There comes a moment when tenacity becomes morbid perseverance. Hope is then no longer an open door to the future but the illogical maintenance of a subjective attitude in organized contradiction with reality.Frantz Fanon, “Letter to the Resident Minister,” 53
To Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel L. Simmons, Depayne Middleton Doctor and many thousands gone.
What lingers …
In 2008, acclaimed writer Charles Johnson published “The End of the Black American Narrative.” He calls the titular storyline one “of group victimization” that has become obsolete. For Johnson, “a people oppressed for so long have finally become as ‘polymorphous’ as the dance of Shiva”. They are now “full-fledged Americans” with access to “plenty of good hard work” – phrases that Johnson quotes from W. E. B. Du Bois's “Criteria for Negro Art.” “Criteria,” he suggests, anticipates the triumphs of numerous middle-class and upper-class black Americans in the twentyfirst century, whose stories herald the obsolescence of the Black American Narrative: “We have been mayors, police chiefs, bestselling authors, MacArthur fellows, Nobel laureates, Ivy League professors, billionaires, scientists, stockbrokers, engineers, theoretical physicists, toy makers, inventors, astronauts, chess grandmasters, dot-com millionaires, actors, Hollywood film directors, and talk show hosts.” These results were achieved thanks to the “ancestors” who “fought daily for generations, with courage and dignity,” and the “miracle they achieved” through transforming the nation.
At stake in Johnson's argument, however questionable its claims and assumptions, is in fact a recalibration of what Etienne Balibar has called the “citizen subject” in the interdisciplinary context of intellectual history and black studies, such that racialization has been and continues to be the means by which a “nonequality” can “develop on the basis of equality itself.” Race becomes one of the primary ways of enacting and justifying exclusions from citizenship. It mars the formal relation between the citizen who is always also a subject (subditus-subjectum) and the sovereign (sublimus/ summa potestas), beating that modern predicament back into the allegedly premodern relation between slave/servant (servus) and master (dominus).