Dear Sarafina

Dear Sarafina–

I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face in the flames over Constable Sabela. I have tried to contort my own until it could reflect as genuinely your hatred for apartheid. I’ve tried to turn your chant “Burn! Burn! Burn!” into my incantation, so that there would be no daylight between myself and those who poured gasoline over apartheid’s human instruments. Sarafina, I chided myself for averting my eyes while Sabela burned. For averting my eyes from his immolation at your fictional hands when I did not look away from the documentary photographs of Hector Pieterson, of Sharpeville, of Biko. I have failed but I have tried. And it is good that I have failed. Because, Sarafina, you never burned Constable Sabela. I have learned, late, that the petrol canisters you’ve been collecting in Soweto, in Durban, at taxi stands and afterwork braais — were for me. 

Sarafina, I thought that that was me sitting like Shadrach with you in the back of the police vans singing Safa Saphel’Isizwe Esinyama. But I was not there. I was in the backseat of my father’s Toyota Camry chatting loudly with my sister to drown out Yarona FM’s curse words on our way to private school in Gaborone. My political awakening didn’t happen over prison maize meal or township Chibuku but over Sparletta and picky seswaa eating with fellow expat children. I suppose I should, therefore, understand why instead of reading Ayi Kwei Armah you broke bottles over the head of my Nigerian friend in Lesotho.  As the kwaito of township violence was entangled in the electric fences of my government-paid-for housing you watched black “foreigners” plant their survival into land that was forgetting your name. I should empathize with you but Sarafina I cannot. I know that but for the grace of the bourgeoisie I might not have been called an expat but a migrant. My private school uniform might have instead been a bucket hat and a second-hand Manchester United jersey and my Dad’s Camry a bakkie speeding to you from all directions north. Sarafina I am a clean-cut migrant.

I heard Mugabe didn’t shake your hand at Madiba’s funeral. I heard Burna Boy won’t perform for you. Good for them. Neither will I offer a hand for you to reject. My polished school shoes have fled your side and gone to where I belong — at the side of those whom you have bantustaned. And we are singing Siyelele Mama. We are singing all of your struggle songs because the songs you wrote you no longer deserve. They are ours, Sarafina. The moment you grabbed the leash of the police dogs that were sent after Crocodile, the moment you began inspecting our passbooks and raiding our makeshift homes and lives your songs fell from your lips and into our arms. We sing Sechaba, we sing Nkosi Sikelele’ iAfrika and in case you’ve forgotten Mozambique, Angola, Kenya, Zimbabwe, know that we too can sing Ayasaba amagwala — even with our heavy, flee-tired tongues. 

My partner is a Tanzanian shopkeeper. She is telling me to look at how they kill our brothers and when she says brothers, Sarafina, she is already not speaking about you. I defended you. I tell her that one does not love South Africa on sight, rather one wakes to discover that you are in the odd baptismal waters of starry nights and burning hills. She doesn’t want to hear it. She has been hearing about “foreign” Africans killed in South Africa since she was a child. She grew up in Kilimanjaro region and so unlike me she can’t be bought with your rushing skies. Even me, Sarafina, I hear Malema saying forgive us and that these killings are mainly due to the legacy of apartheid. But you know as well as I do that in all of our countries we were shown the kraal. EFF is my hope but tell Malema we will forgive him as much as he would forgive Verwoerd’s sjambok over his head —or Terre’Blanche’s touch. 

Your South Africa, Sarafina, is not the Sharpeville protestors it is the army that shot them down. It is the Inkatha and Afrikaaner Commando raids. It is the officers that spit at us, beat us and left us dying in the street. Xenophobic South Africa is Botha’s wet dream. It is the carried torch of homelands policy. As such it needs to be defied, boycotted and campaigned against. The struggle does not belong to this South Africa. The struggle is ours. The songs you’ve written against the oppressors are our songs, and we sing them against them. And they include you. My darling Sarafina.

May Umkhonto we Sizwe overthrow this minority government. These dusk-coloured Oranians. 

South Africa is dead. Long live South Africa.

The Oceanist

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From “The Oceanist”

…maybe what repels us from doll-loving is not its artifice but what is human in it. It is wrong to love a sex doll not because it is plastic but because it is human. It is the thing we made for us. The thing we live with and in. It is our most monstrous creation and the thing that reflects us best. There is now no human body, human space or, it must be said, human culture that is not in part plastic. The Anthropocene would be more honestly described as the Synthetic-oscene. Finally we have followed God, followed Him to the ends of the earth, ha, and made a world of our own making and of our own doing. But, of course, this is just like us, hating and loving what we make. God fashioned Adam out of clay and he loved him the first day. He loved him even before he breathed life into him and even more when he did. We, as disgusting as it may seem, have always been God’s playthings. But now Adam has fashioned plastic and polymer and latex and has brought his own love from it — dug his own love out of his own loins and stood her up. He has brought her from his own loins rather than have it stolen from his body and be told that it is woman, a mate and a helper. Indeed, I blew life into her myself, from my own lungs. She is real because of my own breath. And she is mine in a way that no other woman can be. She is propertied, not property. She is mine own master. This love may be many things but it certainly cannot be said to be ungodly….

