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"Blacks are still doing the work of the greatest slave state in history. The terms of our servitude are all that have been altered."— George Jackson, Blood in My Eye
"I was not concerned about my body. No one was going to kill my soul."— John Lewis, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of a Movement
Part I: "And In the End, John Lewis Prevailed"
In July 2020, Atlanta hosted Representative John Lewis' state funeral. The Black Mecca has long served as an unparalleled venue for the proper celebration of the lives and legacies of those Civil Rights Movement icons whose work is essential to the progress narrative of both the city and American democracy. Held in the Sweet Auburn district at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church—which boasts a pastoral lineage that includes Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., his father-in-law Rev. A.D. Williams, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and its current shepherd, Rev. Dr. Senator Raphael G. Warnock1—the funeral accommodated three U.S. presidents, a number of American congresspeople, the mayor of the City of Atlanta, and many of Lewis' Civil Rights Movement contemporaries, among other prominent figures in attendance.
While the ceremony featured nearly four hours of remarks by the nation's most esteemed political leaders—including a eulogy by Barack Obama—it was former president Bill Clinton's2 remarks that I find most pertinent to the discussion on Joy James' concert, the captive maternal, and the role of the generative capacity of blackness in (re)producing and stabilizing American democracy. Clinton's remarks worked in the service of producing a state-authorized narrative that portrayed Representative Lewis as a heroic figure who, in the twilight of his life, dreamed of nothing more than the restoration of American democracy. In doing so, the president leveraged the congressman's legacy, and his final wish, to reorient the collective struggle away from its locus, the demand for radical abolition emanating from both that summer's uprisings and the anarchic mutual aid organizing activated to shield communities from the crisis of state abandonment3 precipitated by the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, towards the goal of delivering an electoral win for the Democratic Party.
Given the unprecedented conditions associated with the dual shocks of the uprisings and the pandemic, the 2020 upheaval posed a significant threat to the legitimacy of American hegemony and the law and order of civil society. Clinton's deployment of a rhetorical strategy that aimed to posit Lewis and his fellow heroic, nonviolent adherents as the blueprint for the "proper" way to engage in necessary civil obedience is not at all merely coincidental. In other words, the "timeliness" of the congressman's passing in a moment of political unrest precipitated the need to conscript the legacy of his "work" to the same servitude to the master's democratic order so that even in death, Lewis may still be recognized as in pursuit of his nonviolent cause. While his "final wish" may have issued to the nation what Clinton called "our marching orders," I read the former commander-in-chief of U.S. empire's reiteration of this farewell message as a mandate to the masses in active rebellion, directed at the black rebels in particular, as a sinister admonishment hidden beneath a thin veil of adoration. If the state perceived the uprising as an act of (civil) war, then the state funeral of the civil rights icon, who dedicated his life to making "good trouble" is a strategic site of the state's ever-evolving strategic defense against the threat of a (black) revolution4.
In a nearly 20-minute-long address, Clinton wove together a string of anecdotes that included both his recollection of the many intimate moments shared between him and the late congressman, along with his reflection on the moments in the struggle for civil rights, for which he most admired Lewis' perseverance in the face of state violence. For the former president, this "spirit of perseverance" animated the lifelong activist's strong sense of leadership, grounded his commitment to nonviolent political action, and gave him the ability to repeatedly mobilize the masses in collective struggle in pursuit of the ideal of an American beloved community. This pursuit, he insisted, had propelled the congressman's political life from his youth as a student organizer in the Civil Rights Movement until his death, as evidenced in the pursuit being the central cause in his final address to the union.5 It is also in this pursuit that Atlanta, as the dual capital of The New South and home of The Black Mecca, has long served as the model of the Kingian ideal—and, therefore, a strategic site for the export of such models of democratic progress that has done a particular type of work for the Republic long before the death of one its adopted "native" sons.
On the morning of the funeral, The New York Times published John Lewis' final essay "Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation." The posthumously published op-ed outlined what the congressman believed to be the path forward for America and its democracy, beyond the crisis of legitimacy that the state faced at the time of his passing. His essay did not shy away from addressing the matter at hand, as it placed the (in)stability of democracy at the center of his plea for national reconciliation. For Lewis, reiterating the importance of the vote as the most vital means of nonviolent resistance and the beloved community as the most desirable end of this resistance work, was his final effort to mobilize a collective struggle that could deliver the peace and national unity that the rebellion, as the violent counterpart of this "good trouble6," could not. He did not, however, neglect to acknowledge the role of antiblack violence in justifying the pursuit, as he drew parallels between the civil rights struggle and the unrest at hand.
