I’m tired, y’all. Tired of reading about everything that’s going on. Tired of being tired of hearing about stuff I know I need to be paying more attention to. Tired of things going back to normal. Tired of weird stares on the street. Tired of being watched on our way to the protest. Tired of feeling the need to participate or to be a part of a solution. Tired of defending rebellion. Tired of historicizing revolt. Tired of trying to think of a way to make my work more about the pressing issues facing people like me in the world. Tired of debating the utility of my work with myself. Tired of ‘deferring to people who know more about these issues.’ Tired of the weight of my silence. Tired of three-minute spurts of social media use before I’ve seen too much. Tired of seeing the same posts reshared.
Tired of strange fruit. Tired of despising black trans people. Tired of not caring about black women. Tired of not hearing black women. Tired of not seeing black women. Tired of wishing black queer people would ‘not be so aggressive’ or ‘in our face.’
Tired of continuing to invest energy in white people, in white feelings, in whiteness, even when you swear you’re doing no such thing.
Tired of feeling compelled to watch videos of Black people getting killed because I watch every single one of them. Tired of feeling that familiar anticipatory numbness, seeing the mist of blood and the vertiginous swirl of the bodycams. Tired of hearing the pleas. Tired of reading the pleas. Tired of feeling hollow.
Tired of the ongoing existential crisis that is being black in an antiblack world. Tired of defending the dead. Tired of the Zong, the Amistad. Tired of Harper’s Ferry, Gettysburg. Tired of Gorée, Christiansborg, Whydah. Tired of Matouba. Tired of not being able to fly home. Tired of homesickness for nowhere. Tired of talk of return. Tired of the ghosts in my mouth.
Tired like ER Braithwaite when he sat beside a white liberal man on a train in the Northeast United States and become someone else’s negro. Tired because I’m still stuck reading Black Skins, White Masks when y’all are re-re-rereading The Wretched of the Earth. Tired of seeing things from multiple angles. Tired of being diplomatic, apologetic, a devil’s advocate.
Tired of talking. Tired of my own voice. Tired of my epidermalization. Tired of history.
Tired of making myself small for other people. Tired of being the only Black person at the department party. Tired of asking ‘would they have said this to a white person?’ Tired of defending transracial coalitions. Tired of reminding other black people that your blackness doesn’t excuse or explain away your discrimination of other nonwhite groups.
Tired of buying things at the store because if I leave emptyhanded, I’m a thief. Tired of needing a receipt.
Tired of explaining my theory of blackness. Tired of theorizing an impossible world without race or gender or sexuality. Tired of prophesizing. Tired of being read as a pessimist. Tired of expecting my optimism to be legible. Tired of being both Caliban and Ariel. Tired of being Othello. Tired of being my own Iago. Tired of my créolité.
Tired of the word ‘abjection’ at the back of my throat. Tired of being the ‘race person.’ Tired of being the resident postcolonial theorist. Tired of defending postcolonial theory. Tired of postcolonial theory.
I’m tired of being everyone else’s negro. I’m tired of being my own negro. I’m tired. Leave me alone.
I began 2019 on a plane to Paris. I was going to conduct some archival research, or at least this was my excuse. In hindsight, I didn’t really do much research, although I did spend most of my time in the belly of the BnF. I went for the purpose of pushing myself to do something I found kind of frightening. The prospect of traveling to another country unaccompanied made me a bit too aware of how free I truly am. I write this two days after leaving the infantile protection I still enjoy within my parent’s presence, having returned to New Haven where I’m entirely an adult, like it or not. A year ago, the notion of my independence, much coveted as a child, filled me with an unanticipated kind of dread. Even though I had technically been living on my own as an adult during my first two years of grad school, I hardly felt as if I really was independent. Yale had taken over my guardianship, was paying me an allowance, taking me to my doctor’s appointments while giving me enough space to think I was doing all of these things myself (all that’s changed is my awareness of this). Yet, I still found myself frightened by my own freedom. The existential cliff of being autonomous and ungoverned, finally cast off into dark and ominous waters. I could go to Paris and have experiences I think I need. I could stay and wonder what would have happened had I gone. In both scenarios, I would be forced to bear my own consequences.
