Afro-Pessimism and the End of Redemption

Frank B. Wilderson III University of California, Irvine
Abstract: This essay addresses the tenets of Afro-Pessimism in relation to the condition of slavery, Blackness, and Black nonexistence. It is contended that the condition of Blackness is unique, is coterminous with Slaveness, and is synonymous with social death, and that for slaves there was never a prior meta-moment of plenitude, a moment of equilibrium, or a moment of social life. The lack of narrative and historicity are discussed as related to Slaveness and social death as well as to the organizational calculus of the Humanities writ large. At the heart of this essay is the assertion that Black emplotment is a catastrophe for narrative at a meta-level rather than a crisis or aporia within a particular narrative. Social death is aporetic with respect to narrative writ large (and, by extension, to redemption, writ large).


It is my conviction that Black people embody (which is different from saying are always willing or allowed to express) a meta-aporia for Humanist thought and action. In its critique of social movements, Afro-Pessimism argues that Blacks do not function as political subjects; instead, our flesh and energies are instrumentalized for postcolonial, immigrant, feminist, LGBT, and workers’ agendas. These so-called allies are never authorized by Black agendas predicated on Black ethical dilemmas. A Black radical agenda is terrifying to most people on the Left because it emanates from a condition of suffering for which there is no imaginable strategy for redress—no narrative of redemption.

It is my conviction that Black people embody (which is different from saying are always willing or allowed to express) a meta-aporia for Humanist thought and action.

I was living in Minneapolis, doing work around the First Palestinian Intifada (1988–89). I was sitting on a grassy knoll trying to console a Palestinian friend of mine whose cousin had blown himself up (accidentally) while making a bomb in the West Bank. My friend was speaking openly and without his internal censors at work, which was fine—he was grieving. At one point, he said that it was really shameful and humiliating the way Israeli men ran their hands over your body when they stop you at a checkpoint. Then he said that the deepest sense of humiliation was felt when the Israeli soldier was an Ethiopian Jew.

Needless to say, this tidbit of information gave me pause. I didn’t know what to make of this. I was pleased that he felt so comfortable with me that he could speak openly and honestly, but I was also deeply hurt at the thought that my place in the collective unconscious of Arabs was the same location of general dishonor (Patterson) that I occupied in the collective unconscious of White Americans. I gathered enough wits about me to inform him that that was odd, seeing as how the Palestinians were at war with Israelis, and White Israelis at that! How was it that people who stole his land and slaughtered his relatives were somehow less of a threat than the speaking implements (the Black Jews) White Israelis got to do their dirty work? What was it about Blacks that made us so fungible (Hartman 1997) we could be tossed like salad in the minds of oppressors and of the oppressed who were not Black? I was faced with the realization that, in the collective unconscious, the Palestinian insurgent has more in common with Israeli state and civil society than s/he does with Black people. What they share is a largely unconscious consensus that Blackness is a locus of abjection (Marriott 2000, 2007) to be instrumentalized on a whim. At one moment Blackness is a disfigured and disfiguring phobic phenomenon; at another moment Blackness is a sentient implement to be joyously deployed for reasons and agendas that have little to do with Black liberation (Marriott 2000). There I sat, yearning, in solidarity with my Palestinian friend’s yearning, for the full restoration of Palestinian sovereignty; mourning, in solidarity with my friend’s mourning, over the loss of his insurgent cousin; yearning, that is, for the historical and political redemption of what I thought was a violated Commons to which we both belonged—when, all of a sudden, my friend reached down into the libidinal economy of his subjective coherence and the coherence of his people and slapped me upside the head with a wet gym shoe: the startling realization that not only was I barred, ab initio, from the denouement of redemption, but that the borders of redemption are policed by Whites and non-Whites alike.

