Anti-Blackness is Embedded Deeply in Judeo-Christian Thought

You might be under the impression that Antiblackness was invented sometime after the start of the transatlantic slave trade in order to justify the way that White Europeans were treating Africans. If so, you’ll be wrong! 

You might be under the impression that Antiblackness was invented sometime after the start of the transatlantic slave trade in order to justify the way that White Europeans were treating Africans. If so, you’ll be wrong! 

In this paper, I’ll show that antiblackness is deeply implanted in Judaeo-Christian history and even reaches back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The Ancient Greeks and the Ethiopians

Many Panafricanists point out that ancient Greek historians such as Herodotus who wrote in the fifth century BCE, and Diodorus Siculus who wrote in the first century BCE had lots of positive things to say about black Africans or as they called them Ethiopians (those with burnt faces). This is undoubtedly true. But they also had other things to say about Africans that weren’t so rosy. According to Professor Tom Meisenhelder (2003:101-102):

By the sixth century B. C. economic and military contact between Africa and Greece was fairly common and several Greeks, most famously Herodotus, prepared “traveler’s reports” that included discussion of Africa. Herodotus’s reports, which intermingled experience and myth, are perhaps the most consequential of all the ancient writings about Africa. Herodotus reported the presence of “dog-eared men” and headless men with eyes in their chests (Miller 1985:3). Herodotus also provided both physical and cultural “descriptions” of the so-called “Ethiopians” who were fully human and whom he praised as noble and pious. He further described a variety of other African peoples, some tall, brave, and handsome and others living in caves whose language was like the squeaking of bats (Snowden, 1970:105). While other Greek authors did not even give Africans human form, Herodotus described a broad range of human beings in Africa running from the noble to the beastly, influencing much of what followed in the Ancients’ construction of the African other (see Snowden, 1970:107-109). Source: Meisenhelder:  African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europe 

In the first century BCE, Diodorus Siculus wrote his Histories (*.html) and had a lot to say about Ethiopians. He too continued with this Janus-faced description of noble Ethiopians and Savage ones. In his Histories, chapter 3, he writes:

Now the Ethiopians, as historians relate, were the first of all men and the proofs of this statement, they say, are manifest. For that they did not come into their land as immigrants from abroad but were  natives of it and so justly bear the name of “autochthones” is, they maintain, conceded by practically all men; furthermore, that those who dwell beneath the noon-day sun were, in all likelihood, the first to be generated by the earth, is clear to all; since, inasmuch as it was the warmth of the sun which, at the generation of the universe, dried up the earth when it was still wet and impregnated it with life, it is reasonable to suppose that the region which was nearest the sun was the first to bring forth living creatures. 2 And they say that they were the first to be taught to honour the gods and to hold sacrifices and processions and festivals and the other rites by which men honour the deity; and that in consequence their piety has been published abroad among all men, and it is generally held that the sacrifices practised among the Ethiopians are those which are the most pleasing to heaven.” 

What’s important to note here is that Diodorus says he was recounting what his own people’s historians held with regard to the Ethiopians. So these were widely held beliefs among the Greeks – that these Ethiopians were the original humans, pioneers of spirituality and religion and indeed were the most pleasing people in the eyes of the divine.

Diodorus and the “Savage” Ethiopians

But later on, like Herodotus, Diodorus speaks in much less flattering terms about other Ethiopians. 

“8 1 But there are also a great many other tribes of the Ethiopians, some of them dwelling in the land lying on both banks of the Nile and on the islands in the river, others inhabiting the neighbouring country of Arabia, and still others residing in the interior of Libya. 2 The majority of them, and especially those who dwell along the river, are black in colour and have flat noses and woolly hair. As for their spirit they are entirely savage and display the nature of a wild beast, not so much, however, in their temper as in their ways of living; for they are squalid all over their bodies, they keep their nails very long like the wild beasts, and are as far removed as possible from human kindness to one another; 3 and speaking as they do with a shrill voice and cultivating none of the practices of civilized life as these are found among the rest of mankind, they present a striking contrast when considered in the light of our own customs.”

