Frank B. Wilderson III is considered one of the key thinkers developing the theoretical tradition of Afro-pessimism. Afro-pessimism connects the work of scholars such as Saidiya Hartman, Jared Sexton, David Marriott, Hortense Spillers, and others, building on certain readings of Frantz Fanon, Orlando Patterson, and Joy James. One of the decisive critical moves made by Afro-pessimists is to take the Black out of the space of a subjective, epistemological, or cultural identity, and into the realm of accumulation, fungibility, and ontology (Hartman 1997), defined by the three constituent components of slavery: social death, natal alienation, and general dishonour (Patterson 1985).
Afro-pessimists draw into question the historic development of the Human, and what that development has meant for the creation of the Black as non-Human. Wilderson (2010: 12) argues that Blackness is, ‘an ontological position, that is, as a grammar of suffering, the Slave is not a labourer but an anti-Human, a positionality against which Humanity establishes, maintains, and renews its coherence, its corporeal integrity’. In this way, the socially dead, fungible Slave is a necessary relationality for the construction of the Human. That this relationship is both fundamentally destructive and necessary for the construction of liberated (mainly White) subjects is a fascinating and disturbing backdrop for a discussion of race and friendship. As Wilderson (2010: 22) writes, ‘the circulation of Blackness as metaphor and image at the most politically volatile and progressive moments in history (as in the French, English, and American revolutions), produces dreams of liberation which are more inessential to and more parasitic on the Black, and more emphatic in their guarantee of Black suffering, than any dream of human liberation in any era heretofore’. Afro-pessimism is not a politics, but it does point to the need for a new kind of politics beyond Fanon's ‘end of the world’: a complete revolution of what currently exists.
An African American, Wilderson lived in South Africa during the 1990s, where he was elected to the African National Congress (ANC), and became a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He taught at the University of Witwatersrand, and also at Khanya College during that period. His memoir Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile & Apartheid (2008) recounts his time in South Africa.