This is the 2nd in a 3 part series. Please read the first post, Refusing to Reconcile: Against Reconciliation before commenting on this piece.
Refusing Reconciliation, Part 2: Spatiality, Fugitivity, and Blackness as Wild(er)ness
The irreducibly spatial positionality of beside also seems to offer some useful resistance to the ease with which beneath and beyond turn from spatial descriptors into implicit narratives of, respectively, origin and telos. Beside is an interesting preposition also because there’s nothing very dualistic about it; a number of elements may lie alongside one another, though not an infinity of them. Beside permits a spacious agnosticism about several of the linear logics that enforce dualistic thinking: noncontradiction or the law of the excluded middle, cause versus effect, subject versus object. Its interest does not, however, depend on a fantasy of metonymically egalitarian or even pacific relations, as any child knows who’s shared a bed with siblings. Beside comprises a wide range of desiring, identifying, representing, repelling, paralleling, differentiating, rivaling, leaning, twisting, mimicking, withdrawing, attracting, aggressing, warping, and other relations. -Eve Sedgwick, Touching Feeling
Blackness is about the beside. Is about being beside each other in the wilderness.
In the first part of this series I wrote about reconciliation as a utility of white supremacy and antiblackness that does its work through the narration of supersession–through overcoming blackness to be united in a white Christ. Many seemed to read my piece as a primarily narrative piece due to my inclusion of some biographical information at the beginning. I want to be clear that the biographical information was primarily meant to serve as a way into one of the ways reconciliation operates as a logic and a desire in churches. The main point of the prior essay, then, is that the work reconciliation does is antiblack and thus, antichrist. I intend to develop more clearly here how blackness and black theology in particular is a refusal of this antiblack work of reconciliation through the notion of solidarity as a life together in the wild(er)ness of fugitivity.
Reconciliation and Blackness
Reconciliation is antiblack and thus antichrist. It is anti-black because it requires the supersession of the black in order for its unity to be found in its white Christ. By black here, I don’t mean a particular skin color or identity, a certain vocal affectation, musical aesthetic, or capacity for rhythm (though I do mean all those things, too). Instead, I mean blackness as a radical refusal of the movement of reconciliation, and thus, of whiteness. To be black and to be made black is to take seriously the work of refusal, which is an antagonism, a thorn in the side of the sovereignty of whiteness. To be made black is not to be made other than one already is, in the sense that one must supersede the black in order to become a better whiter self or world or being. Instead, to be made black is to be undone through an encounter with an other that interrupts the logic of self-making, the logic of world-making, as supersession. To become black is to remain in instability, is to remain in solidarity together in instability. To become black is to be against the movement beyond sociality for the sake of becoming logical and reasonable. To become black is to refuse being made a something–to be and become nothing. Not because nothing is an absence or a lack of life, but precisely because nothing is the abundance and multiplicity out of which life is formed.
You have to be black, with a knowledge of the history of this country, to know what America means to black persons. You also have to know what it means to be a nonperson, a nothing, a person with no past, to know what black power is all about. Survival as a person means not only food and shelter, but also belonging to a community that remembers and understands the meaning of its past. -Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
Becoming black is this paradoxical situation of belonging in a place that is a non place. Of knowing the history of a country that continually erases and effaces a black past. To be black is to know and belong in this community that knows and understands what it means to be “a nonperson, a nothing, a person with no past.”
Black Church in the Wild
Black Christ, knows and understands this belonging, this history, and the role of American empire in producing and maintaining antiblackness. We see the refusal of reconciliation in black theology’s articulation of black Christ. Black Christ does not require the movement from blackness and whiteness to a new unity in Christ. This is a white Christ who requires the movement of reconciliation. Rather, black Christ refuses this movement from blackness and whiteness to a new extension of whiteness in Christ, because he is always already black and thus, always already refusing the conversion whiteness extends. Thus, black Christ is antagonistic to the mode of reconciliation the white Christ and white Christianity and the white world puts forward as redemptive. To be white, then, is to be anti-Christ, to create the division of racialization and coloniality that separates reason from unreason, thought from unthought, social life from social death, the body from the flesh, civilization from wilderness.
