“The Ruse of Analogy”: Blackness in Asian American and Disability Studies

Min Hyoung Song recently highlighted a disavowed yet structurally inevitable entanglement between blackness and Asian Americans in U.S. civil society when he noted that Asian Americans are becoming “less of a model whose successes specifically berate blacks and other racial minorities for their lack of resolve and more a kind of, for lack of a better term, super-minority whose successes berate everyone [including the disabled] who fails somehow to succeed” (18). Song’s provocative take on the evolving status of the “model minority” maps what I see as a potentially productive dialogue between Disability studies and the contemporary critique of the concept of an Asian-American model minority.1 Also, as Song makes explicit, we should also include in this dialogue the construction of blackness in any discussion of the “model minority” because the term insinuates that there is an antithesis of the “model” and it is safe to say within the Americas that people of African descent have historically and are now under the greatest scrutiny in that category. In this way, Asian Americans’ emergent status as “super-minority” also correlates with what Michelle Alexander has recently diagnosed as the “‘color blind’ public consensus that personal and cultural traits, not structural arrangements, are largely responsible for the fact that the majority of young black men in urban areas across the United States are currently under the control of the criminal justice system or branded as felons for life” (234-5). Broadly put, the aim of the present essay is to foreground how subfields such Asian American and Disability studies can participate, however unwittingly, in deflecting attention from what Alexander calls the “structural arrangements” that contour blackness within U.S. civil society. In doing so, I hope to intervene in the ongoing depoliticization of ethnic/minoritarian studies within higher learning.

The Zero Degree of Sociality of Blackness

To clarify this structural displacement I also draw upon Frank B. Wilderson’s recent intervention entitled Red, White & Black (2011). Wilderson’s provocative study maintains that in order for a politics or ethics to become legible within U.S. civil society, it must be based upon an assumptive logic which calibrates all citizens-subjects as a priori human, which effectively puts under erasure what Wilderson calls one of the “structural antagonisms” that has historically framed black bodies as potentially, or rather, always already non-human. It is, therefore, only by attending to such “structural antagonisms” (as opposed to a conflict which can be dialectically resolved) that anti-blackness (and in a different way, the antagonism toward the Native American) can be brought into sharp relief not as contingent but gratuitous (i.e. structural) to the formation of U.S. civil society.2 Thus when the concept of the human (or any of its metonymic variation such as personhood) is invoked as the a priori condition that subsumes all persons within civil society, it has the effect of displacing and putting under erasure what Wilderson calls the “blackness’s grammar of suffering”―which is structurally bound to the Middle Passage that effectively transformed the African into the fungible object status of the Slave. Therefore, as Wilderson reminds us:

For the Black, freedom is an ontological, rather than experiential, question. There is no philosophically credible way to attach an experiential, a contingent, rider onto the notion of freedom when one considers the Black―such as freedom from gender or economic oppression, the kind of contingent riders rightfully placed on the non-Black when thinking freedom. Rather, the riders that one could place on Black freedom would be hyperbolic―though no less true―and ultimately untenable: freedom from the world, freedom from Humanity, freedom from everyone (including one’s Black self). (24)

In this, there can be no analogue to “blackness’s grammar of suffering,” which exceeds the descriptive power of representative language, as it gestures toward the unrepresentable, the zero-degree of sociality which the Slave embodies. Drawing upon the interarticulations between Disability and Asian American studies to illuminate this structural displacement is not as arbitrary as it might seem, as both become legible and ultimately unstable in and around “blackness.” This complex entanglement, says Wilderson via Ronald Judy’s (Dis)Forming the American Canon (1994) that

the mere presence of the Black and his or her project, albeit adjusted structurally, threatens the fabric of the ‘stable’ economy by threatening its structure of exchange. ‘Not only are the conjunctive operations of discourse of knowledge and power that so define the way in which academic fields get authenticated implicated in the academic instituting of Afro-American studies, but so is the instability entailed in the nature of the academic work.’ (40)

As previously mentioned, Wilderson’s deployment of the term “antagonism” reflects his understanding that U.S. Civil Society continues to gratuitously position the Black as a being without humanity. According to Wilderson’s extension of Judy’s study, the disavowal of the “structural antagonism” toward the Black is thus a necessary function that is crucial to not only “instituting of Afro-American studies” but the manner in which such fields as Asian American and Disability studies “get authenticated” within academia. This insight is crucial to understanding how the convergence of Disability and Asian American studies on their assumptive logic of the human unwittingly works to displace “blackness’s grammar of suffering” from the political and ethical terrain that contours U.S. civil society.