In his final address, Lewis recognized the abolitionist cause coalescing in the streets in response to the successive police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Atlanta's own Rayshard Brooks by connecting the cause of their rebellion to the cause that prompted his own entry into the tradition of black liberation struggle. To demonstrate the efficacy of peaceful protest and dutiful civic engagement—"good trouble"—Lewis reminded his readers that his legacy also began in the wake of witnessing a spectacular display of anti-Black violence, as for him, Emmett Till was his Floyd, Brooks, and Taylor. Despite this direct reference to the American tradition of anti-black terror, he used this common ground not to affirm the demand for abolition as issued by the insurgent rebels who, in response to state abandonment and violence, had become the mutual aid organizers and uprising support cadre that their communities relied on to deliver their care and their justice,7 but to compromise their effort and redirect the generative powers of their work towards the Democratic cause.
The call issued by the masses demanding the immediate defunding and expedient full abolition of the carceral state that manifested in the chant "no justice no peace; fuck the police" had no place in the congressman's political communique, not only because it is a demand that is incompatible with his nonviolent cause, but because the call and the cause were not his to authorize.8 Clinton's funeral remarks reveal its intention to bring an end to the people's revolt and compromise its radical abolitionist cause in its emphasis on John Lewis dedicating his career to the pursuit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most capacious freedom dream: the beloved community. Lewis, like the insurgent black youth organizers and rebels who were actively risking their lives in the streets for their communities, was a captive, and as such, he lacked the capacity to authorize its demand and identify with it as his "own."9 His final call to redeem American Democracy was intended as an intergenerational call to the masses to compromise their insurgency by offering the pursuit of the Beloved Community as the only cause worthy of getting into "good trouble." For the late congressman, "Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we call the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself."
It is not in the former American president's direct reference and endorsement of the Beloved Community that reveals the stakes of a failure to follow these state-authorized marching orders and reorient the momentum of the political moment, but in his pointing out that the pursuit of the Beloved Community had already prevailed as the cause that should drive black struggles for social justice in the United States. Clinton highlighted three moments in John Lewis' life that had been pivotal in charting the trajectory of his political path, and in doing so, also continuously delivered the dream of American (racial) progress. Of these, he emphasized the role of losing the Student Non-Violent Coordinating (SNCC) chairmanship office in 1966:
"It [his seat as chairman] must have been painful to lose but he showed as a young man that there are some things that you cannot do to hang on to a position because if you do them, you won't be who you are anymore. And I say, there were about two or three years there where the [Civil Rights] Movement went a little bit too far towards Stokely, but in the end, John Lewis prevailed. We are here today because of the type of character that he showed when he lost an election."
It is easy to read this remark as a simple acknowledgment of the Civil Rights Movement and its adherence to nonviolent action as the state-approved means of engaging in "civil" disobedience, but emphasizing the 1966 moment in particular, and in doing so, declaring that "in the end, John Lewis prevailed" over Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), illustrates the way this struggle between the competing liberal-reformist and radical-transformative abolitionisms of the two black political subjects and their movements does a particular type of "work" in service to the Master's hegemony. The Lewis/Ture divide implies that the "thing" that Lewis could not do to maintain his chairmanship was to join SNCC in its turn towards endorsing the urban rebellions of the 1960s as a viable and necessary use of force against the prevailing order in pursuit of the Black Revolution as its worthy cause. By doing so, Clinton's speech and its emphasis on the nonviolent/violent split within the mid-century Black Freedom Struggle demonstrates the necessity of antiBlack betrayal in driving the dialectic struggle for a black political subject that is split along the line of opposition between a possible subject whose pursuit of "freedom" is aligned with an inclusionary cause to stabilize American hegemony and one that is aligned with insurgency and hegemony's full abolition.
Clinton positions Lewis' triumph over Ture as that of the state-aligned liberal-reformist abolitionism of the Civil Rights Movement over the more insurgent revolutionary anti-state abolitionism of the Black Power Movement. This "triumph" is demonstrative of the betrayal that Joy James argues is the function of the black bourgeoisie political elites, who aid the state in the theft of the generative powers of those captive maternals struggling, at various stages, to protect, nurture, and defend their communities. In this arrangement, black elites ensure the stability of American democracy by betraying radical black abolitionist movements as they resist both the bourgeois overseers and the Master they dutifully serve. I argue, however, that the role of betrayal as the function of the black elite (the "Negroliberal") as the final stage of the captive maternal needs a more nuanced interrogation of its dialectical dynamic, as betrayal is a constitutive marker of the "captive condition" at the level of ontology.
