how does it feel to be a problem?

Driving into Oakland

In Chapter 1 of W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, he asks “How does it feel to be a problem?”

The enduring language of racial pathology: “The Negro Problem” dogs me to this day. Even as the long Black woman in the room, I am confronted with “The Negro Problem.” It is assumed that I occupy and speak from a different epistemic space because I am a Black woman in a privileged space. It is assumed that I, a Black woman, am also ‘too close’ to be ‘objective’ about this ‘Negro Problem.’ For this reason, classmates stated with great confidence that Black feminisms are inaccessible and lack praxis because “Black women don’t read.” The unspoken, “Oh, but you’re the exception” hung in the air. Ah, to occupy the space of exception.

See, this Blackness, and the bodies it swaths, is/are defined primarily in terms of binary oppositions, negation, and lack. Whiteness does not garner the same scrutiny as Blackness. Whiteness is diffuse and normalized. Whiteness is everywhere. Blackness sticks out like a misaligned bone in the body politic, representing the internal fracture of sovereign power. Blackness, that not-thing, is a veritable space of indistinction. Blackness is variegated. Blackness is hybrid. Blackness is diasporic.

Blackness is slippery. There are some who would seek to lay down the border stones of Blackness. Gatekeepers. Politics of authenticity. What is authentic when syncretic and hybrid forms are ever-adapting, thus ensuring survival? Do we stake an identity in the here and now when Blackness is future potentiality?

Blackness traverses spatial and temporal boundaries. It is not bound by the oppressions the bodies deemed ‘Black’ endure. It is not bound within the subjectivities of those hued persons. It is most certainly not bound by genotype and phenotype- the basis of scientific racism, and newly ascendant forms of biopolitics.


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