I realize, now, that it’s worse than that. I, as Black person (if person, subject, being are terms we can use) am both barred from the denouement of redemption and, simultaneously, needed if redemption is to attain any form of coherence. Without the articulation of a common negrophobogenesis, shared by both Israeli and Palestinian, the narrative coherence of their bloody conflict would evaporate. My friend’s, and his country’s women’s and men’s negrophobogenesis, is the bedrock, the concrete slabs upon which any edifice of Human articulation (whether love or war) is built.

We must come to grips with how the redemption of the subaltern (a narrative, for example, of Palestinian plenitude, loss, and restoration) is made possible by the (re)instantiation of a regime of violence that bars Black people from the imaginary of redemption.

If the disciplines which comprise the Humanities are to rid themselves of the parasitism that they heretofore have had in common with radical and progressive movements on the Left, that is, if our disciplinary labors are to face, rather than disavow, the discrepancy between Humans who suffer through an "economy of disposability" (Sexton 2015) and Blacks who suffer by way of "social death" (Patterson 1982), then we must come to grips with how the redemption of the subaltern (a narrative, for example, of Palestinian plenitude, loss, and restoration) is made possible by the (re)instantiation of a regime of violence that bars Black people from the imaginary of redemption. (How this affects Black daily life is explored in two videos: "Reparations…Now,", and "Re-Imagining the Black Body: Race, Memory, and the Excavation of Freedom Now,"


Afro-Pessimism is premised on an iconoclastic claim: that Blackness is coterminous with Slaveness. Blackness is social death, which is to say that there was never a prior meta-moment of plenitude, never a moment of equilibrium, never a moment of social life. Blackness, as a paradigmatic position (rather than as an ensemble of identities, cultural practices, or anthropological accoutrement), cannot be disimbricated from slavery. The narrative arc of the slave who is Black (unlike Orlando Patterson’s generic slave who may be of any race) is not an arc at all, but a flat line, what Hortense Spillers (2003) calls "historical stillness": a flat line that "moves" from disequilibrium to a moment in the narrative of faux equilibrium, to disequilibrium restored and/or rearticulated. To put it differently, the violence which both elaborates and saturates Black "life" is totalizing, so much so as to make narrative inaccessible to Blacks. This is not simply a problem for Black people. It is a problem for the organizational calculus (Spillers 2003) of the Humanities writ large. Foundational to the labors of disciplines housed within the Humanities is the belief that all sentient beings can be emplotted as narrative entities, that every sentient subject is imbued with historicity, and this belief is subtended by the idea that all beings can be redeemed. Historicity and redemption are inextricably bound. Both are inherently anti-Black in that without the psychic and/or physical presence of a sentient being that is barred, ab initio, from narrative and, by extension, barred from redemption, the arc of redemption would lack any touchstones of cohesion. One would not be able to know what a world devoid of redemption looks like. There would, in fact, exist a persona who is adjacent to redemption, that is, a degraded humanity that struggles to be re-redeemed (i.e., LGBT people, Native Americans, Palestinians). However, redemption’s semiotics of meaning would still be incoherent because adjacency is supplemental to meaning; contradistinction is essential to meaning and coherence—and for this, redemption requires not degraded humanity but abject inhumanity. Abject inhumanity stabilizes the redemption of those who do not need it, just as it mobilizes the narrative project of those who strive to be re-redeemed.

At the heart of my argument is the assertion that Black emplotment is a catastrophe for narrative at a meta-level rather than a crisis or aporia within a particular narrative. To put it differently, social death is aporetic with respect to narrative writ large (and, by extension, to redemption, writ large).

At the heart of my argument is the assertion that Black emplotment is a catastrophe for narrative at a meta-level rather than a crisis or aporia within a particular narrative. To put it differently, social death is aporetic with respect to narrative writ large (and, by extension, to redemption, writ large).

