white privilege, as it's defined, as something inherent to the white race, essentially means the elimination of the white race. But of course 'Whites' will decide how much white privilege is eliminated or purified. Everybody else who wants to speak up on behalf of a non-white race can complain forever. Then again that's the definition of race. You're either superior or sniveling. ”

“We should remember that it’s not inevitable that the label white should mean very much to its bearers. Some people are thinking, 'I’m a white person, so I’m going to do this,' and a lot of people don’t. Now, it would be reasonable to point out that if you’re not otherwise marked, then one reason why many liberal-minded white people don’t think about being white is that they don’t have to worry about the color of their skin because it isn’t, in the context of interactions with officials and so on, likely to be burdensome to them. But I think that it’s perfectly proper to insist that essentialism about whiteness is as absurd as essentialism about blackness or any of these other identities.

There’s lots and lots of, as it were, unearned class privilege in the United States and upper-middle-class black people get that too. So it’s not as if some people are permanently privileged by all their identities and other people are disprivileged by all of them.

There are contexts in which being black is a terrific thing in the United States. Because I am of African descent I have been treated extremely well in many contexts by African-Americans with whom I don’t have much history in common, just because we are both black. I mean, suppose I had been white, and otherwise had all the same properties that I have — I would have been, for them, an upper middle-class Englishman, and probably upper-middle-class Englishmen don’t seem like natural allies or friends for many African-Americans. For me, in many contexts in this country, being black has been a privilege as well as, no doubt, potentially the source of abuse or discrimination.”

“It’s been a privilege to share my own work and the work of other contemporary poets with strangers that crowdsourcing algorithms tell me I ought to have nothing in common with, and to hear people say things like, I’m white, you’re black; I’m from this place, you’re from another, and yet, when you talk about your father you restore my own father to me. This happens again and again, though the vocabulary for connection is different from person to person and poem to poem.

I think my interest in such a project is an extension of my own belief or wish that Americans of all backgrounds might have something quietly urgent and humanizing to offer to one another. But in order to get to it, we have to turn down the volume on all the many sources seeking to sell us on the notion of an unmendable divide — because that’s what they’re doing, they’re selling us on a product, which is strife. In order to get to community, we have to go quiet, slow down, allow ourselves to be both vulnerable and brave, and approach one another with an idea as simple as, I’m me, you’re you, we are not the same, and yet perhaps we can feel safe here together talking about something as simple as a poem.

“One of the hidden logics of multiculturalism is an attempt somehow to elide or distort or at least obfuscate the incredible heterogeneity and the raudous diversity that is contained in black identity—or any minority identity. Multiculturalism is a concession to the need to package black identity for a larger world, to be consumed. So in this case, multiculturalism is indivisible from the commodity fetishism and the consumptive realities of the American intellectual scene.

[Multiculturalism] argues that there is a kind of implicit equality of means by which people have access to the debate about what gets to constitute real knowledge. And the reality is that it’s radically unequal, it has tremendous marks of inequality, and those marks of inequality are marked in the very appropriation of marginalized minority discourses for the purposes of reproducing a hegemonic conception of what is real and authentic by using the name and the color of blackness to repress other dissident forms of blackness that challenge that narrow marker multiculturalism that has been prevalent. In that sense, the Real Black Person is being put forth. Here is the authentic African-American being put forth, not only for the consumptive desires of this market multiculturalism that demands the Real Black, but it’s the ability of this market multiculturalism to exclude the capacity of other, legitimate, powerful black voices to challenge that narrow hegemony and also to suggest that there are alternative versions of even that conception that need to be taken seriously.”

“To be black in America is not quite the same thing as to be black in South Africa or to be black even in Saudi Arabia, and so allowance must be made for the different ways that blackness has evolved in these different parts of the world. So what kind of reason draws all black people of Africa and the diaspora into one pool? Blackness is a fragmented notion that is now difficult to piece together into one single homogeneous experience. Languages, habit and customs are different, and with that come different conceptual thought-worlds. Brazilian blacks speak Portuguese, Columbian blacks speak Spanish, African Americans speak English and hardly any of these speak or can understand any African languages, all of which informs the way that each sees the world.”

