How should we understand the pervasiveness – and virulence – of anti-Black violence in the United State? Why and how is anti-Black racism different
from other forms of racism? How does it permeate our moral and political ideals? Frank Wilderson III
combines memoir and works of political theory, critical theory, literature, and film to offer a philosophy of Blackness.
In his new book Afropessimism
(Liveright, 2020), Wilderson insists that the social construct of slavery – as seen through pervasive anti-Black subjugation and violence – permeates our principled and practical assumptions. It is not a relic but a worldview that supports our conception of, for example, what it means to be human. For Wilderson, Blacks remain slaves in the human world because “at every scale of abstraction, violence saturates Black life.” To define what it means to be human, we require people who are slaves.
While the podcast highlights the theory, the book uses accessible autobiographical stories as examples of the philosophical claims. Wilderson’s remarkable life – from his childhood in mid-century Minneapolis to his work with the African National Congress during apartheid – serves to demonstrate that there are no easy solutions (thus his afropessimism) given the level of hatred and violence.
Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013).