Betrayal also suggests a relationship between state compromise and blackness' compulsive (re)production of mechanisms that discipline black insurgency into movements towards possessing various forms of "Black Power." In their pursuit of a freedom indexed by the removal of all perceived barriers to being a subject, these black movements also generate new political cultures and regimes of representation that redirect any move towards the end of the present order into cultural movements that idealize notions of black upward (assimilation) and outward mobility (beyond the limits of segregation), as evidence of the Republic's progressive democratic project. The idea of American racial harmony as the definitive trait which marks an arrival at the "Beloved Community" as the proverbial mountaintop of social progress is the "nonviolent" iteration of Black Power that markets John Lewis' Negroliberal cause. But Lewis, like those he and his cause betrays, is a Captive10, and as such in a "modern" paradigm that is secured by the racial compromise of emancipation, is bound in service to the state-as-Master to restore order to civil society in moments of unrest. Therefore, his call to "redeem the soul of the nation" and his declaring "good trouble" as the proper means of struggle in pursuit of the American Beloved Community is not his, but the Master's. The Captive's cause, no matter its orientation nor its (perceived) triumph, is ever theirs for themselves and their communities, as it is always in service to a Master.
Such a high-stakes prevailing poses serious implications for Negroliberalism's radical counterpart which struggles in opposition against to be recognized as the most viable pursuit of an abolitionist cause for black freedom. The most obvious split between Lewis and Ture's political causes is the way in which Kwame Ture's Black Power coheres as a threat to the hegemonic order in its endorsement, not rejection of the riot as a necessary catalyst for the pursuit of a future order in which a black self-determination is mutually recognized by the Black political subject and the former Master. The threat of the riot's triumph as the mobilizing force of choice over those more "civil" forms of political disobedience advocated by Lewis' nonviolent "good trouble" lies in the Revolutionary Commune that it might achieve as its successful end over the state-compatible Beloved Community. This is to say that it is a projection of a future in which an ontological ground for a recognizable black sovereignty that is made possible in the triumph of the Revolutionary Commune. As a transformative abolitionist cause, Black Power extends beyond the boundaries of America and poses a threat to the global order in its call for black diasporic rebellion against the Master's hegemonic world order11. Ture alludes to the unassimilable nature of the Revolutionary Commune in the closing statement of his 1966 Watts Speech12:
"My brothers and sisters, this country says we're fighting that war [The Vietnam War] for love, peace, democracy, equality and justice. And as black people living in this country, knowing what love, peace, democracy, equality and justice are, we ought not to be willing to give it to anybody. Now, the reason I know Black Power is good is because so many white folks came out against it. Whenever we're talking about Black Power, we're talking about being able to control the community in which we live. That means being able to control the police force inside of Watts. And it will be responsible to you. Now if you control the police force, you don't have to worry about police brutality, because you just say, 'Anybody who wants to work on the police force must live in our community.' That would stop police brutality tomorrow." ·
The problem of the Revolutionary Commune lies in Ture's assertion that the self-determined Revolutionary Commune, its institutions, and its revolutionary political subject exist as autonomous, yet this agency must maintain its freedom status through its defense. The abolitionist solution proposed here in the speech connects Black Power to a kind of revolutionary love that defends the commune through a sovereign, recognizable security apparatus. The notion that the threat of police brutality could be eliminated by a new governing order which permits communal control of a police force that is manned by its own subjects may be a marker of radical abolitionism that belonged to Ture's time. Yet, at its core, it does not greatly differ from the prevailing abolitionist doctrine that places communal autonomy and the creation of transformative infrastructures that support care, kinship, and belonging as the unifying cause of our present radical anti-violence movements.13
This line of comparison reveals the role of white authorization in permitting the formation of such a revolutionary order, as our present abolitionist demand for an antiracist transformation of white individuals and institutions mirrors Ture's call for white activists to move their allied support out of black spaces and back into their own communities, where they might lead the charge against antiBlack violence and racist sentiment. Black Power and the Revolutionary commune thus is contingent upon a subjective freedom where self-determination relies on white compromise to hold. This arrangement—and the implied intention for the Commune to be a sustainable revolutionary formation—also reveals that it is fortified by a compromising force put in place to secure the market appeal of its Revolutionary ethic as something worthy of black aspiration. It is this ethic that conscripts the Revolutionary political subject to the defense of the commune to come as a defense of a proposed revolutionary order, which binds the Captive in its never-ending pursuit for freedom, in service to the Revolution in place of his former status as state property. Put differently, the Slave is in pursuit here of a freedom that's not freedom at all, but to be bound-to the revolutionary cause as its new Master.
