Totalizing Identity: From Afro-Pessimism to Black Lives Matter Open Access

Klarman, Brian Jacob (2016)

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The thesis explores blackness as a collective identity category in order to interrogate the problem of identitarian exclusions in contemporary theories and political movements. Tracing totalizing blackness in afro-pessimism, the analysis raises questions about gendered exclusions in contemporary black thought and links those questions to the pragmatic concerns of movements such as Black Lives Matter. Starting with the theoretical works of Michel Foucault and Stuart Hall, the thesis argues that collective identity is a dangerous concept because it tends to result in the totalization of identity: the assumption that all people within one identity category are the same. Specifically, the thesis critiques Frank Wilderson's afro-pessimistic conception of antiblackness - a racial structure that degrades all black people as nonhuman - for missing the nuanced complexity of multiple black experiences influenced by gender. Reading the work of Hortense Spillers against Wilderson, the thesis articulates a gender-based challenge to afro-pessimism's totalizing construction of antiblackness. In doing so, the thesis argues for a more fluid conception of blackness to describe the plurality of black experiences. Finally, the thesis connects this critique of antiblackness to the pragmatic concerns of racial politics. Examining the Black Lives Matter movement, the final chapters explore the differential relation of various black subjects to racialized oppression and police brutality. The thesis argues that an analysis of antiblack police violence requires looking beyond a generic black subject in order to rearticulate how the vulnerability of particular individuals is not only geographically and temporally contingent, but also embedded in a gendered world. The project concludes by asking about the creation of theories and movements that are attentive to differences within identity. With the work of Judith Butler, the thesis suggests that political theories and movements are radically contingent, and that we ought to base our theories and politics not on the identitarian notion that people are the same, but rather on the idea that people contingently share shifting vulnerabilities around which they can temporarily organize. The rearticulation of identity as self-difference suggests that the bonds we form are necessarily fleeting and unstable, giving them flexibility to deal with changing political landscape.

Table of Contents

A Brief Preface: The Birth of this Thesis about Race p. i-iii

Chapter I: The "Essential" Subject of "Cultural Identity" p. 1-13

Chapter II: The Afro-Pessimistic Subject in Frank B. Wilderson p. 14-25

Chapter III: Understanding Hortense Spillers as "a Marked Woman" p. 26-33

Chapter IV: What is this 'Black' in Black Lives Matter? p. 34-45

Chapter V: Some Concluding Thoughts on Where to Go From Here p. 46-53

Works Cited p. 54-57

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