Afropessimism

Saronik talks with Diane Enobabor about Afropessimism and Afrofuturism.

Diane is a Ph.D. student at The Graduate Center at CUNY. She studies Black Geographies, social movements, borders, critical theory and migration.

Reading List
Diane’s recent article “A Call for Mourning: How To Adapt to Our American Ruins”
Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism. Norton, 2020.
Afro-pessimism: An Introduction. Racked & Dispatched, 2017.
Available online for free.

TRANSCRIPT

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

afro, pessimism, political, spectacle, whiteness, people, theory, pessimist, anti blackness, black, call, understand, support, orienting, pushes, forces, movement, phrase

Saronik

So today I’m talking to my friend Diane about Afropessimism. But before we get into it, I’m going to ask Diane to introduce herself and her work. 

Diane

Hi, I’m Diane. I’m currently a graduate student at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. I study Black geographies, and I’m also doing critical migration studies, critical border theory, things like that.

Saronik  

That is brilliant and I can imagine that right now you must be very, very busy trying to sort of think through the moment that we’re going through, but I’m going to ask my first question, which is, what the heck is Afropessimism?

Diane

It’s such a great question to ask, especially right now, in a movement when people are, you know, trying to synthesize what’s happening. Many writers have been contributing to what is considered an Afropessimist spot, but what I’ve kind of consumed is that you know, Afropessimism complicates and organizes us to understand Black subjectivity within an anti-Black world, it stretches out our minds to the depths of what it can mean to deny one person’s humanity, but it also pushes us to consider what humanity should or could be.

Saronik  

Right so because this is, like, our format is shortness and so if you have to, if you had to express the generative aspects of Afropessimism in like, one sentence, what would that sentence be?

Diane

Yeah, Afropessimism lets us really understand how fucked up Black life could be on this planet. And I feel that you know, and maybe this is because I’m like, a low-key nihilist

Saronik 

So difficult not the be a low-key nihilist right now…

Diane

Not highkey, though, cause I’m positive and I have Black joy. But I think that, who knows, in a year from now we’ll see what people say. But some of the spectacle of the movement right has forced people to kind of reconsider what people really said that they were going to do or what they meant when they said that they supported Black Lives Matter. And that, the kind of disappointment from seeing the spectacle and not seeing the results that we know can kind of ensure healthy Black life has caused for people I think to kind of go back and reread some of this theory to kind of understand why these limitations or blocks–mind blocks–are existing terms of people orienting themselves to want to support Black liberation.

Saronik  

Yeah, and like we’ve been having the conversation about, you know, performative wokeness. And it can be very disheartening to realize on a granular, granular level and also like, if it hits you like a lightning bolt to what extent this is, you know, surface and to what extent the, it would take even like a step further in order to sort of actuate the kind of support that you claim to you know, give 

Diane

Definitely.

Saronik

I guess this is not a bad time to ask my second question, which is, how do we use Afropessimism to ask the question very, very sort of, in a situated way, is that how does this movement faced with both hostility from one side and a kind of performative, but not actual support from another side? How do we, how do we or how does the movement use Afropessimism?

Diane

I think Afropessimism forces us to think through the spectacle and look at pattern so as we, you know, the country garnered itself around George Floyd and, you know, people were rightly in on and shock. An Afropessimism would say, “Okay, well, did this 12 years ago with Trayvon Martin and we did this in 2001, with Amadou Diallo, and we’ve done this at the end of Reconstruction.” And so it’s, it’s this these continuities, and thinking through what the spectacle actually does for the psyche, the psychological effects of how we relate to whiteness, whether as racialized people or if you’re racialized as white, so it also forces us to go beyond the political and ask further questions as to why we’re orienting ourselves around the spectacle. Why are we shocked? Why are we not shocked?

Saronik  

Yeah, can I just, because you, you said a phrase that really opens up so many things, which is “beyond the political.”

Diane

Yeah.

