thinking deeply on my maroon ancestors today.
the conditional citizenship that black people who are descended from enslaved Africans in the united states have is dependent upon the objectification of black people as producing but non-sentient beings. this social death is a necessary foundation of the mythology of the united states and the american dream. thus it becomes that a statement as simple as “black lives matter” becomes a controversial subject and a litmus test for one’s allegiance to the construct that is the united states. The appropriate response to such a sentiment would be “yes they do,” not “all lives matter”.
it is not because the united states, socially speaking, recognizes the inherent value in black lives, but because to interrogate the extent to which black lives are not seen as human lives is to give voice to that which must be seen- ever suffering, punished, feared and exoticized- but never heard as having a dissimilar experience from white americans that one is sentient enough to articulate and therefore matter. The hypervisibility of black death is built into the very fabric of this society and to radically interrogate that death and suffering disassembles american rhetoric of progress and the underlying assumption of equality for all. interrogating black death from a radical black lens strips it of american mysticism that attributes black death to the inherent flaw and criminality of black people and reorients black death in a way repudiates the assertion that progress is linear, all-encompassing and will ultimately bring equality for all that wish to have it and work hard enough for it. it positions black death in a timeline that is not one of american mythology- you know the one where slaves were brought to america, taught how to be good christians, liberated by a beneficent father figure and then were free to pursue american dreams and assimilate into american society. the timeline of american blackness is one of revolving history merging with present technologies and an ever-innovating racism that simultaneously intersects and diverges from the timeline of american mythology. thus we can have a black president and also experience a surge in public lynchings, both by police and the old-fashioned noose around the neck.
As producers but not owners of our labor, all of who we are as black people is presumed to belong to the american public, and thus the world through the consumption and the consumerism of blackness as a commodity (even liberals do it under the idea of diversity and inclusivity). It is important to note here that it is not simply our cultural products but our body parts that are up for sale for anybody that wishes and has the means to purchase it. As an example, kylie jenner’s transformation into a psuedo black girl as a part of her rites of passage into adulthood is meant to signal her sexual desirability to the general public.
For any black person in america to reach success as is defined by the “american dream” it is assumed that that person owes a debt to american mythology and is not free to critique it. if that person is in the public eye, then that person becomes a de facto missionary of american mythology, the mythology that denies the existence of black dehumanization and rhetorically screams “all lives matter”. the condition of their acceptance into the american imaginary with praise and accolade is that the person is not to transgress by realizing that they are black and thus remain suspended through the remainder of their lives as colorless individuals. these people ‘transcend’ blackness and lose the hyphen and are simply american.
but as america is terrified of recognizing its own reprobation from egalitarianism. something as simple as not standing for an archaic song (that most people don’t even know all the lyrics or stanzas to) is seen as treason and reason to revoke citizenship. This is demonstrated in the backlash to Kaepernick’s refusal to stand. by his own testimony, he received many messages telling him to take a ship back to Africa. This is also demonstrated by the backlash to Beyonce’s Lemonade (other critiques notwithstanding) in which she was refused security and reprimanded for asserting her blackness.
This is not an essay which hopes to redeem the united states or offer a plan for redemption, simply because america is an idea which collapses under close scrutiny. instead, this essay seeks to highlight the conditional citizenship of black people into the idea of america (which is in and of itself a fallacy, albeit one that holds enormous sway in the lives of millions of people). it is pessimistic in that the author does not believe there is a full humanity for black people in a structure of lies about what humanity is and what one must be in order to be considered fully human or in this case, fully american.
to explore why america is a fallacy, one must contrast the hyper-visibility of black death with the relative invisibility of contemporary native genocide and suffering. It is universally accepted by most americans that native people were robbed of their land in order for america to be founded. but unlike black death, which is hypervisible and must be the backdrop against which civilization springs (black degeneracy being the thing which retroactively corrects the sin of enslavement) native people must be relegated to a pre-united states history that denies their contemporary existence as actors on and rightful stewards of this land. for native people to be seen is to remind america that it is built entirely on- euphemistically- ignoble principles. Hence, native people are folded into american mythology as noble but anachronistic people, (when ‘real americans’ are not in close proximity to native people, that’s a whole other story) while completely ignoring the conditions under which many native people live today. In order to claim native land as theirs, many non-native people actively claim mythic native ancestry.
The presence of contemporary native people shatters the mythic claim to the land and thus the rights to ownership and stewardship of what is now known as america. As an example, compare the visibility of (but relatively small gains of) Black Lives Matter and the obsession with capturing and publicizing the actual deaths of black people to #IdleNoMore #MMIW and #NoDAPL which at the moment is enduring an american media black out. The statistics for native populations are more dismal than any other population in terms of poverty, access, police brutality and many other statistics, yet there is no national outcry or attention on these things. To bring attention to the conditions under which native people live as compared to native peoples’ pre-america existence is to completely undermine the idea of america as the birthplace of democracy and the light of salvation for the world. It is to acknowledge a demand which would crumble america. To acknowledge black people as fully human is to acknowledge a terrorism without which america would not exist. (as a person who is non-native, i encourage you to seek out the many native voices who are speaking in more in-depth and nuanced ways to their own experiences.)
it is a given that america is hypocritical, it could not stand otherwise. we must see america in its totality for what it is, not simply argue against the rhetoric. It is only then that we can form strategy that leads to liberation and not simply a piece of a poison apple pie.
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