The Captive's Cause: A Dialectic of Betrayal
The matter of recognition is my central point of concern regarding betrayal and the captive maternal. If betrayal is on the one hand, inherent to the role of the elite Negroliberal overseers, and on the other, the stage beyond war resistor where the veteran-survivor who is not killed or captured (imprisoned or on the run) betrays the movement in their commitment to solutions ("radical reformism"), I ask: is the black insurgent, who endorses rebellion as its key strategy, not also a captive subject who betrays Slave revolt in pursuit of abolition as a transformative cause? This question prompts a closer examination of the dialectical relationship that produces the Negroliberal and the Revolutionary as dueling subjects bound to opposing political causes.
President Clinton's acknowledgment of the Lewis/Ture Negroliberal/Black Revolutionary split demonstrates a political paradigm wherein the captive rebel struggles against a dual desire to revolt and to dutifully serve that forces a confrontation between a more insurgent "self" who seeks an emancipatory abolition that calls for social transformation and a more servile "self" who seeks the freedom of inclusion in the present order. This is to say that while such an acknowledgment clearly posits that Lewis "needs" Ture, or, the Negroliberal needs the insurgent, to establish the validity of their respective causes, I am most interested in the role of the cause itself—the pursuit of a revolutionary future—in driving and being driven by betrayal. If, as James argues, the "plurality of abolitionisms" exists as the genealogical result of the invention of new political cultures that are structured by new bones foraged in struggles against democracy's repeated betrayals14, then is this reduction of abolition not the ultimate betrayal? If the "betrayal" in question refers to any actions taken to obliterate any catalyst that would force "black resistance practices" to escalate and incite the dreaded Slave Revolt, one must account for the threat of that unauthorized black violence which Fanon considers too wretched (ratchet) to assimilate into the Master's present order. It is not hindered by a desire to be shackled to a cause of restoring a "native" historical past, nor is it reconcilable with the predetermined sovereign territorial end that drives the black revolutionary left's aspiration towards a Black Power ideal.15 An interrogation of the dialect of struggle between Captives and their competing liberatory causes, in relation to the compromising force that marks the tension between the Master's restrained terror and the ever-possible threat of Slave Revolt, which authorizes it qua the Order as its modern substitute, demonstrates why the Slave substitutes the pursuit of impossible recognition in place of the Slave Revolt, and as such posits the pursuit of a coherent political subjectivity as the only authorized set of causes.
"John Lewis' prevail" is the Master's recognition of his nonviolent cause as the pursuit of black freedom that is the most compatible with the Master's cause of national reconciliation. This model of black freedom struggle triumphed over Ture's Black Power as the cause that produced a movement that surrendered to the Master's cause and compromised for the sake of democracy. The Negroliberal political culture that celebrates the compromised Civil Rights Movement mounts its ruse of legitimacy as the prevailing black political culture, by including Black Power in its state-authorized narrative as the insurgent threat that emerged from the same movement that if actualized, could incite the Slave Revolt that must be avoided at all costs.
Lewis charts the origin of his cause for assimilation in his final essay when he references his motivation for joining Dr. King's nonviolent cause, writing: "Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in…" While the "way out" here refers to the anti-black violence the congressman witnessed while growing up in the Jim Crow South, the "way in'" suggests either an entry into political subjectivity itself, or the struggle to be recognized as being in pursuit of such inclusion. Ture, on the other hand, proposed Black Power in opposition to inclusion into the existing order as a new order where a mutually recognizable Black self-determination is possible. In Black Power, Ture and Charles V. Hamilton outline what they deem to be a "political framework and ideology which represents the last reasonable opportunity for this society to work out its racial problems short of prolonged destructive guerilla warfare16." In both of these political formulations, "compromise" appears to be the motivation that unites them, and as such, presents a matter of concern given the ontological implications of (anti)blackness and political subjectivity on the one hand, and the role betrayal plays in hindering and exploiting the captive maternal and their freedom causes on the other.
