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Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism

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Anarcho-Blackness seeks to define the shape of a Black anarchism. Classical anarchism tended to avoid questions of race—specifically Blackness—as well as the intersections of race and gender. Bey addresses this lack, not by constructing a new cannon of Black anarchists but by outlining how anarchism and Blackness already share a certain subjective relationship to power, a way of understanding and inhabiting the world. Through the lens of Black feminist and transgender theory, he explores what we can learn by making this kinship explicit, including how anarchism itself is transformed by the encounter. If the state is predicated on a racialized and gendered capitalism, its undoing can only be imagined and undertaken by a political theory that takes race and gender seriously.

ISBN-13: 9781849353755

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: AK Press

Publication Date: 08-18-2020

Pages: 96

Product Dimensions: 4.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.40(d)

Marquis Bey is Assistant Professor of African American Literature and English at Northwestern University.

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excerpt from Introduction: Black Anarchic Notes

This inquiry into what might be understood as Black anarchism—a Black anarchism that is indebted to and circulates within Black queer and trans feminisms—is a brief attempt to both crystallize and depart from tenets found in established Black Anarchism, anarcha-feminism, and “classical anarchism” (the likes of Pyotr Kropotkin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Mikhail Bakunin). My aim will be to articulate a theoretical praxis for Black anarchism through what I see as an anarcho-Blackness that springs from, supplements and at times disagrees with self-described Black Anarchists. In this meditation, my sole purpose is not to demonstrate fidelity to Black people who are anarchists. Nor, do I seek to recover Black people who demonstrated “anarchic tendencies” and induct them into the fold of anarchism. In fact, I want to resist the penchant to absorb various thinkers into the fold of anarchism; I do not want to “claim” them as anarchists when they do not claim that themselves. Rather, mine is a reconfigurative project, to express what anarchism might be, what it might look like, after a sustained engagement with Blackness in general, and Black queer and trans feminisms more specifically.

I am propelled by the idea that, as Hannibal Abdul Shakur notes, “Anarchism, like anything else, finds a radical new meaning when it meets blackness.” The anarchism of, say, Bakunin is no longer the same anarchism when it meets Blackness. There are certainly threads that connect different iterations of anarchism, making them all, in some sense, “anarchist” (e.g. emphasis on mutual aid, direct participation, anti-authoritarianism, etc.). But meeting with Blackness entails that anarchism undergo a dramatic shift in focus and tenor, one that won’t allow the oversights upon which anarchism has been predicated. Classical anarchism, for example, rested on an axiomatic commitment to the dismantling of the State, but it rarely considered the racialization and gendering of capitalism, on which the notion of the modern State rests. Nor does it consider the inherently gendered texture of hierarchy itself.

My interests here go beyond a finger-pointing that denounces the racist and sexist habits of anarchists past—an argument that many Black anarchists and anarcha-feminists have already made to valid but, to be frank, boring and expected effect. The dramatic shift entailed in my version of “Black anarchism” is its emphasis on a fundamental and distinct anarcho-Blackness, something more than Black people simply taking up and practicing an anarchism that remains unchanged. I am seeking to delineate an anarchism expressed through and corrupted by the radicality, the lawlessness, the mutinous primordiality of Blackness.

If, as Dana M. Williams remarks, “The term Black anarchism implies an interaction between ‘Black’ and ‘anarchism,’” this monograph tries to dwell in the texture of that interaction. This text is an effort to uncover what that interaction entails: What happens to Blackness when circulating with and through anarchism? What happens to anarchism when being acted on, by, and in Blackness? What derives from this interaction—an additive sum, a multiplicative product, an exponential result? Neither anarchism nor Blackness can be what it once was (always an unsettled open question anyway) after colliding in a critical, generative intimacy.

I want to describe that intimacy from the inside. That intimacy is anarcho-Blackness; it is a Black, queer, feminist anarchism that disorders the various mechanisms that seek to hierarchize, circumscribe, and do violence to an unfettered and ungovernable sociality. It is an inherently anticolonial sensibility. Anarcho-Blackness, and Black anarchism more broadly, is an anarchism of another type, to purloin Gandhi. This other type recognizes its closeness to anarchism as conventionally understood, but it revises anarchism, anarchizes anarchism, remixes and samples anarchism to produce something distinct but very much indebted.

Anarchism is a more radical theoretical praxis than Maoism, socialism, or (Black) nationalist revolution. From the radical perspective of Kuwasi Balagoon, “the goals of anarchy don’t include replacing one ruling class with another ... in the guise of a fairer boss or as a party.” Indeed, anarchism is the name for the radical world-making project that, unlike the aforementioned political ideologies, refuses the “socialization process that makes exploitation and oppression possible and prevalent in the first place.” The Black anarchic chapters ahead deemphasize representational politics: having Black people as one’s oppressors doesn’t make oppression more bearable. We know quite well that “oppressors never have a problem finding Black leaders to condemn their blatant disregard for life.”