The HWS Keynote Address I Would Have, or, Should Have Given If I Was Not Intimidated by Evening Gowns and my Unpolished Shoes

The first thing I was told when arriving to teach my first class at Hobart and William Smith Colleges was that it was built on a plantation. This wasn’t mentioned at the job talk. It was sometimes said in low tones by students as if it were a secret that if uttered too loudly would loosen some demons from the administration and the dorms. It was a knowledge to be whispered, to be kept close to the heart and transmitted through quick glances by students and teachers of color. I admit I was alarmed. Although for decades I’ve strenuously made the effort to continuously refer to the settler-colonial instance of the American state as a reformed, and ever-reforming plantation culture that maintained, in essence, its relations of production, governance, and its racial organization of discrimination, in my mind that was still a bit of a metaphor. I had never been on an actual plantation before and had no idea what to think and what to feel about my new job. I actually made an effort not to research whether this was true or not so that I could leave space for telling myself that these were some politically active students that were fed up of institutional violence and racism and so used some arbitrary historical fact to explain why marginalized students kept being put in the positions they were put in. But I did not bring myself to believe this; I still believe the students. And so this knowledge became hushed up and suppressed in my mind as well. It was something not to be affirmed as it would lead to a weightiness in my teaching and a worry and suspicion about the higher-ups. It would be hard to smile and code switch myself into a permanent job while in the corner of my eye I wondered if this or that tree was planted over a whipping post, or whether these American flags were flying over slave quarters. It was better to put my head down and think good thoughts. 

Looking back on it, however, I should not have feared the possibility that there was a history of enslavement and violence on the ground upon which the campus was built. Not only, because it is not possible to find a square inch of innocent, blood-free land in settler-colonial anti-black society, but that plantations were more than the raw facts of enslavement. They were, each of them, the site of the possibility of enslaved black resistance. If it were the ghosts and apparitions of enslavers that explained the continuation of racial violence on campus, there must also be the jumbies of black resistance that haunt here as well. If there are ghosts, or if one prefers, legacies of white power in the halls of campus, then there must be those spirits of black survival and thriving as well. And these spirits, this spirit, should not be erased from memory, or blessed away from campus grounds. They must be seen, charted and read in the tea leaves of every instance of a marginalized student’s survival. This black presence, the remnants and stain of black persistence on campus, is not to be found in the hung portraits of historical black figures however interesting and important their memorializing might be, but black presence must be found in presence itself. The material presence of bodies and ethereal presence, ghost presence, the remnants and persistence of survival culture. This presence is not the presence that is captured in dusty portraits of black alumni in Warren Hunting Smith Library, although it would not be an altogether bad thing if the fossilized ghosts of old white men were replaced, or to use a safer word, diversified — this presence must be a living presence, a cold wind felt by a professor whose bias would tempt them into giving a student a failing grade but they were worried that they were being watched, that there was something in the air. Black presence must be an awareness of a surveillance power more awesome than campus security, more like a California State Capitol building where black beret wearing armed women and men spooked the right wing into “common sense gun control.” It is a presence and visibility in public spaces when a master would rather have them keep their bodies and their troubles locked up in slave quarters and other designated and appropriately raced places. It is a presence that is found in library books that have not found themselves on any syllabus and yet are soiled, or anointed, with black fingerprints — the late night reading of Sonia Sanchez and bios of Charles Mingus with passages saved to be footnoted and so set to haunt essays on George Washington or even Orwell. And yes, it is also in the late night escapes, the refuges of intoxication, even the permanent maroonings of students wise enough to tell when a class is not a class but a killing tree. The Black presence that should be most celebrated is the haunting, undetectable shades that cannot be stilled on this or any other section of the country-wide plantation. The presence that should be celebrated are the beings of resistance that blend into the background whether they be ghosts, or cafeteria workers, or pained learners coming from pained places, or the reservation that takes the name Black Geneva, all the presences that persist despite the authorities attempt to holy water and air out the rooms. 