In other words, the more the Asian American is framed as a “super-minority,” capable of transcending through individual effort all kinds of material, cultural, political barriers, the more the subject of liberal politics gains legitimacy. Crucial to this essay is how this liberal model of political and cultural citizenship is constituted as ideally unmarked by either gender or race, let alone disability. Yet as Linda Martín Alcoff reminds us in her timely intervention, not just any body of any race or gender can embody this privileged model of cultural and political citizenship in the U.S.―a fact that needs reminding in our phantasmatic present that is prone to post-racial imaginings.3

Blackness in Disability and Asian American Studies

The prevalence of colorblindness within U.S. civil society is not unrelated to the recent backlash against politics based on identity tout courtcomplaints from liberals and conservatives alike that politics based on social identity is at best philosophically naïve and at worst pathological. Disability studies, however, insists that distancing social identity from the lived embodied experience denies the materiality of the social world. Indeed, one could argue that the critical insight that lived experience is embodied and thereby embedded in the materiality of the social is the raison d’être of Disability studies. As Tobin Siebers, one of its leading practitioners observes, “Disability exposes with great force the constraints imposed on bodies by social codes and norms” (174). To wit Disability studies accentuates how for certain bodies, the normative ideal of abstract citizenship is at best contradictory and at worst unethical. This is not to imply that the body is neglected altogether in critical theory. Rather, as Lennard J. Davis observes, the problem lies in the fact that when the body does come to matter theoretically,

[it] is seen as a site of jouissance, a native ground of pleasure, the scene of excess that defies reason, that takes dominant culture and its rigid, powerladen vision of the body to task. … [while neglecting the] body … that is deformed, maimed, mutilated, broken, diseased. … [T]he critic [rather] turns to the fluids of sexuality, the gloss of lubrication, the glossary of the body as text, the heteroglossia of the intertext, the glossolalia of the schizophrenic. But almost never the body of the differently abled. (175) 4

In this, the poststructuralist tendency to read the body as a site of “excess that defies reason”―as a site of epistemological “excess”―works to legitimate the liberal model of cultural and political citizenship, which the universal concept of the “human” subtends. Therefore a politics based on social identity or embodied differences such as gender and race is said to not merit serious attention, as it distracts attention from explicitly universal social problems. As such, the present hostility toward politics based on identity tout court reflects what is:

In classical liberal political theory, the initial state of the self … [which is] conceptualized as an abstract individual without, or prior to, group allegiance. […] As Kant developed this idea, a person who cannot gain critical distance from and thus objectify his or her cultural traditions cannot rationally assess them and thus cannot attain autonomy. In Kant’s view, an abstract or disengaged self is for this reason necessary for full personhood. (Alcoff 21-1)

Contrary to this liberal political model of “full personhood” as an ideally disembodied rationality, free of material ties to individual, collective and structural Other, coupled with the tendency in poststructuralist theorizing of the body as a site of excess that defies signification, Disability studies foregrounds embodied reality as theoretically relevant to understanding the self in the world. Not surprisingly, however, such attention to how the self is embodied and embedded in material reality can work against Disability studies. For if the baseline of liberal and conservative critique of politics based on society identity hinges on the ideality of disembodied rationality, the disabled body, which illumines how self and body are ontologically and epistemologically imbricated becomes aligned with the absence of “full personhood.” In other words, if the mature Kantian political subject is able to achieve autonomy by objectifying his/her material ties to culture, society and history, by foregrounding the nexus between self and body the disabled subjectivity can potentially serve as a metonym for a compromised form of transcendence. Siebers underscores precisely this attendant theoretical and political danger when Disability studies touches upon how the body matters to the self:

Rather than objectifying their body as the other, people with disabilities often work to identify with it, for only a knowledge of their body will decrease pain and permit them to function in society. Unfortunately, this notion of the body as self has been held against people with disabilities. It is represented in the psychological literature as a form of pathological narcissism, with the result that they are represented as mentally unfit in addition to being physically unfit. (182)

Following this logic to its contradictory conclusion, the disabled subject can achieve “full,” that is equal status as person/citizen, only if he or she is able to objectify the very material (corporeal, visible or otherwise) condition that renders his or her disability socially meaningful.