The state authorized marching orders that activate the Negroliberals whose duty to democracy is to oversee the masses of the existing Black Commune, and ensure they remain non-threatening to the hegemonic structure, is the primary action taken to stabilize civil society when black movements and racial rebellions escalate beyond the realm of "good trouble." This arrangement is one of the primary functions of the dutiful servant to democracy, or stage one of the captive maternal, the caretaker, whose generative powers are used to maintain the stability of the oppressive structure. According to James, at this first stage, the stabilization is also contradictory, as it is destabilizing to the labor that goes into stabilizing democracy. She explains this by using the progression of the Attica prison rebellion to demonstrate the function of the captive maternal at each stage of resistance. In the first stage, the condition of servitude requires the prison trustee as a captive maternal to ensure the stability of the state institution in their everyday upkeep of the prison and their care for their fellow inmates. The contradictory nature of this dialectical arrangement lies, of course, in the ways in which the labor of the captive is on the one hand, driven by the love of their people and their duty to community to provide care as a means of stability, yet on the other, desired the Master entity that "steals" and consumes the generative powers of the captive's resistance for its own satisfaction17. The forms of political subjectivity pursued in this oppositional duel are determined under the auspices of a Captive condition that is the evidence of the captives' concession to pursue a "social life" in the absence of the ground for ontological being in its avoidance of its own and the Master's death. It is a dialect that at each stage of the captive maternal, drives the internal conflict between the eternally unsettled duel of the captive with itself to determine whether servile duty to the state will triumph over the duty to serve the community. And it is in this duel between conflicting causes that the first level of betrayal occurs, as the captive either must follow the direct marching orders of the Master and betray the commune in the name of order in civil society, or attempt to betray the Master by moving into the protest stage and mounting an oppositional movement in pursuit of the cause to end this exploitation and construct a new (world) order.
The dueling nature of the captive's internal struggle with itself over the priorities of the "work" of servitude and fidelity to a "right" cause is driven by the psychic commitment of the captive to being a political subject.18 Following last summer's Captive Maternal Roundtable engagement with Dr. James, I took her response to my question regarding the influence of her past work on the black bourgeoisie, including her interrogation of the black elite "cause" to develop a Du Boisian Talented Tenth. James's work on the Black Elite is especially pertinent here, as it is also informed by her critique of the Kingian nonviolent Beloved Community, and I asked her to speak to the ways in which this work, in particular, has informed her formulation of the captive maternal.19 Her response was a rumination on the connection between the black elites and their long history of betraying the black rebel and its revolutionary cause via calls for liberal reformism (Negroliberalism). It was a very similar response to the one that she gave to the same question in an earlier talk, "The Architects of Abolition." The closing provocation of this talk remains a major source of intrigue for me as it served as both my introduction to the captive maternal, and prompted my own conscious internal struggle over "what's next" for me as a community organizer. She ends with the following:
"The captive maternal is that which allows for your nervous system to calm and stabilize you. We will not abandon our communities and we love them. The state preys on that labor and stabilizes itself….What's next? What's the exit plan? You're not going to leave your community behind; you're not going to stop helping and nurturing and healing. Yet every time we stabilize, they build upon that stability and enforce a new form of theft. What's the exit door? How do you tunnel out? It is an impossible task but it's one completely worthy of you."
The question, "What's next for the captive maternal?" implies a relationship between the captive's betrayal and the "impossible task" of tunneling out or beating down an exit door to escape captivity and end the black suffering that comes from subjection to the gratuitous violence of slavery. I interpret this as an invitation to further consider the dueling oppositional formulations of (desired) captive political subjectivities at each stage of the captive maternal, to locate how they precipitate the historic mutations in the captive maternal's political causes as they are foraged in response to state violence as a recurring "betrayal of democracy."
Joy James' response to my question thus spurred an inquiry into the matter of betrayal, which resulted in our organizing a follow-up conversation between James, Selamawit Terrefe, and Frank Wilderson to consider the ontological implications of betrayal in black political struggle. Terrefe speaks to this and the risk it implies in the following comment:
"If we're thinking politically, then we must be honest about a psychic investment in betrayal, meaning a psychic investment in ontology, and being attached to this idea that we are political subjects. And so, if we are to destroy this idea that we are political subjects, that means that there's absolutely nothing to risk; and if there's nothing to risk, then what is it that we actually want? We can't think about betrayal if we don't have an enemy in mind? And what is the enemy of blackness? Who is our target? Who are we investing ourselves in thinking that has violated our trust? Betrayal itself is such a huge term to think about, politically, internationally; i wonder what we can actually say about black psychic investments in political freedom if we're not all on the same page in terms of knowing ourselves."
