Interrupted Attachments: On Rights, Equality and Blackness

Remaining attached to certain ideals even when – and sometimes, most especially after – privileges that accrue to such concepts have been pointed out and problematized, should force us to ask some serious questions about the relation of citizenship and subjectivity, the relation of citizenship as subjectivity, to ongoing processes of exclusion and violence. The questions would be something like: Who am I? Who do I want to be? Attachments to certain concepts rehearse, reiterate and revise – through an uninterrogated longing and desire to be an individual, a self-determined thing that seeks the power of the state for validation – the virulence of state power, its capacity to make of us all docile creatures waiting for an affirmation of what we already have, what we already do in perpetuity, as if we have nothing and do nothing without such recognition. And thus, we celebrated the announcement from the head of the United States – an historic, enduringly imperialist project of the uninterruption of violence, incorporating difference insofar as it consolidates the furtherance of capitalist inequity – while readily dismissing and setting at remove for a later date, a non-utopic future always approaching but never here. This is not about the possibilities of horizon, a queer manifestation of the liberational force of broken frame.

Attachments are deferral without demand, abeyance without appeal.

Attachments are the “wait until we have this,” which is never too far from hearts, minds and lips of uninterrupted celebratory posture, wherein what is continually inaugurated is an abstraction – in the name of a “we,” but in the service of nothing other than desired coherence, stability, stasis.

What is given here is an incrementalist approach towards citizenship rather than a radical commitment towards justice. We see trees but certainly, no forest. Incrementalist approaches are necessarily a solicitude of citizenship, and embedded within this approach is the implication that in just a few “short” years, we will all look back at the folly of what is now our present moment with derision, but also with self-satisfied joy. We need only wait. But the “we” who is called upon to wait is always a peripherality to, and obstruction of, thought.

This pic/meme of the opposition to interracial marriage and now gay marriage should be noted.

Noted not because of the framing similarities between the juridical discourse and public debate about gay marriage with interracial marriage; it should be noted because we have not yet dealt with – nor does it seem urgent for enough folks to do – the root causes of such inequitable distributions of rights in the first place. So in fifty years we will say how “backward” our now present moment was with regard to “gay marriage” but because we refuse to deal with the root – an imperialist political economy that necessitates inequities of all sorts – we’ll likely both be having this same conversation with a newly marginalized group while AT THE SAME TIME folks will still be discriminated against based on race, gender, sexuality and class. Because, you know, racism, sexism and classism aren’t really dead yet and aren’t promising to go anywhere soon. [This notion of the “backwards” has been stated about North Carolina and the overwhelming vote for Amendment One, lampooning the state as full of “rednecks,” “hicks” and conservative black Christians; this displacement does not even think about the exploitive political economy of the US, let alone NC – something like 2% above the national unemployment rate, for example. The self-satisfaction of those making the claim about NC, for example, while refusing to interrogate the political economy that creates the conditions of inequity is not a little bit intriguing.]

Anyway.

The normativity of monogamy married [pun? intended.] to the ability to receive financial aid and benefit and tax breaks, as well as the literal violence of the rhetorics of “same gender” / “same sex” to folks who are intersex, genderqueer and transgender compel the inquiry: who is this “we” and what is the “this” that is seemingly being attained? Of course, one could claim that a general public would need be educated about such queer variances and that what is most pertinent in our now moment is the celebration of the now moment, a prepositional displacement banishing the concerns of others for the now moment. But then the most we do is submit to – even if we’d rather critique – the power of the state, reinforcing its capacity to extend by excluding. It seems that everywhere, folks have aspirational attachments and none of us occupies a position where this could never be possible, though historical marginalization tends to be thought as shoring up against such aspiration. Thus, the case of the following curious picture should be noted.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the first dude is white and the second anti-gay marriage dude is black. I think it’s the tight curly fro or something. [Even if he’s not, stay with me]. What this picture rehearses, beneath its very thin veneer is not simply the idea that black people in the US are more homophobic than others, nor simply the idea that blacks cannot see the connection between interracial marriage and gay marriage as both are concerns about civil rights. What is beneath the surface is an implicit, but more foundational, claim about the coherence of marginalized groups, about how historically marginalized peoples gain subjectivity: by the assemblage of fucked up things that have happened to them. The second panel of the image implies: “hey, black man! some bad things happened to you in the past and that bad stuff is the sum total of what, and – most importantly – who, you are!” The vivifying force of the image is the idea that that which marginalizes is that which makes or forms “subjectivity” [and I think subjectivity is a bad thing; more on that soon]. The implication in the image is that marginalized groups own that which marginalizes. When this attachment is operative, “community” [which some say is fiction, though I’ve not been convinced; I’m an agnostic who goes to church for a reason] is grounded in that which is offensive, that which wounds.