According to Meisenhelder again (2003:101-102) “Pliny led Roman writers to make a similar distinction between the human (speechless cave dwellers without dreams, clothes, or social institutions such as marriage and religion or noble warriors) and “radically nonhuman humans” native to Africa (Miller, 1985:26-27). Source: Meisenhelder:  African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europe

Early Christian Anti Blackness 

By the time we get to the early Christian era, it appears that the positive depictions of Black Africans had faded away. The Christians continued the negative associations of Blackness, and they begin to associate African people (Ethiopians) with metaphysical evil, or sin.  

According to New Testament scholar Claire K Rotchschild (2019) the Epistle of Barnabus which was written between 70-132 CE is the first example of Satan being called Black. Rothschild (2019: 223) states that:

reference by Christians to the counter-divine with the colour epithet ὁ μέλας is new with the Epistle of Barnabas. Black is applied as an honorific to certain Egyptian deities, but it is never used in Egyptian religion with reference to the counter-divine. Furthermore, black demons proliferate in late third- and fourth-century Egyptian monastic texts, but these witnesses postdate Barnabas. The first explicit reference to the devil as black after Barnabas is in Didymus the Blind, who interprets the reference as ‘Ethiopian’. Source: Rotchschild, 2019: Ethiopianising the Devil: ὁ μέλας in Barnabas 4:

Some of the most influential so-called early church fathers associated blackness with sin and vice, and explicitly associated blackness with black skinned people, Ethiopians.

Origen was a Church Father based in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in the 200s AD. According to Rothschild (2019:235-6):

“Although he traces all creation to God and considers all humanity ‘equal and alike’ (Princ.), demographic groups have distinguishing characteristics: Ethiopians are cannibalistic, Scythians legally sanction parricide, and so forth. Origen associates the black skin colour of sub-Saharan people with sin and vice. Therefore, he demonstrates real concern in Comm. Cant. over the text’s qualification of black skin as beautiful… Christians, he argues, can view blackness as a recoverable condition: ‘If you have repented, however, your soul will indeed be black because of your old sins, but your penitence will give it something of what I may call an Ethiopian beauty.’ But from the length at which he discusses blackness in this commentary – even acknowledging that his argument is slightly obsessive – we infer that Origen was aware of the threat posed by blackness even as he understands it as an impermanent state for those who repent.” Source: Rotchschild, 2019: Ethiopianising the Devil: ὁ μέλας in Barnabas 4: 

Historian Frank Snowden gives the following quote from the heavyweight Christian Theologian of the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo (1960:33):

“How do I understand ‘Ethiopian peoples’? How else than by them, all nations? And properly by black men (for Ethiopians are black). Those called to the faith who were before black, just they, so that it may be said to them ‘ye were sometimes darkness but now are ye light in the Lord’ |Eph. 5.8]. They are indeed called black but let them not remain black, for out of these is made the Church, to whom it is said: ‘ Who is she that cometh up having been made white?’ [Cant. 8.5| For what has been made out of the black maiden but what is said in am black and comely’? [Cant. 1.4]75 Source: Snowdon, 1960: Some Greek and Roman Observations on the Ethiopian 

The Curse of Ham

Around the same time, the Rabbis of the third century CE onwards provided a biblical hermeneutic of anti blackness. It all centres on the infamous so-called Curse of Ham. In the Torah, the story goes that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japeth. Noah falls alseep with wine, and Ham sees him naked and tells his brothers. When Noah awakes he is livid with Ham, and places a curse on his son Canaan, saying: 

Genesis 9:25 Cursed be Canaan;A servant of servantsHe shall be to his brethren.”26 And he said:“Blessed be the Lord,The God of Shem,And may Canaan be his servant.27 May God enlarge Japheth,And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;And may Canaan be his servant.”

The Talmud is a compendium of the oral traditions of rabbis in Babylonia. In Talmud: Sanhedrin 70a (Mishnah, c.200  CE): we read various opinions on what Ham’s actually did, including the following:

18. “Having cited the passage discussing Noah, the Gemara enters into a discussion about what was actually done to him by his younger son, Ham. Rav and Shmuel disagreed: One says that Ham castrated Noah and one says that Ham sodomized him…

In another tractate in the same section, we read the rabbis ideas on what happened to Ham as a result of this curse: Tractate 108b: 14-15:

15: The Sages taught: Three violated that directive (to not have sexual intercourse while in the Ark) and engaged in intercourse while in the ark, and all of them were punished for doing so. They are: The dog, and the raven, and Ham, son of Noah. The dog was punished in that it is bound; the raven was punished in that it spits, and Ham was afflicted in that his skin turned black.