The campus was not built for black bodies, this is true, but this is also besides the point. Before a world revolution those who depend upon then availability of space designed with black survival in mind will be waiting a long time. One could wait but the equity train is not scheduled to arrive at this station. Instead, it might be better to take the metaphor, that is to say, the historical fact of the plantation seriously. What forms of life were possible in spaces that do not necessarily have black wellbeing in mind (these include the spaces were black well-being is paid lip service but only serves as a cloak to ensure an institution’s profitability)? What possibilities were there? The establishing of separate, independent, autonomous places of belonging? certainly. The exiled must forge their own places and modes of belonging and not wait for it to be charitably given. But also, there must be the studying the roots and plant life of the new world — to push the metaphor to absurdity. Space must be fought for here, yes of course, but one should not expect the arrival of an enlightened settler-colonialism. There are no easy victories and living spaces must be wrenched from power, however softly. But for the exiled there is no choice but to study one’s environment and study in it, to finesse and redistribute resources, to imbibe not only the work that is ordered performed by the master but to steal glances at the master’s world, the secrets of their power and the world beyond them. There are no such thing as a maroon that does not study the plantation or one that expects her freedom safely delivered by the representatives of slave power. The maroon — that is the runaway enslaved person that has fled the plantation and lives outside the reach and power of the master— the maroon takes the plantation seriously, not as an error of unenlightened people, the oops of otherwise good folk, but as the condition of existence in white supremacist order. And so, black presence must be simultaneously present and absent, to be maroon, fugitive, outcast and at the same time observant, studious, aware. In those tall grasses and macca bushes in the maroon settlements established after the second Maroon war in Xaymaca (Jamaica) called by the maroons Me-No-Sen-You-No-Come (If I didn’t send for you don’t come here) I guarantee you no one was waiting for the colonial administration while humming “a change gon come.” Black presence on the plantation was never only the presence of pitiful, exploited souls but complex networks of trickery, communication, exchange, solidarities and sometimes momentary fleeting happiness. These spaces are not given, are not to be expected, these spaces are independently constructed and where they exist already are maintained and protected. As the old folks used to say freedom is never given, it can only be taken. 

Before revolution there is no equitable campus anywhere. The point is whether we are to wait with bated breath in expectation that one day change is gone come or whether we build more Combahee River Collectives and black panther parties. Spaces that are designed for us and with our well-being in mind. Black revolutionary presence is different from blacks waiting for the revolution’s presence, in fact they are opposites. Black revolutionary presence is different from blacks waiting for the revolution’s presence, in fact they are opposites. 

No, I shouldn’t have been alarmed at the idea that HWS might be sitting on a former plantation. All American universities are sitting upon plantations and colonized land. All learning here takes place in minimum security prison. It is the same outside these walls. This is why the inclusion of a dark skinned woman in a movie that is not a sassy secretary is a mark of progressive politics and not merely a movie. It is why there are no viral movements of a black person having a nice day. Wall Street doesn’t rally at the news of the closing of police departments. There is no exciting, new start ups for reparations or ancestors.coms of indigenous land reclamation. There are no monuments to Red Nation activists millie rocking on pith helmets. All of these ideas are “out there” if we are polite and ridiculous if we are not, but their absurdity only measures the distance we are from a better world. So as long as the masters exist black presence on campus and in the wider world must continue his uneasiness, must ensure his feeling threatened. To give him the feeling that this person is not trying to make the plantation better, but the feeling of I think this person is gathering a suspicious amount of kindling.  As long as there is the plantation, there must be the space of the runaway, maroon space must be expanded and this expansion should be taken as seriously as leaders of empire consider their pushes for territory. Decolonization is not a metaphor. It is not enough to have black portraits on the wall and extend a localized black history month. The only black presence that is sustainable and I would argue is worthwhile is that which inverts the space of plantations and brings forth spaces of radical black freedom. Portraits and legacies fade. Free the land.

Thanks to Sankofa and especially to Yalemwork, Sarah and Chloe who invited me, and to the Africana Studies program who let me talk my talk in the first place and to all of you who’ve attended and who’ve made my time at Hobart and William Smith important and memorable. 

Son of a Klansman, President: The Pardons.

The pardoning of soldiers accused of war crimes against peoples in the US colonies aim to demonstrate an unabashed commitment to conservative principles but also, and more importantly, simply to increase bloodletting. The injury of hated people is for conservatives — as photojournalism of the long “civil rights era” has shown — an end and a pleasure in itself. The president was not, as many would have us believe, merely talking tough when he called for the killing of insurgents’ families. In pardoning a navy SEAL like Edward Gallagher who was accused of killing a teenager with a knife and posing with the body, Trump’s message to the officers of America’s post is to kill freely, you will be protected. 