Saronik

And the, you know, very simply put right now, you know, we are living in a moment where it is, it is our bane but also it’s, it’s necessary, that the political feeds into everything, 

Diane

Definitely.

Saronik

You know, our imaginary is beyond, as you said, is difficult to imagine for want of a better phrase, but so I just want to ask you about what areas you would chart in that realm beyond the political.

Diane

Yeah, I think it all oriented stuff back to the political definitely, but at what extent right, so what Afropessimism also does is it asks us to think through not only the legitimacy of political political action, right, so you know, looking at the Democrats and say, “Well, what the fuck, like, you guys are giving us Joe Biden. Why are you giving us Joe Biden right now?” Like that doesn’t seem like the answer. But it also allows us to think through okay, what is the true trajectory of this, this political project? Where did it stem from? And for the Afropessimist, it goes all the way back to, you know, real political moments in the US where race became the common language to articulate other political problems, whether if it was class based, not to say that they’re not, they don’t intersect, but to say that, like, for example, when you had immigrant groups coming to us in the mid-1800s, race became a way to mitigate those conversations, of how these new people can be integrated into the white structure, which Afropessimism also reminds us that whiteness is also ever changing and is a process and through that process, comes new forms of anti-Blackness. that processing of anti-Blackness is meant to reify whiteness.

Saronik

Yeah, and, like, you know, I read the article that you wrote called “A Call for Mourning” and I really like this sentence. You said, “We are part of a society that is always crumbling and acts like we cannot see the rubble. The Rastas call it Babylon, the capitalists call it the free market, we are in spiritual warfare. We are in spiritual warfare.” And that I think that was a real opening up because there is a sudden collapsing of everything right now into the political, but at the same time, you know, not least for sort of self-preservation and to borrow a phrase from capitalism, self-care. Just to sort of preface my next question with the article that you wrote, which we will be linking in the show notes. How does Afropessimism save the world?

Diane

Afropessimism saves the world by us asking us if this is the world we really want. So it kind of, it makes us reconsider what this world is and it pushes us to think about how we actually create a new world. We all can live in.

Saronik  

And also, I know that you didn’t want to link it, but if you don’t have an objection, I also want to sort of get a sense of what your understanding then is about the you know, Venn diagram between Afropessimism and Afrofuturism because you’re talking about futures right now, So…

Diane

Yeah, Afrofuturism is a cultural practice, it’s an art practice that I believe can be informed by Afropessimism. The ma–magic isn’t the best word–but…

Saronik

We can use the word “magic.” 

Diane

Magic, okay. Well, the magic of Afrofuturism is that the opening goes beyond Earth, the temporalities which we can play with in Afropessimism, the temporalities in Afrofuturism are indefinite. So what that does for us is it gives us new scales toward how we think about liberation. It pushes us to think about the past. It gives us space to mourn the past, gives us space to feel comfortable about who we are in the present. But It really allows us to have joy in what the future will bring. I think that Afropessimism, people get really thrown off by the title right, Afropessimism. Well, they’re pessimistic, they don’t care. What I think instead, what Afropessimism asks us to do is to really, really expand how we think about the current and Afrofuturism is like, let’s expand the current for sure. But also, let’s hope and let’s dream. And both are necessary. Both are necessary. Because if you can’t figure out your current you can’t dream for the future.

Saronik 

Yes, absolutely. If you have to–I keep giving you ultimatums, I’m so sorry. 

Diane

I love them. 

Saronik

But if you had to, you know, in the in the last minute that we have, if you had to create a very, very short reading list, what would go on that

Diane

So there was this really great reader that came out. It’s called Afropessimism: An Introduction, and it came out by Racked and Dispatched. They’re a low-key, small press, and they did this wonderful collection of different texts from Afropessimists. I think that’s the way in for sure. Even before Frank Wilderson’s new book, Afropessimism.

Saronik 

Brilliant, that was really short and sweet. Thank you so much, Diane. 

Diane

Thank you

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