Beyond Counting “Bad Apples”

BayoExcerpts from Bayo Akomolafe’s social media post (May 31, 2018).  To access more of Bayo’s writing, go to his website or order his recent release These Wilds Beyond Our Fences (2017):

Considering the US media’s coverage of the recent termination of Roseanne Barr’s show over comments she made about an African American woman, Valerie Jarrett, I think one ‘should’ be wary about speaking of racism as if ‘it’ were a disease that someone ‘has’, or as if it could be reduced to genomic expression…

Racism is not an attribute reducible to hatred, ignorance or even belief. It is not a ‘sinful nature’ or evil essence squirming in the dark corners of conservative minds…

I think of racism as the desire/affect/meanings/agency produced by an assemblage of human and nonhuman bodies (whiteness), one that makes those bodies intelligible by situating them in a hierarchy of power and privilege. I prefer to employ the term ‘rhizome’ than ‘system’ (given the latter’s anthropocentric baggage), but for the sake of clarity, one might say racism is systemic, enlisting human bodies but ‘larger’ than them, and beyond our fixations with who’s good and who’s bad. You could identify as a conscientious activist for racial justice, and have the most liberal set of beliefs – falling left to the most leftist ideals currently available on the political spectrum – and still be caught up in a murmuration of actions, conditions and exclusions that territorialize bodies in particular ways. You could be ‘part’ of a racialized assemblage that has the effect of making certain bodies less-than-human – even if you’ve spent your entire life serving persons of colour and minorities.

This is not to say what we do doesn’t matter; this is to unsettle the cherished concept of the individual, and recognize that we are composite beings, comprised of the manifold, stitched together in webs that tangle bodies within bodies. These times – these moments of the so-called Anthropocene – disturb the categorical purity of the individual and make us more porous and permeable than our current lexicon can hold space for. What this means – at least for me – is that we need a different cultural analysis that goes beyond counting “bad apples” or even “identifying the tree”: the difficult and humble art of meeting racism means slowing down and noticing the conditions that make the “tree” possible. The anatomy of the racist is posthuman, chimeric and yet ordinary and familiar: I reckon we must approach the sweltering heat of the compost heap with the curiosity of children, instead of the righteous confidence of the priest.

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