The Punisher (1989)

I firmly believe that bad films cannot be made worse for spoilers but what follows reveals some plot points. This is part of a series looking at films from Marvel comics in the run-up to the release of Ryan Coogler’s The Black Panther.

One of the first films based on Marvel comics was the 1989 direct-to-video Punisher adaptation directed by Mark Goldblatt. Dolph Lundgren is Frank Castle with Jeroen Krabbé and Kim Miyori the main villains who are at odds both with each other and Castle (The Punisher). Miyori plays Lady Tanaka, the head of a yakuza organization taking over New York organized crime at the expense of the Italian families led by Gianni Franco (Krabbé). All the while Castle is being sought by his ex-partner and cop Jake Berkowitz (Lou Gossett Jr.).

Franco has returned to New York after the Punisher killed the other family leaders, leaving the mafia in a weakened state. Tanaka takes advantage of this and makes a power play by kidnapping all the mafioso’s children and then killing the parents when they arrive to negotiate a ransom. The cast of killers in that scene is quite funny. Franco forms a tentative alliance with the Punisher in order to save the children. They win the day in the end before Franco turns on Castle and tries to kill him and ends up dead. Solid performances by Gossett Jr. and Krabbé are undermined by Lundgren as Castle. He is at his least charismatic here, seems bored more than stone-faced, and has a bad stubble make-up.

bored doplh

Dolph Lundgren with fake stubble looking more dead bored than dead-eyed killer

Some folks immersed in or brought up in the Model Minority racist paradigm won’t remember so clearly the really intense Buy America campaigns of the late 1970s through early 1990s that peaked with Reaganite White Nationalism. They were not only “Buy America” but especially “Don’t buy Japan”. Much of this was centered around the auto industry and much of it had implicitly or explicitly racist themes, imagery and language. One  famous example is Gung Ho, the 1986 Ron Howard film where a Japanese firm buys a US auto plant. The new bosses constantly yell at the workers in the way the US writers imagined they did at Japanese plants (which, without apologizing for Japan’s poor labor conditions, was and is not the case). There is an intended feel-good element to the film, that strand of U.S. liberalism that is simultaneously racist and anti-union under the guise of “can’t we all just get along?”. A second type of 1980s anti-Asian racism was the Rambo: First Blood Part II and Missing In Action type where Vietnamese people held and tortured U.S. POWs for a decade after Vietnam’s victory and it was up to Americans with machine guns to save them by slaughtering Vietnamese people by the hundreds.

Only American pluck can save the Japanese from overwork

The Punisher‘s plotline has to be contextualized in these popular conceptions. Because Lady Tanaka did not just kidnap the mafioso’s kids, she planned to sell them into slavery which was a key part of their criminal enterprise. “White slavery” was a popular storyline from the 1910s-1950s especially with Chinese and Japanese villains selling white women in pulps, dime store novels and films. The sexual threat posed by Asian men was an important component of “Yellow Peril” discourse, of which this film is very much a part. Asian “white slavery” rings weren’t invented just for this film, they are long a component of the white imagination (and not without crossover into conceptions of “human trafficking” by the way). Just a few years before The Punisher, Girls of the White Orchid, a made for tv movie starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, offered a feature length story on American television of an innocent white girl tricked into sex slavery by the yakuza. A more recent version is the 2008 film Taken where Liam Neesen must save his daughter from evil Arabs who buy her as a sex slave. Best I know, none of these narratives meaningfully looked at actual Japanese kidnapping of Korean women during Japan’s colonial rule there.

Lady Tanaka laughing evily

In the final scene Tanaka is for no clear reason wearing something like geisha make-up and costume, presumably to play up her alterity. Furthering this otherness, most of the yakuza killed during the final scene are men wielding swords while dressed in hakamas because….yakuza bring swords to gunfights I guess. Ya know, just because they’re organized crime doesn’t mean their crime is well organized! For context on this, Punisher is a hardcore fanatic. See as one example the page below from the Civil War storyline. Punisher has sided with Captain America against Iron Man and the government. Some supervillains have thrown in with Cap too, understanding the threat posed by the Registration Act that would add yet another felony charge to their everyday activities, this one for simply existing without registering their powers. When they reveal themselves Punisher immediately mows them down. When Cap flips out about this, Punisher says “they were killers and thieves”. In most iterations Punisher has no grey zone. So in the 1989 film it takes something really extraordinary for Castle to be working with Franco. That something is Japanese otherness.

Production wise this isn’t the worst Punisher film but, in close competition with the 2011 short film The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, is probably the most racist. This is the Marvel world into which in 47 days comes Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. I wanna keep focus on that last sentence to contextualize how much work it will have taken to pull off a Black liberation vision within Marvel, if that is what Coogler’s film turns out to be.

Field notes on white supremacy and Detroit gentrification

Over recent years I tended bar at a few Detroit spots where a substantial portion of the clientele were neither suburbanites nor people from Detroit but new arrivals to the city, predominantly white or otherwise non-Black. They are colloquially known as New Detroiters. Like most bartenders I try not listen to customer conversations but it’s hard to tune out everything or you won’t hear drink orders. For me the goal was to get by in a Detroit job market with only slight opportunities for those with a high school or less education, not do unrigorous field work. Yet sometimes through engaging with customers or simply overhearing conversations I noticed patterns in how the new arrivals introduced and positioned themselves vis-à-vis the ongoing gentrification process. Further, I also observed patterns in their interactions with White Flighters (white Detroiters who left the city in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s) including how they bridge the New Detroit narrative with the past of Detroit as a white majority city and erase Detroit the Black metropolis.

What follows looks at these conversations among New Detroiters and contextualizes them in the ongoing and specifically anti-Black gentrification process. I’m confident in how I contextualize my observations but, as noted above with “unrigorous”, am not at all sure to what extent that which I observed is representative. The sample size is small and limited to just a few bars. The bars in question significantly overlap in clientele. Yet there is at least one, and probably two, other kinds of gentrification discussions taking place in other social spheres. The capitalist class – those financially driving large scale gentrification like Dan Gilbert, the Ilitches, John Hantz and ilk – did not frequent these establishments with regularity (and when they did, did not hang out at the bar). The crustpunk, artist and “progressive gentrifiers” too did not frequent these establishments with regularity, except as employees, and they are normally the first gentrifiers in a neighborhood. Both of these groups probably articulate the process a little differently and that is not represented here. And last, I’m a participant/observer in the conversations with exactly zero anthropological and sociological training. I frequently pushed back against gentrification cheerleading which makes it likely I rarely heard certain kinds of conversations, specifically those with cruder racist articulations. Alternately put, here my studied tribe is the gentrifiers and I am an antagonistic observer who frequently participated in and thus helped shape the observed discourse. That shaping must be considered into what follows.

Creating a new White Map for Detroit

This essay focuses on new arrivals that primarily relocated for social and economic opportunities provided by a Black city’s poverty and perceived malleability though they very rarely conceive of it in these terms. Other people move to Detroit primarily for family reasons and work. These categories are not mutually exclusive and some measure of blurring is common enough. The two bars I mostly draw from are located in West Village and Downtown. One, a bar/restaurant is on the site of a famous, Black-owned French restaurant and the other is the site of an old white-owned pharmacy. Neither the old restaurant nor pharmacy had been in operation for several years prior to the examined bars opening and the new bars are entirely unrelated to the old spots closing as in, the old was not pushed out for the new directly or indirectly though both are still part of gentrification. One opened in late 2013 and the other in mid 2016.

The bar located in West Village is frequented by a mix of locals, suburbanites and new arrivals with the latter two being a strong majority most nights. The bar Downtown had an even higher percentage of New Detroiters and suburbanites and is normally much whiter in clientele than Detroit is Black (well over 80% of Detroiters are Black). Many New Detroiters come from the sprawling suburbs across 8 Mile or to the city’s south and west. Others come from other parts of the state, country and globe. When they encounter each other they normally lack shared reference points from their past histories. Their only shared context is as gentrifiers.

New restaurants and bars are frequent topics of conversation. They have to be as schools, neighborhoods (apart from the small core of gentrifying geography they mostly don’t know Dexter-Davison from Conant Gardens) and local politics (they don’t know by appearance nor politics the difference between Saunteel Jenkins and JoAnn Watson though they do know Detroit’s current white mayor Mike Duggan) are mostly unknown or not held in common. “Have you been to Katoi?” “Have you been to Selden Standard?” “What do you like at Republic?” “Oh my friend is bartending there.” “We just came from Sloe’s.” “You’ve gotta go to Parks & Rec for brunch!” “I can’t wait for the light rail to go in!” “Have you tried the Two James bourbon?” “Oh my god Eastern Market was so crowded today.” These experiences form a shared basis for further interactions and grease the wheels of camaraderie. They also set up a shared set of cultural reference points, familiar objects and sites, destinations and how to get to them, all totaling a New Detroit geography. Once started the conversation can go anywhere but the gentrification process is the premise for the very sociality of New Detroiters. They do not have a way to be together with other people without it due to a refusal to meaningfully interact with the Black city they encountered when they arrived.

This is not the same as settler colonialism with a separate, invading sovereignty (although because it happens inside the United States settler colony it is part of settler colonialism). That some gentrifiers use the language of pioneering and homesteading should not be conflated with the actual histories of pioneering and homesteading even though there are superficial similarities. Nor should the appeals to Detroit’s early history as a French fur and slave colony like the “Marche Du Nain Rouge” or new food companies named after French slave-owning families like the Beaubiens. It is not a new sovereignty but it is a new map that under construction. The New Detroit map largely lacks reference points to the Black city. It is so stark that even Nolan Finley, an apologist for everything awful for the right-wing Detroit News asks, quite incoherently, “Where are the Black people?”

The new map that includes solely gentrifying areas builds a new white geography for the city. The New Detroiters do not appreciate this map alone. An older generation of white Detroiters visiting the city to go to the new restaurants and bars shares this narration. In one example a roughly 60-year-old man narrated the following to one of the bar owners (a recent arrival):

20 years ago I’d be making a delivery downtown and it was a ghost town! There was nobody here. Then a few years back I saw a white girl on a bicycle in the Cass Corridor and thought, “There is definitely something wrong here!” That’s how I knew something was going on.