But blackness is not reducible to “bad shit”; black community did not subsist and thrive in the face of the violence of slavery and Jim Crow by gathering around and deciding to be more fucked up and by believing that those things that others pathologized in us were bad. Black community was and is an incarnation of blackness, characterized by the joy of living in the face of institutions and systems that seek to diminish the very possibility for joy, for life, for love. The image rehearses the iterability of the narrative that reduces blackness to discriminatory things done to black people, that regulates blackness to bad shit, as a particular kind of historicizing purity, a coherence at the heart of our definable moments [e.g., the violence of Middle Passage rather than mati, affectional bonds created during Middle Passage that exceeded the horror, exceeded the violence, and allowed thriving life]. And, thus, the critique of black folks by Robin Roberts in her interview with Barack Obama wherein she bespoke the “especiability” of black homophobia such that Obama’s change would be grave “…especially in the black community”; thus the critique of Barak Obama by black clergy like Jamal Harrison Bryant and by religious groups such as the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The above image, thus, is the presentiment of the various critiques from multiple directions – both for and against “gay marriage” – as they each assume blackness is reducible to historic marginalization, and that those historic conditions are the grounds for a coherent, stable identity that can be easily and readily identifiable. In this formulation, blacks would have to be “more homophobic” just to identify the antithetical position of necessarily nationalist, patriotic sentiment, or as Hortense Spillers argued otherwise, this black homophobia would have to be invented [and in some ways, it seems to have been]. This is a problem of, fundamentally, attachments.

What is most vulgar about uninterrogated attachments is that it causes us to contend with institutions like COGIC and its restatement of their opposition against gay marriage, requires us to respond to Jamal Harrison Bryant’s statements about gay people, while leaving intact and uninterrupted the violence required for citizenship under these American skies. Roberts’s statement of black homophobic “especiability,” COGIC’s oppositional restatement, and Bryant’s resistance to gay folks all articulate, at bottom, a concern about what it means to have personhood in the face of uncertainty, incoherence and instability. However, the problem emerges from, and is an attachment to, the fact that subjectivity is created by a violent move out from the incoherent, it is an aspiration toward stability and certainty. In that way, Roberts, COGIC and Bryant simply participate in the ever-expansive goal for subjectivity. But as the very idea of subjectivity is sustained by the logics of self-determination, I fail to find the utility; these are western philosophical concepts, placing “European man” as theological-philosophical-spatial center, and the “others of Europe” (as Denise Ferreira Da Silva calls it) can only journey toward a determined “self’ … subjectivity is defined by the ability to be fully possessed of oneself, to be closed, stable, anti-social, to be wholly determined; it emerges through violence and violation, thus i’m not persuaded that it is a worthy pursuit. The attachment is to a particular mode of violation against the social, a violation that yields the articulability of the individual. We might say that “gay marriage” is articulable in our present moment as a desire for citizenship that necessarily moves out violently from the incoherence and instability of queerness, sets those who cannot easily be – or those who do not want to –  “same gender” or “same sex” in the zone of deferral and abeyance. No demands, nor appeals here.

Maybe detachment is what we need. But how can we get there? Is an anti-political politics possible that thinks the world differently? One possible reply, which here may show up as a peculiar conceit, is to ask – and daily inquire intentionally and diligently – who do we want to be? Certainly not a novel question though it is ever-pertinent. Do we want to perpetually reinstantiate the conditions of inequity, only ever-so-slightly increasing who gets to count as normal, enlivening and refreshing the violence of the state, allowing such violence and violation to go uninterrupted in some otherwise location [e.g., the Prison Industrial Complex; Palestine; Wall Street]? Or do we want to radically transform our world by asking tough questions about our own, personal, private propensities for comfort over and against the safety of others? What world have we been given and what world do we desire to make? Southerners on New Ground does this work: to make bonds that do not diminish difference but builds coalitions based on collective struggle for a world full of radical, affirming love. SpiritHouse, Inc in North Carolina does this work: to lament the loss of black life but, as importantly, to affirm the life still here: to care for this life through joy, song, prayer, dance. This affirmation, this coalition creation, comes about through asking: what do we want to be, today, everyday? This affirmation, this coalition creation, comes about by relinquishing attachments to ideas, philosophies and theologies that we – even if they would have us – should interrogate because they would not, nor could not, have us fully whole, fully human, fully alive without relegation or repression. And maybe detachment from certain violent and violative concepts would allow us to fully attach, both to our deepest and most foundational humanness, and thus, to the world in which we abide, with others, in joy, in love.

