“Terrorism is Part of Our History”: Remembering September 15, 1963

Angela Davis spoke last night in Oakland, California at an event organized by the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project that is part of the Northeastern University School of Law.  That speech offered important reminders of what is at stake when we look back fifty years ago to September 15, 1963: the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama and the murder of Denise McNair, age 11, and Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, all 14 years old.

I appreciated Davis’s focus on both historical context and contemporary ramifications when she reminds us that:

  1. racist terrorism has not ended and has fundamentally shaped the history of United States;
  2. Robert Chambliss, the man convicted of the church bombing, had terrorized and bombed so many black homes and gatherings for so many years that he was more affectionately known by whites as “Dynamite Bob” in Birmingham (also better known as Bombingham);
  3. the most salient sound of Angela Davis’s childhood in Birmingham was the sound of bombings, so much so that her neighborhood was called Dynamite Hill;
  4. less than two weeks before the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the lead civil rights attorney in Birmingham lost his home to a bombing;
  5. on the day of the 16th Street Church bombing, two other black youth were also killed by whites— Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware;
  6. bombings in Birmingham continued well after the 16th Street Baptist Church was targeted and everyone knew who was responsible, including the FBI, which simply looked the other way;
  7. Chambliss was only charged with the possession of dynamite, not for actually bombing anything, and J. Edgar Hoover refused to release any information about the evidence gathered from the church bombing (so there was no trial);
  8. the Children’s Crusade was immediately activated in response to the church bombing where children as young as nine or ten years old were jailed and tortured for the future of racial equality and justice in the United States;
  9. Bull Connor, the commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, helped ensure that violence in Birmingham was the norm where he would routinely promise and deliver bloodshed against black citizens;
  10. Black people were forced to arm themselves in Birmingham for protection (guns were fired in the air but never shot) but those Black communities never retaliated by bombing white communities and today constitute perhaps our best model for what it means to respond peacefully, but defensively, in the face of extreme violence;
  11. Black people had, in fact, been arming themselves since the 1877 Compromise where President Hayes withdrew all federal troops from the south as part of his bid for presidency (the model mentioned in #10 has been in long effect) and have always known that they must fend for themselves by themselves.

Four Little GirlsDespite the facts of the eleven issues listed above, we have never acknowledged the terrorism that was the norm in places like Birmingham, Alabama. Racist violence has been part and parcel of our local and national governments. Davis reminds us that the murder of these 4 Little Girls is a complex history, one that is rarely acknowledged in our commemoration ceremonies, but one that is intimately connected to ongoing violence under our ongoing racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia: from Trayvon Martin… to Oscar Grant… to the numerous stories of racist violence that I have told here about the universities where I have taught.

Davis’s speech affirmed the history and perspectives that I think are most valuable.  How we tell the history of this moment can be as violent as the actual history if we do not grasp the full context of how and why Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins were so brutally killed.  The fact of the matter is that for many, many years, it was only black communities who actually remembered and cared about these 4 Little Girls’ names and legacy. How we remember and care about them today is no less critical.  The privilege of who tells history and how it is told is most often decided within the terms of white property.   But as people who as, Davis remind us, have always had to fend for ourselves, we should be able to remember and care about our own stories and children differently.

For Tiana & Black Children: AfroVisual/AfroDigital Love

8C8880633-tdy-130906-TianaParker2-tease.blocks_desktop_teaseLike most black women who I know, I was really upset this weekend when I saw the news coverage of beautiful, 7-year old Tiana Parker, a straight A student, as she shed tears when her school officials castigated her hair/locs!!  If you ever thought black hair could be politically neutral in our social world, then you may never truly understand these kinds of tears. After being continually harassed, Tiana’s father was forced to enroll her in a new school because her charter school banned all dreadlocks as inappropriate, calling Tiana’s locs a distraction from learning/thinking.

I talk/write/think a lot about the white violence and terror that black girls face in school and this example rocks me to my core.  I find myself remembering what E.M. Monroe wrote about her son’s (Miles) first day of kindergarten this fall in the post, “Models Monday: Black Boys, Trayvon Martin, and the Politics of Comfort.”  In the post, Monroe talks about the humanity of Ms. Malcolm, a teacher who can see Miles’s humanity:

I tell you, it was a damn good surprise to have someone who sees your black child as having a life worth preserving temporarily responsible for their keeping. She’s a model for how a person might demonstrate their liberal views: You want to prove to me that you aren’t racist, well then how about you showing me that you Always choose to be an Aide and not an Assassin.