Similarly, later, in the Bereshit Rabbah (probably written between 300 and 500 CE (36:7)

“Rabbi Huna said in Rabbi Yosef’s name: [Noah declared], ‘You have prevented me from begetting a fourth son, therefore I curse your fourth son,’ Rabbi Huna also said in Rabbi Yosef’s name: You have prevented me from doing something that is done in the dark, therefore your seed will be ugly and dark-skinned. Rabbi Hiya said: Ham and the dog copulated in the ark, therefore Ham came forth black-skinned while the dog publicly exposes its copulation.”

EDIT: Notice the ranking of Blackened people with animals. This is a hugely important element of the othering of Blackness.

According to Professor of Religious Studies Joseph R Washington, “the Jewish rabbinic tradition took on the Hellenistic worldview regarding antiblackness (hatred of blackness as evil). Although this worldview may not have been dominant or particularly developed in Greco-Roman culture, Jewish thought expanded it and gave it a religious hermeneutic (e.g. in the Hamitic Myth in Gen. 9:18-28).” Thus the hatred of blackness as evil was sacralized to the hatred of people with black skins (anti-Blackness, or black racism). Washington writes, “if not the first or the only great religion to infer categorically that black people are eternally damned, Judaism’s oral tradition continued to pass on from generation to generation the story that black people are doubly damned: damned in the blackness of their skin and damned to perpetual slavery.” (Lewis, 2014:30) Source: Lewis, 2014; “To Wash a Blackamoor White:” (Doctoral Thesis) 

Rabbinic Curse of Ham Reverberates down through Christian history

Tamara Elisabeth Lewis gives several examples of this Curse of Ham reverberating down through Christian thought:

[S]everal Syriac texts associate the biblical curse of Canaan with blackness. For example, “Mar Ephrem the Syrian said: ‘When Noah awoke and was told what Canaan did…Noah said, ‘Cursed be Canaan and may God make his face black,’ and immediately the face of Canaan changed; so did of his father Ham, and their white faces became black and dark and their color changed….”

Ishodad of Merv (Syrian Christian bishop of Hedhatha, ninth century): When Noah cursed Canaan, “instantly, by the force of the curse…his face and entire body became black [ukmotha]. This is the black color which has persisted in his descendents.”
Ibn al-Tayyib (Arabic Christian scholar, Baghdad, d. 1043) writes: “The curse of Noah affected the posterity of Canaan who were killed by Joshua son of Nun. At the moment of the curse, Canaan’s body became black and the blackness spread out among them…”

Also in the thirteenth-century mystical text The Zohar, Ham represents the refuse and dross of the gold, the stirring and rousing of the unclean spirit of the ancient serpent. Ham, the father of Canaan, is also known as “the notorious world darkener…The descendants of Ham through Canaan therefore have red eyes, because Ham looked upon the nakedness of his father; they have miss-shapen lips, because Ham spoke with his lips about the unseemly condition of his father; they have twisted curly hair, because Ham turned and twisted his head around to see the nakedness of his father; and they go about naked, because Ham did not cover the nakedness of his father…” (Lewis, 2014:29). Source: Lewis, 2014; “To Wash a Blackamoor White:” (Doctoral Thesis)

In a future presentation, I will look at how the Curse of Ham also permeated Arab thinking in the Islamic era.

What’s particularly key about this Curse of Ham hermeneutic is that it associated Blackness of skin with sexual depravity. The early-modern Europeans picked up these elements and ran with them, as outlined in the following from Lewis. 

Early Modern England

Winthrop Jordan’s landmark study White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro holds that blackness as a concept is already firmly embedded in medieval English epistemology and associated with dirt, evil, sin, and the devil. 