ashoncrawley

23 thoughts on “Interrupted Attachments: On Rights, Equality and Blackness

  1. Hey, I have a M.A. and I still don’t understand most of this article. I seriously can’t even follow sentences like “Of course, one could claim that a general public would need be educated about such queer variances and that what is most pertinent in our now moment is the celebration of the now moment, a prepositional displacement banishing the concerns of others for the now moment.” Wait. What? Is it not possible to write in a way that more people can understand?

    • We care about accessibility here at the CFC. But we also allow our CFs to come in their own chosen way, such that their pieces can speak to a range of audiences, both academic and non-academic. Some folks will write poetry; others will write solidly academic ruminations. We see that as a strength. Anyway, thanks for reading. I’m sure the author will respond in more depth if he so chooses.

      Crunktastic

    • Hi Morgan! Thanks for reading!

      The particular sentence you pointed out means, simply, that one resistance to talking about genderqueer, transgender and intersex persons is because of a pervasive idea that these persons are not easily understood. We are called upon to celebrate Obama’s affirmation of gay marriage presently and worry about how this reproduces inequity for other folks later.

  2. Morgan, I agree with you. This article was very difficult to read and I’m going to tackle it again when I’ve had more than 2 hours of sleep. I disagree with crunktastic, the accessibility of academic language is an important conversation to have. I consider myself as someone in the academic community and there is nothing I dislike more than “pretentious diction” (Orwell, https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm) By sectioning ourselves away from poetry and street speak, we are implying that academia is an elite society when what we should be striving for is openness and dialogue with people from all walks of life. Throwing a few key words in there like “heteronormativity” and “patriarchy” is fine but when every sentence needs to be broken down, I think that’s problematic. Anyways, I hope you don’t take my comment offensively, it’s just my two cents. I look forward to reading through this article.

    • Hi Anita,

      Thank you for reading as well! I will try to respond to both your and Morgan’s concerns. On the one hand, I’m totally sympathetic to your reading of the writing as “difficult”; on the other hand, I do not think that “difficult” reading should necessarily mean that it is dismissible or discardable. The claim for what is and is not “difficult” has a long, storied history both within and outside academe; and a lot of “poetry” and “street speak” has been critiqued as difficult. Amiri Baraka, Phillis Wheatley, Toni Morrison, Gayatri Spivak and even Pentecostals who speak in tongues have all been dismissed by very smart people because they employed “difficult” language, making what they produced not immediately apprehended.

      But I wonder: is the refusal of an immediacy of apprehension the same as inaccessibility? Is there a particular generativity given in having to read slowly, to listen intently? Is this only ever “pretentious diction”? It appears Orwell is operating out of a sorta normative centering of language; a sorta normativity that the writing here sought to set in relief. The article is, at least partly, a critique of subjectivity as a regulating, relegating aspirational move away from incoherence in order to produce something that is easily “understood,” something that is not “difficult” or unwieldy [cis-gender identities fit that bill nicely]. To employ language that some would consider non-difficult, easy, immediately apprehended would contradict the theoretical guiding principles of the writing itself.

      So I guess I have to ask: what is the attachment to ease that seems to animate your concern? You claim that the writing is sectioned “away from poetry and street speech,” but I must ask, whose poetry, whose streets? Is there a universal poetics, a universal street that would not be produced by the very modes of relegation, suppression and regulation that the article attempts to critique? Lastly, I’m cool with every sentence needing to be broken down. I think where we differ is with the assumption that what you wrote did not likewise require a brokenness.

      • I so wondered how you were going to address these concerns and have to say: you go! Beautifully argued, and the original post has me thinking. As I like to do.

      • I’ve been an academic. North American English is my first language. I think it’s perfectly valid to use academic voice, especially when it’s critique that is aimed at / prepared for the consumption of an academic audience. This is not a critique about being more poetical or street. I’m not dismissing or discarding your thoughts. I’m not ‘attached to ease.’ My problem is that I have read and re-read your article and I still don’t know what the majority of those thoughts are. As a writer, I thought you might want to know that.

      • I must agree with Morgan. I’m a phd candidate in women’s studies and political theory so I am comfortable with many of these terms, your syntax and style. But just as difficult writing should not be immediately dismissed as unimportant, nor should it be immediately exalted, as if it was communicating something profound or correct by virtue of its lexicon.