Discussions that include stories about how “it’s so nice to see downtown bustling again” and cursing the former “ghost town” – a phrase I heard time and again – form a narrative bridge between the old white Detroit and the new one that is examined further below. New Detroit businesses play up this bridge as with Detroit City Distillery and Grey Ghost invoking lineages to Prohibition era smuggling. The Detroit City Distillery menu reads, “In the roaring twenties, Detroit fueled prohibition and an entrepreneurial spirit that didn’t follow the rules. A century later, eight childhood friends started a small distillery to make alcohol the old fashioned way. […] The result is a drink of distinction made for the revolutionaries rewriting the history of a great American city.” These “revolutionaries” imagine connections to older Detroit narratives of criminalized river crossings to and from Canada but none connect with the actual revolutionaries operating the Underground Railroad’s criminalized river crossings despite large monuments honoring it on the riverfront itself. Huh.

A variant among White Flighters is a visceral white supremacist affirmation that comes when they say a version of, “They had their chance” in reference to Black people governing. Where I worked it was somewhat uncommon but it is a popular theme in the suburbs. I frequently heard implied versions with things like “We’ve finally got a good mayor again,” in reference to Mike Duggan, Detroit’s first white mayor in forty years.

Detroit’s anti-Black “revitalization”

Revitalizing Detroit as told by the media and gentrifiers at the bar is the increasing occupancy levels in housing Downtown, along Woodward Ave. from Downtown north to New Center, along Michigan Ave. west through Corktown and a little deeper into Southwest, in West Village, Eastern Market and the traditionally wealthier neighborhoods like Boston Edison, North Rosedale Park and Indian Village, in total amounting to around 5% of the city’s geography. The higher occupancy rates are paired with the opening of new restaurants and stores, Quicken Loans and other firms moving offices to the city and modest levels of new construction.

Detroit real estate prices are high for those living in poverty yet they are incredibly low compared to virtually every other US town and city. It is a city where someone can buy a perfectly inhabitable house for as little as one-tenth the price of a comparable house in most cities or even Detroit’s suburbs and less than one one-hundredth of comparable buildings in places like Manhattan or San Francisco. The low prices and lack of protections for residents make Detroit casually exploitable and underlay the “Detroit is a blank canvas” narrative that, if not as popular as it was from around 2008-2013, still has currency.

For decades Detroit has been a city with a very large Black majority. The former white majority started to flee to the suburbs in the 1950s, fled faster after the 1967 Rebellion and by the early 1970s Detroit was a Black majority city eventually peaking at over 85% Black. Normative narratives do mention white flight as part of the economic decline but rarely name Detroit as a Black city nor connections between increasing Blackness and increasing poverty even though capital and industry joined white in flight. These are simply understood and need not be spoken aloud.

The unspoken part is because capital, prosperity and industry are naturalized with white in the US’s white settler discourse while poverty, crime and death are similarly naturalized with Black. This stems from what Orlando Patterson described as the “social death” of African Slavery. In this narrative, as expounded upon by Saidiya Hartman, Frank Wilderson and others, Black, in anti-Blackness’ narrative, is not a human identity but instead a site of capital accumulation, property and location for gratuitous violence. Hence when the Guardian described the “death of a great American city” it described Detroit’s transformation into a Black metropolis. This is the “devitalization” of Detroit but that word is never uttered because, as noted previously, the racist connotations of “revitalization” would be too obvious.

Fred Moten says, “social death is a house party for smart people.” Indeed, why would Detroit, a city with a larger than usual number of residents undertaking transformative actions, with its own dances, music forms and vernacular, need an injection of life, vitality, revitalization? The fact of Black life doesn’t interfere with white imaginings and processes of Black social death. And why does revitalization refer only to young white people and major capital moving to the city? Because you can only revitalize something seen as lifeless. This is what I read in phrasings about Detroit formerly being a “ghost town”. The man quoted above saw a city of over 1.2 million people (at the time) to be, to paraphrase Moten, a zone devoid of human habitation with Blackness as the haunting spectre, the ghost.

What the “blank canvas” narrative exemplified was the nonexistence of Detroit’s Black population. Black Detroit could be overwritten with whatever fantasy one had. And since harm to Black people is unrecognizable as harm in U.S. discourse — in Saidiya Hartman’s concise phrasing, “No crime can occur because the slave statutes recognize so such crime.” — one need not imagine that one’s actions have consequences.

At the more immediate, visceral level this plays out with property speculators buying houses at the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction then offering them for sale on Craigslist or elsewhere noting that “property may be occupied” and that evicting the former homeowners or renters — a common event is a landlord being foreclosed upon without the tenants ever knowing — was the responsibility of the new owner. Or with suburbanites downtown visiting the new stadiums after a Lions, Tigers or Red Wings game walking around drunk and pissing in people’s yards and knocking over their trash barrels. I read this as basically a casually, completely unthought white supremacist negative of one of the most incredible direct action efforts I know of, Detroit’s 1943 “bumping campaign”. Black activists deliberately bumped into white people on sidewalks and in elevators as a means of protest and claiming public space in a city where Black life was restricted in a highly segregated geography. The everyday aggression of whiteness described is at least as laborious as the Bumping Campaign but it is completely unthought of as effort.

At the broader level you see it with bars and restaurants opening that serve and employ mostly white (or non-Black at any rate) people in both front and back of the house. Historic buildings in areas close to new jobs are rehabbed and then rented to mostly white tenants. Firms employing disproportionately, most often predominantly, white people move their offices to the city from the suburbs. In this latter example the functionings of racism are unusually clear. By the employers it is imagined as effortless, but the amount of labor it takes to employ a majority or exclusively white workforce in a in a city over 80% Black with high unemployment is tremendous. An entire infrastructure separate from the Black city must be built. But, as ever, anti-Black efforts aren’t seen as laborious at all, simply the way things are done.

Detroit’s gentrification appears a little different in Southwest – a Latinx majority neighborhood – which paints in relief the broader anti-Black processes. In the case of Southwest gentrification is no less harmful but gentrifiers described it differently at the bars. They would pass along recommendations about which restaurant has the best tacos or tamales and attempt to position themselves as arbiters of a fetishized, ‘authentic’ Southwest experience. The Latinx neighborhood is not a blank canvas. The population adds flavor – in the case of food quite literally through actual seasoning – to the gentrifying experience. This is different, not to say better or worse, than what is done in the rest of Detroit.

It isn’t just that the redevelopment schemes are largely leaving out Detroit’s Black population, it’s that in 95% of Detroit’s geography conditions are worsening. Unemployment is higher in 2017 than in 2010. Poverty is higher in 2017 than in 2010. And 2010 is considered the bottom of the Great Recession for the rest of the country. Detroit’s “revitalization” plays significantly into the national economic recovery narrative but there has been no recovery for Detroiters, not even a stabilization. This is happening mostly for the New Detroiters. And they are celebrating the process. Indeed it is the process itself that gives them meaning as a community. Or, at least, that’s how they tell it.




A side note on revolting service

Beyond the specific critique, this essay also aspires to connect together my laboring hours with my ethical and political ideals. As workers we fight for pay, benefits, hours and more. This essay aspires to go beyond that towards an older labor goal: shop control. Shop control is the idea that workers should not only receive fair pay and work in safety, but should also be able to define exactly what our work is. A rivethead shouldn’t be compelled to assemble any old thing. Those who work in aerospace assembly or design should, for example, have the power to not make missiles or combat aircraft when they really want to build a craft to Mars. Both antagonizing gentrifiers while they socialize in ‘their’ spaces and critiquing and reporting on their conduct can play a small role towards shop control in a service economy. To the degree it changes customer behavior or, better, keeps certain customers out altogether it improves the work environment for laborers and gets out of the servile “the customer is always right” paradigm (that is, if the laborers ourselves are not gentrifiers which, in these types of bars and restaurants in Detroit is depressingly rare). Further, if service industry venues are not places safe to discuss and celebrate the dispossession of a Black metropolis for fear of public disclosure or confrontation then the work itself has become more friendly to the citizenry and is a small corner of the requested Hoodlum Intelligence Agency. As service industry professionals we hear and see so much. Why do we not report on it more?

“So Let It Be Done!” Of John Brown and White Anti-Racism

White anti-racists love to celebrate John Brown, normally at the expense of celebrating Black abolitionists. But does this appreciation value Brown’s actual deeds and words, especially with regarding to abolishing his subject position? For the most part, no. For all the talk about positionality there is relatively little discussion of subject position. John Brown’s life and actions are well narrated by many already. Instead here I want to focus on Brown’s statements at his trial and what they can tell us about white anti-racism and ally politics. I’m not a John Brown scholar and do not assert he would share my entire analysis. What follows is a selective reading, not a contextualization. Further this is not a critique of Brown. Both thoughtful and trash critiques are widely available including by Brown’s contemporaries.

Brown made a few statements to the court during his trial. His November 2nd 1859 address is only six hundred thirty-eight words long but offers some tremendous lessons.

I have, may it please the court, a few words to say. In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted – the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case)–had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends – either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class – and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done – as I have always freely admitted I have done – in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments – I submit; so let it be done!

Let me say one word further.

I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated that from the first what was my intention and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind.

Let me say also a word in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me. I her it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.

Now I have done.

Brown starts confessing to earlier crimes by directly intervening through participation in the Underground Railroad as he had done for nearly a decade after founding the League of Gileadites in Springfield, Massachusetts. Slavery was/is a social and legal institution, and as such freedom for the enslaved population was inherently criminalized. Actions against African Slavery were criminal acts and Brown embraces this criminality with both arms. Brown then critiques the master/capitalist class by noting if he had intervened through direct, armed action on any of their behalves he would be celebrated. Here Brown describes the misunderstanding that African Slavery imposes on the world. Systemic racism creates a discursive world where Black life can barely be conceived of, much less valued. The discursive break Brown offers is between one where only the freedom of the powerful matters and one where – how to put it – Black lives matter. That phrase is of course not Brown’s and Black revolutionaries have created diverse vocabularies, praxes and philosophies of resistance that long pre-date Brown and, in fact, inspired him to action towards Black liberation.

The most vital part of Brown’s insight comes when he utters, “I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done – as I have always freely admitted I have done – in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments – I submit; so let it be done!”