It is through this tension that I read Davis’s call for an end to identity politics tout court. For example, in “The End of Identity Politics and the Beginning of Dismodernism: On Disability as an Unstable Category,” Davis supports a dismodernist politics based on what he calls a “new kind of universalism and cosmopolitanism that is reacting to the localization of identity” (239). As the title of his essay announces, Davis suggests “disability” as an identificatory “category” that cannot hold, and so rather than clinging to an outmoded modernist notion of the subject as complete and independent, he calls for a dismondernism which “[is] a new way of thinking [that] rests on the operative notion that postmodernism is still based on a humanistic model” (240). Though I agree with Davis that the essentialization of identity should be challenged, there is a strong sense in his reasoning that the historical-cultural (i.e. broad spectrum of material) specificity derived from the localization of social identity (serves as an obstacle to the achievement of his “new cosmopolitanism,” which unexpectedly intersects with Siebers’s description of how Disability studies is routinely accused of engaging in “pathological narcissism.” As Davis insists, “[t]he problem presented to us by identity politics is the emphasis on an exclusivity (i.e. “localization”) surrounding a specific so-called identity. […] Disability studies can provide a critique of and a politics to discuss how all groups, based on physical traits or markings, are selected for disablement by a large system of regulation and signification” (240). Though Davis’s overarching goal of unsettling essentialist notions of identity is to be commended (as such dismantling is crucial to building broad coalitions across differing social identities), to theorize the body (and by extension “wounds”) in universal and cosmopolitan terms can lead to what Disability studies cannot afford. Notice below how his critique of politics based on identity tout court forces his argument to swerve toward the erasure of crucial material differences, the cultural and historical specificities that obtain in and around the body, and I would argue, suffering:

Politics have been directed toward making all identities equal under the model of rights of the dominant, often white, male, ‘normal’ subject. In a dismodernist mode, the ideal is not a hypostatization of the normal (that is, dominant) subject, but aims to create a new category based on the partial, incomplete subject whose realization is not autonomy and independence but dependence and interdependence. This is a very different notion from subjectivity organized around wounded identities; rather, all humans are seen as wounded. (240-1)

The problematic model of civil society as constituent of undifferentiated humans aside (a point to which I will return later), Davis’s critique of identity works to consolidate the idea of liberal political subject that is ideally unmarked by embodied difference such as race and gender. According to Chris Bell, it is precisely such flattening of racial difference in Disability studies that helps to authorize uncritical analogies such as: “Being disabled is just like being black … ” (277). Bell’s critique of Disability studies is far-reaching in its consequences not simply because it points to the structural and ontological differences between being “disabled” and being Black in the U.S., but because it undercuts the assumptive logic that universalizes the concept of the “human” itself, without which civil society would be bereft of it moral/ethical coherence.

For what Bell takes issue with is the tendency in Disability studies to displace race as a social factor that impinges in the materialization of identities in contemporary United States. Put otherwise, an effect made evident in and through Davis’s call for a dismondernist/cosmopolitan ethics is the displacement, if not making light, of cultural (historical) particularity. Indeed, recognizing that race and by extension gender are mere fictions of social construction does not, for example, contradict Manalansan’s insight that: “While race is established through numerous institutional, cultural, quotidian practices, in all of these arenas the racialized subject’s body filters, absorbs, and deflects various interpolating forces and practices” (182). In this, the corporeality of the body (and not simply its metaphorical substitute) is imbricated in production of racialized meanings. Crucial here is how Bell’s and Manalansan’s attempts to illumine embodied realities do not necessarily result in the production of reified, transcendent forms of knowledge. Yet by attending to how blackness structurally differentiates the disabled body, Bell’s critique does localize the disabled body vis-à-vis the social, frustrating, no matter how well intended, Davis’s search for the universal or more precisely, a point of analogy. Upon closer observation, Davis’s desire for the cosmopolitan body—the universally “wounded” body that resists localization enables the return of what he fears—the able-bodied white male subject as the proxy for normalcy. Incidentally, in a slightly different but nevertheless relevant context, Julia Kristeva’s ethico-political orientation toward the “stranger” has come under similar criticism. As Sara Ahmed queries, does not the model of “call[ing] ourselves (i.e. all human subjects) strangers … perform the gesture of killing the strangers it simultaneously creates, by rendering them universal: [as] a new community of the ‘we’ is implicitly created. If we are all strangers (to ourselves), then nobody is” (73).5 Or in Bell’s more scathing critique: “Far from excluding people of color, White Disability Studies treats people of color as if they were white people, as if there are no critical exigencies involved in being people of color that might necessitate these individuals understanding and negotiating disability in a different way from their white counterparts” (282). Though Bell does not go on to explore what specific “critical exigencies” differentiate how “people of color” embody disability or suffering, it is clear from his critique that he intuits a certain “grammar” to suffering which Davis’s “Dismodernism” cannot accommodate.

