Race and Nation in the Age of Trump and Brexit

Gary Younge is an author, broadcaster, and award-winning columnist for the Guardian. He also writes a monthly column for The Nation magazine and is the Alfred Knobler Fellow for The Nation Institute. 

Born in Britain to Barbadian parents, Younge reported all over Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean before being appointed the Guardian’s US correspondent in 2003. In 2009 he won Britain’s prestigious James Cameron Award for “combined moral vision and professional integrity.” 

His first book, No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey through the Deep South, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His third book, Who Are We—and Should It Matter in the 21st Century?, was shortlisted for the Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize. The Speech is his fourth book.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes and speaks on Black politics, social movements, and racial inequality in the United States. She is the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, which won the 2016 Lannan Cultural Freedom Award for an Especially Notable Book, and the editor of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, the GuardianSoulsCulture and SocietyJacobinNew PoliticsIn These TimesBlack Agenda ReportMs.International Socialist Review, and many other publications. She is assistant professor in the department of African American Studies at Princeton University.

Future Perfect: Designer and Discarded Genomes

Date recorded: Jun 16, 2017

This talk was presented for the event Future Perfect. In a moment when the future increasingly feels like a foregone conclusion, Future Perfect brought actors from a variety of world-building disciplines (from art and fiction, to law and science) together to explore the uses, abuses, and paradoxes of speculative futures. Curated by Data & Society artist-in-residence Ingrid Burrington, Future Perfect was an experimental one-day, invitation-only conference originating from insights of the institute’s regular Speculative Fiction Reading Group.

An Insistence on Not Being Discouraged

Modern, and contemporary criticism of African and African diasporic art is an area of inquiry that Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu insisted must exist. Professor Okeke-Agulu, along with others like Salah Hassan and Okwui Enwezor wrote into life a genre, and a lineage of artists who diagnose and critique African nation states and related projects. Okeke-Agulu is author of the recent Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria, which takes a broad view of the subject. His new work, Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text, takes a more narrow view, focusing on a former teacher who he names as the most influential Nigerian artist of the 20th century. Okeke-Agulu is currently at work on a book called Contemporary African Art in the Age of the Big Man, which tells the story of contemporary art after dictatorships, civil wars, IMS, and the devastation of African economies in the 1980s.

Doing the Work

To: Focus
From: Jessica Marie Johnson
Date: October 26, 2015, 10:31am

My Strength Lies, 2007 by Wangechi Mutu

Since this conversation began, Keisha Jenkins, a black trans woman, was killed by a mob in Philadelphia. In Cleveland, the prosecuting attorney released two reports indicating Officer Timothy Loehmann was justified when he shot 12 year old Tamir Rice within seconds of pulling up next to him in a police car. Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs passed away. And Hillary Clinton discussed mass incarceration and body cameras, but found it difficult to simply say “black lives matter” on international TV during the Democratic Presidential Debates.

In the midst of this, black women produce. Talitha LeFlouria received the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award from the Association of Black Women Historians for her book Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (UNC 2015). Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, was named a Senior Ford Foundation Fellow for her work on civil rights and racial justice. Books on race and surveillance, as well as black feminist performance, expressive culture, and political ideology by Simone Brown, Tanisha Ford, Uri McMillan, LaMonda Horton Stallings, Kimberly Juanita Brown, and many more break the mold, reshaping each and every way we think about how to think about black politics, anti/blackness across time and place, black women and who is included in that identity, history, and lifeway.

Darlene Clark Hine, at the 100th Anniversary of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, asked a plenary on the future of Black Women’s Studies what those with knowledge, history, research skills, and a desire to make change need to be doing NOW to change the world, to make this a world we want to live in, that we remain alive in. If the issue is doing the work by publishing, teaching, and mentoring, then we are doing the work. If the work is bringing our questions, vulnerabilities, and fears to light in forums like this one, then we are doing the work. If the work is showing up at Black Lives Matter conferences, at workshops in our local communities, at rallies and marches, but also at city council meetings, police forums, and planning meetings with activists, we are doing the work. The next step appears to be crossing boundaries (and here I deliberately invoke Hine and Jacqueline McLeod’s edited collection Crossing Boundaries: Comparative History of the Black Diaspora) and making connections, doing very necessary kinship work of building with each other in radical new ways. We are still working on how to do this.

If I picked one text to pay tribute to this labor of love and world-making, to add to the works above, that celebrates the parts of us that are problematic and raw and important, it’d be Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. It is my favorite. It is the story of the making of the New World and the text I turn to when I’m not sure whether this is all worth it, when I’m positive the number of deaths will break me, or someone around me, or our entire damn system. Wild Seed is the text that reminds me we are all implicated and sometimes the happy ending isn’t the triumph of a cause so much as the unmaking of a god.