This statement is powerful poetry and inspiringly militant. He reframes what is – in the U.S. – wrong as right and right as wrong thereby inverting the relationship he describes in the prior section where the rich and powerful are the valued population. While I hold reservations about “on behalf of,” Brown’s “His despised poor” reorients the power of God through a Christian liberation theology that asserts, as in Matthew, that it is “easier for a camel to pass through a needle eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Brown’s focus is on the enslaved African and Black populations which is different than the working class vs. capitalist class but remains analogous to the Matthew verse. Brown’s key insight, however, offers a more fundamental break.

Assuming the Position

Inside of organizations of power like capitalism, settler colonialism, patriarchy and others, both individuals and status groups (“men”, “Blacks”, “natives”, “the rich”, etc.) are positioned on various axes. This is the subject position inside of power. One may hold a privileged subject position on one axis and a subordinate one on another which is a key insight of Black feminism’s intersectionality framework. For example, one may be working class vis-a-vis capitalism and thus in an oppressed position, while simultaneously being positioned as superior under white supremacy and patriarchy. This is the position of white, working class, cisgendered men for example. The class-oppressed and race- and gender-free positions are all equally true and not contradictory. The question of subject position is what separates Brown’s statements at his trial from white anti-racism.

White anti-racism is, with few exceptions, more “white” than anything else. The “white” subject position is formed by and predicated on an assumed superiority over “non-white”. The entire history of whiteness is produced towards this end. More specifically “white” was/is produced, originally, in counterposition to “Black” and “Native” providing the ethical basis for African Slavery and Indian Removal. Alternately put, white supremacy is inhered in whiteness and there is no articulation of whiteness that is not also an articulation of white supremacy. This is to say that whiteness is defined by its subject position, not cultural production; it is the product of the colonization of Turtle Island and enslavement of Africans rather than an accumulation of traditions and influences. Whiteness’ only real tradition is white supremacy.

This presents a problem with the concepts of “white anti-racist” and “white ally”. “Ally”, specifically although not exclusively in the context of white people, is predicated on maintaining a subject position apart from the subordinated status group. To be a White Ally is to position oneself inside white supremacy vis-a-vis Blackness/anti-Blackness (as do, if differently, other settler but non-white identities). Self-identified white anti-racists have in common with neo-nazis and ilk a practice of organizing sociality around whiteness, which is again indistinguishible from white supremacy. “Ally”, “white anti-racist” and neo-nazi embrace whiteness while helping define the boundaries of the subject position. They are all attempts to be the Best Kind of White Person.

John Brown is frequently positioned as an ally par excellence. This, in my read, is a dramatic mischaracterization. Brown says, “if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments – I submit; so let it be done!” Four years before the term “miscegenation” was coined by the nascent worldview of biological racism and Social Darwinism, Brown discussed ‘mingling his blood’ from a fundamentally different point of view. Brown asserts that the mixing of the blood is done through struggle against African Slavery.

His declaration, “So let it be done!” defines abolitionism in a way rarely discussed. For most abolitionism refers to the movement to end African Slavery’s regime of forced labor and bondage. If, in the name of the “furtherance of the ends of justice” it is necessary to forfeit all the protections that whiteness usually provides that is not calling simply for the abolition of the coerced labor and captivity, but also whiteness. It is his very subject position that is deemed both expendable and necessarily forfeited to achieve Black freedom. I read Brown’s statements as calls to abolish the fundamental construct of African Slavery, not simply the forced labor aspect thereof. This means abolishing the subject position of whiteness rather than affirming it.

Brown had “white anti-racist” contemporaries who, though abhorred by slavery and very often militantly opposed to it, never conceived of struggling against their subject position. Their ideological descendants dominate what passes for anti-racism among white people today. At best “white allies” seem committed to navigating positionality without abolishing it. It is not just the neoliberal, individualist framework it so often produces. Actions like, progressive stack during discussions, focusing on whose voices are missing and including them, representation, etc., are vital but insufficient by themselves. Some common White Ally slogans reflect the gap in understanding. “White silence is violence.” True. So is ‘white noise’. They are both true because, again, there is no articulation of whiteness that is not also an articulation of white supremacy. “White folk work.” Some Black, native and NBPOC both are good at and enjoy doing anti-racist work in white communities. Asserting something is “white folk work” is a way to preserve a white subject position. Were maintaining whiteness not central it would just be called “work”. Why not show up and do the work without centering our white settler identities?

If, as white people committed to ending white supremacy in all its manifestations, we are serious, then we must consider our subject position forfeit. This is not the same as pretending positionality doesn’t exist and must not be carefully navigated. We must continue to undertake anti-oppression practices that somewhat mitigate our subject position’s power while doing the work to abolish it. Are we doing this while celebrating John Brown as an “ally”? Impactful opposition to white supremacy by white people has consequences for those doing the opposing. This is just as true in the cases of armed resistance like John Brown and Marilyn Buck as it is for the unarmed resistance of Charles T. Torrey. In these and other cases the cost included their freedom and health and lives as it so often does for Black and native people whether or not they are fighting the system. But being willing to pay white supremacy and anti-Blackness’ heavy costs daily born by Black people whether or not any specific person is rebelling is an important part of abolishing our subject position. The alternative is the maintenance of white supremacy.

The Anti-Blackness of Interracial Porn

Thanks to Adrenalynn and Zoé Samudzi for feedback on the draft in clarifying ideas, correcting misconceptions, identifying missing elements and improving writing. Their contributions in no way make the following their fault. After finishing this draft a friend put me on to Mirielle Miller-Young’s book A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography. After quickly rifling through it seems to cover parts of what follows if from a different angle. It came recommended and I pass along the recommendation here for people looking for an in depth treatment of some of what follows, specifically the parts dealing with Black women.


The term “interracial porn” seems a little sketchy on the face of it. But what exactly is going on with the marketing and labor practices of interracial porn? An examination finds fundamental problems, specifically a baseline anti-Blackness. Here I lean heavily on Jared Sexton’s analysis in Amalgamation Schemes and, guided by numerous performers who have made public criticisms of interracial porn as a concept, read interracial porn marketing through Sexton’s analysis of miscegenation/antimiscegenation discourse. As per the industry, performers and consumers, I identify interracial porn as scenes between Black men and white women. Interracial porn represents both an aspect of miscegenation/antimiscegenation as well as its deployment for purposes of capital accumulation. Tracing the history of this discourse illuminates interracial porn’s ethical problems.


“Race” and “Interracial”

“Interracial” necessitates a pre-existing “race” so we’ll start there. The late Patrick Wolfe writes of anti-Black racism, “Though born of slavery, […] race came into its own with slavery’s abolition. So long as slavery persisted, race – for all its usefulness as a justification – was relatively redundant as mode of domination.” This rise of race, which is the same as saying the rise of racism, “means that the boundary that had previously separated a Free Black from a slave disappears, which is to say that, in place of the slaves, a new and more inclusive oppressed category emerges. […] In other words, emancipation cancelled out the exemption: you can be an ex-slave, but you can’t be ex-Black.”

Affirming the boundary of the newly unified Black racialization was achieved in large part through sexual politics. Democratic Party supporters from the New York World newspaper coined the term “miscegenation” (from Latin, ‘group mixing’) in 1863 in an anonymous pamphlet intended to sway the 1864 elections in favor of the Democrats. The pamphlet, titled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro, claimed a Republican Party goal of intermarriage between white and Black populations. While there was a debate amongst white people on whether or not to continue African Slavery, there was consensus against intermarriage and the newly popularized term miscegenation. This is to say that the concept of “miscegenation” is a product of a preexisting antimiscegenation (this also is an example of white supremacy being a manipulative power tool between groups of powerful white people more than between groups of white people with and without power as per the popular “split working class” theory of racism.). As examined further below, this applied/s to white women with Black men. White men with Black women, primarily via rape – consensual sex between enslaver and enslaved is impossible – was an accepted if unmentioned practice. Miscegenation/antimiscegenation is fundamental to biological racism and is inherently gendered, focusing as it does on reproduction and sexual encounters. Post-slavery (“post”…), miscegenation eventually becomes the sexual political concept today discussed as ‘interracial,’ the change stemming from the shift from explicit white nationalism to white nationalism under the guise of multiculturalism.

Jared Sexton writes on antimiscegenation and gets to the crux of interracial porn’s racist politics.

“If white racial identity has a public reputation as a form of purity, then antimiscegenation is the mode of production for the value of whiteness. […] However, antimiscegenation is not the essence of white supremacy or antiblackness. Rather, white supremacy and antiblackness are fundamentally relational processes unfolding between antimiscegenation and its necessary failure. White supremacy and antiblackness, in other words, emerge in the interplay between miscegenation and the forms of resistance to it. An important claim follows from this reasoning: rather than establishing themselves in vulgar opposition to miscegenation, white supremacy and antiblackness produce miscegenation as a precious renewable resource, a necessary threat against which they are constructed, a loyal opposition, a double exposure. They rely upon miscegenation to reproduce their social relations; their relations are, in fact, this very reproduction.

Miscegenation is thus taken to indicate processes of mixing, meddling, or mingling between the general and the particular, between the ephemeral body of white universality and the strangely dense corporeality of its dark-skinned others, imagined as a sprawling and overpresent, anonymous in their racialized particularity. […] Antimiscegenation is not a convenient rationalization for some other instrumentality; it is a vital component of the creation of race ex nihilo, a social contraction articulated as the form of white identity.

Sexton sums up noting that “miscegenation is a name for the imperceptible productivity of white supremacy and antiblackness.”

Miscegenation/antimiscegenation’s “mixing, meddling or mingling” describes Black as a contaminant, the contaminating element being slavery. One version of this is, in Wolfe’s phrasing, “the fact that the paternity of Black women’s children continued to have no effect on their status which remained rigorously matrilineal.” Enslaved mothers gave birth to slave babies no matter the father’s status. Per Barbara Fields, U.S. society and law “considers a white woman capable of giving birth to a black child but denies that a black woman can give birth to a white child.” This is African Slavery’s racialization where enslaved women were (re)producers of property and commodities through childbirth. Wolfe continues, “Thus Black women are not only barred from having white children. Along with Black men, they are barred from having any children other than Black ones.” Here white women are inherently violable and in need of constant guarding of their fragile purity, and Black women inviolable and ever receiving. By “inviolable” I do not mean “protected,” but that there is nothing that can be done that will be considered a violation. Nothing done to Black women will be termed harm. In Saidiya Hartman’s words, “No crime can occur because the slave statutes recognize no such crime.”