For instance, what at first glance seems merely naïve―that is the observation that in the U.S. “[b]eing disabled is just like being black”―actually does index how disability cannot be synonymous with Whiteness. For what is suggested through the forced parity between the construction of blackness and disability is that the disabled body or mind cannot properly embody Whiteness in toto. And that is what Anna Stubblefield demonstrates in “‘Beyond the Pale’: Tainted Whiteness, Cognitive Disability and Eugenic Sterilization,” which iterates how disabled white persons have historically been categorized as embodying a tainted form of whiteness. She convincingly argues that beginning from the 1800s in the U.S. those who were considered feebleminded, a form of cognitive disability, lost the full privileges attendant with white citizenship. As she writes, “ … to grasp feeblemindedness fully as a signifier of tainted whiteness, it is important to understand that the state-sponsored, involuntary sterilization of tainted whites meant that they had, in effect, lost the full protection that whiteness conferred in a white supremacist society” (178; emphasis added). Not only did the so-called feebleminded whites come to embody a compromised form of whiteness but also the “ … white men [and women] labeled as criminal, sexually deviate, homosexual, … or insane … ” (Stubblefield 178).

What Stubblefield emphasizes is that disability as a social construct cannot easily be detached from its imbricated positioning within a network of material forces that include not only race but sexuality, class, and gender. Her study foregrounds the need for Disability studies to attend to racialization as not a tangential focus but central to its overall theoretical and political project. Interestingly Stubblefield’s study of how disability can dispossess whites of their “full personhood” under U.S. law seemingly lends support to what “Dismodernism” authorizes, which is the idea that the suffering of blacks can be made equivalent to not only what disabled whites come to embody but also to all those other Others represented under the category of “people of color.” In short, disability has the potential to democratize civil society by recalling how all citizens are common in their humanity―that is, equally exposed to disability. Yet, if we read between the lines of Stubblefield’s summary of how “feebleminded whites” can become “tainted,” the singularity of “blackness’s grammar of suffering” emerges. For what distinguishes “blackness grammar of suffering” is how it does not operate according to the assumptive logic of capability. In other words, to approach “blackness’s grammar of suffering,” Wilderson insists that one must be able to imagine “an ethicality … so terrifying that, as a space to be inhabited and terror to be embraced” (41), it resists language. It is a “grammar of suffering” based not upon the logic of a “lost” capacity but that of a deontologized property, the Slave that is not “exploited and alienated” but rather “accumulated and fungible.” The effect of this singular grammar on Asian American and Disability studies is significant, but the impact of Wilderson’s critique on the “scholarly and aesthetic production” of the “Black theorist” is radical by comparison. As he writes:

This [“blackness’s grammar suffering”] makes the labor of disavowal in Black scholarly and aesthetic production doubly burdensome, for it is triggered by a dread of both being ‘discovered,’ and of discovering oneself, as ontological incapacity. Thus, through borrowed institutionality―the feigned capacity to be essentially exploited and alienated (rather than accumulated and fungible) in the first ontological instance (in other words, a fantasy to be just like everyone else, which is a fantasy to be)―the work of Black film theory [and by extension Black studies] operates through a myriad of compensatory gestures in which the Black theorists assumes subjective capacity to be universal and thus ‘finds’ it everywhere. (42)

Placed within the frame of “blackness’s grammar of suffering,” I want to examine the consequences of Davis’s attempt to render disability cosmopolitan. While the move has the virtual effect of equalizing all bodies around human capacity to suffer―such an ethical cum political strategy requires the disavowal of how concepts such as “human” and “civil society” in the U.S. have structurally depended on the production of social death, i.e. the Black (and the Red). As it should be obvious by now, what is therefore unthinkable in Davis’s attempt to make civil society cohere around the universality of human suffering is the contingent nature of the term human itself. This in fact is what Bells intuits but cannot name in his influential essay entitled “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal.” Bell’s hesitation is partly attributable to how pain or suffering is both social (that is communicable, sharable by all humans in equal measure) and incommunicable within Disability studies. That is, Disability studies’ uneven attention to the incommunicability of suffering is seemingly capable of accommodating the unrepresentability that is constituent of “blackness’s grammar of suffering.” As Siebers insists, “[i]ndividuality derived from the incommunicability of pain easily enforces a myth of hyperindividuality, a sense that each individual is locked in solitary confinement where suffering is the only object of contemplation. People with disabilities are already too politically isolated for this myth to be attractive” (176). Yet in an attempt to intervene in the poststructuralist tendency to idealize “physical pain” as site of either transcendent power or pleasure, Siebers also adds, “… [p]hysical pain is [at once] highly individualistic, unpredictable, and raw as reality. Pain is not a resource of political change. It is not a well of delight for the individual” (178). What is directly pertinent to the present essay is how the universal figure of the “individual”- human marks the critical horizon of Disability theory. Or, to put a finer point to it via Widerson’s reading of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Mask, “… the Negro … ‘is comparison,’ nothing more and certainly nothing less, for what is less than comparison? … [And as such] ‘No one knows yet who [the Negro] is, but he knows that fear will fill the world when the world finds out’” (42).