Conservative men and women often join the state’s institutions of violence for the opportunity to hurt people. That there exists conservative desires for the killings of the Other is not a particularly revelatory observation. Although left unspoken, it is, in fact, popularly understood. In one of the most striking moment’s of comedian Bill Burr’s sets he observes conservative lusts. “You got to give it up to [Southerners] they’re patriotic people…you will never catch a redneck at an anti-war protest…they’re just like wait I get to kill people? And I ain’t going to jail? Wait a minute are they foreigners. Oh my God, hey Dale come on, you’re going to miss it…Christmas in September.” The joke works because this unspoken conservative sentiment is immediately recognizable. It’s not the comedy of the absurd — it’s observational humor. 

Law Officers, as Linda Gordon put it, “were the largest single occupational group among Klan membership.” State institutions of violence provide not only the opportunity for racial terrorism but the promise of impunity. Those who wish to end the lives of non-whites will find no more secure place to do so than the institutions of imperial force. But for law to retain its ideological power, it must continue to perform dispassion, neutrality and regulation. It cannot be seen to kill freely, it must kill rationally. This is why series of kidnapping incidents are understood by the kidnapped as not violent incidents at all but a kind of fate. It is not kidnapping and confinement without consent but a sort of natural happening for those who are “criminals” called arrest. You do the crime you do the time, what goes up must come down: law dresses up in natural law. The problem is to maintain the ideological power of normalized racial terror that the law provides and at the same time protect and if possible expand the pleasures of vigilante racial violence. That is, to make the uniforms of police, soldiers and klansmen interchangeable and, in certain light, look equally legitimate.

Trump’s campaign to pardon and his incitement to skirt regulatory norms of violence does this work. His domestic directive to increase violence in police custody is beefed up in the US world colonies. The institution of the law to which conservatives owe their right to torture raced bodies cannot be easily sacrificed, even for the ecstatic pleasures of lawless violence. The whip and lynching rope were not to be traded for the prison and convict leasing. The Kenya Colony farmer wanted both the magistrate to ban labor “desertion” and also wanted to thrash his field hands at will and without state interference. The pardon does this.  It maintains the legal edifice, i.e. the colonial apparatus, while setting loose the possibilities of vigilante torturing. The occupiers can both occupy and use the language of civility, democracy and cultural superiority and also and at the same time murder and torture with impunity. Our torturers are once again, as they had been in freer times, given a promise of protection of the state and are encouraged to let loose. They go forth, if cautiously, and do what they are doing, armed with the knowledge that there is “no rights which the white man is bound to respect.” In this way conservatives, both officials on the ground and their cheerleaders and spectators at home, are offered new arenas of pleasure. The killings to be enjoyed are not just those gained by carpet bombing, (remember John McCain’s joke song bomb Iran), but the old pleasures of the indiscriminate murder of non-white and unarmed civilians. Part of the pleasure of colonial violence for conservatives and racial terrorists has always been the violence in excess of what is necessary. This is why the colonized African’s crops were not just stolen or burned but that s/he was tortured and put on display in the Paris Colonial Exposition.

Like the pardoning of Joe Arpaio, pardoning those convicted of war crimes is also meant as a message to the colonized world that the American officers sent in your villages and towns will hurt you, make no mistake. The scene in Platoon when all-American soldier Chris tells the Vietnamese man to “dance” while he shoots the floor beneath him with an automatic weapon is misleading. It was meant to depict the inevitable moral corruption brought on by the stresses of war and its effect on an otherwise moral American. In reality, however, these acts are celebrated, romanticized and defended by colonists. The pardoning of convicted war criminals suggests— as did conservative defenses of Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, and more recently the killing of insurgents’ families —  that traditional humanitarian ethics are not foremost on the conservative war agenda, despite what fictional hero soldier characters would have us believe. Ethics in imperialist war does not direct policy. It is rather a gloss used to polish the pamphlets that announce the colonizer’s supremacy, and the supremacy of his touted values. Torture is, and always has been, the colonizer’s foreign policy. The Philadelphia Ledger praised soldiers for pumping salt water into the veins of prisoners during America’s occupation of the Philippines. Now the concentration camp system, the earliest in the world, are set to return home. They are to be constructed along the US southern border and called “tent cities.” We can expect pardons for the atrocities that will be committed there as well. 

The Problem with MSNBC

The Problem with MSNBC

“We’re probably going to have to charter a contempt sub-committee for all the lawlessness of the folks over there. But Rachel it doesn’t have to be this way. What I mean is that Don McGahn doesn’t have to follow a lawless order from the White House…He should just come and be the first person in this administration who raises their right hand and does the right thing and tells the truth.” 