Anti-Black Pornography

Skin Diamond notes that, “Interracial is only ‘interracial’ if it involves a Black man and a white girl.” Sexton concurs writing, “to be considered interracial, especially in the U.S. context, [a relationship] must involve a Black person. This is not always the case, of course, and there are myriad historical examples of hysteria prompted by the prospect of sexual encounter between whites and nonblack people of color. What I sense, however, is that within the racist imagination, relationships with blacks, whether the other is white or a nonblack person of color, constitute interracial relationships par excellence.”

Diamond continues, “Technically, most of my porn is interracial but because I’m a Black chick, it doesn’t count. People only wanna see the taboo of a Black man with a white girl.” Diamond’s analysis of her scenes with white or other non-Black men ‘not counting’ speaks again to the inviolability of Black women and has two meanings. “It doesn’t count” in both marketing and accounting. This plays out in different earning potential for white and Black women performers.

The higher earning potential happens in two ways. White women performers, especially successful ones, often follow a progression of roles. Lexington Steele describes it, “There are situations where it could be the industry, whether it’s her boyfriend, her husband or management that suggests she either doesn’t do [interracial] at all, or waits until a certain time when her rates can appreciate over time. Where it’s: girl-girl to boy-girl to anal to DP [double penetration] to, and then the ultimate she can charge her most is when she finally does interracial.” This is career path is unavailable to Black women performers whose scenes are always already “racial” but never “inter” from an earning perspective, even when explicitly pointed out as such. For example Nyomi Banxxx recalled about a scene with a white male performer, “I had this conversation with my agent. I had this conversation with a director, because we were arguing about rate. I said, ‘I need to get paid for an interracial rate, IR.’ ‘No that’s not IR.’” This is one reason why Misty Stone says, Black performers “do the same amount of work but [white performers] get different opportunities.”

Another aspect of higher earning potential for white women is some performers (or their managers or agencies) simply charge more to do scenes with Black men, which is the same as saying they are racist. This is not universal and some producers, not to mention many white women performers, actively protest this specifically because it is so viscerally racist Unfortunately much of this resistance is articulated with demands to do interracial porn, to enact “the imperceptible productivity of white supremacy and antiblackness.” It is not asking white people to place their bodies in the way of racism, but to use them to (re)produce it. Further, it polices white women’s bodies to perform an ‘I’m not racist I fuck Black men’ action which proves exactly nothing.

Both the higher rate via career progression and higher interracial rate effectively place a ‘hazard pay’ rate or ‘burden tax’ on doing scenes with Black men. In other words, interracial porn labor schemes say ‘Black dick comes at a price’ and that price will be paid to white performers. It goes without saying, though needs saying, that Black women performers get no such ‘hazard pay’ for doing scenes with Black men because the perceived contaminant, the reason for miscegenation/antimiscegenation discourse and higher rates for white women performers, cannot affect Black women who are inviolable and already ‘Blacked’ as per the next section.


Black the Verb

This idea of the “one-drop rule” whereby any Black ancestry produces a Black racialization is the basis of miscegenation discourse and the fetish of interracial porn. The interracial porn website illuminates this. The name, Blacked, invokes Blackness as a corruption, as an action. ‘Blacked’ is not sex between equals, it is something that is done to someone, specifically to white women. It is white purity that is being ‘Blacked’. ‘You, white woman, have been Blacked’. There are numerous other examples like the 2012 Vivid title, Allie Haze’s Been Blackmaled. Sex with Black men is “Blackmaling”.

The public, especially though not exclusively the white public, approaches interracial porn with miscegenation/antimiscegenation enacting “the imperceptible productivity of white supremacy and antiblackness.” The Twitter mentions of popular white porn actresses are filled with demands for and condemnations of interracial scenes (search at your own risk and with plenty of sage to burn). Those condemning treat interracial porn as violations of white purity and clarify what ‘Blacked’ actually means in practice. The number of scenes and films with ‘cuckhold/cuck’ storylines is part of Black as a contamination, as a corrupting element. This weaponizes both Black penises and masculinity while giving logic to the laser focus on Black penises, colloquialized in interracial porn lingo as “BBC” (Big Black Cock). The motivations of those demanding interracial scenes are less clear. It appears to be a mix of demands to see Black male representation with popular performers and fetishization of the interracial encounter, often both.

The ‘Blacking’ racialization follows Black men performers. Whereas Black women performers are inviolable, Black men performers are always violating, except in scenes with Black women. Black men’s scenes are always already racialized. As Sexton notes, “The presence of Asian or Latino actors (nearly all of whom would be paired with white actors) would either leave the racial designation unchanged or move it into an ethno-specific label, such as Asian, Oriental, Hispanic, Spanish, Latin. Black films, in contrast, were those that starred only blacks.” Thus Black men can generally not do ‘normal’ porn except when combined with white men in scenes or films; they can only do Black or interracial. ‘Normal’ here means ‘white normative’. Yet, as ever under white supremacy, the ‘white’ is silent or, better put, unenunciated but clearly demonstrated. Thus scenes and films with exclusively Black performers are labeled “ebony/chocolate/Black” and scenes and films with exclusively white performers are not labeled “white/Aryan/snowblind.” This turns into disparate earning potential between Black and white men performers. Steele notes that “There is a differential between what I can accumulate versus someone else who is able to work with 100% of the talent pool.” Here he refers to the industry denying him normative white scenes and films as well as scenes with those performers who refuse work with Black men. With Black women and men performers the divergent earning potential compared to white colleagues is not simply the discriminatory pay rates common to racial capitalism, but a separate, racialized job profile. They are very nearly doing a different job altogether.


End “Interracial”

The problem of anti-Blackness is fundamental to interracial porn. Interracial porn is a present day articulation of miscegenation/antimiscegenation. Anti-Blackness is evident in the discursive fetishization of Blackness, the exploitation of (anti)Blackness for capital accumulation by porn companies and the divergent earning potential of white and Black performers. It cannot be fixed as its very premise is the problem. Ending interracial porn is not the same thing as ending scenes with Black men and white women. The encounter between Black men performers and white women performers is not the anti-Blackness; the use of the encounter is the anti-Blackness. To repeat Sexton, “white supremacy and antiblackness produce miscegenation.” White supremacy and anti-Blackness produce this “precious renewable resource” by turning specific porn performances into miscegenation/antimiscegenation, something “Blacked,” interracial. Interracial porn is the use of the racialized encounter as a means to accumulate profits. It continues from earlier regimes the idea of Blackness not as an identity but as a “position of accumulation and fungibility.” There is no way to reform it. Ending interracial porn is not the same as hiding or avoiding racism. Performers and companies could still make audience-specific films but it is indefensible that profits are today being made selling anti-Blackness.

The Thong Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. Sisqo Eliot

[This website explores Cinema (Ci) and Comics + Colonialism + Cop Shows (Co3) but now also, apparently, bad poetry mash-ups. With apologies to Sisqo for associating him with a racist, misogynist, anti-semite.]

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse a la pista da ballo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scuotere.
Ma percioche giammai di questo varco
Non torno vivo alcun, la tua tanga è la verità,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

This thing right here
is letting all the ladies know
what guys talk about
Time yet for a hundred indecisions
and for a hundred visions and revisions

Let us go then, you and I,
I like it when the beat goes
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Baby make your booty go
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Baby I know you want to show
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
All night long
The muttering retreats
Let me see that thong
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
That thong thong thong thong thong

With a look in your eye so devilish,
with a bald spot in the middle of my hair.
See you shaking that thing like who’s the ish?
“Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

My necktie rich and modest but asserted by a simple pin.
She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck.
But how his arms and legs are thin!
Thighs like what, what, what
Do I dare disturb the universe?
Baby move your butt, butt, butt
I think I’ll sing it again

My necktie rich and modest but asserted by a simple pin.
She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck.
But how his arms and legs are thin!
Thighs like what, what, what
Do I dare disturb the universe?
Baby move your butt, butt, butt

Am an attendant lord, one that will do
Baby make your booty go
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Baby I know you want to show
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
That thong thong thong thong thong

Ooh that dress so scandalous
Indeed there will be time
And you know another n**** can’t handle it
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time

In the room the women come and go
Baby make your booty go

You like to dance on the hip hop spots
I have known them all already, known them all:
And you cruise to crews to connect the dots
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
Baby I know you want to show
There will be time to murder and create,
I like it when the beat goes
And time for all the works and days of hands
Baby make your booty go

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase
All night long
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
Let me see that thong.

Streets that follow like a tedious argument
I said I like the way you move that thing
Of insidious intent
I see your body, glistening
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Your thighs, your knees,
Your breasts, your feet
Let us go and make our visit.

Time for you and time for me,
That thong thong thong thong thong

The Herero and Nama Genocide and Germany’s Non-Reckoning

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government announced plans to formerly apologize for the 1904-07 Herero-Nama genocide in the Deutsch-Südwestafrika (DSWA) settler colony in Namibia. Germany’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sawsan Chelbi said “We are working towards a joint government declaration with the following elements: common discussions on the historical events and a German apology for the action in Namibia.” Chelbi continued, “On the question of whether there could be reparations or legal consequences, there are none. The apology does not come with any consequences on how we deal with the history and portray it.” Instead Germany is considering “development” projects in Namibia.

This is not Germany’s first formal apology for the Herero-Nama genocide. In 2004 Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany’s development aid minister, offered “an apology from the German government.” Wieczorek-Zeul said, “We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time,” and noted that, “The atrocities committed at that time would have been termed genocide.” An unofficial but still significant apology came from Lothar von Trotha’s descendants in 2007.