[Footnote.22: “For example, according to the Oxford English Dictionary: “Black is deeply stained with dirt; soiled, dirty, foul…Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant, pertaining to or involving death, deadly; baneful, disastrous, sinister…Foul, iniquitous, atrocious, horrible, wicked……Indicating disgrace, censure, liability to punishment, etc.” [Quoted in Jordon, 6]. “In each [European] language the word for “black” carried a host for disparaging connotations. In Spanish, for example, “negro” also meant gloomy, dismal, unfit, and wretched; in French, “noir” also connoted foul, dirty, base, and wicked; in Dutch, certain compounds of “zwart” conveyed notions of anger, irascibility, and necromancy; and “black” had comparable pejorative implications in Elizabethan and Stuart England”] 

This definition was widened to include persons with black skins in the early modern period… Thus when the English first began directly confronting Africans on a large scale in the sixteenth century, they built associations between their understandings of the concept of blackness and dark-skinned people.” (Lewis, 2014:13-14)

This… understanding of the African other became very influential through the work of Sixteenth Century writers such as George Best (see, Jordan, 1974:22-25). `The blackness of the African, as Best saw it, was a result of Ham’s disobedience when he looked at his father’s nakedness. In fact Best further interpreted the story as meaning that Ham had disobeyed Noah by copulating on the Ark. As a result, God punished Ham by making his son “so black and loathsome” that he and all his progeny would symbolize disobedience to “all the world” (quoted in Jordan, 1974:23). Thus, Best wrote that the black African represented sinfulness, disorder, and lust. Best’s interpretation combined the characteristics repeatedly central to European constructions of the African other, color and nakedness, with sexuality. The African’s black skin came to stand for a presumed “blackness within” (Jordan, 1974:22). The black color of the African body, underscored by the image of nakedness, became the most noticed and profound element in the precolonial social construction of the African other. It stood as a symbolic trope for the African other’s moral inferiority to white Europeans.”

It seems apparent that early precolonial European travellers’ reports from Africa were framed by this Biblical discourse. It was these reports, as in the writing of Leo Africanus in 1525, that brought the African other to the popular consciousness of those that never left Europe.”  Source: Meisenhelder:  African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europe

From Lewis “[Africanus’ writing] which served as the European geographical and topographical resource for Africa until the eighteenth century [and] purportedly describes sub-Saharan black African culture in rich, accurate, detail. The author… writes:

[L]et us consider, whether the vices of the Africans do surpass their virtues and good parts…Their wits are but mean; and they are so credulous, that they will believe matters impossible, which are told them. So ignorant are they of natural philosophy that they imagine all the effects and operations of nature to be extraordinary and divine. They observe no certain order of living nor of laws…By nature they are a vile and base people, being no better accounted of by their governors than if they were dogs…the greater part of these people are neither Mahumetans, Jews, nor Christians; and hardly shall you find so much as a spark of piety in any of them. They have no churches at all…they lead a savage and beastly life…They spend all their days either in most lewd practices…neither wear they any shoes nor garments. The Negroes likewise lead a beastly kind of life, being utterly destitute of the use of reason, of dexterity and wit, and of all arts.

Throughout the sixteenth century Europeans traveled to African, most often in search of trade and perhaps riches.1 Travelers’ descriptions of the African continued to be framed and molded by the impact of earlier accounts and Biblical stories. The reports of travelers often intertwined fact and fiction but consistently the most significant things reported about Africans was that their skin was black and that their bodies were “naked.” (Walvin, 1973; Jordan, 1974) Africans were understood as libidinous and dark bodies. As Jordan (1974:4-7) notes, emphasizing these two characteristics resulted in a greatly simplified notion of the African other, underscoring the difference from “white” Europeans. It is obvious, for instance, that to state that Africans are black, in contrast to the whiteness of Europeans, is to reduce a whole range of existing colors and hues to just two. It is also of course not true that Africans were naked. As Jordan (1974:9-10) also notes, this reduction was not harmless or innocent since already the color “black” possessed negative connotation as being soiled or dirty and many European Christians associated nakedness with sinfulness.” 

Conclusion: Primordial Anti-Blackness, endemic to Western Culture
I’ll conclude with the following comments from Tamara Lewis which I find very interesting and generative:

In black religious historiography, the dominant position is that antecedent views of blackness as negative influenced the European consciousness prior to the development of slavery. This view holds that rather than racism arising out of a utilitarian function (such as the justification of slavery) during colonialism, hatred of blackness and black people is endemic to the culture of the West, having its basis in the ancient Greco-Roman tradition. Robert Hood argues that primal myths, representing a kind of subconscious, subliminal way of seeing, “buried deep within our Western psyche and culture,” instinctively associate darkness and blackness with fear, negativity, and evil. An offshoot of this mode of consciousness is that negative perceptions are transferred to people with dark or black skins, as reflected in stories, proverbs, and iconic cultural images. This legacy of myths and inherent modes of perceiving blackness, as part of the universal human psyche, is firmly implanted within the historical Christian tradition, particularly in the West. Moreover, the Christian tradition has been instrumental in propagating this notion of black inferiority…Hood’s returning concern is that the embedded psychic, cultural, and historical values of blackness are so firmly entrenched, reflexive, and unconscious in the communal spirit of Western society that they are too fixed to be effectively dislodged in the quest for racial equality and diversity…The problem with this position is that if blackness as evil is programmed within the human psyche, how can racism, which Hood argues is associated with this primordial consciousness, ultimately be avoided or transcended? Instead, this position implies that society, the outgrowth of human consciousness, is forever doomed to racism.” (Lewis, 2014:23-24)

Lewis here unwittingly summarised the afropessimists’ position that “the world” is always, by its nature, anti-black and if anti-blackness is ever going to end, if we are ever going to liberate ourselves, the world has to end!


Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 70a 

Bereshit Rabbah

Diodorus Siculus: Histories*.html

Lewis, 2014: To Wash a Blackamoor White 

Meisenhelder, 2003: African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europe

Rotchschild, 2019: Ethiopianising the Devil: ὁ μέλας in Barnabas 4:

Snowdon, 1960: Some Greek and Roman Observations on the Ethiopian 

The Purpose of Black Crime (Afropessimism)

Afropessimism employs a psychoanalytic approach and argues that in the collective unconscious of non-Black people, Blackness is an object for their pyschic pleasure. This helps to understand Anti-Black violence. Anti-Black violence establishes the division between the Human and the Black in the collective unconsicous of the non-Black. And Black on Black violence is just another form of Anti Black violence, carried out by Black people.

What about black on black crime? we often hear. Well-meaning folks argue that Black on black crime is a myth. Black on black crime is not a myth, but actually serves the socio-economic, political and psychic interests of non-Black people. An Afropessimist analysis would argue that Black on Black Crime and especially Black on Black violence is is actually a form of Anti-Black violence. In this view, the purpose of Black Crime is to create and maintain a divide between Humans and Black people. This gives a framework with which to understand why there are so many White fans of Gangster Rap, Drill Music, etc – why black youth violence so enticing to non-Black people. Again, the truth about black crime is that it is a form of Antiblackness. 

Black on Black violence in the service of non-Blacks
Let’s talk about the Black on Black violence card. I played that card many many times myself during my Black Conservative, or pseudo-libertarian phase in 2016-17. With this experience in mind, I now call Black on Black violence is the Great White Hope of Black Conservative talking points. Larry Elder, Candice Williams, Jesse Lee Peterson and company think that Black on Black violence is the big problem for Black people, not anti-Black violence. But here’s the thing, what if Black on Black violence IS anti Black violence? 

As I mentioned in the last video, Amos Wilson was very clear in his view that Africans in the United States are not living their own lives, but are actually being used by others. Their consciousness is still a slave consciousness, their languages, social relations, food, clothing, religion, places they live, the totality of their existence is firmly rooted in the crucible of enslavement. Nothing has substantively changed since 1863 with formal abolition. 

In the Lecture Blueprint for Black Power, he goes on to talk about how this manifests in so-called Black on Black violence in the U.S. and how this is beneficial for White people, when he says (46:59 to 48:17):

every maladapted characteristic in the black psyche is there for white folk. It’s not purely there because they hate you, or they misunderstand you, or they don’t know who you are; it has nothing to do with all of that. When you analyze the so-called aberrations in the black personality, you must always ask the questions: What are their social functions and roles? Who benefits from this aberration in the black man’s mind? What are the social, political and economic benefits, and for whom? Who gains from this particular orientation in our minds? Then you begin to see why it’s there and what its function is. Thus every complaint we have about ourselves has a political, economic and social intent beneficial to white folk and detrimental to ourselves.”

Dr Wilson focused here on what you might call the exoteric benefits of Black on Black Crime for White people. You can think here of the Prison Industrial Complex, school to prison pipeline, the NeoColonial condition of African nation states and so on. All of these have very clear economic and political benefits for non-Black people. 

Afropessimists add to this by proposing another, deeper or esoteric benefit that non-Black people derive from Black violence and death. They do this by using a Psychoanalytic perspective, following the lead of one of their biggest influences, Frantz Fanon. 