When researching anarchism and Black people’s relationship to it for this book, I found a notable dearth of self-described Black anarchists. I wondered if this was so because, even though the history of Black radicality is clearly a history of anarchic thought, Blackness immediately and necessarily alters anarchism’s capacity. Perhaps, I thought, what I am designating as anarcho-Blackness—the operative modality for Black anarchism—is no mere incorporation of Black people into a pre-existing anarchism (i.e. add and stir). What I see as Black anarchism’s “anarcho-Blackness” is a Black feminist critique and taking up of anarchism than asserts:

1) The “Black” in front of “anarchism” is not a “mere” marker of identity but a political and capaciously politicized affixation. It designates a mode and posture of reading, engaging, and undermining the tenets upon which hegemonic sociality rest.

2) (Black) feminist mobilizations are ground-disturbing, and disturbing grounds—even its own—is a necessary component of my project. Anarcho-Blackness disturbs anarchism’s ground, its capacitates, what it can be and who it can liberate.

3) Addressing processes of racialization and gendering must be at the forefront of any and all radical politics. More specifically, the radical work that queerness and gender nonnormativity do, as expressed in Black queer and trans feminisms, is anarchic par excellence. The dismantling of racial and gender hierarchies long overlooked in classical anarchism is a fundamental rebuking of authoritarian rule, determination from without, and injustice.

The titular anarcho-Blackness of this volume moves toward an anarchic social life and sociality that is delinked from any form of governance and rule, hence the prefix “un-” that begins each chapter. My embrace of anarchism stretches to subjective, intersubjective, discursive, systemic, and historical realms via a fundamental commitment to being and becoming unraced, ungendered, unclassed, unruled, and unbound.

These notes toward a Black anarchism argue that, oddly enough, it is not necessary to find all the Black people who are anarchists and the anarchists who are Black people and to then roll out their writings and thoughts as the definitive statement on what constitutes Black anarchism. The reason why this volume is titled Anarcho-Blackness and not Black Anarchism (aside from the fact that the Black Rose Federation’s reader, Black Anarchism, already exists) is because affixation of Blackness is itself an anarchic extension and disruption of political ideologies like anarchism and Marxism and socialism. We may not need a clearly defined Black Anarchism because to anarchically push anarchism, as it were, is to introduce to it a Blackness—an anarcho-Blackness—that radicalizes any and every political ideology that claims to moves toward liberation and freedom.

Some theorists, like Carl Levy, have focused on the ism of anarchism, anarchism as a defined social movement that arose in the late nineteenth century with clear originators. I focus instead on the anarcho, the prefixal thrust and spirit of anarchic tendencies and modalities. Focus on the anarcho is to focus on a world-making sensibility. It is this that I am interested in, not a particular political cadre of writing and movements. Anarcho-Blackness, in apposition to (not “rather than”) Black anarchism, does not seek to delineate criteria for a discernible Black anarchism as a movement but is concerned with the variegated modalities, methodologies, habits, trends, thoughts, and imaginaries that might be given to anarchic—which is to say unruled, non-coercive, coalitional—affinities and textures for sociality.

Anarcho-Blackness expresses what might be understood as a Black anarchism insofar as it designates a gratuitous disorder that engenders the possibility of living unbounded by law, which is to say unbounded by violence and circumscription. Black anarchist histories attest to how, in imagining what comes after the collapse of the State—with its attendant racial and sexual capitalist fixings—one should not “design” this future beforehand as if we know what we will need. Black anarchism is critical in the destructive sense: it unclothes fallacies and injustices. But it is also aspirational, searching and hoping for other modes of life and living that depart from “this.” Contrary to the Marxian castigation of anarchists as invalidating the world only to imagine one that cannot exist, anarchists writ large—and, especially, this book’s concept of Black anarchism—demands the impossible (to use the title of Peter Marshall’s encyclopedic history of anarchism). The impossible is the name for the world outside of, or after, or differently within, an anarchic destruction of the racial and sexual capitalist State. This world-outside is Black, or lawless; this world-outside is anarchic, or stateless, radically liberated.

I take my cue in this from an etymological source. One of the first recorded uses of “anarchy” comes in 1539 from Richard Taverner, who writes, “This unleful lyberty or lycence of the multytude is called an Anarchie.” Anarchy becomes more than what classical anarchists note: the negation of a head or chief; without a ruler or leader; stateless. Though Taverner surely connoted his usage of anarchy negatively, there is a way to read this iteration in a way that precisely captures how the anarchism of Black anarchism seeks to operate. That is, an “unleful lyberty” is a freedom or liberation that arises not as something bestowed by the State. Unlawful liberty is an illegal liberty, a liberation achieved by other means, not beholden to the juridical sphere or a general lawfulness. Perhaps this is liberty as such, liberty taken without making recourse or appeal to governmental agencies. We grant our own “lycence” to be free, and it is multitude, a mass, or a heady swarm, that takes this liberty and license. A promotion of disorder inasmuch as it is an anarchy that refuses to cater to order as instantiated by regimes of governance. The prefix “anarcho”, an index of all of this, embraces a political disorder begotten by an encounter with Blackness’s troubling ethos, its radicalization of radicality. The history of Blackness, in short, is a history of disruption toward freedom.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Black Anarchic Notes

1. Unblack

2. Ungovernable

3. Unpropertied

4. Uncouth

5. Unhinged

6. Uncontrolled