Von Trotha was the colonial governor who ordered and oversaw the Herero-Nama genocide. He issued in 1904 a Vernichtungsbefehl – “annihilation order” – that read, “The Herero are no longer German subjects,” (“Die Hereros sind nicht mehr deutsche Untertanen.”). Von Trotha then offered rewards for turning in Herero leaders with the highest reward for Samuel Maharero (“Ich sage dem Volk: Jeder der einen der Kapitäne an eine meiner Stationen als Gefangenen abliefert, erhält 1000 Mark, wer Samuel Maharero bringt, erhält 5000 Mark.”). Von Trotha then asserted that any Hereros remaining in DSWA would be massacred. “The Herero people will have to leave the country. If the people refuse I will force them with cannons to do so. Within the German boundaries, every Herero, with or without firearms, with or without cattle, will be shot. I won’t accommodate women and children anymore. I shall drive them back to their people or I shall give the order to shoot at them. These are my words to the Herero people,” (“Innerhalb der Deutschen Grenze wird jeder Herero mit oder ohne Gewehr, mit oder ohne Vieh erschossen, ich nehme keine Weiber und Kinder mehr auf, treibe sie zu ihrem Volke zurück oder lasse auf sie schießen. Dies sind meine Worte an das Volk der Hereros.”). The Nazis named a small Munich street after von Trotha in 1933, thirteen years after his death.


Lothar von Trotha’s annihilation order

Following von Trotha’s order German troops through both direct killing and forcing fatal conditions upon killed around 80% of the Herero population, some 65,000 people, and drove thousands more into neighboring lands. Germans forcibly dehydrated many to death by driving people into the Omaheke desert and preventing them from leaving. In short order the Germans carried out this same process against the Nama people killing some 10,000 more (about 50% of the Nama population).

Survivors were placed in concentration camps. Both women and men endured forced labor in the camps and (mostly though not exclusively) women were raped and kept as sex slaves. These are the events for which Merkel’s government will apologize. While the Herero-Nama genocide is the most well known, it is not Germany’s only colonial genocide in Africa nor even the only one in DSWA.

I am guided by Festus Tjikuua’s question, “Our people’s demand for a structured constructive dialogue aimed at bringing about a restorative justice to the victims of the German colonial wars remains unanswered. Why and for how long should we wait?’” and the late Alfons Maharero’s demands for reparations. In this context, Germany’s position as delineated by Chelbi is multitudinously problematic. Specifically Germany is pursuing recognition of a genocidal event without any accountability for it nor a historical reckoning.


Contextualizing Genocides

The Herero-Nama genocide must be contextualized in both earlier and later German history for Germany’s apology to be meaningful. German oppression of Herero people didn’t begin in 1904 with the genocide. This genocide, like all genocides, did not take place in a vacuum. It is part of German settler colonialism in Namibia that began in 1884.

The late Patrick Wolfe noted settler colonialism has a “logic of elimination.” In short the “logic of elimination” refers to inherent native dispossession under settler colonialism. Every five acres of Virginia is five less acres of Tsenacommacah. Every five dunam of Israel is five less dunam of Palestine. Dispossessing natives for settler land bases was a fundamental part of realizing DSWA. Deprose Muchena notes, “Many Germans who came to settle in Namibia such as ex-soldiers, artisans and technicians, called for the appropriation of African grazing land to obtain sufficient land for their own farms.” The Herero and Nama anti-colonial rebellions that were suppressed with the genocide were launched primarily in opposition to dispossession. Muchena continues, “In 1930, the German imperial commissioner declared that 75% of the land owned by Africans had to be sold to Europeans, and that the remaining 25% had to be proclaimed native reserves.” Dispossession followed by inevitable resistance followed by genocide is as clear a descriptor of settler colonialism’s “logic of elimination” as is to be found.

Native land dispossession was policy before and after the genocide. Killing uncooperative natives was policy before and after the genocide. Gendered violence was practice before and after the genocide. Before and after the genocide DSWA created a labor regime that forced native populations into the settlers’ capitalist economy creating a cycle of poverty, further institutionalized during decades of South African occupation, that persists today. Muchena writes, “Between 54 and 60% of [households where Khoisan-languages and Rukwangali are spoken] are affected by poverty. On the other hand, German and English-speaking households are hardly affected by poverty at all. In terms of consumption, the poorest 15% of Namibians account for only 1% of national expenditure while the richest 5.6% account for 53% of expenditure.” Restricting the window to just events in the DSWA settler colony, the Herero-Nama genocide has causes and legacies. It is not a stand-alone aberration during settler rule in Namibia. It is built into settler colonialism.

Germany’s apology does not account for any of this apart from naming the killings. Instead it starts and ends the historical harm with the mass killings and leaves the structure that mass produced Herero and Nama death uninterrogated. Here Germany denying reparations is especially acute. The present tense of past German settler rule demonstrates the historical harm of German policies, including but not limited to the genocide(s). There is perhaps no clearer example of the Herero-Nama genocide’s structural presence than the present day fight for descendants of those driven out during the genocide to return to their ancestral lands in Namibia from Botswana and South Africa. To repeat Tjikuua, “Why and for how long should we wait?”


From Namibia to Treblinka

Walter Benjamin killed himself near the France-Spain border in September, 1940, choosing his manner of death rather than be turned over to the Nazis. Not long before he died he composed his Theses on the Philosophy of History which has important lessons for contextualizing oppressive systems. Benjamin writes,

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. […] The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are “still” possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge-unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.

Benjamin didn’t refer to the Herero-Nama genocide but his offering can go places he does not. In this read German fascism’s practices, including the holocaust, can only be surprising, can only be an aberrant moment, if one’s view of German history does not include German colonialism in Africa. Benjamin was not the first nor last to argue that subaltern perspectives, the “tradition of the oppressed,” should be the fundamental units of social and historical analysis. Here he is in the same ballpark as Gayatri Spivak’s famous question “Can the subaltern speak?” Or Edward Said’s demand for “permission to narrate.” Or bell hooks’ call for feminism “from margin to center.”

Anti-colonial activists and scholars contemporary with Benjamin noted this gap in understandings of Nazism as it was unfolding and in its immediate aftermath. Aimé Césaire noted in his 1955 Discours sur le colonialisme that what the European Christian “cannot forgive Hitler for is not the crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa.”

W.E.B. DuBois wrote in The World and Africa in 1947 that “there was no Nazi atrocity – concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women, or ghastly blasphemy of children – which the Christian civilization of Europe had not long been practicing against colored folks in all parts of the world.” Hannah Arendt and Frantz Fanon would more famously make this connection, as would Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault in their formulations of the ‘boomerang effect’. Despite these interventions both popular and scholarly understandings of Nazism including the holocaust rarely link Nazism and European colonialism.

For this reason scholars and pundits represent the holocaust as something mystical, aberrant or incomprehensible. As one example, Volker Berghahn, author of Imperial Germany, 1871-1914 (1994), writes that, “There may have been times when students of the Holocaust thought they were getting a handle on the incomprehensible; yet the more detailed the evidence that continues to emerge, the more difficult it seems to be to comprehend it.” Julia Klein noted in The Forward last year that, “In two generations, we have witnessed a massive shift in our attitude toward the Holocaust: from regarding it as incomprehensible, defying human understanding, to trying to construct rigorous, often competing historical explanations for its causes and contours.” The examples she gives do not touch upon European colonialism and some, like Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, obfuscate from structural understanding entirely seeking explanations in mass German pathology instead. Many of these are distinctly neoliberal (mis)understandings that treat anti-semitism through metaphors of viruses, something that spreads through individuals rather than being produced by a system and discourse. The supposed incomprehensibility has increased, rather than decreased. The further analysis of European fascism and the holocaust gets from anticolonialism, the further it gets from the “tradition of the oppressed,” the more incomprehensible the holocaust becomes.

German imperialism and settler colonialism in DSWA did not create anti-semitism, not even its racialized version. Variants of Judeophobia predate European colonialism by centuries. Nor is DSWA unique in using genocide (or mass killings less than genocide) to suppress anti-colonial revolts. But the connection between DSWA and Nazism is not limited to generalized genocidal practices. Mahmood Mamdani writes that the link between the Herero-Nama genocide and the holocaust is “race branding, whereby it became possible not only to set a group apart as an enemy, but also to exterminate it with an easy conscience.” Benjamin Madley writes more specifically.

In 1908, while Herero and Nama were dying in concentration camps, [Eugen] Fischer arrived in German South West Africa and began a pseudo-scientific study of 310 children. He aimed to gather two kinds of data from each child: physical characteristics, like eye and hair color, and measurements of intelligence. Fischer then compared these two data sets and fabricated correlations between physical traits and intellectual acumen. The children Fischer studied were Basters, members of an Afrikaans-speaking Namibian minority descended from intermarriage among Boers, Britons, Germans, and Khoikoin. His findings, published as [Die Rehobother Bastards und das Bastardierungsproblem beim Menschen (The Rehoboth Bastards and the Problem of Miscegenation Among Humans)] in 1913, had a tremendous impact in Germany. According to Henry Friedlander, ‘This study not only established [Fischer’s reputation] but also influenced all subsequent German racial legislation, including the Nuremberg Laws’.”

Fischer stole Herero body parts for his eugenics research and still today Hereros are fighting, successfully, to have the remains repatriated. He also co-wrote what Friedlander calls “the classic text of the science of race, the Grundriß der menschlichen Erblehre and Rassenhygiene (Outline of Human Genetics and Racial Hygiene).” Friedlander continues, “The Grundiß deeply influenced the development and application of the science of race. [Julius Friedrich] Lehmann, the publisher, gave a copy of the 1923 second edition to the imprisoned Adolf Hitler, who read it and used its ideas in Mein Kampf, and later the authors of the official commentaries on the Nazi racial laws quoted the work as their scientific basis.”

Madley draws out further connections. For example Hermann Göring, founder of the Gestapo, head of the Luftwaffe and leading Nazi official said at his trial at Nuremberg after World War II that “’the position of my father as the first Governor of Southwest Africa’ as one of the four more important ‘points which are significant with relation to my later development’.” Other prominent Nazis too had first and second-hand connections to DSWA like Nazi Reichstag member Franz Ritter von Epp who was in “one of the first waves of volunteer soldiers sent to suppress the Herero Uprising.” (emphasis mine)

It is impossible to say whether the holocaust would have happened without the Herero-Nama genocide. What is indisputable is that the racial formations developed during German colonialism in Africa informed those deployed against Jews, Roma and other Others during the Holocaust. Anti-semitism preceded German colonialism but the prohibitions on interracial relationships in DSWA were developed during a period of partially successful, albeit tenuous, Jewish assimilation and emancipation struggles in Germany. The way the “boomerang” returned fed colonial racial formations back into Germany’s already existing anti-semitism which the Nazis then embraced as their core ideology. An honest reckoning with the Herero-Nama genocide would necessarily transform Germany’s holocaust education and change how we contextualize it. Listening to the Herero and Nama revolts against DWSA and the genocide that suppressed them answers Arno Mayer’s theological query, “Why did the Heavens not Darken?” The heavens did not darken come the holocaust because they could not, they were already dark. Nothing in the described apology for the Herero-Nama genocide points in this direction.