If social death is aporetic with respect to narrative, this is a function of both space and time, or, more precisely, their absence. Narrative time is always historical (imbued with historicity): "It marks stasis and change within a [human] paradigm, [but] it does not mark the time of the [human] paradigm, the time of time itself, the time by which the slave’s dramatic clock is set. For the slave, historical ‘time’ is not possible" (Wilderson 2010, 339). Social death bars the slave from access to narrative, at the level of temporality; but it also does so at the level of spatiality. The other element that constitutes narrative is setting, or mise-en-scène, or for a larger conceptualization, we might follow H. Porter Abbott (2008) and say "story world." But just as there is no time for the slave, there is also no place of the slave. The slave’s reference to his or her quarters as home does not change the fact that it is a spatial extension of the master’s dominion.

Patterson’s (1982) three constituent elements of slavery—naked (or gratuitous) violence, general dishonor, and natal alienation—make the temporal and spatial logic of the entity and of setting untenable, impossible to conceive (as in birth) and/or conceive of (as in assume any coherence). The violence of slavery is not precipitated as a result of any transgression that can be turned into an event (which is why I have argued that this violence is gratuitous, not contingent); the dishonor embodied by the slave is not a function of an event, either; his or her dishonor is general, as Patterson writes, or as David Marriott has argued, it is best understood as abjection rather than as degradation (the latter implies a transition); and since a slave is natally alienated, s/he is never an entity in the meta-narrative genealogy.

Some might argue that I’ve gone too far—Patterson might be such a person, even though Slavery and Social Death functions as a kind of ur-text for my work. In Patterson’s text, we find a recurrence of the words recruit, recruited, and recruitment. Patterson writes that the slave—however he or she is recruited (whether in war or in a general hunt for slaves or as a form of ultimate punishment)—becomes socially dead by way of recruitment. He might launch a counterargument to what I have just said by asserting that the verb recruited implies an event, the event of recruitment, which, subsequently, would mean that social death is not irreconcilable with narrative, that the moment prior to recruitment is a moment of plenitude, the narrative event of equilibrium. From there, it would follow that the instantiation of social death (recruitment) becomes an event of disequilibrium, one which is pregnant with the possibility of change—and that possibility of change, when achieved or imagined, becomes the third episode in a generic narrative arc, a movement to equilibrium restored. Patterson would likely flag the conceptual snarl that the issue of manumission presents to the logic of narrative. I also suspect he would theorize the conundrum of manumission as an aporetic problem within a narrative of enslavement, whereas I am arguing that social death is an interrogation, a meta-aporia, of narrative as a form.

This claim bumps up against a limit in Patterson’s own theory of aporia articulated through the problem of manumission. Patterson claims that it is "impossible to express," or, one might say, impossible to narrate "the idea of manumission in terms of any appropriate legal-economic category." One might reference the "legal institution" of "conveyance," but Patterson concludes that "the manumission transaction is only analogous, it is not identical to [conveyance]." In conveyance, what the "seller hands over and what the buyer receives are one and the same thing." The same cannot be said of manumission, "even where the slave or someone else pays dearly for the slave’s release. For the master does not convey dominium or power to the slave; [the master] merely releases him from his dominium" (Patterson 1982, 210).

The free person is not purchasing the slave from her/his master. The social and legal capital manifest in the slave’s movement from captivity to "freedom" is a transaction between members of the master class, one in which the slave, though no longer chattel, is still not constituted as a subject of transaction. S/he is merely the object of transaction. S/he is not, nor has s/he ever been, a subject of conveyance. We see here how the (narrative) snarl of manumission upsets the possibility of a Black person (whether "free" or chattel) ever achieving the narrative status Abbot associates with "entities."