        In fact, I take tremendous issue with many of propositions and I find them to simply wrong or confused. Like this line: “subjectivity is defined by the ability to be fully possessed of oneself, to be closed, stable, anti-social, to be wholly determined”

        Actually… no. Foucault’s entire oeuvre was meant to dismiss that idea. The poststructuralist project has demonstrated that subjectivities are multiple; that is, there are many ways human beings can be subjectivitified depending on their historical circumstances.The autonomous, closed, and stable self is a fiction of liberal discourse – one particular lifeworld in a universe of many — that the poststructuralists have intellectually destroyed. There can be other subjectivities besides the autonomous, liberal subject exalted by self-determination.

        Unfortunately, i think you misunderstand what subjectivity is and how it has been theorized in the past. Just as power can be limiting and repressive, so can it be productive and constitutive. So I agree that Blackness should not be wholly defined by oppression, but also by the creativity, resilience and joy that marks the Black-in-America experience. This is subjectivity: shaped by power, which is at once regulative and productive, that can shape people into autonomous individuals OR something radically different: social, non-liberal, unstable. In short, subjectivity is not a “bad” thing just as power is not a “bad” thing – it produces things you may not like, but its not “bad” a priori.

      • hi rterman,

        thanks for replying. i’m a reader and fan of foucault, though i certainly did not cover all of his, nor all of post-structuralist, thought in the post. it’s weird that one could claim that the entirety of foucault’s work was dedicated to one idea when, in fact, his writing — by his own admission and from others that knew him well — was a constantly shifting set of propositions and ideas, never stable nor coherent. in his hella cool interview “How an ‘Experience Book’ Is Born,” he says:

        “I’m perfectly aware of having continuously made shifts both in the things that have interested me and in what I have already thought. In addition, the books I write, constitute an experience for me that I’d like to be as rich as possible. An experience is something you come out of changed. If I had to write a book to communicate what I have already thought, I’d never have the courage to begin it. I write precisely because I don’t know yet what to think about a subject that attracts my interest. In so doing, the book transforms me, changes what I think. As a consequence, each new work profoundly changes the terms of thinking which I had reached with the previous work.”

        to make the claim that his entire body of work is easily situated in a particular strain of thought — as a coherence of sorts — seems to reproduce a “subject” that you seem to otherwise think post-structuralism “destroyed,” seems to produce the very fiction you say is the bread of liberal discourse’s children. to think his work as oeuvre, as somehow presenting a priori an “entirety” of sorts, seems to go against the very desire foucault had for writing as experience.

        anyway, and to the point, what i find useful in foucault here, and how i consider my writing, is as an experiment in thought. i also dig what he says because he seeks for his writing to allow him, first, to come out of it changed. and i’m down with that. i think i was changed as a result of my writing, and hope others have as well.

        “…I consider myself more an experimenter than a theorist; I don’t develop deductive systems to apply uniformly in different fields of research. When I write, I do it above all to change myself and not to think the same thing as before. [...] Each of my books is a way of dismantling an object, and of constructing a method of analysis toward that end. [...] What I write does not prescribe anything, neither to myself nor to others. At most, its character is instrumental and visionary or dream-like.”

        maybe i just wanted to dream a bit out loud on the [screen] page. some folks were cool with it; others, not so much. and that’s ok.

        what i find intriguing in your invocation of post-structuralism is exactly what you point out: that there are various “subjectivities” … and i’m right there with you when you say that the “autonomous, closed, and stable self is a fiction of liberal discourse,” and though post-structuralist thought may have “destroyed” this discourse, the actual materiality of this sorta subject keeps creeping back up in everyday occurrence. “gay marriage,” i believe, is but another articulation of the aspirational move towards this fiction … never achieved, of course, but it is a fiction towards which folks journey. and the violence and violation to queer folks that occur through the desire for this fiction should certainly be destroyed.

        though it has been difficult for some to understand, what i’ve written is a part of — not antagonistic to — the critique that you begin to name. where i think the idea of multiple subjectivities still needs interrogation, however, is with the idea of subjectivity itself: even the multiple depends upon the reducibility of particular subject positions; even as we acknowledge their variances when in configuration with other subject positions. multiple seems to be an additive approach where what one does is have a proliferation of identities; i’m still interested in thinking about if any one of those identities is, at base, a core stability. it’s sorta like intersectional analyses that are grounded in the discrete purity of each section of the inter…or something like that. what you articulate in the name of possible “other subjectivities” is what i articulate as “detachment,” as an “anti-political politics.” or, in other words, you restated the exact concerns of what i’ve written.

        anyway. thanks for reading.