“Those of us with identities that straddle disparate categories – such as multiracial people, like me – are more likely to be called out because we do not fit neatly into one group or another, and are often perceived as traitors already. We are the low-hanging fruit most susceptible to such policing, and being called out usually compounds our always-present feelings of rejection.”

“For far too long the field of African American/Afro-American/Black Studies has thought about race as the primary category of analysis for the work that proceeds from the field. The problem with such work has always been, and continues to be, that African Americans and African American experience are far more complicated than this. And it is time that we begin to understand what that means in the form of an everyday critical and political practice. Race is not simple. It has never been simple. It does not have the history that would make it so, no matter how much we may yearn for that degree of clarity.”

“The point is not simply that, since our racial differences do not constitute all of us, we are always different, negotiating different kinds of differences – of gender, of sexuality, of class. It is also that these antagonisms refuse to be neatly aligned; they are simply not reducible to one another; they refuse to coalesce around a single axis of differentiation. We are always in negotiation, not with a single set of oppositions that place us always in the same relation to others, but with a series of different positionalities. Each has for us its point of profound subjective identification. And that is the most difficult thing about this proliferation of the field of identities and antagonisms: they are often dislocating in relation to one another.”

“Modern African Americans wander between two worlds on both sides of the color line—one where race is theoretically minimized in importance, and the other world 'powerless to be born,' where that minimized theoretical construct provides no meaningful prenatal role in giving birth to actualizable individual self-conceptualizations, acquisition of postpartum desserts of moral and political agency, nor the sustaining economic communities where that newly birthed raceless being is nurtured.”

“That I’m a black writer whose work is dedicated to exploring the hybridity of African American culture and of American culture in general. That I don’t deny my white forebears, but I call myself African American, which means, to me, a person of African and Native American, Latin, or European descent. That I feel comfortable and historically grounded in this identity. That I find family there, whereas no white people have embraced me with their culture, have said to me, take this gift, it’s yours and we are yours, no problem. And that, by claiming African American and black, I also inherit a right to ask questions about what this identity means. And that, chances are, this identity will never be static, which is fine by me.”

“Work hard, child. Internalize the figures of your mother, your father, your parents (one omnipotent double-gendered personage). Internalize The Race. Internalize both races. Then internalize the contradictions. Teach your psyche to adapt its solo life to a group obbligato. Or else let it abandon any impulse toward independence and hurtle toward a feverishly perfect presentation of your people.”

“If I say that racism does not play a large role in my life, that statement doesn’t invalidate the effects of racism in another black person’s life. Nor does it mean that I don’t believe racism is itself a problem. It is simply an acknowledgement that the ‘black experience’ is not everywhere and always the same. The idea that racism is an omnipresent factor in the everyday life of black people and an all-purpose explanation for what ails them is ludicrous. The struggles and experiences of a black middle-class child from Kansas are not the same as the struggles of a black middle-class child from Maryland, which are not the same as the struggles of an inner city black child from St. Louis, Chicago, or Dallas, and so on. Individuals often have more in common with people from similar income classes than they do with those in their racial group, because income has become a larger discriminatory factor than race. This is consistently demonstrated in education and career statistics. Black Americans may be rich or poor, religious or atheist, academic and/or athletic, conservative or radical, and so on. To reduce the black identity to a vote determined by race or ethnicity is not only insulting, it’s frankly racist.”

“Having come of age in a small rural black community where any open expression of gay or lesbian sexuality was met with derision at best and violence at worst; having been socialized in a black Baptist church which preached the damnation of 'homosexuals'; having been trained in an African American Studies curriculum which provided no serious or sustained discussion of the specificity of African American lesbian and gay folk; and still feeling—even at the moment of this present writing—the overwhelming weight and frustration of having to speak in a race discourse that seems to have grown all too comfortable with the routine practice of speaking about a 'black community' as a discursive unit wholly separate from black lesbians and gay men (evidenced by the way we always speak in terms of the relationship of black gays and lesbians to the black community or to how we speak of the homophobia of the black community, etc.); all of this has led me to the conclusion that as a community of scholars who are serious about political change, healing black people, and speaking truth to black people, we must begin the important process of undertaking a truly more inclusive vision of 'black community' and of race discourse.”