For some reason, this gives me hope.

Confronting the triads of black life/death

To: Focus
From: Joy James
Date: October 24, 2015, 9:04pm

Our discussions of BLM/SayHerName are complicated: by empire and global anti-racist solidarity; terror and the infantilized; avoidance of speech and memories of the “unspeakable” violence that we (especially the children) face.

#StopTheCops photo by Sarah Dashi

Bitter and traumatic memories frame governance in black life/death triads of racism>resistance>repression. Racism logically points to some form of genocidal expression. Resistance thus becomes conditioned by fear even while it organizes against it. Repression counters through policing and governance, and then offers an open invitation to join its loyal opposition, or be marginalized or silenced.

Official memory masks repression as structural rather than aberrational. We are more familiar with racism and anti-racist resistance movements than governmental repression (which may be the most frightening because we petition the federal government for help). We historically lack clarity in consensus about what our movements are fighting. For instance, in Eyes on the Prize, Part II: A Nation of Law?, the late Frank “Big Black” Smith, a leader in the 1971 Attica prison rebellion for human rights, recounts the retaking of the prison in which he witnessed friends and white guard-hostages killed by the white National Guardsmen who shot several thousand of rounds of ammunition into the men gathered on the catwalk. Describing his later torture and rape (using current DOJ definitions) by state employees, Smith weeps upon reflecting that the rebels anticipated violent retaliation but not barbarism.

#StopTheCops photo by Frank Johnson

With or without carnage, governance-as-repression is an expression of racism; it is also embedded into anti-racist resistance. Local and global liberation movements are under surveillance, infiltrated, targeted, disrupted, intimidated or coopted. At times, activists (mostly outside the US) are imprisoned, tortured or executed. US training or funding for global policing and militarizing promotes the repression of pro-democracy dissent. Targeted by white racism, black governance seeks a “civil rights” pass because it represents black authority (through empire). Despite racist opposition to it, black governance is not black liberation; consequently, its recognitions of anti-racist movements foster political confusion.

Che noted earlier that criticism is life enhancing. Movements and leaders engage in self-critiques as a corrective against fears and desires to preserve/expand (black) social and economic status acquired under empire. They guard against governance that directs dissent through manipulations of fear; management of grief; cultivation of institutional or personality loyalty. Former BPP political prisoner Dhoruba bin Wahad publicly questions how the NSA and other agencies disrupt social justice movements and foster contradictions within movements. This line of engagement though is not representative of most of the diversity within black progressivism.

#StopTheCops photo by Frank Johnson

Charlene reminds us of the importance of youth activists, the Chicagoan namesakes of the 1951 “We Charge Genocide” formation, who addressed the 2014 UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) in Geneva. CAT grilled the US delegation on: torture at Guantanamo Bay; the militarization of police (Ferguson); police torture for false confessions (Chicago); and rape in US prisons. The president’s press conference offered assurances that the US respects human rights as highlighted by CAT while media coverage deflected from black radicalism in Geneva. Michael Brown’s parents, Leslie McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., and the Black Women’s Blueprint (hosting a 2016 UN tribunal on sexual violence) also testified before CAT. That UN gathering was on torture not genocide though; and context and content shape political analyses and demands.

Our complex political battles in the triad illustrate the “unspeakable” of:

1) governance’s paternal desire to control, infantilize, and criminalize citizenry

Although fewer in number than George W. Bush’s, President Obama’s signing statements also expand the executive branch’s police powers and diminish protections for whistleblowers and dissidents.

2) foreign policy’s market devaluation of black life

Commerce determines the global value of black lives. Journalists report that the US “greenlighted” the genocide of Tutsis by Hutus when Clinton’s 1994 National Security Council (its then director on African affairs as Obama’s presidential advisor for national security) allegedly prioritized governance and finance over human life (in arrears to the UN, the US shied away from peacekeeping debt). After the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda is gutted, governance discouraged describing the blood bath that followed as “genocide.”

3) empire’s proclivity for terror against children

UN peacekeeping troops systematically raped starving African boys in exchange for food (the UN whistleblower who recently alerted the media was fired from his post). While on US military compounds, Afghan military officers rape boys and chain them to beds; Pentagon officials, pursuing elusive military victories, instruct soldiers to ignore the children’s screams out of respect for local customs (US soldiers who intervene are forced into retirement; one dies from Afghani retaliation).

4) writing that maps strategic, ethical, and spiritual powers

Writings in resistance that help in swallowing the Morphean pill include: Vincent Woodard’s The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture; Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State; and Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind.