Blackness, Animality, and the Unsovereign
“Animal is a word that men haven given themselves the right to give…at the precise moment when they made the animal a theorem, something seen and not seeing”
— Derrida, The Animal That I Therefore Am
“My body was given back to me sprawled out, distorted, re-colored, clad in mourning in that white winter day. The Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad…”
— Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
In light of the recent spotlighting of the killing of Cecil the lion and media sensationalized outrage over this act vis a vis the glaring absence of empathy for black life and premature death, it feels important to discuss how these two are connected by white militarized masculinity and colonial fantasies about Africa.
Yet instead of positioning the animal life against black life, we might think of how Black radical thinkers have always interrogated the relationship between blackness and animalization and how the radical visions of abolition point us toward a more liberatory horizon for our world. Black people have historically been portrayed through scientific racism as animal like and this anti-black discourse has overlapped with the ways that the animal has been depicted throughout the course of Western philosophy as the desolate ground upon and against which the human, as a colonial and racial construct, has been defined. Yet, Black radical thinkers from Frederick Douglass, to Frantz Fanon and Angela Davis illustrate how the Black radical tradition offers up – as part of what W.E.B. Du Bois called “the gift of black folk” – a vision of freedom for all life. Black thought provides us with new questions, horizons and meanings for critical animal studies and new pathways for considering abolition as an ongoing aspiration for human-animal-life liberation.
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