“Employing a critique of essentialism allows African-Americans to acknowledge the way in which class mobility has altered collective black experience so that racism does not necessarily have the same impact on our lives. Such a critique allows us to affirm multiple black identities, varied black experience. It also challenges colonial imperialist paradigms of black identity which represent blackness one-dimensionally in ways that reinforce and sustain white supremacy. This discourse created the idea of the 'primitive' and promoted the notion of an 'authentic' experience, seeing as 'natural' those expressions of black life which conformed to a pre-existing pattern or stereotype. Abandoning essentialist notions would be a serious challenge to racism. Contemporary African- American resistance struggle must be rooted in a process of decolonization that continually opposes reinscribing notions of 'authentic' black identity.

When black folks critique essentialism, we are empowered to recognize multiple experiences of black identity that are the lived conditions which make diverse cultural productions possible. When this diversity is ignored, it is easy to see black folks as falling into two categories—nationalist or assimilationist, black-identified or white-identified. Coming to terms with the impact of postmodernism for black experience, particularly as it changes our sense of identity, means that we must and can rearticulate the basis for collective bonding. Given the various crises facing African-Americans (economic, spiritual, escalating racial violence, etc.) we are compelled by circumstance to reassess our relationship to popular culture and resistance struggle. Many of us are as reluctant to face this task as many non-black postmodern thinkers who focus theoretically on the issue of 'difference' are to confront the issue of race and racism.”

“The false choice between acknowledging the repugnant history of racism that informs the present, and the wish to accept the reality that a growing number of black people may nonetheless experience the freedom to define ourselves, is infantilizing. What this current moment of protest and awakening must lead us to, if it is to lead us anywhere, is a dignified means of fully inhabiting our ever more complicated identities.”

“Trauma is real; it is no joke. Mental health services and counseling are urgently needed. But reading black experience through trauma can easily slip into thinking of ourselves as victims and objects rather than agents, subjected to centuries of gratuitous violence that have structured and overdetermined our very being. In the argot of our day, 'bodies'—vulnerable and threatening bodies—increasingly stand in for actual people with names, experiences, dreams, and desires.”

“If I take your race away, and there you are, all strung out. And all you got is your little self, and what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself? I mean, these are the questions. Part of it is, 'yes, the victim. How terrible it’s been for black people.' I’m not a victim. I refuse to be one… if you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is that white people have a very, very serious problem and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.”

“If we continue to embrace this idea that nothing’s going to happen until absolutely the last vestige of racism has been extricated—that every time a police officer who happens to be white and an African American get into an altercation that leads to a violent encounter that maybe costs the life of an African American, that’s just another evidence of how Jim Crow is continuously with us—I don’t think those things are true as a statement about the country. And I think if people who embrace that view, who give up, kind of withdraw, say it’s on the white people to get their acts together and see us for the equal human beings that, in fact, we are—if that takes the place of our accepted responsibility for our own fate, [that’s a problem] because nobody is coming….

There really isn’t any alternative to agency especially with respect to the raising of our children, where the primary place that socialization of young people [takes place] in the family. It’s not a public activity. You send your children off to school, and there may be universal Pre-K...But there’s no substitute for the guidance and loving hand of structure, and the teaching and the infusion of norms and establishment of a sense of worth that’s happening inside the households where children are being raised.

Nobody is coming to do that job for us. That’s our responsibility. How could it be otherwise? What [kind of world would it] be in which our families were not primarily responsible for taking care of our kids? I don’t think I want to live in such a world…The ball is in our court, and that’s especially so with respect to the raising of our children.”

“The problem with fetishizing whiteness (and the white supremacist system we supposedly all inhabit), even beyond the way it fills public discourse with the sort of nonsense emitted by Prescod-Weinstein, is that it inspires a spirit of fatalism. Racism becomes a mystically evil force that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Black people are helpless victims who can be programmed like robots to do anything—even to hate Jews. By undermining black autonomy and promoting a spirit of racial determinism, progressive activists are undermining the very methods black people use every day to transform their lives and defeat racism.”

“This divisive message marks the black race as forever broken, a people whose healing can only come through the guilt, pity, and benevolence of whites. Tragically, we now see this playing out on our college campuses. As young white Americans acknowledge their skin color as a 'privilege,' young black Americans—with no apparent shame—accept their skin color as one that automatically confers victim status.”

“What is white guilt? It is not a personal sense of remorse over past wrongs. White guilt is literally a vacuum of moral authority in matters of race, equality, and opportunity that comes from the association of mere white skin with America’s historical racism. It is the stigmatization of whites and, more importantly, American institutions with the sin of racism. Under this stigma white individuals and American institutions must perpetually prove a negative–that they are not racist–to gain enough authority to function in matters of race, equality, and opportunity. If they fail to prove the negative, they will be seen as racists. Political correctness, diversity policies, and multiculturalism are forms of deference that give whites and institutions a way to prove the negative and win reprieve from the racist stigma.

Institutions especially must be proactive in all this. They must engineer a demonstrable racial innocence to garner enough authority for simple legitimacy in the American democracy. No university today, private or public, could admit students by academic merit alone if that meant no black or brown faces on campus. Such a university would be seen as racist and shunned accordingly. White guilt has made social engineering for black and brown representation a condition of legitimacy.”

“We are now to instruct black kids just a few years past diapers in this way of thinking—in studied despair over events far in the past, and a sense that it is more enlightened to think of yourself as a victim than as an actor. At no other point in human history have any people, under any degree of oppression, conceived of this kind of self-image as healthy—and no one could effectively argue that they were missing something that we have just figured out.”

“Reading Baradaran, Rothstein, and Coates, one gets the impression that there is nothing blacks could do to improve their lot—outside of asking the government for radical policy solutions. But there are things that blacks can do. Indeed, there are certain elements of black American culture that, if changed, would allow blacks to amass wealth to a degree that no government policy would be likely to match.”

“Standing in their champagne-stained scarlet rosettes, the merchants of victimhood profess comradery with young people but their ideology is one of green-eyed finger-pointing and despair-mongering. They ask my generation to blame the well-off families, to blame the private school kids, to blame capitalism. They talk down our country and its systems as if hard work never got you anywhere. But what they do not ask us to do is to be ambitious. This denial of personal responsibility by taking away the agency of young people is a massively retrograde step.”

“Is the choice really between wealthy conquerors and dispossessed victims, or can we imagine an Afroternative to both? Maybe it's in Ojih Odutola's yin-like depictions of black skin — multi-layered, mobile, full of depth and character, earthy, imperfect, but beautiful — that the most exciting possibilities lie. Look closely and you'll see no flat plane of colour but instead rivers and roads, paths and arrows, seeming to trace the many possible future directions of one of the most exciting young artists working today.”

“I see the same absurd, self-evidently infantile arguments being pushed over and over and over again. I see a lot of bullies, a lot of people who think a megaphone is a substitute for reason. I see a lot of lying and dishonesty in the way in which we approach these issues. I’m talking about racial inequality; I’m talking about what’s going with African Americans. I see a lot of bluffing. People think that the relative paucity of African Americans at the top of various fields like medicine or the sciences is the same thing as Jim Crow. They don’t engage with the problems of developing the intellectual potential of the African American population and the extent to which that’s not happening.”

“As my father once said to me, 'We love to blame everybody else for our failures, but we are quick to claim credit for our successes.' Instead of talking about reparations, perhaps Black America can focus on studying hard, working hard, and doing things other than looking centuries back to explain the current problems our community is facing.”

“Anyone familiar with the history of race relations in the Western Hemisphere would find it virtually impossible to deny that blacks in the United States have faced more hostility and discrimination than blacks in Latin America.  As just one example, 161 blacks were lynched in one year in the United States, but racial lynching was unknown south of the Rio Grande.  Perhaps the strongest case against the predominance of discrimination as an explanation of economic disparities would be a comparison of blacks in Haiti with blacks in the United States.  Since Haiti became independent two centuries ago, Haitian blacks should be the most prosperous blacks in the hemisphere and American blacks the poorest, if discrimination is the overwhelming factor, but in fact the direct opposite is the case.  It is Haitians who are the poorest and American blacks who are the most prosperous in the hemisphere— and in the world.