Monroe captures brilliantly the kind of teacher and school that I think black children like Tiana so rarely experience.  It is clear to me that the adults at Tiana’s school belong to a kind of violent trajectory that Monroe discusses in this post that she relates to the murder of Trayvon Martin.  Make no mistake about it: this demonization of Tiana’s hair— a part of black bodies— belongs to the same ideology that demonized Trayvon Martin’s black body.

Like what Ms. Malcolm offered Miles, Dr. Yaba Blay offered Tiana and black women a similar kind of witnessing.  Dr. Blay’s response has been the most brilliant with her focus on Tiana’s spirit.   She created what she calls A care package of sorts. A digital book of photos and messages from 111 women and girls from all over the country and all over the world, all of whom wear their hair in locs, all of whom want Tiana to know that she and her hair are PERFECT.” The result is simply stunning (followed by a new facebook community).  Click on the digital booklet below that Dr. Blay left open for embedding and sharing across multiple platforms:

It’s an important reminder about the political power of healing and loving black children and the role of always offering them visual images for staking out who we are.  This digital care package also offers black communities a way to inhabit digital spaces outside of the white norms of collecting images and videos to showcase family consumption and bourgeois achievements— after all, that is the same kind of whiteness that left Tiana in tears.  E.M. Monroe and Dr. Blay offer us real images and processes of what it looks like to show and love black children in a digital age.  These are the only kinds of AfroVisual/AfroDigital spaces that can recognize our humanity.

“This Woman’s Work”: Sybrina Fulton

Mamie-Sybrina Collage

My Collage of Mamie Till-Bradley, Emmett Till, Sybrina Fulton, and Trayvon Martin

“Trayon Martin is the Emmett Till” of our time… that’s a statement I have continually heard in these past days and I would have to agree.  The corollary is also true here:  Sybrina Fulton is the Mamie Till-Bradley of our time.  In Sybrina Fulton’s talk at the rally at One Police Plaza in New York City this past weekend, I was particularly inspired by these lines:

As I sat in the courtroom, it made me think that they were talking about another man. And it wasn’t. It was a child, who thought as a child, who acted as a child, who behaved as a child. And don’t take my word for it. He had a drink and candy. So, not only—not only do I vow to you to do what I can for Trayvon Martin, I promise you I’m going to work hard for your children, as well, because it’s important. (see 16:43 to 17:20 of the footage shot by Democracy Now).

When you think of the difficulty Mamie Till-Bradley had in securing her son’s body (Mississippi seemed to block her every move to have his body shipped to her in Chicago), it seems strangely reminiscent of the days Sybrina Fulton had to wait for her son’s body to be named Trayvon Martin, rather than the original John Doe white police proclaimed him to be, unworthy of even an investigation. It is not simply that both mothers lost their sons to white violence, publicly paraded by the courts’ refusal to convict their murderers.  It is the way these women opened up  their grief to the world and to a social analysis of that world.

Mamie Till-Bradley has not often been written into the chronicles of history as radical; it has mostly been black women and black feminists who have done this work and will continue to do this work with Sybrina Fulton’s life also.  Both of these women’s radical, emotional openness is simply chilling for me.   Ironically, we are in an age where everybody thinks they are “radically open” because they can post photos and videos on any and every social networking site of: 1) their children performing liberal rituals of white, nuclear American familyhood such that facebook, google+, and youtube become the new “Leave it to Beaver”; 2) themselves, friends, and family and the neoliberal objects/vacations/outings/performances they have materially acquired as the site of today’s corporate-induced narcissism.  All that “openness” but ain’t none of it like Sybrina Fulton’s! Or Mamie Till-Bradley’s!  An openness that looks American apartheid right in the eye rather than promote its whiteness!  At a time when most people use the “public forum” to simply promote the system we are in, Mamie and Sybrina halted the empty notions of progress, material celebration, and mainstream values that a white world would want to visually represent as Truth.  If there was ever a definition of speaking Truth-to-Power, this is it.

I think about Sybrina Fulton quite often and I cringe at the label that I hear too many often giving to her: strong black woman.  Yes, Sybrina Fulton is strong.  Who would suggest otherwise?   Yes, I understand the sentiment because so many of us hold her close and dear to our hearts and prayers, hoping she will know she is loved and cherished, shaken to our own core by the pain we can only imagine she is enduring.  Yes, we feel the awesomeness of her ability to stand in the face of that pain, brutality, and ugliness. But we need some deeper understandings of this legacy of black women and black mothers who defy all odds to love their children and challenge a world that hates black people.  Violence against black children is violence against black mothers so strength ain’t even the half.