The expanding field of Afro-Pessimism elaborates a paradigmatic critique of the Human that reckons civil society’s perverse and parasitic relation to the hydraulics of anti-Black violence. A poem I wrote in the wake of Oscar Grant’s assassination[1] offers a synchronic instance illustrative of the incomprehensibility of the Black’s required absence from the spatiotemporal structure of narrative. The poem is symptomatic of the argument that social death is the very meta-aporia that interrogates narrative as form and exposes redemption as an anti-Black modality. This point is clarified when the unattainable denouement of Black death is compared to the inherent denouement of Native American death; when, in other words, the "deathliness" (Marriott 2007) of social death is compared to the life-affirming denouement that mobilizes something as horrific as subaltern genocide. To illustrate what I mean, I offer an excerpt from Simon Ortiz’s epic poem, Sand Creek, followed by my poem, "Law Abiding." Juxtaposing these two poems will help to clarify how the regime of violence that saturates Blacks is structurally incompatible with a regime of violence where contingency, as opposed to saturation, is the operative modality, and how only one regime of violence comes with touchstones of cohesion necessary for redemption.


From Sand Creek

There should be

moments of true terror

that would make men think

and that would cause women

to grab hold of children,

loving them, and saving them

for the generations

who would enjoy the rain.

Who are

these farmers,

who are these welders,

who are these scientists,

who are those soldiers

with cold flashing brilliance

and knives.

Who struck aside

the sacred dawn

and was not ashamed

before the natural sun and dew


they splattered blood

along their mad progress;

they claimed the earth

and stole hearts and tongues

from buffalo and men,

the skilled

butchers, aerospace engineers,

physicists they became.

The future should hold them

secret, hidden and profound.


"Law Abiding"

for Oscar Grant (February 27, 1986– January 1, 2009)

Don’t slant the story to fit your needs

Bullets been catching hell from niggers long as I been


Like apples ok you got your few bad bullets

But most work hard and vote yes they vote and

Got wives and sweet kids in the clip

Who cradles them when a nigger vamps who says

What to them

Mrs. Bullet I have some bad news

Then what

It’s about your husband Mr. John Fredrick Bullet


May I call you Frieda

Frieda John Fredrick passed this evening

Now Frieda be strong for unsavory

Are the details

He died in a nigger’s spine

Crushed on impact now Frieda don’t cry

The D.A.’s on it

The judge has been briefed

And your husband’s friends are

In the streets

At first blush an exegesis might be seduced into emphasizing what the poems have in common—the ravages of structural violence on two oppressed populations of color. But another look reveals that the two poems are actually symptomatic of the fact that violence against Native Americans is not analogous to the violence by which Blacks are elaborated and positioned. The violence of social death (that violence which elaborates and reproduces the slave) is fundamentally different from the violence which usurps Native American land and attempts to destroy the Indian’s cultural and territorial sovereignty. The imaginative labor of these poems is symptomatic of this difference.

In the first section of Sand Creek, the poem establishes the filial integrity of the people who are being massacred ("men [who] think…[and] women who grab hold of children, loving them, and saving them for the generations who would enjoy the rain…") So, what we have is an intuition on the part of the poet that even though the people being killed are seen as a degraded form of humanity, their humanity is fundamentally acknowledged; and, in addition, there is a symbiosis (a kind of cruel interdependence) between the genocided victims (in the opening part of the poem) and the descendants of those committing the genocide ("skilled butchers, aerospace engineers, physicists…"). In other words, the relational status of both the Indian victims and the White oppressors is established—a reciprocal dynamic is acknowledged (between degraded humanity, Indians, and exalted humanity, White settlers).

This reciprocal dynamic is based on the fact that even though one group is massacring the other, both exist within the same paradigm of recognition and incorporation. Their relation is based on a mutual recognition of sovereignty. At every scale of abstraction, body, family, community, cosmology, physical terrain, Native American sovereignty is recognized and incorporated into the consciousness of both Indians and settlers who destroyed them. The poem’s coherence is sustained by structural capacity for reciprocity between the genociders and the genocided. This structural reciprocity gives the poem a vision of hope amid the violence, manifested in a sense of spatial presence (images of land and weather) and in Ortiz’s sense that for both groups a future is possible. This means the violence the Indians suffer has a utility (confiscation and occupation of land) that makes it legible and coherent.

