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Academia to Activism: Theorizing Power

Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Praxis

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Why Afro-Pessimism?

Afro-Pessimism offers us a critical way of theorizing about Black existence/non-existence. As a pillar of my research, Afro-Pessimism allows us to critique the solution-based orientation of most anti-racist agendas, and how such discourse fails to accurately encompass the Black position. 

Thinkers such as Frantz Fanon, Frank B. Wilderson, Saidiya Hartman, and Hortense Spillers, amongst many others, have dealt with the subject of Black ontology, and are included in this archive.


scene from Haile Gerima's, Bush Mama (1975)

"The Afro-Pessimists are theorists of Black positionality who share Fanon’s insistence that, though Blacks are indeed sentient beings, the structure of the entire world’s semantic field—regardless of cultural and national discrepancies—“leaving” as Fanon would say, “existence by the wayside”—is sutured by anti-Black solidarity. Unlike the solution-oriented, interest-based, or hybridity-dependent scholarship so fashionable today, Afro-Pessimism explores the meaning of Blackness not—in the first instance—as a variously and unconsciously interpellated identity or as a conscious social actor, but as a structural position of non-communicability in the face of all other positions; this meaning is non-communicable because, again, as a position, Blackness is predicated on modalities of accumulation and fungibility, not exploitation and alienation."[1]

  1. Afro-Pessimism theorizes the black-humanity relation as an irreconcilable, ontological antagonism, rather than a reconcilable conflict like class and gender, which are not ontological.[2]
  2. Humanist discourse fails to account for/comprehend the Black position, as humanism presupposes a world of exploited subjects, not fungible objects.[1]
  3. Most social liberation theory implies the possibility of a Black subject, whereas Afro-Pessimism moves away from this schema, and proposes liberation as housed within consciousness, a "work of understanding" as opposed to most contemporary discourse which posits utopian, solution-based frameworks.[2]

[1] The Narcissitic SlaveRed, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Frank B. Wilderson