None of this should be surprising.  The fact that discrimination deserves moral condemnation does not automatically make it causally crucial.  Whether it is or is not in a given time and place is an empirical question, not a foregone conclusion.  A confusion of morality with causation may be politically convenient but that does not make the two things one.”

“The world is large and we humans are fickle. No color or continent has a monopoly on the act of plunder. Arabs have enslaved, Africans have been dictators, Asians have oppressed, and Europeans have pillaged. All colors, classes, and creeds have participated in domination of the other during the wild and wondrous history of mankind. This, again, is not whiteness nor is it a pathology belonging exclusively to a people with a particular skin color; it is human.”

“Reduction of black politics to a timeless struggle against abstractions like racism and white supremacy or for others like freedom and liberation obscures the extent to which black Americans’ political activity has evolved and been shaped within broader American political currents.

The objective of antiracist politics is less to explain, and thereby inform strategies for addressing, the dynamics that generate and reproduce inequalities than to assert a claim that 'racism' is the label that should attach to any and all injustices affecting black people. So, notwithstanding their dismissals of calls for grounding leftist strategy on challenging broad economic inequality as 'class reductionist,' advocates of contemporary antiracism in fact embrace a race reductionism.”

“People on the left of American politics who claim that 'white supremacy,' 'implicit bias,' and old-fashioned discrimination account for black disadvantage are daring you to disagree. Their implicit rebuke is that, if you do not agree, you are saying that there’s something intrinsically wrong with black people, or with black culture; you must be a racist who thinks that blacks are inferior. Otherwise, they say, how else could one explain the disparities? Behavior? That leads to the accusation that you are 'blaming the victim.' But this is a bluff. It is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand, a debater’s trick. Why? Consider a statement that 'mass incarceration,' the high number of blacks in jails and prisons, is self-evidently a sign of American racism. If you respond that it’s mainly a sign of the pathological behavior of criminals who happen to be black, you risk being called a racist. Yet common sense, not to mention the evidence, suggests that people are not being arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced because they are black. Rather, prisons are full of people who have broken the law, who have hurt other people, who have violated the basic rules of civility. Prison is not a conspiracy to confine black people. I maintain that no serious person believes that it is. Not really.”

“We, as it were, think we must teach 'society' not to be 'a racist.' Thus it is thought more interesting to teach whites to acknowledge their 'privilege' than to espouse reading programs that have been proven effective in teaching (black) kids how to read. Thus the last celebrity caught on tape saying something tacky about black people, because they have a face to hate on, is more interesting than answering poor women’s calls for easy access to long-acting reversible contraception in order to be able to plan when to have children. The war on drugs has been ruining black lives for decades — but only attracts serious attention from black activists when Michelle Alexander phrases it as 'The New Jim Crow,' putting a Bull Connor face on it.”

“Too often, Antiracism doctrine loses sight of what actually helps black people. Ritual 'acknowledgment' of White Privilege is, ultimately, for white people to feel less guilty. Social change hardly requires such self-flagellation by the ruling class. Similarly, black America needs no grand, magic End of Days in order to succeed. A compact program of on-the-ground policy changes could do vastly more than articulate yearnings for a hypothetical psychological revolution among whites that no one seriously imagines could ever happen in life as we know it.”

“We’re eager to speak for ourselves. But in our justified desire to level or even obliterate the old power structures—to reclaim our agency when it comes to the representation of selves—we can, sometimes, forget the mystery that lies at the heart of all selfhood. Of what a self may contain that is both unseen and ultimately unknowable. Of what invisible griefs we might share, over and above our many manifest and significant differences.”

“Being an Other, in America, teaches you to imagine what can’t imagine you. That’s your first education. Then comes the second. Call it your social and intellectual change. The world outside you gets reconfigured, and inside too. Patterns deviate and fracture. Hierarchies disperse. Now you can imagine yourself as central. It feels grand. But don’t stop there. Let that self extend into other narratives and truths.”

“We can study race seriously beyond the rewards or permission that this white discipline bestows on works that simply make Black thinkers into carbon copies of white thought. Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks are much more complex than any one ideology or any one American or Continental philosophical tradition.