The Collective Unconscious 
Afropessimists talk a lot about the collective unconscious of non-Black people. The following video gives a good succinct explanation of the collective unconscious: (00:00 to 01:55).  

One of these archetypes would be that of Human. As we saw in part one, Afropessimists argue that Black people are positioned outside or at least on the very edge of the category of human. They also argue that this demarcation between Human and the Black is created and maintained by violence. 

Anti-Black violence is a term used to describe the multifaceted aggression that has been aimed at Black people over the centuries. By violence is meant not just the direct acts of physical aggression, but also the wider structural forms. The following snippet from a video from Harvard University gives a good overview of different understandings of violence: (00:00:23 to 00:01:26):

Frank Wilderson says that anti-Black violence “produces.. the antithesis of the Human and, in so doing, also secures the coherence of what it means to be Human. It reproduces the knowledge that Humans have.”

So, in this analysis, Black people do not really face this violence due to anything we did and do, but rather than because the violence is required to continually keep us in the place of the slave in order to give coherence to the concept of human being.

Anti-Black violence as rituals of pleasure for non-Blacks
But it goes further than just the violence itself. It also applies to the depiction, photographing, filming and dissemination of this violence.
The murder of George Floyd earlier this year was but the latest example of a Black person’s murder being captured on cell phone video and going viral. When the wave of cell phone footage of Black men being abused and killed started taking off around 2013-14. I remember how these videos went viral. At the time it felt weird but I couldn’t at the time understand why. I couldn’t really understand why such violence was being shared so wantonly bearing in mind the huge psychological damage that is done to us when we see it. Afropessimism helps to explain what was, and still is, going on here. Returning to the Mail and Guardian interview, Wilderson explains: 
“It is as though the visual distribution of these images accompanies an increase in their occurrences, not vice-versa. We need to understand that anti-Black violence is not like anything else: these are rituals of pleasure and psychic renewal for the Human race.

“As David Marriott would say, these are rituals of self-fashioning; these are repetitions of death in real life and repetitions of death on the screen. They secure subjectivity for non-Blacks, because non-Blacks can look at them and say (albeit if only unconsciously) “aha”, if that were to happen to me, that would be because I committed a transgression; there would be something justifying that treatment. It would not be gratuitous, it would be contingent violence.
“Afropessimism helps us to understand that anti-Black violence is not a form of discrimination; anti-Black violence is a health tonic for global civil society. Anti-Black violence is an ensemble of necessary rituals that are performed so that the human race can know itself as Human and not as a slave, meaning not as Black.”

I see a lot of non-Black left wingers and progressives commenting on these videos, expressing their disgust and outrage about the senseless nature of the killings. “Why are these Blacks being targeted and killed like this?” they ask in passionate expressions of concern. Wilderson would say that while their concern may be sincere, on an unconscious level – these non-Black progressives are strengthening their sense of themselves as not Black, as not slaves.

I’m sure this analysis causes offence to many non-Black progressives, revolutionaries, allies. They are not used to the spotlight being put on them rather than on those evil right wingers. The key to remember is that this is referring to the collective unconscious. So it’s the shared sets of motifs, symbols, images that are inherited, as opposed to being based on direct experience. And also it’s unconscious. It’s below the level of conscious, deliberate attention. But it has very real material consequences. The idea is That Black people occupy a position of non-humans in order that the position of human makes sense. And violence is the way in which Black people are positioned as such.  

White Society and Violent Black Music
I’d like to bring this all together by discussing UK Drill music. UK Drill music started to get really popular and notorious. For those who don’t know, drill music is basically the latest incarnation of gangster rap. It is so nakedly violent it’s almost unreal. The rappers are usually also engaged or affiliated with actual street violence and they use their songs to openly threaten to stab and shoot each other, reminding their rivals of their body counts, all accompanied by videos where they swish and jab their hands in stabbing motions in a kind of weird death dance. As with previous incarnations of this kind of rap, these kids are overwhelmingly Black boys from various parts of inner city London and other cities. But it’s the reaction to drill by White society that I’m interested in. 

