A Cyborg Manifesto of Black People In Theory

There is not a theoretical absence of blackness and the black body (both male and female) because they are used as political frame or experience (blackness) or object of study (the black body) by academics who strive to subvert or chip at the hegemonic force known as the canon (which does occasionally release it’s heavy blows on people who attempt to go against it). No, blackness and the black body are not missing. Black people are missing. But blackness as a theoretical frame and the black body as an object are allowed to exist only to be made invisible as they are over theorized and the frame loses its utility or grounding in the reality of the experience of black people. Blackness becomes opaque as find and replace is applied to the experience and the terminology changes: marginalized, at risk, ghetto, urban, people of color, The Other, the cyborg. This find and replace decenters the centrality of the atlantic slave trade and its role in forming the cultural and business practices of the West as they are today.. If this is called into question, especialy within the academy, it is often met with silence, ghettoized, seperated. To make blackness or the black body visible and center those two things while ignoring or disregarding Black people is to perform a violence in the Fanonian sense. It is to imagine and to frame differently to re-remember History towards a different future where I and my children do not exist.

The absence of black people is painful and obvious, especially as our stories, our history, is used to define relationships with technology. It is a hauntology without a ghost for we (where we is society and culture) deny that ghosts are real. Yet we allow for specters of our continued suffering to hang by black people (though we often say black bodies) to justfy our literal death. I say our because as a Black woman I have skin in the game and I cannot take it off or step away from it. There is something that happens if you have your own skin in the game and you theorize blackness. You feel compelled to re-insert us into the canon, the ether, the world. To affirm our existance, even if it just in the pages of our writing or the images that accompany our work means we have at least one other black person in the room. A familiar. Kin. More often than not the expectation is that we will be able to seperate thoery and blackness. If you, as a black person, plan on fully engaging, you must erase the self. It is not a slow death in the Berlant sense. It is more akin to a slow dying… A slow murder. It is the violence that Fanon recognized always attacking at your core being.

In 2011 I was enrolled in a core course in the second year of my program. We read “A Cyborg Manifesto”. As is often the case, I was the only black person in the room. I read something different than everyone else based on the discussion. All I could think was, “we use words like cyborg because we don’t have the language to talk about the black experience, more specifically the organizing role chattel slavery, signified by the black body, played and continues to play, in culture and society. Instead of joining the discussion I copied the text into a google doc and did a find and replace… “cyborg” should be “black slave”.


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