This book explores the relations among blackness, antiblackness, and Black people within the discourse of the blackness of black. This critical discourse developed during the last two decades as scholars explored what Saidiya Hartman describes as the afterlife of slavery. Hartman’s concept, which argues for a troubling continuity between the status of enslaved and emancipated Black people, is the pivot between discursive tributaries and trajectories. Tributaries of the discourse of the blackness of black comprise five foundational concepts: Frantz Fanon’s “phobogenic blackness,” Orlando Patterson’s “social death,” Cedric Robinson’s “racial capitalism and the black radical tradition,” and Hortense Spillers’ “flesh.” The book traces three trajectories within the afterlife of slavery: Frank Wilderson’s “ Afropessimism,” Fred Moten’s “generative blackness,” and Calvin Warren’s “black nihilism.” This ensemble of concepts enable us to understand what is at state in how we understand the relations among blackness, antiblackness, and Black people.
William David Hart is the Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College.
Part 1: Discursive Intimations
Chapter 1: Phobogenic Blackness
Chapter 2: Social Death
Chapter 3: Racial Capitalism and the Black Radical Tradition
Chapter 4: Flesh
Part 2: Inaugural Gesture and Three Trajectories in the Discourse of the Blackness of Black
Chapter 5: The Afterlife of Slavery
Chapter 6: Afropessimism
Chapter 7: Generative Blackness
Chapter 8: Black Nihilism
The discourse on Blackness and Black death and dying has become the substance of Black critical theory, and Hart provides an insightful elucidation and analysis of that discourse. Beginning with Frantz Fanon’s phobogenic Blackness, Hart explores themes such as the afterlife of slavery, social death, flesh, the wake, paraontology, Afropessimism, Black nihilism, and Blackness as generativity. The book is rich with historical insights into origins—the African slave trade, where slaves were thrown overboard without regard, sundered from roots and family, and seen as without "being." In the afterlife of slavery, the Black man was rendered burdened, though free; encumbered but deprived of land and capital, labeled deficient in manliness and without substantial being. Blackness was seen by the white gaze as criminal, as something to be removed from social space. Hart calls attention to W. E. B. Du Bois’s exploration of the lived experience of Black people and the notion of double consciousness, a trope for all considered other—on the other side of the color line. This overview is a rich foundation for understanding why Black lives are viewed as of no matter, without worth, and yet why they must matter. Recommended.
Professor Hart has provided a text that offers manifold fruitful pathways for both understanding these thinkers in their own right, and in conversation with one another. He has demonstrated that there is a broad and engaging discourse around Black people, and their relationship to Blackness and antiblackness. This book is relevant for philosophy, Black studies and Black religious studies and theology. And in an era of #BlackLivesMatter such critical reflection could not be more important or timely.
“William D. Hart’s The Blackness of Black is a brilliant and accessible introduction to key figures and debates in the field of black studies. Organized according to different terms and tropes within the field – afterlife of slavery, flesh, social death, wake—each chapter in Hart’s book draws the reader into the rich terrain of black critical theory. At a moment when people reflexively dismiss strands of black thought, such as Afropessimism, Hart offers a generous and nuanced reading of various authors (exploring possibilities and limitations). Without hyperbole, this book will become the primer to any serious discussion or course about contemporary black studies.”
“William Hart courageously elucidates, synthesizes, and analyzes a discourse on blackness that has emerged over the past two decades. Hart calls this discourse the blackness of black. Innovative as always, Hart reveals the inner workings of the blackness of black—grounded in what Saidiya Hartman describes in Lose Your Mother (2007) as the afterlife of slavery—by exploring the constellation of key concepts he has discerned as giving it unity and life: Negro Phobogenesis (Frantz Fanon); social death (Orlando Patterson); racial capitalism and the Black radical tradition (Cedric Robinson); flesh (Hortense Spillers); the afterlife of slavery (Saidiya Hartman); the wake (Christina Sharpe); Afro-pessimism (Frank Wilderson); blackness as generativity (Fred Moten); paraontology (Nahum Chandler); and black nihilism (Calvin Warren). The Blackness of Black is right on time in our current Covid-19 moment, which continues to reveal the systemic structures that the afterlife builds and rebuilds for black death and dying, and in which a new generation of young black people mount their resistance. Hart’s work may remain timely for the unforeseeable future, given that the afterlife rebuilds to last. The clarity and ingenuity that The Blackness of Black brings to the discourse on the afterlife of slavery makes Hart’s work essential reading for anyone who cares about the myriad ways that blackness has been explored by key scholars of this discourse. With this work, Hart counts amongst their ranks.”