I believe in a world where scholars who actually do research about Black people can challenge ideology, even though they may be demonized by their contemporaries."

“Before white contact with Africa, there was no blackness since blackness is a social classification or an invention of western obsession with categories. But at one time there was a world where black reason did not exist because there was no such a thing as black people, just people who thought and felt and tried to understand the world and their place in it. That world still exists in cultures so rich and dynamic that white domination and oppression have not erased a world that has not completely disappeared into the dark nights of racial discrimination. That culture is alive and well in literature, music, art, entertainment, intellectuality, politics, economics, science, religion, sports, and so on, and is not one that is weighed down by the constant refrain of oppression.”

“What meaning can blackness have today – given the history of its hysterical attribution as both essence and malediction – if one were to consign its image to history? Can one think blackness without thought itself producing delirious associations? If it is, lastly, the obscure image of blackness that has, over the last 400 years or thereabouts, and for very precise economic and psychical reasons, given rise to a delirious exclusion, then can blackness ever be simply a case of a new theoria, of a new seeing which isn’t already racially blinded and blinding? And if blackness is the figure through which the world has become increasingly technical in its very worldliness, does this really mean that the phenomenological anthropology of the world just is black reason?”

“We understand blackness as a name given to the general antagonism, one that operates as a dialectic between racial capitalism and black radicalism, since the opening of the modern projects of racial slavery and colonialism. In other words, we understand blackness historically, as the external imposition of a racial ontology which is particular to populations racialized as black. At the same time, the internal production of racial ontologies of blackness by black diasporans have destabilized the claim that any racial category is given, or natural. Nahum Chandler has written of this double character of blackness as a fundamental problematic to any notion of categorisation because of its 'paraontological' status. By this he means that any iteration of blackness involves the shattering of the basis of racial purity in all its forms, in the service of the affirmation of dehiscient non-exclusionary improvisations of collective being. The 'paraontology' of blackness is the constant escape of blackness from the fixity of racial ontology that structures white supremacy.”

“The only appropriate response to raciology is to demand liberation, not from white supremacy alone, but from all racializing and raciological thought, from racialized seeing, racialized thinking and racialized thinking about thinking.”

“Racism-as-ideology and xenophobia-as-ideology are names which human beings have ascribed to ideas and concepts which have become sentient, which refuse or are ambivalent towards humanity’s attempts to bind them in order to humanistically study and understand them. Racism as an idea is perhaps as old as the Romans; contemporary ideas of race may seem as old as time, but the function of classifying human beings based on their phenotype, of comparing the normative self with the aberrant other, is in your body, is central to your human being. You cannot remove it from your body, for this would be like removing language; it would make you fundamentally unhuman.

What is not in your body, however, is the system which encodes the human propensity or desire to seek out bodily information (these, too, are signs) and to make sense of them through ideological systems.”

“It's not that there's some people who are post-black and some are not. We're in a post-black era, where identity-freedom is infinity and you can be black however you choose. And as Skip Gates says, if there's 40 million black people, there's 40 million ways of being black. These concepts of authenticity and legitimacy are vanquished and bankrupt and illegitimate themselves.”

“The real fantasy is that we can get out of one another’s way, make a clean cut between black and white, a final cathartic separation between us and them. For the many of us in loving, mixed families, this is the true impossibility. There are people online who seem astounded that Get Out was written and directed by a man with a white wife and a white mother, a man who may soon have—depending on how the unpredictable phenotype lottery goes—a white-appearing child. But this is the history of race in America. Families can become black, then white, then black again within a few generations. And even when Americans are not genetically mixed, they live in a mixed society at the national level if no other. There is no getting out of our intertwined history.

Get Out—as evidenced by its huge box office—is the right movie for this moment. It is the opposite of post-black or postracial. It reveals race as the fundamental American lens through which everything is seen. That part, to my mind, is right on the money. But the 'us' and 'them'? That’s a cheaper gag. Whether they like it or not, Americans are one people. (And the binary of black and white is only one part of this nation’s infinitely variegated racial composition.) Lobotomies are the cleanest cut; real life is messier.”