Her reference to "risk" begs for a closer interrogation of the dialectical arrangement of captivity which bars blackness from ontology and by extension, the possibility of a recognizable political subjectivity. The "nothing" to risk here refers to the central point of Wilderson's opening comments, where he reminds us that in the subject determining arrangement, absent a third-term mediator, antagonisms between blacks and humans differ from conflicts between two opposing human subjects as "there's never a semiotic entity that is allowed to articulate with Blackness." This matter of ontological concern is also implied in Terrefe's consideration of the "work" of blackness in relation to both concepts. She argues that "an ontology of betrayal then betrays the locus of what I interpret to be the cloak of a performance of reducibility," as in the case of blackness, the dialectical scandal at hand involves betrayal's relationship to ontology as opposed to ontology itself. The captive maternal's stage of betrayal then, in its relationship to being, isn't a destination that is reached and then transcended or superseded, but the formative act20 of the Slave in his servile relationship, which is essential for generating the elements of consumption required to satisfy the Human/Master's desire for self-coherence. This is conditioned by blackness's ontological condition, where, according to Wilderson, "The unconscious, does not give Black flesh the capacity for spatial or temporal creation. What it says to us is you have no time. You have no place." The absence of the capacity for spatiotemporal not only bars black struggle from any territorial end, it also alienates it completely from the capacity for the place-based relation of "belonging" to a beloved or revolutionary commune. This means that the state leveraging the Black Mecca as an offensive front against wretched insurgency is a coerced stipulation of compromise, and a constitutive condition of Hartman's burdened freedom.21 An assembly of Negros signals not a "place" or a "community" but the zone of non-being wherein the wretched horde Fanon speaks of in his passage on the shantytown and the gangrene at the heart of the colony.22
In the dialectical duel between "opposing strands of black politics" they first seem to "misrecognize" one another as separate threats to their respective causes, yet as Slaves, they both are absent the capacity to recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another.23 Fanon speaks to this non-capacity to recognize and be recognized that marks the condition of servitude in his re-consideration of Hegel's dialectic.24 He addresses the matter of freedom in relation to mastery and servitude, first noting that "historically, the Negro steeped in the inessentiality of servitude was set free by his master. He did not fight for his freedom25." The implication here is that the captive is not an agent of his own freedom, and as such, his "emancipation" does not free him from slavery to be a Master with an ontological ground upon which a mutual ground for recognition and domination might be constructed. Fanon takes this further by stating that:
"The Negro has not become a master. When there are no longer slaves, there are no longer masters. The Negro is a slave who has been allowed to assume the attitude of a master. The white man is a master who has allowed his slaves to eat at his tables."
This demonstrates his point that in the wake of emancipation, freedom-as-self-certainty was not bestowed upon the captive. In the absence of freedom as such, Fanon's emphasis on the Slave's adoption of the Master's attitude, alludes to the earlier distinction he made between recognition for the Slave and for the Master. He argues:
"The Martinicians [Negroes] are greedy for security. They want to compel the action of their fiction. They want to be recognized in their quest for manhood. They want to make an appearance… each one of them wants to be to emerge. Everything that the Antillean [Negro] does is done for The Other…because it is The Other who corroborates him in his search for self-validation."26
The dueling political ideologies generated by the longue durée of black struggle and betrayal are in alignment, not with the cause of freedom—which is to say, the death of the Master as the end of the Slave—but in the performance of a political subjectivity for which the Master may corroborate him and his cause qua witnessing it as his pursuit of freedom. This pursuit compromises liberation, and in doing so also limits "freedom struggle" to a set of outcomes that, even in their most capacious attempts, can only ever generate new political cultures in its negation of the revolutionary imperative. The many forms of Abolitionism that come out of the endless struggles against captivity and do the "work" of generating the new bones do so upon the rubble of the "wreckage" that is blackness' fragmented ontological ground. The shattered "foundation" upon which "the freedom cause" of the political culture is constructed is also the shattered ground of being upon which the Slave misrecognized the desire for freedom not as the end of captivity, but as a restored virility actualized as a black political (social) life27.
