#NotYourMule Thoughts

[this is a really brief note, some ideas, that i’ve been thinking about for some time. i’m not interested in it being right nor wrong as much as i’m after a way to think about things.]


I think organizing against the current and pernicious systems of domination cannot have us saying that race belongs to us in any sorta easy way. [I have not talked about this publicly but] one of the things that fascinated me about Rachel Doležal last year was how quickly and intensely ideas about blackness and whiteness were resolved in the biological in ways that were just really confusing to me. I think a lot was unsettled about seemingly settled concepts of race and racialization. This was seen, for example, in the memes that jokingly “questioned” light skinned black people, saying they were now – because of RD – “suspect,” that their blackness was under interrogation. It was so quick and easy and intense for things to turn into old concepts regarding race, color and authentic black flesh. I learned a great deal about how – or, really, had the idea confirmed and verified that – many consider blackness to be defined by the history of violence that has happened to black people, that the history of middle passage, enslavement, jim crow and mass incarceration themselves are the bounds, the borders of blackness. If you and your ancestry did not experience “it,” then you are are not black. That is simply not what I think creates blackness at all, I do not think that violent encounter is the determining factor. (I’m also tryna think a lot more about what it means to do blackness rather than possess it and I’ve been thinking about this for some time now; I’ve been thinking with James Cone, for example, when he opines in his theological writings that the white church must become black; I’m thinking of blackness as abolition, indigeneity as decolonial and, as such, not an identity but a modality of existence.)
Anyway, the RD affair last year really made me wary because it seems to me to be a problem to use violence – or the capacity to have violence visited upon you – because we all, not all, experience the same violence. Think, for example, of the violence that black transwomen experience as a particular instance. Using violence as a method for thinking our relation to one another in order to contend against white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (WSCP) is a serious delimitation that just as often is broken down by tautology. (Palestinians have the same teargas thrown at them as black people had in Ferguson; what does the “same vilolence” mean in such a world where weapons manufactured for use over there are used domestically? What does it mean that violence – in the form of surveillance, infiltration, incarceration, terrorism, murder – visited upon the Black Panther Party for Self Defense became the architecture for future projects of surveillance, infiltration, incarceration, terrorism, murder both domestically and abroad?) We have to find other methods for thinking our relation to one another.
And because of the need for other methods that do not rely on the well worn tropes of racialism, I was in awe – but totally unsurprised – by the #NotYourMule conversations happening since Sunday night. I was in awe and saddened because, really, lots of the conversation appears to reproduce the logic of racial hierarchy as a given, as a good. How is it given and good? Well, we know that WSCP creates for us a hierarchy along the bias of white-black binary logic and folks that are “not” either of the two (and really, no one is, but…) have to figure a relation to race within the binary. WSCP is a settler colonial logic that necessitates property as private. That’s what it is and does. So to presume that race belongs to us as a form of property, as a good, only harnesses the current ordering of knowledge regarding race, it does not fundamentally disrupt that logic.
How, then, is this a good? It is a good because we constantly have to name our relation to what is presumed to create the binary logic: violence. And so violence becomes the thing that people constantly rely on to assert the coherence of a racial-gendered-sexed-classed group, violence rhetorical and physical, violence symbolic and material. Violence becomes property. It’s all about violence that has been done to a group, or the possibility of violence – that makes a group. (Think, for example, of middle passage; and though middle passage may have been the occasion to create affinity and group resistance, it did not create blackness.) So the logic of racial hierarchy is produced as a good when it can disallow critical engagement. Of course (and this is not a sorta vulgar, discardable, non-serious “of course” either), antiblackness happens and we must be attuned to not reproduce the logic of such violence. But the charge of antiblackness should not itself become a kind of property of which certain people can own and exchange and trade as a means to thwart engagement altogether.
So Chris Rock. He was not protesting and his monologue was fully terrible. The jokes were misplaced aggression full of sexism, ahistoricism and ridiculously unfounded parallelism. But let us also be clear: his work on the stage was not a protest but a paycheck. Chris Rock is not, nor should he be, a mule for others to build platforms for racial justice. But we must acknowledge that he was not doing justice work; it was flagrantly sexist and misogynoiristic and hyper capitalist, all for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Watching #NotYourMule was intriguing because it missed the fact of Rock’s labor for the Academy, labor that summarily dismissed Jada Pinkett-Smith, victims of lynching racial violence and current struggles for justice against police violence. Perhaps not a mule, then, but what will we call such exploitive labor and the celebration of it?

7 Replies to “#NotYourMule Thoughts”

  1. This brief note! All of it.

    Really loved this & am sorry only that I’m now stumbling upon it! Which just makes me more excited for your book to come out so I can read it many times and make many notes in the margin. May have to buy two copies!!!

      1. hi! i don’t know what it means to subscribe to comments? i think it just means that when there is a reply, you’ll be notified but i’m unsure. but thanks for reading and replying…i appreciate it!

  2. Jah love Ashon. Thanks for this blog post about a topic or subject that troubles me a great deal. I am concerned about how folks who have had not had to live with the legacy of the middle passage, genocide, enslavement, Jane and Jim crow etcera seem bent on trying to co-op or even claim the heritage by adopting some kinda “black” racial identity. It makes me mad because whether we like it or not, the violence that folks with black and brown skin live with is real and brutalizing. So where do we go from there? While I agree with the trajectory of your ideas in this post, I am not sure I understand how you resolve the problem. The fact remains that white skin is privileged in our society and culture-no wonder so many black and brown skin folks use skin bleachers and other add ons, technologies, to make themselves appear white. And so many studies continue to show the persistence of white skin color advantage and how black skin folks are penalized for looking like the damned one, or Cane! But, I do agree, Christ Rock went to work at the Oscars and he did a job that threw shade at the bosses because #OscarsSoWhite. At the same time though, I cannot help but wonder if a white man or woman coulda done as good a job as he did that night? Please let me know your thoughts when you have a chance.Blessed love.

    1. Ashon wrote “……..many consider blackness to be defined by the history of violence that has happened to black people, that the history of middle passage, enslavement, jim crow and mass incarceration themselves are the bounds, the borders of blackness. If you and your ancestry did not experience “it,” then you are are not black”
      I appreciate you are writing in a USA context …. but where would that leave the experiential identities of people born and brought up in Africa – in regard to being ‘black’ or not ?

      1. Jah/Jahnes love Davy Marzella. I thank you for the comment on my remarks. I actually agree with Ashon on that point. I needed to expand my definition of Blackness to encompass as much or all of our experiences spanning all of the geographies and locals where we exists. And this is one reason why I apprecialove Ashon’s works on aesthetics because, I find that my focus on the philosophy of love in black cultural production allows me to include black experiences from Africa. Blessed love.

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