Willful Ignorance

Munich’s Von-Trotha-Straße was, “after a fierce and emotional discussion,” renamed Hereroßtrase in 2006 as part of Germany distancing itself from Lother von Trotha. The Munich city council has since heard debate on renaming more streets that “recall leading persons or villainous events from the German colonial era.” Many citizens support the renaming but only the Left Party voted for it in Munich council. One opponent to the renaming said, “If one were to go by today’s standards everywhere, one would have to rename every fifth street in Munich.” This symbolizes exactly the kind of reckoning Germany seeks to avoid.

What exactly a German apology should encompass and which Herero and Nama narratives should be part of German education is not for me to say. These have been made amply clear by Herero reparations activists and leaders. The German government’s insistence though, that the “apology does not come with any consequences on how we deal with the history and portray it,” gives lie to any claimed earnestness. If the apology does not address, through reparations, the harm still being caused today as well as a return of the plundered wealth, then it is empty symbolism. And if the apology does not introduce changes to how Germany contextualizes the holocaust with colonial history then why should anyone believe Germany means it? All those lost to the camps, in Namibia and Eastern Europe, deserve better.

That time Law & Order kinda got it right


Law & Order ran a simple formula. Roughly the first half of each episode followed a police investigation (order) while the latter half followed a prosecution (law). One frequent addition to this formula was adding in “ripped from the headlines” stories. This ensured that topical politics were commonly part of the franchise though normally covered only superficially and from a center-right perspective. Yet on occasion Law & Order put out an episode that really captures something sharp, perhaps unintentionally. One such episode is “Burn Baby Burn” which aired on 22 September 2000 and examines an ex-Black Panther who kills a cop in self defense.

“Burn Baby Burn” builds on public sentiment after the NYPD murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999 and acquittal of the cops who killed him earlier in 2000, followed by the NYPD killing ten more people, mostly Black and most notoriously Patrick Dorismond, prior to the episode’s airing. But the headline that most guided the episode was the killing of two cops in Georgia for which former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader and Black Panther Jamil Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) was arrested and later convicted.

The episode opens with two young Black men finding a white cop shot dead in a hallway outside an apartment. The cop had accidentally gone to the wrong address as part of following up with a witness. Detectives Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) and Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) arrive on scene to investigate. The apartment is rented to Selina Watts (Sandra Daley). Watts is a Black Muslim woman who works at an anti-eviction group in Harlem led by Lateef Miller (Clarence Williams III), an ex-Black Panther. Miller is suspected to be the shooter and is taken into police custody by Green at a mosque in Harlem after Friday prayers.

selina watts

Green and Briscoe question Selina Watts

Miller and his lawyer Leon Chiles (Joe Morton) initially focus on the how the police in general and the NYPD and dead officer specifically are racist, and hint they might be framing Miller (this is never explicitly accused). After Green and Briscoe find evidence linking Miller to the site of the shooting, Miller and Chiles switch tactics and present an affirmative defense where Miller killed the cop in self defense. They contextualize this in a long history of racist policing. In response Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterson) presents Miller as long advocating the killing of police and attributes the shooting to Miller’s supposed prejudice against white people. The jury finds Miller’s claim of self-defense convincing and acquits him of the murder charge.

The improbability of the result notwithstanding, this is an interesting and quite good Law & Order episode. Much of the time Black liberation and civil rights activists on the various Law & Order shows are portrayed as cartoonish hucksters, people interested in self-promotion whose advocacy for rights and liberation is at least in part disingenuous. “Burn Baby Burn” does not do this. The closest it comes to sloppy white caricatures of Black liberation is in an early scene right after Miller is arrested where he appears in court and shouts that because he is a political prisoner, the Geneva Conventions do not allow for the hearing. Either the writers did not know what the Geneva Conventions are or they wanted Miller to appear nonsensical. Miller’s quiet, measured narration (from Williams III’s truly terrific performance) throughout the rest of episode show the initial courtroom performance to be unrepresentative in a throw-away scene.

The episode lays out Black grievances against racist policing in depth exceedingly uncommon on Law & Order or any other police show, The Wire notwithstanding. After Miller and Chiles switch to the affirmative defense the judge holds a hearing to consider their request to introduce new evidence of the history of police racism. Miller and Chiles are shown partially obscured by many large boxes representing the evidence. The scene begins with the following exchange:

Judge: What evidence are you seeking to admit Mr. Chiles?

Chiles: Evidence of police violence against African-Americans: Abner Louima, the Amadou Diallo murder–

Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael (Angie Harmon): The police in that case were acquitted.

Chiles: Heh. Not in my client’s neighborhood. The Michael Stewart murder, Eleanor Bumpurs, Rodney King in LA, the Fred Hampton assassination in Oakland [sic].

affirmative defense

Chiles and Miller behind boxes of evidence of racist police brutality

Cop shows simply do not offer long, historical contexts for police racism. Just as importantly, the episode offers this alongside unambiguous portrayals of police racism and police brutality against Black people. In one example, a white cop points his gun at an older Black bartender and shouts, “If you’re lying to us I’m gonna kick your Black ass!” Det. Green confronts the cop outside afterwards.

Cop: Oh aren’t you a big shot? What are you playing Al Sharpton in front of the brothers?

Green: Hey man I’ll take you anytime. Anywhere.

Cop: Oh like we don’t know who’ll wind up all jammed up outta that. Certainly not the brother.

Green: You say ‘brother’ like that one more time and I swear to god I’mma stomp your ass into the pavement! [Emphases in original]

racist cop

Cop threatens an elderly Black bartender

This is also perhaps the best character episode for Green. In the exchange above Green has demonstrably justified rage as a Black man against racism, something uncommon in cop shows. He later tells Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) that, “Lateef’s like a living legend, you know what that makes me.” Green is referring to what James Baldwin described in his 1967 essay, “Negroes are anti-semitic because they’re anti-white.” Baldwin writes, “We did not feel that the cops were protecting us, for we knew too much about the reasons for the kinds of crimes committed in the ghetto; but we feared black cops even more than white cops, because the black cop had to work so much harder–on your head–to prove to himself and his colleagues that he was not like all the other niggers.” Van Buren assures him, “Oh I know you’re not buying that.” Green kind of shrugs, as if he’s partially thinks this is true. Later in the episode this idea comes back when, after the initial case is not going well for the prosecution, Green says, “I didn’t come all this way to let this guy go.” The episode’s context suggests that “all this way” refers to Green working semiconsciously towards racist ends. Green is caught between being a Black man who would be targeted by the police as part of the general criminalization of Black people and being a cop, a position that does the targeting. This is true in all of Green’s episodes but it is virtually never acknowledged, much less explored.

One of the episode’s most powerful segments comes during Chiles’ questioning and then McCoy’s cross examination of Miller’s former Panther colleague Rolando August (Chuck Cooper). August lays out the history of police violence against the Panthers noting everything from surveillance to infiltration to disinformation to harassment to murder.

Chiles: What impact did these events have on you.

August: They left me pretty cynical about the police.

Chiles: Even after thirty years?

August: Not much has changed. You recruit a bunch of white, high school kids from up in New Paltz to come down and keep order in the hood. That’s how you end up with forty-one shots in some poor Black guy coming home from work.

McCoy tries to isolate Miller by asking why August had not been in touch with him in recent years.

McCoy: “Was that because you no longer wanted to associate with a person who was still committed to violence?”

August: “I promise you sir, his fear of cops is my fear of cops. And his anger is my anger. Every time a police siren pulls up behind me I still get a feeling in my gut they’re gonna pull over, and mess with me!”

McCoy: “Does that mean you could see yourself shooting a cop who came to your door?”

August: “It means I’m tired of being messed with.”

rolando august

August tells McCoy he’s “tired of being messed with.”

Miller testifies to Chiles about the circumstances of the killing. McCoy’s cross examination consists mostly of gaslighting Miller. Miller asserts that he could see racism in the cop’s eyes and McCoy accuses Miller of something akin to that famous unicorn ‘reverse racism’. Miller, in tears, responds shouting, “It’s my life’s experience!”

lateef miller

Miller is cross examined by McCoy

Chiles then begins his closing argument.

I think you have a very good picture of what the world looks like to Lateef Miller; a man whose suspicions of the police were nurtured by the racism that existed and still exists in this country. A worldview shaped by the political foment of the sixties and then crystallized by current events; a never-ending list of African-Americans that have been attacked or murdered by white police officers.

The jury turns in its vote to acquit. Afterwards, McCoy chats with District Attorney Nora Lewin (Dianne Wiest).

Lewin: Don’t beat yourself up too badly over this one Jack.

McCoy: A guy shoots a New York City police officer in the line of duty and I can’t convict him.

Lewin: Enough of the jury identified with his fear of cops.

McCoy: Used to be fear of cops didn’t justify shooting them.

Lewin: Used to be a lot of things.

It’s worth noting again how uncommon all this is on U.S. television. I suspect the writers still intended to portray this as someone getting away with a murder they should not have. And the show still privileges the points of view of the police and prosecutors. Yet the episode offers context enough for any reasonable people to conclude, “Yes, he was right to be, as a Black person, afraid for his life from the police.” Lewin in the middle of the episode said that Chiles and Miller were “hitching [their] wagon to the anti-police sentiment in the city.” And the episode amply laid out the reasons for that sentiment.

The episode aired to over 18 million viewers initially, this during NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s reign of “broken windows” policing that was much lauded in the local and national media even with the temporarily increased scrutiny that came with Diallo’s murder. In today’s environment with an audience (including white people) significantly more skeptical of prisons and racist policing, thanks mostly to prison abolition groups and authors and more recently the #Blacklivesmatter movement, this episode might read differently than it did at the time. It might read more like it would have in 1968. Miller, a fictional ex-Black Panther, successfully used self-defense to justify his killing of the cop and this is presented alongside descriptions, portrayals and critiques of racist policing. This invokes the Black Panther Party itself which was, after all, originally called The Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

Die Shark! Die!

Thanks to Noah Berlatsky for a much improved title!