"Law Abiding" is predicated on the absence of reciprocity, utility, and contingency that Simon Ortiz’s poem takes for granted. Absence of humanity. In fact, the poem suggests that a family of murdering, inanimate bullets could have its grief and loss processed as grief and loss more readily than the family of a Black murder victim. "Law Abiding" doesn’t assume that the touchstones of cohesion which make filiation legible will or can be extended to Blacks. There is—in this poem—no mutual futurity into which Blacks and others will find themselves. The future belongs to the bullet. Filiation belongs to the bullet. Our caring energies will be reserved not for the Black but for the bullet. Reciprocity is not a constituent element of the struggle between beings who are socially dead and those who are socially alive—the struggle between Blacks and the world.

Afro-Pessimism offers an analytic lens that labors as a corrective to Humanist assumptive logic. It provides a theoretical apparatus that allows Black people to not have to be burdened by the ruse of analogy—because analogy mystifies, rather than clarifies, Black suffering. Analogy mystifies Black peoples’ relationship to other people of color. Afro-Pessimism labors to throw this mystification into relief—without fear of the faults and fissures that are revealed in the process.

We need to apprehend the profound and irreconcilable difference between White supremacy (the colonial utility of the Sand Creek massacre) and anti-Blackness (the human race’s necessity for violence against Black people). The antagonism between the postcolonial subject and the settler (the Sand Creek massacre, or the Palestinian Nakba) cannot—and should not—be analogized with the violence of social death: that is the violence of slavery, which did not end in 1865 for the simple reason that slavery did not end in 1865. Slavery is a relational dynamic—not an event and certainly not a place in space like the South; just as colonialism is a relational dynamic—and that relational dynamic can continue to exist once the settler has left or ceded governmental power. And these two relations are secured by radically different structures of violence. Afro-Pessimism offers an analytic lens that labors as a corrective to Humanist assumptive logic. It provides a theoretical apparatus that allows Black people to not have to be burdened by the ruse of analogy—because analogy mystifies, rather than clarifies, Black suffering. Analogy mystifies Black peoples’ relationship to other people of color. Afro-Pessimism labors to throw this mystification into relief—without fear of the faults and fissures that are revealed in the process.

Let me state the proposition differently: Human Life is dependent on Black death for its existence and for its conceptual coherence. There is no World without Blacks, yet there are no Blacks who are in the World. The Black is indeed a sentient being, but the hobble of Humanist thought is a constitutive disavowal of Blackness as social death, a disavowal that theorizes the Black as degraded human entity (i.e., as an oppressed worker, a vanquished postcolonial subaltern, or a non-Black woman suffering under the disciplinary regime of patriarchy). The Black is not a sentient being whose narrative progression has been circumscribed by racism, colonialism, or even slavery for that matter. Blackness and Slaveness are inextricably bound in such a way that whereas Slaveness can be disimbricated from Blackness, Blackness cannot exist as other than Slaveness.

There is a compulsive and repetitive "failure" in the poem titled "Law Abiding," as though, in writing the poem, I unconsciously realized the futility of asserting something within Blackness that is prior to the devastation that defines Blackness (Judy 1994), and the force of the repetition compulsion with which the poem roils within this devastation is vertiginous. "The D.A.’s on it/The judge has been briefed/And your husband’s friends are/In the streets".

The poem contains no lines, no fragments which can be cobbled together with enough muscle to check this devastation, to act on it in a contrapuntal way: This is not a case of the "compulsion to repeat," which Freud describes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, whereby the repetition is "something that seems […] more elementary, more instinctual than the pleasure principle which it over-rides" (Freud 1955, 23). "Law Abiding" contains no political strategy or therapeutic agency through which the violence which engulfs Black flesh can be separated from the poem’s compulsion to repeat that violence. Twenty-six years ago, a Palestinian taught me the futility of longing for strategies such as these.