We find in the most sophisticated Asian Americanist deployment of poststructuralist strategies of reading―such as the one advanced in the influential work by Kandice Chuh―a similar call to abandon politics based on social identity.6 While I am in agreement with both Davis’s and Chuh’s overarching critique of uniform identity, I find troubling their wholesale critique of all identity formation as a priori essentialist. For such framing of social identity as necessarily restrictive can only lead to the return of the repressed in our present era of colorblindness―the ideal of abstract citizenship. As she writes: “‘Asian American’ … connotes the violence, exclusion, dislocation, and disenfranchisement that has attended the codification of certain bodies as variously, Oriental, yellow, sometimes brown, inscrutable, devious, always alien. It speaks to the active denial of personhood to the individuals inhabiting those bodies” (Chuh 27). In this, Chuh―along with Davis and Siebers―unwittingly announces the displacement and the erasure of “blackness’s grammar of suffering,” as their strategies of reading the presence or absence of justice within U.S. civil society is predicated upon exploitation and alienation of the a priori human subject.

Nevertheless, by embodying the self―Disability studies helps to shift (though only slightly) critical theory toward an alternative ethicality that does not programmatically endorse the idea and ideals of abstract citizenship. For contrary to the liberal model of the political subject that achieves “hyperindividuality” through social and material detachment, the alternative model of subjectivity that is afforded through the disabled body is a self that is always already in the process of negotiating complex relations to the materiality of the social. Thus, the embodied model of subjectivity helps to re-imagine “personhood” as relation itself, leading not to the reification or essentialization of self, this relational model of subjectivity demands that any identity whatsoever be thought not as autonomous substance but rather as a site, comprising of unfinished, mobile, heterogeneously constituted relations across an embodied hermeneutic horizon. It bears mentioning here that it is this interconnected and radically open vision of “personhood” as relation that is foreclosed in the liberal model of abstract citizenship. For in the liberal model of the self, the ideal is to attain singular indeterminacy through the negation of such social relations, without which no self can hope to attain intelligibility. As Alcoff’s important work suggests:

Social identities … are more properly understood as sites from which we perceive, act, and engage with others. These sites are not simply locations or positions, but also hermeneutic horizons comprised of experiences, basic beliefs, and communal values […] . We are not boxed in by them, constrained, restricted, or held captive―unless … it makes sense to say that we are boxed in by the fact that we have bodies . … (287)

Interestingly it is by attending to how the self is embodied and embedded in social reality that clarifies the radical singularity of the Black’s structural non-relationality, which in turn helps to bring into focus not only what Wilderson calls the “structural antagonisms” that contour U.S. civil society but also unexplored ethico-political limits and possibilities of sub-fields such as Disability and Asian American studies. For according to Wilderson’s Red, White & Black what gives internal coherence to such terms as “human” and “civil society” in the U.S. is the disavowal of the structural (historical) relation blacks have with what is essentially non-human, a form of social death known as slavery. As he summarizes:

During the emergence of new ontological relations in the modern world, from the late Middle Ages through the 1500s, many different kinds of people experienced slavery. … But African, or more precisely Blackness, refers to an individual who is by definition always already void of relationality. Thus modernity marks the emergence of a new ontology because it is an era in which an entire race appears, people who, a priori, that is prior to the contingency of the ‘transgressive act’ (such as losing a war or being convicted of a crime), stand as socially dead in relation to the rest of the world. (17-8)