Instead of the conversion and reconciliation whiteness requires, black theology recognizes it is only in the embrace of the wild(er)ness of blackness that freedom is found.
There is nothing blacks can do to escape the humiliation of white supremacy except to affirm the very attribute which oppressors find unacceptable…. To this day, there is little evidence that whites can deal with the reality of physical blackness as an appropriate form of human existence. – Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
In this affirmation of blackness that Cone notes, there are resonances of fugitivity. A stealing away to a space that is able to affirm blackness. Delores Williams conceptualizes this space as the wilderness. A place where the escape becomes a site of encounter with the blackness of Christ, that is Christ’s presence, that enables one to continue refusing the world of white supremacy that one inhabits. Wilderness is also the grounds of engagement with others who reside in blackness, and who know the wilderness is what helped them survive. It’s a sharing in the inhabitance of a space outside. But it’s an outside that is also inside the logic of whiteness, that makes space in the fissures and fault lines that run within the knowledge and the world that whiteness produces.
Blackness and black theology is thus a rejection of the world and a refusal to be reconciled with it. Blackness recognizes that world as it is given is a project of white supremacist empire.
We glorify [blackness] because they despise it; we love it because they hate it. It is the black way of saying, ‘To hell with your stinking white society and its middle-class ideas about the world. I will have no part in it.’ -Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
With this refusal Cone thus doubles the utterance of reconciliation–a doubling that undoes reconciliation as the movement between two stable points of identity, black and white. Rather than reconciliation, we have revolt and refusal.
In black theology, blacks are encouraged to revolt against the structures of white social and political power by affirming blackness, but not because blacks have a chance of “winning.” What could the concept of “winning” possibly mean? Blacks do what they do because and only because they can do no other; and black theology says simply that such action is in harmony with divine revelation. – Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
Blackness is thus, not concerned with the stakes of the game as structured by white logic and reason. Blackness refuses to believe that recognition and inclusion are the same thing as liberation. There is no winning in conceiving of new ways to expand white logic to include more bodies. Blackness, then, is always already multiplicity because it refuses the stability that produces a winner and a loser. It refuses the question of conversion and whiteness as it is given. It is contradiction and paradox without resolution. It is particularities and excess. It is thinking objects and unthought subjects. And thus, to utilize the language of blackness here is not to reproduce blackness as it is produced within the logic of whiteness–of reconciliation–as a thing to be superseded because it is not universally able to represent all things. That is, to utilize blackness here is not to produce inclusion and exclusion, but rather, it is to refuse that division because the sociality of blackness, its radical community of nonpersons, precedes the division whiteness makes to produce itself as universal. Blackness here, then, is not a thing to be moved beyond in order to get at a diverse multicultural utopia that is to come within (the white) Christ’s united body. Rather, blackness is a thing, is a space, that already is. It is an escape, a fugitivity, a freedom which is already made present to us. It is the recognition of the textures of the now through sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.
It is the whiteness of reconciliation that depends upon that totality. Instead, blackness expects to be exceeded because it expects encounters to happen. (“We believe in the manifestation of the black Christ, and our encounter with him defines our value.”-more Cone) Black theology, then, is not the narration of the story in this way: Cone supersedes Barth and Tillich, Delores Williams supersedes Cone, and J. Carter or Anthony Pinn supersedes both of them, and so on and so forth. Instead, we must think of black theology as a series of encounters, not in a teleological or linear sense, but in the sense of reaching out to “touch somebody’s hand.” Not touching to agree in the sense of belief, but touching and agreeing in the sense of consenting to be together. As Mary Pattillo writes, we must think “blackness as a collective endeavor, and the black community as an implicit agreement to persevere in that journey.”(fn) In a theological sense, that perseverance of the faith is not a perseverance towards a point in time, but a perseverance towards each other that refuses reconciliation precisely because reconciliation requires that the other is lost–swallowed up in unity beyond ourselves.
But rather than being beyond ourselves, blackness conceives of togetherness and sociality as being beside ourselves and beside each other.