In a "normal" situation—that is, if "Law Abiding" was a poem about Human trauma and genocide—therapeutic and/or political intervention could be made to, in the case of therapy, help the poet become aware of a distinction between the violence he may indeed encounter from the state and a range of psychic alternatives to letting that violence consume his unconscious; and, in the case of politics, the vision elaborated by a movement could help the poet imagine a new day, and thus imbue state violence with a temporal finitude ("our day will come," as the IRA used to say, and, so it did; or the Native American dream of Turtle Island restored), even if the poet didn’t live to experience that finitude. But recourse to political and therapeutic resources presumes a potential for separating skeins of unconscious compulsion (the poem’s repetitive compulsion) from the violence whose incursions are being compulsively repeated. This presumption works only for Human subjects, subjects whose relationship to violence is contingent upon their transgressions. The Slave’s relationship to violence is not contingent, it is gratuitous—it bleeds out beyond the grasp of narration, from the Symbolic to the Real, where therapy and politics have no purchase.

Neither filial conflict (to be resolved, for example, through therapy) nor affilial conflict (to be resolved through politics and insurgent resistance) has purchase in a struggle for Black redemption.[2] In the lines, "Mrs. Bullet I have some bad news…It’s about your husband Mr. John Fredrick Bullet/Or/May I call you Frieda," the poem seems to realize that the integrity of gender is more properly the possession of an inanimate bullet than of a sentient Black being. The violence against Black people, which we are witnessing on YouTube videos, Instagrams, and TV news, is conveniently gendered as violence against Black men. But there is a problem here, and it is twofold: we tend to lose sight of the fact that Black women, children, and LGBT people are losing their breath through the technologies of social death, just as Black heterosexual men are, albeit in less visible and less mediatized ways. We also get drawn into responding to the phobic anxieties of White and non-Black civil society, the threat of the Black man, and, as such, we offer sustenance to that juggernaut (civil society) even as we try to dismantle it. We enhance the pleasurable circulation of the modern lynching photograph (i.e., the cover of Time Magazine with a still image from the video taken on April 4, 2015 showing a North Charleston, South Carolina policeman shooting Walter Scott in the back as he runs away) and the snuff videos (of, for example, Sandra Bland’s and Eric Garner’s police encounters) which we as Black activists have come to depend upon to show the world police violence in an effort to, ironically, redress that violence. And, since these images are almost always of Black males, they shape our (Black Humanist) agenda in profoundly gendered ways. But there is something even more problematic: we come to think of our oppression as being essentially gendered, as opposed to being gendered in important ways. This, I believe, gives us a false sense of agency, a sense that we can redress the violence of social death in ways which are analogous to the tactics of our so-called allies of color. We want the violence against us to have a gendered integrity, in the way that it does when it is levied against the subaltern.

It is as though by cataloguing horrific acts of violence in a manner that is properly gendered, one that relegates castration and police assassination to Black men (the cul-de-sac "Law Abiding"’s dedication to Oscar Grant could lead to) and rape to Black women, our political discourse can offer us the protection of a sanctuary that we otherwise might not have. It is not, of course, sanctuary from actual rapes, castration, or murder but the sanctuary of gendered recognition and incorporation which emplotment in a normal political discourse, a normal poem, provides. The narrative arc of such a sanctuary would look like this: the event of gender (equilibrium) is now being violated, by rape or castration (for women), police murder for men (disequilibrium), and this turn of events is the essence of agency through which equilibrium can be restored. But, as Saidiya Hartman argues:

If the definition of the crime of rape relies upon the capacity to give consent or exercise will, then how does one make legible the sexual violation of the enslaved when that which would constitute evidence of intentionality, and thus evidence of the crime—the state of consent or willingness of the assailed—opens up a Pandora’s box in which the subject formation and object constitution of the enslaved female are no less ponderous than the crime itself or when the legal definition of the enslaved negates the very idea of "reasonable resistance"? (1997, 80)

We might also consider whether the wanton and indiscriminate uses of the captive body can be made sense of within the heteronormative framing of sexual violation as rape (Hartman 1997, 74).