Wilderson’s intervention therefore hinges on isolating and exposing this dual operation by which civil society makes sense of itself to itself―the simultaneous disavowal of and parasitic dependency on the Black. In other words, the desire to make blackness an analogue of disability amounts to denying the structural relevancy of slavery to the formation of U.S. civil society. Wilderson’s reading of Fanon helps to articulate the radical singularity of “blackness’s grammar of suffering,” as it emphasizes how “… the gratuitous violence of the Black’s first ontological instance, the Middle Passage, ‘wiped out [his or her] metaphysics … his [or her] customs and sources on which they are based.’ Jews went into Auschwitz and came out as Jews. Africans went into the ships and came out as Blacks” (38). What Wilderson calls the “blackness’s grammar of suffering,” consequently, has no analogue in either the assumptive figure of the “individual” that subtends Disability studies and those other Others within U.S. civil society that have become included within the frame known as “people of color.” In this, “blackness’s grammar of suffering” gestures toward what is unnamable, a form of suffering that is in excess of any ethical language which is based upon the universal figure of the human. This is how Wilderson radically undermines the desire to transpose “blackness’s grammar of suffering” into the ethico-political language upon which civil society’s depends to make suffering (physical, psychic or otherwise) intelligible. As he writes:

The ruse of analogy erroneously locates Blacks in the world―a place where they have not been since the dawn of Blackness. This attempt to position the Black in the world by way of analogy is not only a mystification, and often erasure, of Blackness’s grammar of suffering (accumulation and fungibility or the status of being non-Human) but simultaneously also a provision for civil society, promising an enabling modality for Human ethical dilemmas. It is a mystification and an erasure because … their grammars of suffering are irreconcilable. (37)

Such is the logic that animates Bell’s critique of Disability studies but it does not, cannot obtain the force of Wilderson’s intervention because Bell cannot or dare not disarticulate the Black from the world. Nevertheless both Wilderson and Bell help foreground the important fact that even suffering obtains a “grammar,” that is, has a way of indexing―whether positively in the form of identification or negatively through dis- or even through non-identification, the presence or absence of a world. What Bell’s and especially Wilderson’s critique bring into sharp relief is that anti-blackness is part and parcel of the episteme that gives internal coherence to U.S. civil society. To approach “blackness’s grammar suffering” is therefore to contemplate, albeit always indirectly, not the paradigm of disability which is always already predicated on agency but a radical non-capacity.

Wilderson’s illumination of how the “antagonism” that obtains around blackness is structural to the formation of U.S. civil society has the effect of clarifying the positioning of sub-fields such as Disability and Asian American studies, especially when their protocols aim toward establishing some form of political justice based upon “exploitation and alienation,” which is at odds with “blackness’s grammar of suffering.” As previously mentioned, Wilderson draws a sharp distinction between “conflict” and “antagonism.” And this is key, as it is only when anti-blackness is positioned as an “antagonism” that the residual and structural effects of the Slave (the non-human) can be allowed to erupt into the living present of U.S. civil society. As such, though by comparison far more optimistic than Wilderson’s study, Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (2010) gives powerful evidence to Wilderson’s theory of the “structural antagonisms” that contour U.S. civil society. This is how a critical theory based upon advancing a colorblind world or an ethicality based upon the universal human effectively silences the suffering of the Black. As Alexander argues:

Far from being a worthy goal … colorblindness has proved catastrophic for African Americans. It is not an overstatement to say that the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States would not have been possible in the post-civil rights era if the nation had not fallen under the spell of a callous colorblindness. … Saying that one does not care about race is offered as an exculpatory virtue, when in fact it can be a form of cruelty. … Our blindness also prevents us from seeing the racial and structural divisions that persist in society: the segregated, unequal schools, the segregated, jobless ghettos, and the segregated public discourse―a public conversation that excludes the current pariah of caste [the incarcerated black males in U.S. civil society]. (228)

In this, Wilderson’s Red, White, & Black and Alexander’s The New Jim Crow bring into sharp focus why the framing of blackness within U.S. civil society cannot do without the ruse of analogy which effectively puts under erasure a “… violence which turns a body into flesh, ripped apart literally and imaginatively, destroy[ing] the possibility of ontology because it positions the Black in an infinite and indeterminately horrifying and open vulnerability, an object made available (which is to say fungible) for any subject” (Wilderson, 38). Put otherwise, this “violence” which is in excess of that ideologically saturated term called Humanity demands the infinitely difficult yet necessary encountering with what gives U.S. civil society the simulacrum of ethical and political decency.


Works Cited

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Wilderson, Frank B. Red, White, Black: Cinema and the Structures of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. Print.