Our current context is one that melds:

Multimedia cartels where most Americans visually circumscribe and incessantly celebrate mainstream, white familyhood, a continual site of historical violence and exclusivity in this country— I am not suggesting this is limited to the U.S., you need only watch the current foolishness surrounding the Royal Baby in England to know the U.S. has never been alone in mobilizing white imperialism to define family/nation;


A world where black motherhood is demonized and made into public spectacle for a gaze as white as the viewing of Gone with the Wind Tune in any Tuesday or Wednesday to Tyler Perry on OWN; he, of course, has not invented these images but when we promote them ourselves then you KNOW we’s in trouble (last night, Big Momma sang a slave spiritual to her white female boss, further castigated her own black daughter-turned-prostitute, and begged/sobbed for son’s release from prison).

When you place Sybrina Fulton into this kind of context, you begin to see why the label “strength” just won’t do for a black woman like her.  And you begin to see why so many black women will write her body, story, and pain so centrally into the history of black people and black freedom.

White Women’s Racism & the Kind of Feminism I Need Now

Oreo.  Sell-out.  House Negro.  Uncle Tom.  Aunt Jemima.  Incognegro.  Miscellaneous.  Negro Bed-Wench.  Tragic Buck.  Coon. Actin White.  Talkin White.  If a black person says any of these things about another black person, it ain’t a compliment; it is intended as a deep critique of one’s racial mental health and identity.  Now, granted, these terms can be used in some of the most problematic and simplistic ways, I admit. Nonetheless, I am drawn to this kind of everyday linguistic system of accountability and obligation that many black folk use to denigrate anything and anyone perceived as an insult and injury to black people.  I have grown up with these terms and, quite honestly, have used them to describe many a folk.  For me, this language can mark insiders, outsiders, and racial violence in some important ways.

As strange as it might seem, I think it is this very same language that makes me perplexed about many white feminists at times.  When the white men who I work with squash all moral obligation and dialogue in the academy, I have seen far too many self-proclaimed “radical” white feminists in these professional settings act in complete alliance with these most bigoted of white male patriarchs and racist systems.  And now, when a white female judge and an almost all-white female jury expects us to understand how and why they sympathized with George Zimmerman/white supremacy and sanctioned white terror under the name of the law, I need a radical feminist agenda that will call out such roles under white womanhood (rather than simply ask folk to remember that black women are as demonized as black men).  When a white woman goes on national television, accepts a major book contract (she has since cancelled) to explain her situation as one of the jurors in the case, and cries with the expectation that her pain will be a central organizing system for national sympathy in the murder of a black woman’s child, white womanhood has got to be called out as a fundamental mechanism for maintaining white supremacy: white male patriarchy never acts alone.   This kind of calling-out is simply an assumption that I readily make from the kind of everyday linguistic system of accountability and obligation that black language has given me.  What black folk/black language seems to get as part of its daily consciousness is that we need some words, tropes, images— some language— for this kinda foul, racist stuff.

Lynching of Rubin Stacy, 1935

Lynching of Rubin Stacy, 1935

At the Feminist Wire today, Zillah Eisenstein writes that “Racism in its gendered forms remains the problem here, not simply the law. Racialized gender in the form of the dangerous black boy/man is a form of white privileged terrorism.”  Also at the Feminist WireMonica Casper makes another compelling case: that we need to talk about “specifically the historical, systemic racism of white women.” And Heather Laine Talley makes it clear that expressions like “well, not all white women/white feminists are like that” is a form of white denial and bad allying. I stand with Eisenstein, Casper, and Talley here.  Their posts at the Feminist Wire, on the heels of a series of writings dedicated to Assata Shakur, have been compelling.  Meanwhile, Janelle Hobson at Ms. Magazine hits it right on the mark:

Adrienne Rich said it best in “Disloyal to Civilization” when she argued that white women could not form important connections with other women across the planet—the kinds of connections that would advance women’s collective power and overturn patriarchy—if they remained forever loyal to a white supremacist system. This year we’ve seen women like Abigail Fisher try and overturn affirmative action in a Supreme Court case, much like Barbara Grutter before her, even though white women as a group have benefited more than anyone else from affirmative-action programs. And now, another group of women have failed to give Trayvon Martin justice. These instances suggest that white privilege, power and dominance outweigh any notions of gender justice and solidarity.