Jaume Coller-Serra’s new film The Shallows follows Blake Lively in a test of wills against a great white shark. Apart from an unintentionally farcical and groan-inducing last act, it’s a pretty well shot and acted story. It is one of countless stories about wild beasts threatening the lives of humans. Most of these are, from a statistical or scientific perspective, no less ridiculous than The Shallows‘ silly conclusion. These stories almost always involve absurd science. And towards what end that bad science is deployed tells us a lot, as does the selection of which killer animals are portrayed.

In The Shallows Blake Lively’s character is out surfing when she happens upon a whale carcass. A shark near the carcass sees her as a potential meal and decides to have a bite to eat. Over the next day the shark ignores the massive quantity of food available with the whale carcass while stalking Lively, and during that time eats two and a half other people.

All this is exceedingly unlikely. The shark ate somewhere around 200kg of people over those two days which is, using the most conservative estimates, around two months of food for an adult great white (other studies suggest this is closer to six months worth of soylent green). So the shark ignores (or leaves, it’s not clear) a massive whale carcass which could feed a host of sharks for months and instead goes after a bunch of swimmers and surfers that don’t have the yummy (for sharks) smell of rotting meat. And it does so in order to overeat by quite a bit! For contrast in the infamous 1916 New Jersey shark attacks a shark ate a maximum of .3 people over twelve days (though it killed four).

This is common in these kinds of stories. For example the T-Rex in Jurassic Park should be done eating after she eats the company stooge. That’s (probably) enough calories for a T-Rex for two days. That it keeps hunting seems pretty unlikely. The shark in Jaws eats even more beyond its likely diet. And it is exactly this voraciousness that identifies the creatures as antagonists in these stories.

There is a species power dynamic in play obscured by this. My back of the envelope math says humans comprise about .0000042% of deaths in fatal human-shark encounters. No big surprise here. It’s common enough knowledge that humans kill exponentially more sharks than the other way around. And given the challenge in imagining a shark’s point of view, it isn’t all that surprising that humans with almost no exceptions tell the stories of those .0000042% of fatalities rather than the 99.9999958% percent of them. Sure, the Discovery Channel trots out the annual shark slaughter statistics during “Shark Week” but they’re invariably mixed with stories of shark attacks lending a false narrative symmetry even as the statistical symmetry is denied. Man-eating bear, wolf, lion, snake and other such stories all follow this same pattern.

This is how power generally works, both between our species and others and inside our own species. The oppressive relationship is inverted no matter what the science says. So despite all populations using and selling drugs at nearly identical rates, it is Black people who are portrayed as the drug-dealing criminals thus positioning them not as victims of racist mass incarceration, but as justifications for the oppressive system. Despite Israel dispossessing Palestinians on a daily basic, it is Palestinians that are portrayed as the violent aggressors, much as natives are commonly portrayed in US Western stories. The dynamic is analogous to how the tv show Zoo tells of a worldwide animal revolt that threatens humanity while we are in the midst of an anthropocene/capitalocene mass extinction event. The bad science of insatiable predators is deployed justifies the bad practice of exterminating them.

The inter- and intra-species analogies are, of course, imperfect even as the racist narratives invoke a certain dehumanization and animality. But the racialized component of which killer animal stories are told tells us just as much about inverted narratives of threat and power. For some animals do kill, and even kill and eat, vast numbers of people every year. Blake Lively will likely never star in one of these stories.

Nile crocodiles kill somewhere between several hundred and several thousand people every year in Africa throughout their range. We don’t even have sound estimates because relatively few resources are dedicated to tracking African deaths. Crocodiles eat people on a daily basis because people have to spend so much time in crocodile habitats with minimal protection. Though there is nothing that would end crocodile attacks entirely, this largely isn’t a problem of reptilian predation , this is a problem of capitalism and colonialism. The stories told of crocodiles eating humans are instead like Lake Placid, a fun film that is science fiction both because of the vast numbers of people consumed and because of which people are consumed. Out of some three dozens feature lengths films about killer crocodiles and alligators, I know of only one that takes place in Africa, 2006’s Primeval, a racist story of white people in constant danger from both Burundians and the crocodile.

Though not eating us, snakes kills tens of thousands of people every year, predominantly in South and Southeast Asia (and to a lesser extent in Africa and parts of South America). These are predominantly tied to poor labor and housing conditions which are, again, a problem of capitalism and colonialism. The Anaconda tetralogy and Snakes on a Plane do not tell these stories.

Dominating both of these are mosquito-related deaths which number in the hundreds of thousands every year despite malaria being, for the most part, easily treatable were resources dedicated to the task.

These killer animal stories are not told on screen because the victims aren’t fully human in the eyes of those choosing what stories get produced. And those stories with fully human victims like The Shallows invariably invert the material world predator-prey relationship. The exceptions are exceedingly rare and even then are told with circumscribed or regressive politics. The Ghost and the Darkness and Prey for example, are pro-colonialism stories of animals preying on humans based upon the man-eating lions of Tsavo. The body count is attributed to lions and not the colonial railroad project (a dam in Prey‘s version) that brought people into the lions’ habitat in the first place. But telling such stories can illuminate vast political economic problems and indicts the systems that produce the death tolls. Capitalism and colonialism continually produce horror stories of animals killing people with body counts beyond all but apocalyptic imaginations. Jaws simply cannot compete.

The Atlanteans and the Middle Passage

This essay was inspired Nijla Mu’Min’s extraordinary film Deluge. Thanks to Amrah Salomon for feedback on the draft.


Superheroes have celebrated origin stories. Gamma radiation gives rise to shapeshifting rage monsters. Extraterrestrial parentage provides biological powers. A magician’s curse or a nibble from a radioactive arachnid can turn one superpowered. The story of how one gets one’s powers is a defining part of superhero stories. It is, after all, the sine qua non of any superhero’s existence. But what about the universes in which the superheroes operate? Why don’t we look at their origin stories? And what can those origin stories tell us about the comics universes and popular discourse? What follows explores the origin stories of the DC and Marvel universes through their respective Atlantean populations, focusing on a missing narrative fundamental of the world in which virtually all stories in the DC and Marvel lines happen: African Slavery.

The Marvel and DC universes take place, with some exceptions, in the United States settler colony. The United States has two systemic structures without which it does not exist: African Slavery and Indian Removal (or at least it does not exist in anything remotely resembling its current form). These are the bedrocks of settler colonialism on the continent. The simultaneous destruction of the native world and construction of the anti-Black one define everything from many colloquialisms in White American English to property and land law to policing to the names of sports teams to holidays and comprise the preponderance of U.S. history, not to mention the entire physical geography.

Can this be less true in the Marvel and DC universes? They both have Black characters, albeit relatively few and poorly drawn – often in both senses of the term. Black as an identity (or, per anti-Blackness, a site of capital accumulation and location for gratuitous violence) is tied to the legacy of settler colonialism’s African Slavery. If there was African Slavery then there was transport of enslaved peoples from Africa to colonized Turtle Island (North America). So where were the Atlanteans of the respective DC and Marvel universes during the Middle Passage? Where were Aquaman’s and Namor’s ancestors when the first rebelling or newborn enslaved Africans were tossed overboard to drown, be eaten by sharks or drift slowly to the bottom of the Atlantic?

Exploring these ideas identifies dramatic narrative gaps in between the worlds where these stories purport to take place and the world in which they are told. That they are missing from the Marvel and DC universes exemplifies settler normativity, how the destruction of the native world and construction of the settlers’ anti-Black one is naturalized in and baselines politics and society. Settler colonialism is the organization of power that accomplishes this simultaneous destruction/construction. It is how native Turtle Island becomes the anti-Black North America for example.

It also creates a worldview for its inhabitants. In the same way that men struggle to see sexism, instead just seeing ‘normal’, settlers struggle to see settler colonialism. This settler normativity is one of our very frames of reference. It is basic to our understanding of the world. It is why when we hear about the 49ers we think about the football team or the miners of the gold rush, not the populist genocide the actual ‘fortyniners carried out, despite the depopulation of native California by far being their most enduring and impactful legacy. To question settler colonialism is to question the very world the settlers make. We don’t ask where Aquaman’s ancestors were during the Middle Passage because African Slavery is naturalized in society. It, like men not seeing sexism, is a level below the observable because it is the frame through which observations are made.

So where were Aquaman and Namor’s great-great-great grandparents when they first encountered African Slavery? What was their reaction? How would those reactions change the DC and Marvel universes? I explore some potential scenarios in the paragraphs that follow. Some of these fit inside the current DC and Marvel continuities, namely, the more horrible ones. Others disrupt the current continuities, including those that stop African Slavery in its infancy.


Scenario 1: Hotlantis

Those thrown overboard are rescued by Atlanteans and form an Afro-descendent Atlantean population or are assisted in returning home. This does not require significant adjustment of current continuities.

Scenario 2: Successful Anti-Slavery Intervention

The Atlanteans intervene against the slavers and prevent the Middle Passage from happening. Scenario five can work in conjunction with this. This is, in the DC universe term, an Elseworld and is irreconcilable with the current continuities. Scenarios 3 and 4 show why it is irreconcilable.

Scenario 3: Post-Intervention A

Superman’s rocket lands in Pawnee country since there is no Kansas in which to crash without African Slavery. Superman is now a Pawnee hero. This is irreconcilable with the current continuities.

Scenario 4: Post-Intervention B

Without African Slavery there is no such place as Gotham in which Thomas and Martha Wayne are shot to later be patrolled by their son Batman. They remain British aristocrats. If Bruce Wayne grows up to be a billionaire vigilante he does so in the UK. This is irreconcilable with the current continuities.

Scenario 5: No Response

The Atlanteans first encounter African Slavery through the at sea disposal of newborns or rebelling Africans and either react only to the drowned bodies and not to the act of drowning or simply go about their business. Here the Atlanteans would be concerned with whaling ships more than slave ships (though the ecological damage of African Slavery is in fact substantial!), to the degree they’re concerned with surface dwellers at all. This does not require adjustment of continuities.

Scenario 6: Unsuccessful Intervention

The Atlanteans attempt to intervene and fail and the Middle Passage continues. This is the basis for the Atlantean distance from the surface dweller world for the next four hundred years until the eras of Aquaman and Namor. This does not require significant adjustment of continuities.