“When we give 'race,' with its retinue of historical and discursive investments, primacy over other signifiers of difference, the result is a network of critical blindnesses which prevent us from perceiving the ways in which the conventions of race discourse get naturalized and normativized. These conventions often include, especially in cases involving—though not exclusive to—black cultural nationalism, the denigration of homosexuality and the accompanying peripheralization of women. Underlying much of race discourse, then, is always the implication that all 'real' black subjects are male and heterosexual.

Race is, indeed, a fiction, an allegory, if you will, with an elaborate linguistic court. Knowing that, more needs to be done to reimagine race; to create new and inclusive mythologies to replace the old, weather-worn, heterosexual masculinity-centered ones; to reconstitute 'the black community' as one which includes our various differences as opposed to the monolith to which we inevitably seem to return.”

“As a young black writer myself, I understand the urge to resist business as usual: white privilege and microaggressions and slavery and racism over and over and over—the 'Black [blank] Matter' editorial style. The mainstream media does, too often, promote one kind of black voice—partly to maximize appeal within such a minority, and partly because America does still see black people as a hive mind. Blackness, as a cultural heritage, has always depended on collectivity, solidarity, and community. And like in any community, this can give way to groupthink, tribalism, and mob mentality.

“My work is committed to an intersectional approach to the complexity of identity, so this necessitates always considering the ways that gender, race, and sexuality are interconnected. But I also resist essentializing black culture and history, and refuse to hermetically seal it away from other histories of social and political struggle, or other intellectual and creative traditions.”

“Intersectionality’s intellectual flaws translate into moral shortcomings. Importantly, it is blind to forms of harm that occur within identity groups. For a black woman facing discrimination from a white man, intersectionality is great. But a gay woman sexually assaulted by another gay woman, or a black boy teased by another black boy for 'acting white,' or a Muslim girl whose mother has forced her to wear the hijab will find that intersectionality has no space for their experiences. It certainly does not recognize instances in which the arrow of harm runs in the 'wrong' direction—a black man committing an anti-Semitic hate crime, for instance. The more popular intersectionality becomes, the less we should expect to hear these sorts of issues discussed in public.”

“Intersectionality’s greatest flaw is in reducing human beings to political abstractions, which is never a tendency that turns out well—in part because it so severely flattens our complex human experience, and therefore fails to adequately describe reality. As it turns out, one can be personally successful and still come from a historically oppressed community—or vice versa. The human experience is complex and multifaceted and deeper than the superficial ways in which intersectionalists describe it.”

“We must all navigate fears and ambitions and insecurities and our sense of purpose and meaning in the world, whether we are white and rich and high status or we are poor and coming from an inner-city background.

[Intersectionality] seems to understand the meaning of life only in a materialist way, which is, in my opinion, neither the primary form of meaning nor the most interesting form of meaning. So in that sense, I think it would be very difficult for people who really believe in intersectionality to produce great art. I am an African-American woman and if I believed in certain intersectionalist ideas, I would say that you couldn’t possibly understand my experience as a human being because we come from different backgrounds. But anyone who knows anything about art, whether you’re producing music or literature or a painting, knows that the role of the artist is to facilitate an experience in which the audience can see themselves in the work of the artist. If you subscribe to the idea that someone can’t possibly feel your experience or empathize with your experience because they don’t look like you, how can you experience art? What is the relationship you have with art?”

“To me, artists are constantly grappling with the questions of our time, whether in terms of race, identity, the environment, or imagining new futures. Often artists are the first to those questions—not politicians, not activists. When Tyler Mitchell thinks about blackness and diversity, he’s thinking about the American self and where blackness can be expressed in leisure. A refusal of traditional capitalist structures that has literally tied the black body to labor, to productivity. In art, often black people are seen doing something—protesting, playing sports, they’re active—and that action justifies their presence. To refuse that in an image is significant. That’s an artist thinking about the available images, and how they can make a contribution that expands the narrative of blackness.”