The white female judge and jury in this case did not experience their own motherhood in sisterhood to the mother of Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton; their motherhood set its gaze only on Zimmerman and property. And the white female judge and jury in this case did not experience the words of a young black woman, Rachel Jeantel, as representative of Knowledge and Truth either.  Hobson’s claim that there is no cross-racial gender solidarity in the context of white dominance seems worth heeding.

Close-up from the Lynching of Rubin Stacy, 1935

Close-up from the Lynching of Rubin Stacy, 1935

I am NOT talking here to people who support Zimmerman and the verdict. I know that I am not part of that “sanctified universe of obligation” and have no expectation that dialogue will be possible— American lynch law has never required that the ones swinging from trees be heard and recognized.  That ain’t who I think of as my audience, nor where I mark the possibility of a radical humanity and a radical feminism. White femininity in this moment is being (re)scripted  in the most dangerous ways and shows itself as, once again, integral to the “sanctified universe of obligation” where white women and families mark themselves as needing protection from black people, especially young black men.  This is why I gravitate towards Sylvia Wynter’s re-mix of Helen Fein’s work: you need to look to the decades and centuries preceding a group’s annihilation to see and understand how the dominant group has perpetrated a regime that marks some groups as “pariahs outside the sanctified social order.”  It’s a conceptualization that protects us from the claims that we are simplifying history by saying racism today is the same as years before.  No, today is not like the lynching of Rubin Stacy as so brilliantly described by Justin Hill at the Black Youth Project.  Stacy left Georgia to go to Florida where was murdered on July 19, 1935 in Fort Lauderdale for allegedly trying to harm a white woman (who later reported that he only came to her door begging for food).   Apparently, Stacy had walked too closely and too comfortably up to white homes and needed to be killed for it. In the foreground of this now famous lynching photo, you can even see a young white girl, smiling, camera-ready for her special Kodak moment.   No, we can’t say that Sanford, Florida is the “exact same” as 1935 Fort Lauderdale, Florida but we CAN say that the “universe of sanctified obligation” created and sustained the murder of Trayvon and the acquittal of his murderer by a white female judge and jury today whose political lenses have, at least partly, manifested from the gaze of that smiling, little girl.

I also go back here to Wynter’s essay, “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings,” where she takes Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, and shows how Miranda, as a white woman/the only woman in the New World/Island is a “mode of physiognomic being” that gets canonized as the only “rational object of desire” and, therefore, the “genitrix of a superior mode of human life.”  What Wynter calls the “situational frame of reference of both Western-European and Euroamerican women writers” has seldom countered this “regime of truth”  that must be implicated in the ongoing murder of Trayvon Martin in the courts of the United States. As always, Wynter argues that contending with our present social reality requires a re-writing of the entire episteme and it should be obvious that race AND gender can never be disentangled from this work.

N.H.I.: Sylvia Wynter Said There’d Be Days Like This…

ap_abc_george_trayovn_kb_130625_wgIn fall of 1992 when I was a senior in college, Sylvia Wynter published an essay forever etched in my mind:  “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues” in Voices of the Black Diaspora ( pages 13–16). That letter was her response to the acquittal of the white police officers in 1992 who brutally beat Rodney King and the jury who further co-signed this social epidemic of white violence.  In fall of 1994, the journal, Forum N.H.I.: Knowledge for the 21st Century, published Wynter’s letter in its entirety in its very first issue themed “Knowledge on Trial.”   Both the journal and our mission as part of Institute N.H.I. (named from the charge of Wynter’s letter) was to follow-through on Professor Wynter’s call.

Now 20 years later, after a jury of white women and one Latina have sanctioned and anointed the murderer of Trayvon Martin, I find myself re-reading Professor Wynter’s letter.  After the verdict, as I sat for hours and reread her words, I am clear that things are even worse.  

In particular, Wynter reminds us in the letter that our social crisis is one that teachers/theorists/educators have created.  These people who have normalized anti-black brutality are, in fact, our students, the people who have been educated by us within paradigms that require the murder and annihilation of black people.