Just the as happened with UK Garage 20 years ago, the drill scene became the biggest existential threat to the security of the nation. There was “conversation” between White people about how best to tackle the scourge of drill-induced knife crime that was sweeping the city of London in particular. The Metropolitan Police went as far as removing a bunch of drill music videos from YouTube, and also banning one prominent group from performing a particular song live in a particular area of London. They did it anyway and were subsequently hit with an injunction. 
 The Left opined that it was unfair to target the music for the social problems that cause the crime. The Right blamed bemoaned that London has been taken over the Blacks, and railed against so called political correctness for preventing the Police from going in all guns blazing to deal with the rampant Black criminality. National newspapers fell over themselves to publish exposes detailing the depravity of these inner city demons. 

At the same time, just like with gangsta rap predecessors, if you look at the audiences at any drill music concerts, you’ll find lots and lots of white faces, and especially when the artist has “crossed over” from the underground into the mainstream such Headie One. These white folks seem to really enjoy Black violence and death. Going so far as joining in and singing along to these macabre murder hymns. What is going here? 

Afropessimists like Frank Wilderson argue that in the collective unconscious of non Black people, Blackness is considered something like a plaything. They pour in their psychic energies into Blackness to satiate or satisfy their anger, rage, disgust, curiosity, fear, loathing, terror, desire, lust, etc. In short, Black people are objects to be used by others to fulfill their psychic needs.

The key is to understand that what drill music is depicting sonically and visually is actually Anti-Black violence being carried out by Black people.  And according to Afropessimists, Anti-Black violence establishes the demarcation between human and Black/Slave in the collective unconscious of non-Black people. All of these players, the media, the Police, the politicians, the White drill concert goers are engaging in time honoured rituals that reaffirm what it means to be a human versus a slave, Afropessimists argue. 

As Frank Wilderson put it when commenting on Black on Black violence says in the Mail and Guardian interview: “It is Black people killing Black people, at the level of performance; but structurally, that is to say, at a paradigmatic level, it is really anti-Black violence being deployed, not by subjects (non-Black people) but through their speaking implements.”

So in summary, Afropessimism employs a psychoanalytic approach and argues that in the collective unconscious of non-Black people, Blackness is an object for their pyschic pleasure. This helps to understand Anti-Black violence. Anti-Black violence establishes the division between the Human and the Black in the collective unconsicous of the non-Black. And Black on Black violence is just another form of Anti Black violence, carried out by Black people.

Black People are not considered Human. Afropessimism Series Part one

This is the first of a short series of videos giving an introduction to an idea called Afropessimism. If you are not a subscriber to this channel AfricansArise, please hit the subscribe button and make sure to click the bell so you are notified of future videos, including the next few videos in this series on Afropessimism. 

This theory has apparently been all the rage for a few years now in academic circles. But I only heard about it earlier this year from my friend Kevin, who I did the Black Buying Power Myth or Reality video with a few years back. I recommend you watch video if you haven’t already, by the way! 

I have mainly engaged with the Afropessimism through its most famous or infamous advocate, a writer called Frank B Wilderson III. He’s written a memoir called Afropessimism, and has also been hitting the podcast and interview circuit heavily this year, 2020. In my series, I’ll be making lots of references to these, as well as other articles. I’ll always give references with hyperlinks in the description and blog posts to allow you to follow up. 

Willderson uses a lot of dense philosophical, academic terms and concepts which are not easy to get, for me at least. But what I’ll do is pull out some of the things that have jumped out at me about Afropessimism. I’ll say now that while not all of the ideas make sense to me or fully resonate, I think Afropessimism is a very important body of ideas for Black radicals, Panafricanists, etc. I hope that these videos will help to introduce Afropessimism to Black folks outside of academia. Ultimately, I want these videos to be a resource for Black people to apply in our own lives with the aim of furthering the quest for genuine Black liberation.

So, what is Afropessimism in a nutshell
I see Afropessimism as an effort to understand why other people treat Black people the way they do. It looks at the Arab and European enslavement of Africans and the gratuitous violence this involved. It looks at how this slavery and violence has morphed into a relentless, deep-seated Anti-Blackness which has psychic and political dimensions. They do all of this and much more and come to some conclusions that in my opinion are militantly Black-centred and revolutionary. I hope to bring this out in my video series. 