  3. I really love this article. Thank you! Also reminds me of Brown’s “Wounded Attachments.”

  4. At some point pro gay marriage folks will have to learn the lecture is NOT working and the linkage is NOT accepted. I advise the constitutional angle.

  5. But not accepted by who? Black is not a monolith. I agree that gay marriage as a “civil rights movement” erases the realities of everyday racism, casting “the first civil rights movement” as over and done with and reducing queer issues to those of middle class white men, but I think we should ask what makes that linkage possible? There are some important commonalities to how blackness is framed vis a vis “civil rights” and how gay is framed vis a vis gay marriage — namely the appeal to integration and to normalization. If ‘Black’ is just an identity category (a knowable coherent subject) that refers to an aggrieved people who want to be included in a society founded on their exclusion, then gay marriage should aptly be called a civil rights issue. I think it is more important to acknolwedge that there are many queer people who are thrown under the bus in the conflation of gay marriage and equality, and then to think of the linkages between those queers and blackness.

    For example, instead of anxiously awaiting the time when black men and women will realize a heteronormative ideal, we should consider how black kinship networks have always been queer, and how that has been a source of empowerment. We should seek to understand the implicit connection between whiteness and heteronormativity, and perhaps we should think about how the demand to be subject–to be normal–has meant disavowing parts of ourselves.

    • i mean…just “YES!” to everything you’ve said here, Amber … really. thanks!

      “We should seek to understand the implicit connection between whiteness and heteronormativity, and perhaps we should think about how the demand to be subject–to be normal–has meant disavowing parts of ourselves.”

      thank you for articulating this!!!

  6. “The vivifying force of the image is the idea that that which marginalizes is that which makes or forms “subjectivity” [and I think subjectivity is a bad thing; more on that soon]. The implication in the image is that marginalized groups own that which marginalizes.”

    I definitely appreciate the challenges that CFC presents. I also understand the importance of a safe space. CFC is highly academic and is unapologetic in asserting that. However, after trying to read this multiple times in different settings, I had to let it go. I’ll welcome the more frictionless essays in the future, though.

  7. Pingback: Culture Is What We Make It, Yes It Is | Deep Thoughts by Christine Capetola

  8. as a gender-queer, thank you. but question. im curious about how you say that self-determination constitutes subjectivity. because ‘gender-self-determination’ is all about people choosing their own gender(s) or lack there of. because i think part of queer resistance is understanding that we aren’t allowed any type of self-determination at all, any type of autonomy, as human beings as cultures or as countries (it’s not just states but ‘the’ ultimate state, the us). so what would you say to that?

    • hello concretejungle! thanks for the reply and for the questions you raise. the way i’ve come to think about self-determination is grounded in what Denise Ferreira da Silva writes about in _Toward a Global Idea of Race_ (http://bit.ly/MnH1FF)

      about self-determination: for her, is a concept that emerges in Western philosophic tradition to account for, and theorize about, the ones presumed to be ”without thought, will, or volition” and this is most assuredly a racial/ist category. “self-determination,” conceptually, is the assumption of European man as a thinker, with will, with volition and both the indigenes of the Americas and the black/Negros of Africa are without such possibility. though she writes specifically about the creation of race, it is an and appropriate extension to think about how gender fits in this configuration as well. literally, “European man” assumes a similar stasis and coherence, a similar “other” who does not have will or volition. when writing about black folks as being “vestibular to culture,” Hortense Spillers also gives us a way think about — not the ungendering, but the *refusal* of gender for black folks by way of middle passages. gender, in the way that Spillers helps me think it through, is a result of a similar self-possessiveness, a self-determination that assumes will and volition of European man. to have gender, in the Western configuration, is to have the ability to own oneself, own land … in short, to be able to possess.

      so what’s that gotta do with your questions? i guess i’m wondering *what* is being chosen when it is called/thought/conceptualized as “gender” … i’m all for folks choosing, but does that thing, that entity we call “gender,” have a core stability, does it have a stasis? or is it always moving and on the move, always in flux and fluxing? or, the other side of Spillers’ critique when i consider it with da Silva in mind is :: do we want “gender” if, in the term indexes a theological-philosophical problem of ownership and possession?

      so, sure…certain categories have been refused marginalized folks. and this is a continual process, so it seems. but maybe some of the categories that have been refused are ones we don’t want anyway. or something like that … i hope this at least *approaches* an answer, moves toward one…

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