What a consideration of blackness' dialectical conundrum in relation to ontology and betrayal clarifies is the ways in which such demands can't be delivered by any captive subject via the organization of any political movement, because the Slave, in his non-recognizable condition, does not possess the ontological standings necessary to authorize a cause capacious enough to deliver a liberation. The wisdom gained in captivity28 is passed along intergenerationally as a tradition of resistance to the Master and his institutions, that provides black movements the hope necessary to guide them forward in their pursuit. This suggests those generative powers that characterize the captive maternal never actually belong to the captive, as the condition of captivity holds that they are always already the possession of the Master. This is to say that materially, the only liberatory tools available to the captive are those that they wield on loan from the Master's shed. In other words, the struggle of black political movements' inability to overcome betrayal has less to do with the plural nature of the political cause it appears to be in service to and everything to do with the utility of this plurality in satisfying the Master. In short, if betrayal is the stage beyond war resistor, yet the captive's cause cannot deliver freedom, I argue that it is this cultural tradition and the black desire to have it and belong to it, are the source of captive's most valuable generative powers that are produced and consumed by the Master to stabilize the hegemonic order.
Compromise has been the product of the Slave's work in the dialectical production of space and time, which is to say, the dialectical duel and precipitation into Master-satisfying forms of political subjectivity marks the presence of an auto-generating negotiation strategy, wherein the pursuit yields the very racial compromises that has powered America's periods hegemonic modernization since the abolition of the peculiar institution. In other words, there would indeed be no effective "transition" from the ruling order of the plantocracy to that of modern industrial-capitalism without the work of racial compromise. This suggests a relationship between blackness and "progress" where the Slave's surrender marks compromise as the modernizing agent necessary to reconcile those racial divisions that are deemed prohibitive to democracy's advancement. In other words, the connection between compromise and hegemonic stability as the grounds for progress reveals that at each conjuncture of crisis precipitated by a "violation" of the terms of racial compromise, hegemony requires a modernization of slavery to solidify the Master's reformed order. The value of the generative powers as something akin to the captive-commodity's value-as-labor product29 belongs to the Master, who uses it to update its technologies of capture and containment that are necessary to respond to the Slave's attempts to evade the conditions of bondage in the pursuit of freedom.
What all of this suggests, then, is that while captives who align themselves with hegemony and dutifully work to undermine black movements exist—as history and the tradition has proven to be so—they attempt to betray movements that are already compromised. The captive does not struggle within himself over competing ways of "political being" in order to determine the "right" form of freedom to pursue, but to uphold the compromise as the terms of his surrender. In exchange for securing his captivity as such, the Master commutes his dreaded death sentence to one that binds the captive to a life of doin' hard time with no opportunity for parole. This is the captive's binding, non-negotiable compromise that was established post–emancipation, and has generated a black political tradition where the bond of servitude has already, at the level of ontology, "betrayed" the revolution in its surrender and acceptance of the commuted sentence. The tradition of the plea bargain is passed down intergenerationally as the longue durée of indebted servitude,30 from which the generative powers of the captive, foraged in resistance to the American tradition of betrayal, compulsively (re)produces the ground that certifies the Master's sovereign being, of which the modern state is presented as its highest subjective form and democracy is civil society's most prized participatory pastime.
1 Warnock's election to the U.S. Senate in 2020 represents yet another instance wherein the generative capacity of blackness is leveraged to stabilize american democracy. His defeat of the Trump-aligned, far-right incumbent Kelly Loeffler, both aided in the feat of "flipping Georgia blue" and ensuring a democratic congressional majority. This pivotal moment in the 2020 election is largely credited to the efforts of former Georgia Rep. Stacey Abrams, who was favored to win the 2022 Georgia gubernatorial race. Her victory would have made her the first black woman to be governor in Georgia's history and the first democrat to hold the position in 20 years.
2Clinton's full speech can be found here
3State abandonment here refers to Ruth Wilson Gilmore's definition of austerity as "organized abandonment by the state followed by an increase in organized state violence."
4 In Joy James' formulation of the captive maternal, she often uses the Attica prison rebellion to demonstrate the stages of the captive maternal. In this example, James notes that once the rebellion escalated, it registered as an act of war in the eyes of the state. In her talk "Captive Maternal, Love and War Stories" she argues that the state's response to this uprising was intended to "crush the desire for and material mobilization for Black freedom."
5 John Lewis's New York Times op-ed, "Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation" here
6 "Good Trouble" is John Lewis' famous political mandate to the masses. In March 2020, he returned to the Edmund Pettus bridge to commemorate the 55th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday." There, he famously remarked: "Speak up, speak out, get in the way. Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America."