Here are the first two sections from the opening to Wynter’s essay. I will continue to post sections of the essay in the coming days (until I get thrashed for copyright issues):

Dear Colleagues,

You may have heard a radio news report which aired briefly during the days after the jury’s acquittal of the policemen in the Rodney King beating case.  The report stated that the public officials of the judicial system of Los Angeles routinely used the acronym N.H.I. to refer to any case involving the breach of the rights of young Black males who belong to the jobless category of the inner city ghettoes. N.H.I. means ‘no humans involved.’

Stephen Jay Gould argues that ‘systems of classification direct our thinking and order our behaviors’ (Gould, 1983).  By classifying the category as N.H.I., the public officials would have given the police of Los Angeles the green light to deal with members in any way they pleased.  You may remember too that in the earlier case of the numerous deaths of young Black males caused by a specific chokehold used by Los Angeles police officers to arrest young Black males, the police chief Darryl Gates explained away these judicial murders by arguing that Black males had something abnormal with their windpipes. That they had to be classified and thereby treated differently from all other North Americans, except to a secondary degree, the darker-skinned Latinos.  For in this classificatory schema too all ‘minorities’ are equal except one category— that of the people of African and Afro-mixed descent who, as Andrew Hacker points out in his recent book, are the least equal of all.

‘Certainly,’ Hacker writes, in Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal (1992) ‘all persons deemed to be other than white, can detail how they have suffered discrimination at the hands of white America.  Any allusions to racist attitudes and actions will find Cherokees and Chinese and Cubans agreeing with great vigor… yet… members of all these intermediate groups have been allowed to put a visible distance between themselves and Black Americans.’

‘The Vietnamese,’ Richard Pryor quipped, ‘have learned how to be good Americans.  They can now say nigger.’

Where Did This Classification Come From? The Point of My Letter To You

TMYet where did this system of classification come from?  One that was held both by the officers involved in this specific case of the routine ‘nigger breaking’ of Black males, as well as by the mainly white, middle class Simi Valley jurors?  Most of all, and this is the point of my letter to you, why should the classifying acronym N.H.I., with its reflex anti-Black male behaviour-prescriptions, have been so actively held and deployed by the judicial officers of Los Angeles, and therefore by the ‘brightest and the best’ graduates of both the professional and non-professional schools of the university system of the United States? By those whom we ourselves would have educated?

How did they come to conceive of what it means to be both human and North American in the kinds of terms (i.e., to be white, of Euroamerican culture and descent, middle class, college-educated and suburban) within whose logic the jobless and usually drop-out/push-out category of young Black males can be perceived, and therefore behaved towards, only as the Lack of the human, the Conceptual Other to being North American?  The same way, as Zygmunt Bauman has point out, that all Germans of Jewish descent were made into and behaved towards as the Conceptual Other to German identity in its then Pan-Aryan and Nazi form (Bauman, 1989).

If, as Ralph Ellison alerted us to in his The Invisible Man, we see each other only through the ‘inner eyes’ with which we look with our physical eyes upon reality, the question we must confront in the wake of the Rodney King Event becomes: What is our responsibility for the making of those ‘inner eyes’?  Ones in which humanness and North Americanness are always already defined, not only in optimally White terms but also in optimally middle-class (i.e., both Simi Valley, and secondarily Cosby-Huxtible TV family) variants of these terms?  What have we had to do, and still have to do, with the putting in place of the classifying logic of that shared mode of ‘subjective understanding’ (Jaime Carbonell, 1987) in whose ‘inner eyes,’ young Black males, can be perceived as being justly, shut out from what Helen Fein calls the ‘universe of moral obligation’ that bonds the interests of the Simi Valley jurors as Whites and non-Blacks (one Asian, one Hispanic), to the interests of the White policemen and the Los Angeles judicial officeholders who are our graduates?

In her book on the 1915 genocide of the Armenians by the Turkish pan-nationalists, and on the Jews by the Pan-Aryan racialists of the 1930s-1940s, Helen Fein points out that in both cases there was a common causal factor.  This factor was that the millennium which preceded their group annihilation, ‘both Jews and Armenians had been decreed by the dominant group that was to perpetrate in the crime to be outside the sanctified universe of obligation— that circle of people with reciprocal obligations to protect each other whose bonds arose from their relation to a deity or a sacred sources of authority’ (Fein, 1979). In both cases, although the genocides were inflicted in the secular name of a now sacred ‘national’ identity, based, in the case of the Turks on the discourse of a historical Pan-Turianism and, in the case of the German-Aryans, on that of the sanctity of a ‘pure’ racial stock, both groups had been defined ‘within recent memory similarly to pariahs outside the sanctified social order.’ It was this discursive classification that had enabled them to be misrecognized as aliens, as strangers who were, as if it were, of a different species, strangers, ‘not because they were aliens but because the dominant group was alienated from them by a traditional antipathy’ (Fein, 1979).

