February 17th, 2015
“To declare oneself “post-black” is essentially to demand of a radiant tradition that it stops talking, archiving, and producing knowledge and specific forms of art, sport, and knowledge spanning millennia.”—Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons
Throughout this week, we’ll be featuring books relating to Black History Month. In the following post, we interview Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons, the co-editors of The Trouble with Post-Blackness:
Question: Your book was prepared around the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting and it serves as a point of discourse several times throughout. Do you feel that the discussion would have been radically changed had it been prepared after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner murders?
Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons: I am not certain the temper of the brilliant essays and reflections collected in the book would have been radically changed. The galvanizing effects of the murder of Trayvon Martin were enough in themselves to set off a cacophony of anger and events not seen in United States and global activism for an extended stretch of time. It was as though the murder of Trayvon Martin was a horrific wake up call from the ambient, narcissistic sleep of “Post-Blackness” and excessive celebrations of the second Obama presidential election. If a trajectory of disillusionment with the euphoria of Barack Obama’s double presidency is drawn, surely its major break was the murder of Trayvon Martin. Every person’s death diminishes us all. This we know. The addition of recent murders of so many other African American men, women, and children in the United States—especially from within sanctioned institutional and authoritative structures such as the police—goes beyond diminishment to devastation. Post-Blackness’s self-regarding call to seize a putative American Dream “beyond blackness” seems delusional of course in light of the brutal deaths of so many.
Q: What do you believe the election of Obama means within the context of Black history? To what extent should we categorize it as a progressive milestone, versus a symbolic achievement during a lack of significant developments in the Black experience? For instance, how do we reconcile the post-election celebrations centered on racial progress, in light of recent events in which the notion of post-blackness seems to be suffering?
HB and KMS: This is a complex question because it articulates and juxtaposes a number of shorthand terms such as “progressive milestone” and “symbolic achievement.” Milestones are always only what we make of them in symbolic systems such as “Black history” and “development” discourse. The elections of Barack Obama to the United States presidency are permanent markers of a shifted American context of presidential politics. Obama’s successful bids for the presidency were full of centrist (as opposed to “progressive”), vague, and almost speechlessly exorbitant financing. “Blackness”—in the existential sense coded in a tradition of creative resistance, militant refusal of subjugation, and studied attention to black impoverishment—had nothing to do with the presidential victories of Barack Obama. However, in this long line of coded black resistance against insuperable odds, even a day off or a small lottery win from a vending machine in a supermarket can seem like miraculous good fortune. And if it has never happened before in one’s known history it seems like the Fourth of July! There were volumes of black critique, reservation, and resistance to even the notion that Barack Obama represented a “new black messiah” come to redeem the United States and rid it of racism and black despair. But such counter-celebratory critique was ineffective at producing in-depth perspectives on Obama the candidate or the resonant inefficacy for the black majority of his run up to the election.