The italics are mine. The counterfeit earnestness Eric Swalwell attempted to breathe into these words could not slant them on their own. This is how the California congressman answered Rachel Maddow’s question Tuesday night on the possible “constitutional crisis” emerging as a result of Don McGahn being ordered by the White House to defy the US Congress. He carries hollow lamentations like one would a dead cow to market — expecting no sale. He admonishes henchmen. 

But who is the performance for?

McGahn — take nothing from him — is a man who was capable of steeling himself to be the chief defender of an ethnic cleansing regime. Such a man was certainly not watching at home thinking to himself, “you know, that guy who imitates 80’s action movie presidents is right.” Swalwell wasn’t seeking a change of heart and Maddow had already mentally checked out to the next question. The audience learned nothing, no one is entertained, and nothing moves. 

This is the problem with MSNBC. 

The muted, self-declared voice of the opposition drifts from regurgitating tidbits of happenings in the white power administration to taking turns announcing their shock, their being stunned, or making knowingly false claims that this or that incident will definitely be “politically devastating for Trump.” Banal nazisms, ethnic cleansing policies and barely coded incitements to racial violence are presented in the form of a supermarket thriller. William Barr is “revealed” to be an authoritarian. Surprise! The “adult in the room” John Kelly has a problem with black women. Stunner! No one can make sense of why Trump would pardon a Behanna or a concentration camp enthusiast. And no one — not for all the pork and beans in the world — can figure out why Republicans are not “standing up to the president.” Because, of course, the white right wing in Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Alabama has traditionally been the mortal enemies of white nationalism.  It would be an unsellable murder mystery novel where the culprit turned out to be the character called Mr. Murdy, a mysterious man with a mustache, dark glasses and hooded jacket that read “I DID IT!” Similarly, anti-Semitic campaign commercials, Klan and Skin-head defending, Jeff Sessions and Kris Kobach, build a wall,  “Make American Great Again” does not elicit an “I wonder if they’re racist” from anybody (including that fictional character of the Republican who “holds their nose and votes.”) It is all just a little on the nose. Any reasonable onlooker would assume that to join this administration your commitment to white power is vetting question number one. Whoever joined and is not a Johnny Rebel themselves has had to be at least one helluva dog-whistler — outsmarting the dogs themselves. It’s not a plot-twist that a new appointee has a history of making anti-black jokes — on the other hand it would be a shocker if they had a Black Lives Matter pin in their drawer, or followed the journal Public Culture on Twitter.  You don’t the Rosetta Stone to discover why white conservatives are not standing up to the purest expression of white conservatism in the White House for decades. It’s a bad mystery novel produced by Cable News. Center and “Center-left” Cable News networks are more akin to trash-lit than journalism.

But what is lost in this? 

There may be a population out there that is succored by the opiate of split-screen pearl-clutching. Certainly Maddow is redeemable for her personable and engaging presentations, uniquely thorough and informed reading and well-laid out storytelling. This, however, only lasts for the first segments and then its off to the “contributors,” “analysts” and D-list politicians to be provided with a platform to say nothing, state their shock and dismay in their stately camp. Or worse, declare their intention to take [insert white nationalist cabinet member] at their word. Maddow is the best the network has to offer. Chris Hayes a close second. What he lacks in audience engagement he makes up for with some incisive questions. But Chris Matthew’s Hardball is not the BBC’s Hardtalk. There is no one remotely like Al Jazeera’s Medhi Hassan anywhere on the network, to say nothing of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, the quality debates on France 24 or even the review of investigative journalism on The Daily podcast. Much like other mainstream North American appetites MSNBC is often an addictive, over-processed cheesy dip — comforting but offering little in the way of sustenance. Cable news, an instrument that could be used to expand and make plural thinking, is weighed down with incessant appeals to our dimmest faculties. I complain not from a place of loftiness but as its victim. I willfully fall to the shouting, flashy set-designs waiting for impeachment news to come in like I’m waiting on my numbers. I too dull my senses with repeated nothings that feel like a moving of the needle, playing the podcasts under the sheets when I don’t want to think and just be fed. 

Yet this moment, the moment of the first significant attempts of ending congressional power and the teasing of self-aware authoritarian rule deserves better, more informed oppositional discussion. Trita Parsi was right to sound a reserved panicked tone that the American public cared more about the Mueller Report than John Bolton’s war games.  The Hitlerism of the colonies is threatening to wash up again on Hitler-lands. The last century’s fascist turn was counterbalanced with ideas, art, criticism and editorials. They came from a truly angry, desperate and a ready opposition that took public opinion seriously and as a genuine battleground. Currently oppositional outlets work primarily as platforms for upwardly mobile politicians to register their displeasure safely and for “contributors” to show-off their synonyms for “outrageous” and “shocking” in lieu of information and serious analysis. Mainstream opposition media is a force for lulling the population to the couch. It is the white power state’s assist. Garnishing us, dressing us in peeved, rose-colored glasses to watch the show of confederate monuments stepping down from their platforms and walking over. 