This is the same case, of course, with the N.H.I. acronym. For the social effects to which this acronym, and its placing outside the ‘sanctified universe of obligation,’ of the category of young Black males to which it refers, leads, whilst not overtly genocidal, are clearly having genocidal effects with the incarceration and elimination of young Black males by ostensibly normal and everyday means.

Statistics with respect to this empirical fact have been cited over and over again.  Andrew Hacker’s recent book documents the systemic White/Black differential with respect to life-opportunity on which our present North American order is based.  Nevertheless, this differential is replicated, and transracially so, between, on the one had, the classes (upper middle, middle, lower middle and working, whether capital owners or jobholders), who are therefore classified within the ‘universe of obligation’ integrating of our present world system and its nation-state subunits, and on the other hand, the category of the non-owning jobless young of the inner cities, primarily Black and Latino, and increasingly also, White, assimilated to its underclass category.

In the wake of the Civil Rights movements, and of the Affirmative Action programs which incorporated a now new Black middle class into the ‘American Dream,’ the jobless category has been made to bear the weight of the Deviant status that, before the Sixties had been imposed on all Americans of African and Afro-mixed descent, by the nation-state order of the U.S., as an imperative condition of its own system functioning.  Indeed, it may be said that it is this category of the jobless young Black males who have been made to pay the ‘sacrificial costs’ (in the terms of Rene Girard’s The Scapegoat, 1986) for the relatively improved conditions since the 1960s that have impelled many Black Americans out of the ghettoes and into the suburbs; that have made possible therefore the universal acclamation for the Cosby-Huxtible TV family who proved that some Black Americans could aspire to, and even be, drawn inside, the ‘sanctified category’ of Americans just like us— if still secondarily so, behind ‘women’ and the other ‘minorities.’

The price paid by the jobless Black male category for this social transformation is inescapably clear.  With respect to the judicial apparatus itself, statistics show that whilst Black men constitute 6% of the U.S. population, they have come to make up 47% of the prison population.  Whilst, in the entire prison population, in the wake of the mandatory sentences for drug offenses imposed by (largely White and middle class) Drug War officials, both Afro-Black young males and Latino-Brown ones, are to be found out of all proportion to their numbers in the society.  The May 7, 1992 New York Times editorial which gives these statistics, also points out that it costs $25,000 a year ‘to keep a kid in prison; which is more than the Job Corps or college.”  However, for society at large to choose the latter option in place of the former would mean that the ‘kids’ in question could no longer be ‘perceived in N.H.I. terms as they are now perceived by all; nor could they continue to be induced to so perceive themselves within these same terms, as they now do, fratricidally turning upon themselves, killing each other off in gang wars or by other violent methods.

Where does this ‘inner eye’ which leads the society to choose the former option in dealing with the North American variant of the jobless category of the post-Industrial New Poor (Bauman, 1987), the category to which at the global level, Frantz Fanon has given the name les damnés, the condemned (Fanon, 1963), come from?  Why is this ‘eye’ so intricately bound up with that code so determinant of our collective behaviours, to which we have given the name race?

‘It seems,’ a sociology professor, Christopher Jenks, points out in the wake of the L.A. uprisings ‘that we’re always trying to reduce race to something else.  Yet out there in the streets race does not reduce to something else’ (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 13, 1992).  I have come to believe, after struggling with this issue from the ‘lay’ perspective of Black Studies (which was itself able to enter academia only in the wake of the Civil Rights movements, the Watts urban riots, and the protests which erupted after the assassination of Martin Luther King), not only that ‘race’ cannot be reduced as an issue, to anything else, but that it is we in academia who alone hold the key to ‘race’, and therefore to the classificatory logic of the acronym, N.H.I.

My major proposal is that both the issue of ‘race’ and its classificatory logic (as, in David Duke’s belief that ‘the Negro is an evolutionarily lower level than the Caucasian’) lies in the founding premise, on which our present order of knowledge or episteme, [Foucault, 1973) and its rigorously elaborated disciplinary paradigms, are based.

(pages 42-47)

Citation Information:  Wynter, Sylvia.  “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues.” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1.1 (Fall 1994): 42-73.