By parceling rape out to women, castration to men, our political language offers Black Humanist scholars, Black radical insurgents, as well as the Black masses a sense that our political agency is something more than mere "borrowed institutionality."[3] And it "saves" the Black Humanist from a realization that the dust up is not between the workers and the bosses, not between settler and the native, not between the queer and the straight, but between the living and the dead. If we look closely we also see that gender itself cannot be reconciled with a slave’s genealogical isolation; that, for the Slave, there is no surplus value to be restored to the time of labor; that no treaties between Blacks and Humans are in Washington waiting to be signed and ratified; and that, unlike the Settler in the Native American or Palestinian political imagination, there is no place like Europe to which Slaves can return as Human beings. When this happens, Blackness will be redeemed.


  1. Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California, United States, in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 2009.
  2. Filial: any community one is born into: nation, religion, ethnicity, family. Affilial: a voluntary association, a community one chooses to enter. Edward Said (1984) describes affiliation as "the transition from a failed idea or possibility of filiation to a kind of compensatory order that, whether it is a party, an institution, a culture, a set of beliefs, or even a world-vision, provides men and women with a new form of relationship, which I have been calling affiliation but which is also a new system. Now whether we look at this new affiliative mode of relationship as it is to be found among conservative writers like Eliot or among progressive writers like Lukacs and, in his own special way, Freud, we will find the deliberately explicit goal of using that new order to reinstate vestiges of the kind of authority associated in the past with filiative order. This, finally, is the third part of the pattern. Freud’s psychoanalytic guild and Lukacs’ notion of the vanguard party are no less providers of what we might call a restored authority. The new hierarchy or, if it is less a hierarchy than a community, the new community is greater than the individual adherent or member, just as the father is greater by virtue of seniority than the sons and daughters; the ideas, values, and the systematic totalizing world-view validated by the new affiliative order are all bearers of authority too, with the result that something resembling a cultural system is established. Thus, if a filial relationship was held together by natural bonds and natural forms of authority—involving obedience, fear, love, respect, and instinctual conflict—the new affiliative relationship changes these bonds into what seem to be transpersonal forms [for our purposes, mediating objects]—such as guild consciousness, consensus, collegiality, professional respect, class and the hegemony of a dominant culture. The filiative scheme belongs to the realms of nature and of "life," whereas affiliation belongs exclusively to culture and society" (Said 1984, 19–20).
  3. Jared Sexton, private conversation.


Abbott, H. Porter. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Burrell, Johnnie. 2015. "Re-Imagining the Black Body: Race, Memory, and the Excavation of Freedom Now." YouTube video, 52:10, posted September 19. Accessed October 1, 2015.

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Hartman, Saidiya. 1997. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Judy, R.A.T. 1994. "On the Question of Nigga Authenticity." boundary 2 21 (3): 211–30.

Marriott, David. 2007. Haunted Life. New York: Routledge.

———. 2000. On Black Men. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Ortiz, Simon. 2000. Sand Creek. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Patterson, Orlando. 1982. Slavery and Social Death. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Said, Edward. 1984. The World, the Text, and the Critic. London: Faber and Faber.

Sexton, Jared. 2015. "Unbearable Blackness." Cultural Critique 90: 159–78.

Spillers, Hortense. 2003. Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. University of Chicago Press.

Time Magazine. 2015. Front cover, 185 (14).

Wilderson, Frank B. III. 2013. "Law Abiding." In Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander, edited by Ewuare X. Osayande. Philadelphia: Freedomseed Press.

———. 2010. Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

———. 2005. "Reparations…Now." Accessed October 1, 2015.

An earlier version of this paper was published online on March 30, 2016, by The Occupied Times and Base under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0) license.