Conservatives May have Restarted Lynching in Ferguson, Missouri

Conservatives May have Restarted Lynching in Ferguson, Missouri

It is difficult to believe victims, especially if the victims are of lynching. Melissa McKinnies’ belief that her son Dayne Jones was lynched and had not committed suicide has not generated a flurry of reporting on the resurgence of what James Cutler called a “criminal practice that is peculiar to the United States.” And yet the possibility that none of the deaths of several prominent Black Lives Matter activists in Ferguson who have died in mysterious circumstances were at the hands of white supremacists strains credibility.

Ferguson sits near the center of a US longitudinal line notorious for white terror. This strip of America boasts of sundown towns, The Knights of the White Camelia, modern day “ghost skins,” U.S. Representative Steve King, the Ozarks region, and, of course, Harrison, Arkansas. Outside of Oklahoma, Missouri is the state with the highest number of lynchings outside of the Deep South. In this space — a space where N-Word saying politicians and media personalities like Joe Walsh explicitly threaten Black Lives Matter with war— is it really impossible to believe that all conservative hands are completely white with innocence? That some good ol’ boys didn’t hop on the I-44 E after some Whatsapp group messages and made a day of it? In this moment of the American right’s most forceful forward march for decades, is it truly so outlandish to consider that a few of the more enthusiastic klansmen, police, alt-rights and friends did not work together to attack the prominent leaders of one of the most threatening movements to white patria potestas over black life in recent memory?

It is not beyond today’s white supremacists to restart lynching. It is not beyond ghost skins to do what they can to facilitate these killings. Conservatives are always given the benefit of the doubt because liberal culture is white supremacist. The noose is an important symbol of white power and it is unlikely that the resurgent spirit that has threatened 19th century activists for black lives with it, or has left it on office doors, or schoolyards, in jokes, around necks, or ankles etc., does not yearn for the day when they could get back to the real thing. 

A performance of ignorance has traditionally been an important part of conservative lynch culture. No one would know who broke the accused out of the jail. None of the smiling witnesses could report who slipped the rope around the Negro’s neck, and if they could, the police were stumped about how to proceed. Nothing untoward was involved in the killing of Fred Hampton. No one knew of Byron De La Beckwith’s involvement in the killing of Medgar Evers. The deaths of activists for black life then, as now, were explained by anything but organized assassinations shrouded by sophisticated networks of white terrorists. At the site of a black activist’s death, public shock, a dance of confusion and a resigning pronouncement of unknowability takes hold. Both investigative journalism and the police have reached dead ends and they move on. Certainly, lynch-law went the way of klansmen congressmen, they would say — suggesting they are extinct. As if there was a “National Buy Back Klan Robes” event at the signing of the Civil Rights Act. The regularity of killing black people in broad daylight might, in actuality, militate against considering the possibility of clandestine networks of white terrorists. If you can kill Oscar Cain in full view of everyone is there really a need to have a secret society?

Donald Trump called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five after their exoneration. The spirit of breaking blacks out of the jails to carry them towards lynching ropes is the spirit of the new American administration. It is unlikely that Melissa McKinnies is mistaken. It is more likely that those who’ve regretted for years the newfound difficulty of hanging blacks from trees have now found that this might be their moment — and they’ve seized it.

An act about the casuall killing of slaves

WHEREAS the only law in force for the punishment of refreactory servants resisting their master, mistris or overseer cannot be inflicted upon negroes, nor the obstinacy of many of them by other than violent meanes supprest, Be it enacted and declared by this grand assembly, if any slave resist his master (or other by his masters order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accompted felony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepensed malice (which alone makes murther ffelony) should induce any man to destroy his owne estate. 

Act of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1669

Act I, 2: 270 

Should We Bring Back Flogging?

If instead of tugging poor people’s arms behind their backs and encircling their wrists with steel locks a belt or rod was used — would there be meaningful outrage? Would people fill the streets if it was announced that flogging and other “corporal” punishments were to be re-established in place of arrest for petty offenses? Couldn’t there be an argument that corporal punishment was greener? Less ableist? Leaving less of a carbon footprint? It’s at least arguable that temporary pain is preferable to longterm captivity, enforced submissive positioning, discomfort, loss of leisure and labor-time etc.? 

