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”.
I have to accept certain things about myself. I tend to think more theoretically, and/or more towards the future than many people. I’m not a deductive thinker. I am an inductive thinker. I’m really good at seeing different parts of complex things and how they work together to make “predictions”… that to me are just observations. All this to say, what my experiences in Higher Education have taught me is that I do not think like most people. As a co-learner and as a teacher, that means I have to come up with ways to make the things that are “obvious” to me visible to others. I have to also create openings for people to critique, expand, or disagree with those things I think are obvious. Because I do not know everything. In fact, I maintain that I know very little. I just exist in a perpetual state of confusion and curiosity (great mindsets for learning and exploring imho). So, what’s a girl to do???
Playing and Making
I’ve always been drawn to playing and making. And I didn’t get why until I started my drone tests to see which one I would attempt to get for my class next semester… and which ones I would get for us at the Duke PhD Lab (all the grad students there are super into the idea of playing with drone, from the classics people to the digital humanities people). What I think I determined, which is one of those things that was probably obvious to everyone else, is that when we play or make, we immediate go to the more theoretical imaginary space. We make towards a potential thing, and playing is all about that which isn’t there but could be or is only symbolically.
I cashed in all my store credits and discounts to put together a little fleet of drones. I have a small rolling FPV that is just very intuitive and really fun to play around with. A mini-qudrocopter drone that films excessively grainy HD video onto a microsd card. It has the biggest learning curve to fly too. There is a very stable quadrocopter that is fun, has a small learning curve, but only takes photos from directly below where it is flying. And finally, I have a low-midrange bigger quadrocopter that takes really nice video (the first flight video is above). I’ve done my first few flights with a series of drones and my brain is whirring (I imagine that word came to mind because of the whirring of the propellers).
I think when I was originally planning on possibly teaching with drones I assumed, naturally, that the primary thing I’d be working with and against is surveillance culture. That is a part of it. The second part was about creating world perspectives. I was thinking about literature and film, and how one would go about writing what can be seen through a drown, or creating new aesthetic practices in film that go beyond the panning scenery. I was really excited when I saw this Ok Go video because it took advantage of the mobility and perspectives of drone filming:
(There’s an interactive version of the video here: http://iwontletyoudown.com/)
But, after playing with the drones, and their different interfaces, I’m thinking a lot about how we imagine the body with technology. Like a broken record, I am thinking about how useful McLuhan’s idea of technology as an extension, and ultimately, amputation of the body, is when we try to conceptualize what are relationship to technology is when it becomes the only thing we can see through… I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared for a piece of technology as I was when I saw on the screen that the bigger drone was going above the trees and it was a speck and I wasn’t sure if I could keep control.
I am having lots of thoughts about public space, and how we imagine technology being in these places. When I made it to the park where I did my test flight, there was a group playing competitive boomerang (yes I live in that type of place). When they saw me go to another part grass near the field with my flying thing, they moved where they were playing to a neighboring baseball field without saying a word to me, sort of handing it off. Additionally, as we pulled in to the community park, I reflected on drones being banned in National Parks. There was a story this weekend, too, about an emergency helicopter pilot who had to avoid a drone while flying. I’m also trying to figure out where I can go with my students so they can film with a drone without others feeling like there is an invasion of privacy, and, where this is no risk of them hurting someone by dropping technologic object with spinning blades, as they learn to fly. So, lots of things I didn’t think I’d be thinking about until the technology was in hand.
And, of course, I always wonder about the implications of having all of these technologies that are designed so specifically for a visual experience and not really much else. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s just… curious.
I imagine as I play around a bit more, and as I play with more people with these things I’ll have lots of other thoughts, and they will too. I am just grateful to have another fun bridge to help break down some of the thought barriers into something other than language. And I’m happy to have more toys to play with. I’ve let my little ones play with all the drones (except for the big one… it was too windy) it’s been interesting to see how intuitive some are versus others.
Yesterday I finally managed to successfully create a twitter bot. Thanks go out to the amazing twitter community that made this possible, namely @samplereality who provided me with the easiest bot creator I’ve found to date… and I say easiest because I managed to get it to work in less than 30 minutes, once I realized I’d been forgetting to authenticate. The tutorial he suggested that worked can be found here:
I think it might be something I use in my classes too, just need to come up with the broader framework and theoretical engagement. I know it’s there, but I’m stuck on the “OMG this is so friggin cool” moment still.