Black people versus Humans
At the heart of Afropessimism is the claim that, unconsciously and consciously – non-Black people do not consider us to be human. This will not be news to anyone who has studied the rise of the European project of modernity. One of the originators of the very idea of distinct human races was a Swedish intellectual called Carl Linneas who is referred to as the father of taxonomy – the classification of things in nature. A website called has a very good discussion called “Linneas and Race” which outlines how he classified humans. As the article explains:

“Linnaeus’ work on the classification of man forms one of the 18th-century roots of modern scientific racism.” He groups men into four kinds,  AsiaticusEuropaeus, Americanus and Africanus. Though the order changed over the various updates to his schema, “Africanus consistently remained at the bottom of the list. Moreover, in all editions, Linnaeus’ description of Africanus was the longest, most detailed and physical, and also the most negative.” He refers to them, as lazy, Sly, sluggish, neglectful and capricious.,later%20on%20in%20his%20career.

This helped set the trend for European race science, with revered intellectuals and academics such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant waxing lyrical about the inferiority of Black people. I’ll just mention one other notable figure – the nineteenth century German philosopher Hegel. Here are some nuggets taken from an essay entitled “Critical Notes on Hegel’s Treatment of Africa” by Omotade Adegbindin:

Hegel refers to “Africa Proper” as “the lad of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantel of Night.”5 He also holds that “in Negro life the characteristic point is the fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realization of any substantial objective existence.” Therefore, the African has not reached the level of realizing his own being; he has not yet realized his person. In Hegel’s words, the African is “natural man in his completely wild and untamed state.”7 From the Hegelian perspective, the African is still under the influence of nature. Hence Africa proper has no role in the world history. Until it attains the level where it can transcend the influence of the environment, at the minimal level of consciousness, Africa proper is unable to fit within Hegel’s philosophical scheme.”  

Even if you’ve never heard these actual words, the message will be familiar to you. It has echoed throughout Western modern history.  Today for example, there is a thriving online scene of so-called race realists who propagate the idea that Black people have a genetically determined low level of intelligence, and that this explains us being at the bottom of the social ladder almost everywhere in the world. You can bring up the monkey chants that Black footballers have faced from crowds at football stadiums across the World, for decades. Witness the infamous cartoon comparing Barack Obama to King Kong. There is a widespread and deep-rooted notion in European modernity that Black people are not human, or at least are right on edges of what can be considered human. I recommend a Washington Post article from 2019 called “A Brief History of the enduring phony sconce that perpetuates white supremacy” for a good overview of this rich tradition.

Slavery and humanness 
Linneas, Kant, Hume, Hegel and others were writing during the height of the European enslavement of Africans. It’s commonly said that this race science or scientific racism was designed to provide intellectual and scientific rationalisation for this enslavement. Africans were not human, so enslaving them was not an affront to humanism. 
This may well be true, but Afropessimists would argue that it’s deeper than that. They’d argue that it was (and still is) necessary to have slaves in order for the category of human to make sense. Without slaves, they’d argue, humanity would cease to be a meaningful concept. To quote from Saidiya Hartman, a major influence on Afropessimism in her book Scenes of Subjection:

The slave is the object or the ground that makes possible the existence of the bourgeois subject and, by negation or contradistinction, defines liberty, citizenship, and the enclosures of the social body. 

An analogy to this might be the necessity for foreigners to exist in order for nationals to make sense. Any group of people needs to be able to define itself against another group. If no other groups existed, then the concept of being, say, German would be nonsensical. So the concept of human needs slaves to define itself against. 

But if this is the case, what happened once slavery ended? Well, Afropessimists argue that although slavery was formally anbolished.   didn’t really end for Africans in the diaspora. This is a common theme in 20th and 21st century Black radical traditions. Many Black thinkers, writers, activists have emphasised the continuing nature of the slave condition for Africans. The For example, Dr Amos Wilson in his seminal lecture Blueprint for Black Power said this:

“We are still of the same consciousness; we are still in the same position because we are still servants of the white man. Our reason for being in America is to serve white folk and to generate wealth for them. There has been no change at all in terms of our relationship to these people. The values that we pursue are slave values —and the values of servants. The social relations that we create and interact with were built and developed during the periods of slavery. We have not escaped it at all. 

And Saidiya Hartman coined the term the afterlife life of slavery when she writes in her book  Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route:
If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery–skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment. 

Afropessimists argue that Black people are positioned outside of humanness because, again, humanness requires a fall guy. The World as we know it needs a foil. This will not change until the World as we know it us destroyed. 
In Part Two, we will look at Afropessimist analyses of Anti-Black violence which they argue is essential for the maintenance of this division between humans and Black people.