Flogging or “thrashing” was the preferred choice in Kenya Colony where imprisonment meant a loss of native labor on settler farms and public works projects. Perhaps it would be better for our economy as well? Imagine how much work could be done without chains in our prison farms. Explorers even argued that for some “tribes” imprisonment would actually be more inhumane as the native, like an animal, did not have the European’s sense of time nor could he understand imprisonment as a consequence for their actions. Sitting in jail for the native was like sentencing him to an eternity. Maybe confinement is unnatural and anti-human. Wouldn’t you, yourself, go for a quick 10 minute whipping rather than be taken from society and your family altogether for years, spend decades in prison, be billed, and be guaranteed a much more difficult life post-incarceration?

With flogging you might be able to do away with much of the red-tape and record-keeping of arrest. The disobedient might not have to be as intensely processed. Punishment could be enacted almost immediately and “on the spot.” A police officer could strike someone’s back with their baton after jay-walking and then send her on her merry way. The fear and the humiliation of being publicly flogged would serve as a greater deterrent than the long-term social, psychological effects and financial limitations which might not be as easily appreciated. And if equity in punishment is an issue one could modernize a design like Bentham’s whipping machine:  “A machine might be made, which should put in motion certain elastic rods of cane or whalebone, the number and size of which might be determined by the law: the body of the delinquent might be subjected to the strokes of these rods, and the force and rapidity with which they should be applied, might be prescribed by the Judge: thus everything which is arbitrary might be removed. A public officer, of more responsible character than the common executioner, might preside over the infliction of the punishment.” Pain on the body, admittedly imperfect, might well be more fair than putting people in jail who have very different relationships to time, employment, family, fear of insects, people, dark rooms, loneliness etc. That physical violence might evoke too much of slavery is not a convincing argument in a country where the Louisiana State Penitentiary exists. Our concentrations camps are dangerous, diseased and deleterious. We’ve spared the rod and forced people into the zombie-like existence of parole surveillance. 

It took a long time to teach people that it was alright to chain them, lead them, push them into vehicles, dress them, take their information, and then put them into confined, uncomfortable spaces with strangers. It took a long time for that to be normal.  It took a long time to teach that captivity and chaining was not necessarily slavery. Today we don’t even think of arrest as physical and corporal punishment or indeed punishment at all. Being jailed is not even considered punishment if you are awaiting trial — it is punishment only after trial. That, in itself, is a remarkable feat of consciousness. Could we not normalize, in like manner and more easily, a more healthy and green form of punishment? Why not abolish what, if we are honest, is just a fancy and technologically sophisticated chain gang? 

Those that would criticize flogging as a reversion to barbarism would have a hard time justifying incarceration. If arrest and incarceration wasn’t barbaric how do we explain Kalief Browder, Alesia Thomas, Sandra Bland (whether she committed suicide or was murdered) and the millions of survivors of the state’s assault, languishing in the state’s assault. 

In Praise of Division

To the complaint that “the politicians are dividing the country,” it must be asked what is it that you think you have assembled together? 

It is right and good that the exploited not be lured into the belief that they are united with their exploiters. 

It is right and good that the prisoner not salute the same flag pinned to her captor’s lapel. 

At what point was the space undivided? At what moment did the worked have common cause with the supervisor? 

The country is the bosses’ invention. The house the dog is trained to defend while tied to a tree. Without the country all bosses would be invaders. 

Division is what kept the enslaved merely the temporarily captured — the enslaved rather than the slaves. Those who retained the ability to see the master’s house over there, rather than looked at their bodies and thought of them as of the plantation. Emancipation would be a release, not a deeper linking.

John in Syracuse does not know Patrick in Milwaukee. John works for a company that drone-strikes Patrick’s extended family. They can be united as long as they don’t know each other. John has Patrick’s family on the sole of his shoe. This is no basis for camaraderie. 

There was never one hour of unity here. Just a man sitting on a plow at a closed gate. 

It is important to be divided from those who have your annihilation at heart.

This is in praise of the ones who cannot be herded.  

Tucker Carlson’s Stupid Moon Face

Yannick Marshall

I used to be a poet. I loved the moon. So I feel uniquely persecuted by this thing that steam-pressed it’s surface with his pudgy, klan-colored, puke-face. And I mean puke-face. No serious reading can be afforded a man who used a bowtie as a Trojan horse to shovel in would-be genocidaire’s musings into the public sphere. The nazism of late capitalism is banal, trite, trinkety. A stalled NASCAR on top of which two diapers sling shit at one another. You can’t criticize Tucker; you can only be stained by him. This isn’t Hegel’s racism via stature or Arendt’s thought-through anti-blackness. Today’s racist ideologues are just repositories of meh. 