I had to acknowledge that it was me who controlled the tempo and key of my life.
That this frightened me so much, as I was forcing myself to apply for the grants, come up with the project description, get the letters of recommendation, buy my tickets, and book my lodging, told me one important thing about myself: I did not trust myself. I had my freedom finally, but I did not know what freedom meant or that freedom could possibly feel so undesirable once it was attained. The burden of choice, the threat of repercussions. Placed atop my feigned belief in being able to handle anything the world or God threw my way, my mental composition seemed unfit to handle the everyday crisis of being. At times I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, that things were too hard. Like most people my age, I leaned into the web of lies that tells us that other people can steel our resolve, that things like love and companionship can illuminate the sea’s darkness. I grew lovesick for love I’ve never had. The notion of friends having social connections to which I was not firmly attached bothered me, because I perceived of their activities together, as friends among themselves, as based on my exclusion. How absurd, but one cannot really be aware of oneself when they are so preconditioned to silence reason when feeling takes the mic. I expected people to just “get me” and for me to just “get people,” because it all seemed so easy when I looked in on other people’s lives.
My voyeurism told me that I was insufficient in some way. I had convinced myself that something out there could fix the aching lack, and I was disappointed when I could not manage to find this something.
All the while, I had not been able to name what was ailing me.
I was too naïve to realize that my pain wasn’t any different than anyone else’s, and that for most it was a tolerable, perhaps even permissible, pain. A pain for which the word pain may seem even too harsh, too acute. Not a pain, but an ache. Not an ache, but discomfort. A bit of gas Indigestion. Nausea.
I started wondering at 14 if, when I was being assembled at the plant, someone had fastened something a bit too tight
Added a bit too much of a strong ingredient.
Overcooked, overstuffed, ruined it?
Had someone let the pot boil dry?
And if so, must the boy be thrown away?
Calvin Warren, Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism and Emancipation, Duke University Press, 2018
Calvin Warren’s book Ontological Terror opens with an anecdote. Invited to “meditate on [the] globalized sadism” of antiblackness at a conference at which he anticipated “a festival of humanism in which presenters would share their solutions to the problem of antiblackness (if they acknowledged antiblackness),” Warren’s presentation is met with outright hostility from a crowd typically used to the “’yes we can!’ rhetoric and unbounded optimism” of what he defines as the Black humanist tradition. Early on in Ontological Terror, Warren cleaves himself from what he understands to be the mainstream of Black thinkers, philosophers and social critics by ascribing himself to a heavily Heideggerian camp of what can ostensibly be labeled “Afro-nihilism.” I do not offer this label glibly, in order to signal at the Afropessimist work which hums throughout Ontological Terror; I do so to highlight a specific agenda which is at the center of this short albeit sweeping text. Warren posits, in his response to the outrage of his critique of humanism, of the falsity and impossibility of social reform for what he perceives to be the hearthstone of Western (“world”) civilization – antiblackness, – that the source of the Black intellectual malaise in response to continued violence against Black people is precisely a Black intellectual indebtedness to humanism and postmetaphysics as frameworks wherein Black subjectivity can be isolated and liberated from the bondage of antiblackness. Warren does not posit a posthuman framework, insofar that the affix post may insinuate a departure from a previously established framework, but argues for a kind of antihumanism, an “ontological revolution” which departs from a European intellectual milieu which has been assimilated into a Black cultural perspective and moves towards a framework which can expose the “nothing” of Black being. Or, at least, this is what I read Ontological Terror to be doing. In order to redeem what in many ways is a troubling and disturbing text, I offer this absolutory reading, in hopes that my own interventions, from my intellectual and personal subject position, can situate a text like Ontological Terror. In many ways, this is not possible within our current academic, philosophical and cultural context – how exactly can we approach a humanistic study of Black life if we assume that Black people are in fact not human subjects?Continue reading “abyssal antihumanism”