Black Precarity

I love the United States, but it keeps wounding me.

It wounds Iike an unhealthy relationship with a neighbor who has the upper hand; like a mean father, like a cruel mother, or a wily adversary. Like a crafty jealous sister, or a cruel, sadistic uncle. The United States continues to inflict these wounds.

Every time another young black person is killed in nefarious police circumstances, I feel a wound. My psyche bleeds anew every time.  Just when I think it can’t, it bleeds again. Inter-group violence is something I understand – it is human. Young black people fight terrible battles over territory, over drug markets, over insults. I don’t like it, I feel bad about it, I am heartbroken, but I do not feel wounded. The classification of these young people by certain powers as superfluous, though, is painful.

What wounds is the random act. What wounds is the sterility of the action.

In 2016 Achille Mbembe said one of our difficulties in this era is knowing the difference, in this moment, “between absolute murder and absolute justice.”

 (at Duke University in April, 2016).

Think about that.

Teju Cole wrote an article about the black panther. He talked about the fatigue of being seen, perceived, understood as being from ‘Africa.’  He spoke (with regret? disgust?) of how public discourse does not recognize black specificity, does not engage realities of African countries, of African nationalities. He also talked about being in the U.S. and his evolving or evolved relationship to the concept of blackness.

On the Blackness of the Panther. ‘In my wildest dreams, there …

There is a blackness all African descendants feel, in the face of unmoved whiteness.

What I really wanted to talk about is black precarity. The precarity of black lives at this moment in time. In the United States, Britain, or France, the supposed black culpability. In the United States, the disposability of young black lives. I live in the United States where there are statistic probabilities that I, or someone in my family, someone I love, can be killed ‘by mistake.’

I know this existed way before, but I sense it has gone to another level.

In Africa, the statistics are not good there either. There is a lack of hospitals, of medicines, of ambulances, traffic lights, and of doctors. Your body can randomly get wounded. I often want to live there anyway. In the places I know and love in West Africa, there is a kind of dignity of daily life. I like that.  There are many problems (class, caste, etc), but there is less targeting, less random wounding of the spirit.

These conditions of violence and chance are perhaps the detritus and the product of the colonial fantasy.

Random death by car accident or random death by police accident? Or random death by some other black person who is even more frustrated than you (another black person) are. This is the precarity of global black life.

Published by wendywilsonfall

Wendy Wilson Fall is Associate Professor and Program Chair of the Africana Studies Program at Lafayette College. Her research engages questions of socio-cultural change, ethnic identity, and multi-sited historical narratives. She has published numerous journal articles and book chapters addressing these themes in the context of nomads in West Africa and the African diaspora of the U.S. Wilson-Fall is from Washington, D.C. and has traveled extensively in Africa, particularly in West Africa where she lived for more than ten years. She's also traveled to Madagascar, Egypt and Morocco as well as in Europe.

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