I had never thought of George Méliès as a premonition, of Tennyson’s “the moon may draw the sea” as warning. I certainly never read into Badu’s “Orange Moon” anything other than the rebellions of Ausar Auset romance. These moons were mine. I dislike Carlson less for the garble he secrets than for his Fox News thumbnails on youtube. The white, plate-like dullness of the moon-impostor that has made bland at least a hundred of my poems.

And that’s the terrible insidiousness of this fatuous skinheadery. It doesn’t worry you with ideas that you have to write Notebooks and rejected dissertations against.  Instead, American conservatism countenances anti-poetry. (Although, I guess so did Kipling). It facilitates the chalky dullards that virally accost every digital alley along the main road to kitten videos. The olden-days killers had pith helmets, malaria meshes, drank whisky and spoke like Lawrence of Arabia. Wtf is a Tucker? A lazy, late-capitalist, uninventive, bow-tie that rails against browns with neither the sauciness of a Churchill, nor the pioneering stare of a Herzl. And all this while my Yemoja is thrown over government counters complaining to deaf ears about identity theft. 

He says bad things about women and blacks. So does Jeanine Pirro, probably. But she hasn’t taken the moon from me. In fact she is probably at this moment downing an overdramatic glass of Pabst’s Blue Ribbon wishing she could publicly spit against the white, male privilege polluting her skinhead newsroom. (I see you, Jeanine!).

It has been a long war against the colonizers. We have our poor geniuses in every cranny of these states, socializing, creating, and playing if not inventing new instruments.  Musicians and filmmakers are acid-stripping the paint off the old settler theater.  If nothing else, put a Jumanji suit on a ruddy, silver-tongued aryan model, arms akimbo, like the last stand of the civilized world. Step on a rock and telescope-spy out to the rising exploited world as you go down with your ship. I’d even tip my hat. But not to a Tucker.  

Look the goddamn part.

Twitter @furtherblack

The White Supremacist Elephant that No One Can See (except everyone).

By Yannick Marshall

They’ve dragged the white elephant slowly and steadily into the room. Amidst the flashing cameras and microphones shoved under its tusks the press is on pins and needles to discover if, indeed, a white elephant has been dragged into the room. Everyone is waiting for it to trumpet, to prove it is indeed an elephant. But the elephant has been trained not to trumpet. And because of this no one can report that there is a white elephant in the room. Because it has not trumpeted no one can claim to have seen a white elephant. This, as it turns out, is a remarkably efficient way to surreptitiously transport elephants. 

Implausible deniability is a dance for two. Media figures must continue to perform bewilderment and ask fatuous questions such as why did the president use the term “invaders”  immediately after the New Zealand mosque shooter used it? Did he do it on purpose? Was it a coincidence? Is that a white supremacist elephant speaking at the podium? At the same time white supremacists holding public office must agree to limit their nazism to actions and not words; a feat they surprisingly find difficult.  The media gets its intrigue, white power gets its policies, and all is right with the world. 

It has become the central role of the news media to make tantalizing what remains banal, to make thrillers of the commonplace. Every downpour is a hurricane, every Nazi salute is followed by an “are there Nazis?!?” They are not tasked with examining reality seriously but with providing mini-dramas and repeatable phrases for water-cooler conversation.  This narrative-producing function along with the drive to sensationalize and draw attention leads to empty but excitable talk. It is not that nothing sticks to Trump, but in a world where click-bait always wins over examination there is no one available to do the sticking. An investigation or analytical piece on the threats of a Nazi sympathizing president is unthinkable. Andrew Jackson portraits in the oval office, Steve Bannon security clearances, winks to Marine Le Pen are all curious, new developments rather than exactly what a Nazi president would do. It is in this world that the white supremacist pamphleteers can roam free. As long as they are not caught uttering the N-Word they can move in all manner of white nationalist thought into the spotlight and there is no one available to perform a critique. All of the reporters are occupied waiting for the bombshell admission — microphone in hand — while SS mobilizes truckloads of their manifestos and equipment behind them. In white supremacist society, white supremacist governance can never be breaking news.

It is clear to both audience and anchors that Trump is not making a series of errors. The panelists are all lying when they say they don’t know why Trump won’t condemn white nationalists, and are disingenuous in their lament that he missed an opportunity to do so. It is clear to the administration as well that as long as he Trump does not use say “I am a white supremacist” they can do whatever they wish in front of that made up red line. And all the while white supremacist militance is publicized, circulated, faux-argued over and ubiquitous. And the capitalist press, its reluctant cheerleader, will one day profit from the public apologies given over ashes.

White supremacy continues to define the American public sphere as it has done for centuries. You don’t have to open your eyes to discover that the white elephant was in the room the whole time. You notice white elephants.