“When I started working with black, ballpoint pen ink, it was to get at this concept of Black skin that I could not wrap my head around. I wanted to usurp this notion of Blackness as a monolithic entity and break it into something looser, more fluid and more accessible. The more multifaceted I could get the skin to be, the more I felt that the skin could be removed from staid interpretations and into something more neutral. I felt the same about White as a color. As I proceeded with charcoal, this same notion applied only I began to realize that race was becoming less of a concern and more of an encumbrance. So, the marks began to change, they became heavier, more layered, more sinewy and, ultimately, more elusive. As I mentioned before, the subject was no longer an issue, because the marks on their own proved to be more engaging as an agent to compose the image. Once you remove the context of skin color and race from the image, you get something that is more indicative of how you see an image, which is far deeper that the superficial connotations we associate with color. From there, you question the most basic assessments and with that you can move into places you never thought you could go or, at least, those places you never considered, which, ironically, leads you back to race, begging the question of why we have such limited perceptions in the first place.”

“As long as the discourse of black identity continues to cater to white spectators, no matter how small the extent, then masculine identity will continue to be privileged in the conversation to the marginalization of feminine identity. And, as long as the discourse of black identity continues to privilege masculinity and marginalize femininity (among other perspectives), then the future possibilities for what definitions of black identity can be will continue to be circumscribed. However, by ignoring the white gaze and expanding the scope of the discourse to include the perspectives of identity groups within black America which have been traditionally excluded (e.g. black women and black queer people), black Americans can open the borders of black identity for exploration, moving the conversation into new uncharted territories.”

“‘Black Masculinity’ simply is not one thing. There are so many facets, complex layers, as with any identity.

Photography has a way of asking the viewer to question their own biases and preconceived notions. It dares us to at least try to think about our world view from another perspective, even at our own discomfort — to dive into a true human experience that is diverse beyond any label that we could imagine.”

“I feel like being a Black male is always seen as a monolith. You get boxed into stereotypes — you have to be a gangster, or a macho man with no feelings.

I just kind of want to throw away the boxes. I want to show that Black men can be feminine. Because there is actually no definition of what it means to be a Black man — you just are Black, and you can express that however you want to.

I feel there is a lot more acceptable fluidity to men that aren't of colour from within their communities. As a Black community, we're only now just having the lexicon to talk about queerness. It's still very taboo.”

“Until the end of the ‘90s, I set upon a path where I created a world that I could happily live in, one in which the viewer’s expectations of color are challenged — skin tones became blue, purple and orange; moving away from the binary idea of race.”

“The drive to flatten difference, the inclination to erase and define ourselves against some other, is something we can never allow ourselves to condone. We must always be on the side that celebrates and cultivates variety, accepting without fetishizing difference. We must confront our biases at every turn.”

“When I'm asked what race I am, I say 'I'm the human race'. And when you recognize that any two people in the world actually have a common ancestor not very far back in the tree of life, to sit here and tribalize by whatever possible little difference we can find among ourselves, rather than seeing what we actually have in common, is an abomination of civilization.”

“I refuse complicity with any of you if I can’t speak the truth that is mine. On my body is inscribed the future. I’ll keep my hands around your throat until you claim me. I am yours. I am yours. I am.”


Voices: Funmilola Fagbamila, Adolph Reed, X Gerard Lee, Michael DC Bowen, George Elliott Clarke, Kai M Green, Kaila Philo, Randall Kennedy, Zinzi Clemmons, Quil Lemons, Paul Gilroy, Petal Samuel, Shelby Steele, Erec Smith, Derek Conrad Murray, Barbara J. Fields, Violet Allen, Antwaun Sargent, Cinque Henderson, Glenn Loury, Ben Obese-Jecty, Anwar Y. Dunbar, Danzy Senna, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Kristal Brent Zook, Margo Jefferson, Richard A. Jones, John McWhorter, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Tracy K. Smith, Michael Eric Dyson, Gabriel O Apata, Dwight A Mcbride, Stuart Hall, Lisa Jones, Tosin Akintola, bell hooks, Robin D. G. Kelley, Toni Morrison, Ralph Leonard, Burgess Owens, Coleman Hughes, Mercy Muroki, Zadie Smith, Solomon Green, Thomas Sowell, Chloé Valdary, Tommy Curry, David Marriott, Black Study Group, Touré, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Gregory Coleman, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Lola Flash, Neil Tyson

New quotations added periodically.




ʙᴀᴄᴋ ᴛᴏ ᴛᴏᴘ