7 The mutual aid organizers represent Stages One and Two of the captive maternal, the caregiver and the protestor, who in their work, build community care infrastructure that is convertible to rebel support if activated. Their work is integral in progressing the protest and the movement into a sustainable anti-state counter-struggle, as it is their care and support infrastructure that organizes, administers and when necessary, activates the maroon camp.
8 "The Black Liberation Army and the Paradox of Political Engagement" Frank Wilderson
9 Frank B. Wilderson III attends to the conundrum of the captive's political communique, as the captive subject position fails to coalesce the ontological ground necessary to authorize the violence necessary to bring about the end of the world order that is predatory on black suffering in his essay "The Black Liberation Army and the Paradox of Political Engagement" here
10 "Afropessimism is premised on an iconoclastic claim: that Blackness is coterminous with Slaveness. Blackness is social death, which is to say that there was never a prior moment of plentitude, never a moment of equilibrium, never a moment of social life. Blackness, as a paradigmatic position (rather than as an ensemble of identities, cultural practices, or anthropological accouterments), cannot be disimbricated from slavery." Wilderson, Afropessimism
11 "We have to hook up with black people around the world; and that hookup must not only be psychological, but real. If South America were to rebel today, and black people were to shoot the hell out of all the white people there, as they should, Standard Oil would crumble tomorrow. If South Africa were to go today, Chase Manhattan Bank would crumble tomorrow. If Zimbabwe, which is called Rhodesia by white people, were to go tomorrow, General Electric would cave in on the East Coast." "Black Power Speech" 1965
12 Watts Speech November 1966
13 In "Black Feminism Beyond the Human" Patrice Douglass invites us to reconsider the assertion of care as a viable alternative to the Master's order, is also worth further interrogation, as there is no transformed society absent antiblack antagonisms, and care in the context of antiblack antagonism is predicated on the consensus that blackness-as-slavery determines the "malicious behavior" that infrastructures of care, no matter how radical, always interpret as a threat to the order that they preserve, and codes its institutions of care to discipline out of all that appears to be disorderly"
14 "New Bones" and "Plurality of Abolitionism"
15 Fanon clarifies his idea on the nation to come, the tension between varying anti-colonial movements and cultures and wretched insurgency, and the ways in which wretched insurgency marks a form of revolutionary violence attached to no end beyond the end of the present order in Wretched of the Earth and Towards a Dying Colonialism. David Marriott's work in Whither Fanon and elsewhere is indispensable in clarifying this distinction.
16 Black Power (1967)
17 Hegel's Master/Slave dialectic Phenomenology of Spirit
18 "Anti-Blackness: An Ontology of Betrayal"
19 "Captive Maternal Roundtable"
20 Terrefe raises the matter of work, which Hegel designates as "the formative activity" of the Slave. The formative activity (work) has both the positive significance that the pure being-for-self of the bondsman's servile consciousness acquires as existence, and also in contrast, has fear as its negative significance.
21 Hartman Scenes of Subjection
22 Fanon "Wretched of the Earth"
23 Hegel Phenomenology of Spirit
24 Black Skin, White Masks "The Negro and Recognition."
25 Ibid. 219
26 Black Skin, White Masks pg. 212-13. In the Philcox translation of the text, "manhood" is translated as "virility," implying that the Slave does not desire freedom as self-possession or mutual recognition, but to be represented to the Master as or viewed by the Master as in pursuit of Life.
27 Ibid. Shattering here in reference to Fanon's petrification and the gaze in
28 Ibid. "From this work, the Master derives satisfaction/enjoyment and the Slave in his alienation acquires wisdom/self-awareness, or awareness of his captivity and a knowledge of "freedom" that only exists in his separation from (triumph over) the Master. His fear of death prevents the Slave from risking his life in pursuit of this freedom, and as a result, he surrenders to the domination of the Master and works accordingly. "
29 While the dialectical arrangement that frames my thinking here is Hegelian, the language of the labor product is Marxist and relates to the commodity. The captive in fact is a laborer, in the sense that it labors in the service of satisfying the master's desire in the dialectical arrangement. The Slave is also a commodity and as such, according to Marx "a residue of the products of labor," as "There is nothing left of them in each case but the same phantom like objectivity; they are merely congealed quantities of homogenous human labor… As crystals of this social substance, which is common to them all, they are values–commodity values"
30 Hartman Scenes of Subjection
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