Why this bot?
Because why not? No. That isn’t the reason. I’ve been vocal of the years about how horrid that American translations of Fanon’s works are, partially because of the time they were translated in and the political situation on the ground here. But, it can be translated better, in bits and pieces, by a bot and a platform. You see, twitter has integrated bing translate. So if you click on a tweet, you have an option to translate it, and the translations so far have been pretty good. So, gift to anyone who is interested.
The other reason I made this bot is… I like have random bits of Fanon show up in my own twitter timeline. So, as a result, we now have @FanonInFrench putting the quotes out there as they were originally written, because.. I think that’s important.
The one thing about the amazing simple bot creator that I used is, there’s a limit to the text archive. Which is fine. It means that I have to form a schedule of when and what to update. But, I think that’s good to. It’s like a half bot bot. Or I’m part bot. Or, it’s a cyborg bot. Right now I’m trying to determine if text will be updated weekly on Friday, or bi-weekly. Given my character, I imagine it will be updated once a week.
So, I have an idea that is really a request. When we talk of society, we talk as though mutual recognition was a possibility that existed at the time of slavery. I think sure it did, but it didn’t. Exploring this was the purpose of the Letter post. Slavery is a complex system of seeing bodies as cyborgs, which to me, on some level means sexually viable for humanoid reproduction (at the cusp of recognition), yet not fully human. So, it’s about bodies that are resources of reproduction, both in terms of the almost human and labor, especially manual labor.
The thing that I think we all acknowledge but don’t actually interrogate is that slavery is the first real instance of a well oiled mechanical assembly line. That is why the transport of bodies as a labor class lasted for over three hundred years. When we look at the wealth of the west, the wealth that is now apparently in crisis, we are looking at wealth that was built on the backs of black slave labor. The Independent just wrote an article exploring this Britain’s colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition. I tend to believe that society builds on itself. If the western structure for attaining wealth was built on being able to see certain bodies as less than you, as less than human, and relegating those bodies to do the labor that allows you to attain wealth, even as those bodies are forced into positions that, if you saw them as equals would be ethically unsound, I don’t know why we’d think that would change. (How crazy is it that the real wealth in the British instance was contingent on being able to dispose of the bodies!?)
So slavery was abolished in the west. I want to say not exactly. The slave trade, the need for slavery to be so focused on the bodies as technology, each with its own individual value, and skills is gone. But it is so ingrained in our culture, it has become such a point of articulation that slavery doesn’t need to exist as such anymore.
Slavery is a technique. As a result, we have situations like the Emory president speaking of the 3/5ths compromise and not realizing he’s made a horrible mistake… only not really, because in this system we have now, this slavery as technique mode of labor production, there are people who are 3/5ths. They are not in power. But they do the labor that ensures those with access to power and wealth stay in their positions. We have comments like the tweet below that instigated this post:
Slavery as technique. RT @sinboy: “We are ruled by people who think $250k/year means you’re poor, but the minimum wage is too high” – Atrios
— Jade D. (@jadedid) February 28, 2013
We all buy into the idea of “Human Resources” without realizing what we are saying when we speak these words. Hint, if Human Resources was really about serving the people that worked at the company/institution etc, I maintain that it would be called the “Office of Humanity”.
Even more than the things that are happening here at home in the states, we have people working in virtual slave positions around the world. It is the dark side of globalization and global connectivity through media devices. We can buy our cheap goods while the labor that went into creating them and bringing them to us remains invisible. Their labor is our pacifier. We are coddled by our ability to attain more than others. But, that’s part of the technique as well. Those with the bigger planation, or more stuff, are imagined to have more power. So we work to attain more. With that, I guess I should drop the link so we can all look at our slavery footprint.
The thing about understanding slavery as a technique is, techniques are in the background. We don’t have to think about them. They are built into how we move through society. The biggest issue for me is, as long as we get stuck focussing on and speaking about slavery as technology, we won’t be able to move it beyond the black body. As a technique, it is all encompassing. We all have a hand in ensuring the technique remains a part of our societal makeup. And as long as we live in the fancy big house, we seem to ignore all of those people in the global fields who are making sure we get our next fix of cheap goods… And I cannot forget the mostly black and brown people that clean the halls of my own University for lord knows how much money, but only in the middle of the night, when they can’t be seen.