i’ve been wondering a lot lately what people of color generally, and black folks particularly, are supposed to be/mean for the Occupy movements. i’ve read so many accounts, watched video clips discussing, and had conversations with folks about the glaring absence of, particularly, “black bodies”* in the occupy movement.
it got me to thinking: if there could be a movement of students in Germany based on the Black Power Movement in the US — one that recognized the philosophic, material force of blackness IN ABSENCE of “black bodies” — what does the desire in the Occupy movements for colored bodies actually metastasize, what does the desire injuriously assume and spread about bodies that are black in contradistinction to a black(ness) philosophy that is material, a historicity of blackness that is embodied? [material and embodied insofar as i’m not making some argument that there should be a theory that is not corporeal, theory that is not active.] [and, note, the Black Power movement of Germany was not, from what i can tell, a resistance to bodies that are black; it was not a refusal to a set of politics called Black Power, embodied fully in folks like Angela Davis. rather, there was not a sense of “waiting” for particular bodies to verify the politico-ethical stance against the state.]
so on the one hand, there is an assumption that “black bodies” have some sorta affinity for social movements of resistance and i’d be all cool with that if, in fact, it was about the capacity for undoing the state and its violence directed at the masses. links, of course, to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements should be made; student sit-ins at lunch counters and financial aid buildings are appropriate analogues and prehistories. but what i seem to detect in most desires for black folks at Occupy movements is a shoring up against state violence and violation by desiring a blackened, colored frontline, matching the historic condition for being frontlined, the object of attack in the US. and that doesn’t sit well with me at all. the surprise with which folks name a “new” relation to police power as a result of the occupy movements is notable. new ain’t really new. often, the rejoinder has been, “well, some communities have always known that the state does not protect citizens, but rather, the interests of the state,” and the naming of folks such as Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Rodney King, Mumia Abu Jamal and, most recently, Troy Davis.
but this assumption, to me, is a bit troubling as it seems to imply that black bodies and state violence should be articulated together as a relation of continual violation against those bodies. those bodies come to stand in for a general purpose of the capacity of the state to inflict harm on the one hand, and the capacity to receive harm of the state on the other.
and though i’m fully convinced that blackness [the history of resistant objects] calls into being the violence of the state [“the conventionality and maintenance of the status quo are violent by nature; if you start opposing the status quo that violence that is implicit will come to focus on you” — blackness is this opposition to the status quo as an ontological force], i am radically against the sorta ethical obligation that those bodies are supposed to fulfill when that movement does not take into account the theological, philosophical concepts animating their desire toward such bodies in the first place. it’s like Hannah Arendt telling folks that she just wouldn’t do what the Negro Mother [of Elizabeth Eckford] did, placing her in harm’s way in Arkansas. what she did not account for, and what her philosophic engagements with blackness lay bare, is the fact that any Negro living in Arkansas in 1957 was in that particular condition of being targeted by the state for violence. they did not have to go to Little Rock Central High School, a separate space, in order to realize this truth. what this means, against Arendt, is that the violence of the state is always directed at certain communities in order to constitute its structure. the focus on the absence of black bodies, it seems to me, thinks about a relation to the state, to citizenship and to violence in ways that are aloof to the material conditions of the ways folks live lives daily.
on the other hand, the desire for particular bodies seems to run rather consistent with both theological and philosophical notions of purposiveness, where particular marginalized figures come to stand in for the limit of the availability for transformation [theologically] or nature [philosophically]. we see this in folks like Great Awakening preachers George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards: both owned slaves but were “encouraged” by the fact that their blacks received “salvation” … always on some, “even the Negro and the Indian would be converted” by their powerful preaching on behalf of the sovereign figure. their ideas about the purposiveness of these marginal characters set into motion their astonishment, shock, and eventually, pleasure gained from “even these” being converted. Kant, as i’ve rambled otherwise, philosophically thought the Negro/black’s purpose in the world was to demonstrate general purposiveness that exists in nature. this general purposiveness was bodied forth in the skin color, color interarticulating with the mental capacity [if it’s white, it’s right / if it’s black, stay back].
what leaps out at me is how the conversion of Indians and Negros verified, for Whitfield and Edwards, the rightness of the sovereign [they were both Calvinists who believed in predestination of human station, human position…the slave was, in their theology, “born that way” *cue Lady Ga…no, cue Carl Bean*]. and for Kant, the color of blacks verified the rightness of nature and her hierarchizing. so yeah. it’s weird to think about the ways “black bodies” have not shown up for the Occupy movements and how this has been documented as a problem of hospitality. and, sure, i’m guessing hospitality is one of the reasons black folks have not turned out en masse to Occupy movements. but i’m more intrigued by why this absence is glaring [that is, what sorta occularcentrism animates such concern]. and though hospitality may be one of the animating features to resistance, i’m also wondering if there is a theological, philosophical ethics of “black bodies” that undergirds particular Occupy movements.
— — —
* “black bodies” is in quotes because, following Butler, we must keep asking what a “body” is in terms of discursivity.