Scenario 7: Complicity

Both Atlantean worlds are monarchies of one kind or another which suggests regressive politics. It is thus entirely feasible that Aquaman and Namor’s ancestors were complicit in the Middle Passage in some way. Was a tribute or toll paid to those who control the seas? Thus Atlanteans owe reparations of some kind and direct action at the Justice League headquarters is in order. This does not require significant adjustment of continuities.

Scenario 8: Opportunistic/Humanitarian Intervention

The history of humanitarian intervention is dominated by the interveners integrating a crisis or oppressive system into their own politics rather than ending the crisis or oppression. Alternately put, humanitarian intervention is with few exceptions a tool of empire. Entirely plausible in an intervention scenario is Atlanteans taking over the slave trade rather ending it. This does not require significant adjustment of current continuities.


An honest account of U.S. history means dealing with the ugly truths of settler colonialism. Settler society cultural production helps avoid these ugly truths by producing myths. Not myths as in, superpowered beings in symbolic grand battles. But myths as in, the United States settler colony somehow being post-colonial. As it stands, the most implausible thing about comics is not that some beings can fly without apparent means of propulsion, but that they take place in a United States without Indian Removal and African Slavery. DC and Marvel comics are not imagining a utopia without colonialism even if they may think they are. Instead they imagine a world where colonialism doesn’t matter or doesn’t matter anymore, mountains of facts to the contrary be damned.

Comics can do better. Comics can narrate the colonial present and retcon their respective universes to where settler colonialism, including African Slavery and Indian Removal, happen and impact the universes accordingly. Elseworlds-style stories are one way of accomplishing this. For example there is the as-yet not made story Superman: Alien where the Man of Steel’s rocket is found by Mexican migrant workers on a Kansas farm. He then gets deported with his adoptive parents and grows up to be a Mexican superhero. That is at least as plausible as him being found by the white farm owners. This and the more tragic alternate visions offered above veer away from the current continuities in that they contextualize events as if they take place in the universes they purport to.

The question is one of decolonizing comics. Not as in, comics were colonized and must now be decolonized. That is silly. Nobody colonized comics books. To the contrary, comics in the United States are part of settler colonial cultural production. So in decolonizing comics we seek comics that are decolonizing acts; that are decolonizing narratives and, potentially, tools. Some indie comics and zines already explore this. Yet mainstream comics can too play a role in subverting settler normativity through dealing with the world settler colonialism made, the world in which the comics universes exist. One possible story to tell in this direction is the one that tells the story of the Atlanteans during the Middle Passage. Aquaman’s ancestors have some explaining to do.


France > Détroit > Algérie > Palestine : un large spectre de colonialisme de peuplement

Traduction par Ouessale

Militant de Détroit, universitaire et camarade estimé, Kristian Davis Bailey est en route pour la France afin de faire avancer les solidarités et les luttes unies des Noirs et Palestiniens. Le colonialisme de peuplement français est profondément ancré, tant sur l’Ile de la Tortue qu’en Palestine. Ce bref article est inspiré de son voyage et de ses efforts.

Toute la surface du globe porte les stigmates de l’impérialisme et du colonialisme de peuplement. Ce qui suit expose les liens entre les Noirs aux USA et les Palestiniens (entre-autres) à travers le prisme du colonialisme de peuplement et de l’impérialisme français. C’est sur le thème de la solidarité Noirs – Palestiniens que se tiennent, en France, de multiples conférences pendant l’Israeli Apartheid Week 2016.

Commençons par Détroit d’où j’écris. La colonisation française de l’Ile de la Tortue n’a pas été moins catastrophique que les colonisations britanniques ou espagnoles, bien qu’elle ait été circonscrite par d’autres pouvoirs impériaux au fil du temps. Localement, dans ce que la société coloniale appelle Détroit, les français, sous la direction d’Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, ont entrepris la destruction de la société d’Ojibwe, à travers la marchandisation de la fourrure, l’introduction de maladies européennes, les homicides aux frontières (bien que moins courants que sous les britanniques plus tard) et l’introduction de l’alcool (l’histoire coloniale de l’alcool reste encore à écrire bien qu’elle soit indispensable).

Pendant la conquête, les premiers colons français ont emmené des esclaves africains. De fait, ils ont érigé un monde négrophobe tout en anéantissant le monde indigène. Bill McGraw écrit pour le Deadline Detroit : « En 1750, par exemple, vers la fin du régime français, plus de 25% des résidents de Détroit possédaient des esclaves ». Il poursuit : « De nombreuses routes, écoles et localités dans le Sud-Est du Michigan portent les noms d’anciennes familles bourgeoises propriétaires d’esclaves : Macomb, Campau, Beaubien, McDougall, Abbott, Brush, Cass, Hamtramck, Gouin, Meldrum, Dequindre, Beaufait, Groesbeck, Livernois et Rivard, parmi tant d’autres ».

Les richesses acquises par les colons français sur l’Ile de la Tortue étaient sans commune mesure avec les profits engrangés dans les colonies d’esclaves caribéennes, notamment à Haiti. Cela dit, l’empire français de la fourrure et des esclaves de Détroit fait partie d’un pouvoir colonial et impérial qui – plus d’un siècle après le retrait de la France d’Amérique du Nord suite à son expulsion d’Haiti, au cours de la révolution la plus importante de l’histoire moderne – a rassemblé la France et le Royaume Uni pour l’élaboration des Accords Sykes-Picot. Ces accords ont consisté en un démembrement du Sud-Ouest de l’Asie en vue d’une répartition entre la France, le Royaume Uni et la Russie. Sykes-Picot a jeté les bases du colonialisme britannique en Palestine, régime qui a facilité le colonialisme de peuplement sioniste ensuite. Sans les richesses acquises en colonisant l’Ile de la Tortue et en vendant les africains comme des biens leur appartenant, la France n’aurait jamais eu la possibilité de façonner et de bénéficier des Accords Sykes-Picot.

Peu de temps après ces Accords (et bien qu’ils n’en soient pas la cause), l’Algérie, autre colonie de peuplement majeure, doit de nouveau faire face à l’opposition à sa décolonisation et organiser la résistance. Au cours des quatre décennies suivantes, le régime français a écrasé, brutalement mais sans succès, l’agitation anticoloniale et les révoltes, qui atteignirent leur paroxysme lors de l’insurrection menée par le Front de Libération National, mettant ainsi fin à l’occupation française en 1962.

Israël a toujours eu besoin d’un puissant sponsor et la France a joué ce rôle dès 1954. Selon Michael Laskier, en Algérie, le Mossad a créé des unités paramilitaires secrètes qui combattaient activement les actions anticoloniales du FLN visant les juifs algériens (dont le colonisateur français antisémite avait fait une caste indigène privilégiée, « plus proche » de l’européanité que les algériens musulmans). Israël a aussi soutenu l’occupation française à l’ONU, se rangeant systématiquement du côté de la France lors des votes concernant l’indépendance de l’Algérie et les essais nucléaires dans le Sahara.

Pour sa part, la France a fourni des armes de pointe à Israël et l’a aidé à développer une industrie aéronautique, ainsi que des armes nucléaires. La France a fourni les avions qu’Israël a utilisé pour envahir le Sinaï pendant la crise du canal de Suez en Octobre 1956, lors d’une attaque conjointe des britanniques, français et israéliens sur l’Egypte. En 1959, la France a autorisé Israël à assembler le jet Fouga Magister sous licence française, tout en continuant de lui vendre des bombardiers beaucoup plus avancés comme le Mystère. C’est avec des armes françaises qu’Israël a attaqué l’Egypte et la Syrie en Juin 1967. La Jordanie s’est alliée à l’Egypte et à la Syrie, et la guerre s’est soldée par la conquête par Israël du Sinaï et l’occupation de Gaza sur le territoire égyptien, l’occupation de la Cisjordanie alors jordanienne et l’occupation du Plateau du Golan syrien.

Israël s’est empressé de construire des colonies dans le Sinaï, espérant ainsi porter préjudice aux futures négociations par un fait-accompli qui soumettrait à Israël, tout ou partie de la péninsule, en plus de Gaza. La colonisation israélienne a inévitablement entrainé une résistance égyptienne. Les missiles anti-aériens ont lourdement pénalisé Israël pendant cette guerre d’usure. Pour perturber les radars antiaériens, Israël achète ses premiers drones aux USA. Ils servent à la fois d’appâts et d’espions. A cette période, les drones fonctionnent encore avec des pellicules photo qui doivent être extraites au retour du drone, développées et analysées pour obtenir des informations. La résistance égyptienne, ainsi que les avancées en matière de traitement des données conduisent Israël à modifier ses drones pour pouvoir déployer une surveillance en temps réel. Les nouveaux drones émettent leurs vidéos en direct, réduisant ainsi considérablement le temps entre la reconnaissance et l’attaque et permettant des ajustements immédiats sur le champ de bataille. Ces drones n’ont pas beaucoup servi au Sinaï, rendu à l’Egypte en 1981 devant les pressions égyptienne et internationale. Mais tous les drones modernes, partout dans le monde, émanent de la colonisation israélienne du Sinaï. C’est à ce moment que les drones deviennent des plateformes de surveillance en temps réel. Ce sont les drones développés par Israël qui ont conduit les USA à réinvestir cette technologie après l’avoir largement abandonnée.

Bien que la France ait institué un embargo sur les armes à destination d’Israël après la guerre de 1967, elle utilise aujourd’hui des armes israéliennes développées pendant l’occupation du Sinai (et déployées au Liban, en Cisjordanie et à Gaza). La France a utilisé un drone de l’Israel Aerospace Industry Heron, modifié et nommé « Harfang » dans le cadre de la « Guerre mondiale contre le terrorisme », ainsi que lors des invasions et occupations unilatérales ou conjointes de l’Afghanistan, du Mali et de la Libye.

Dans les deux derniers cas, la technologie d’Israël – colonie de peuplement qui doit partiellement son existence aux Accords de Sykes-Picot, largement créés et mis en œuvre par la France – s’est développée consécutivement à ses attaques sur le sol africain menées avec des armes françaises. Israël a ensuite renversé la situation en passant du statut de client à celui de fournisseur, pour les invasions françaises de pays africains. C’est ainsi que la France profite considérablement des actions militaires qu’elle prétend rejeter via ses embargos.

Voilà donc quelques-uns des enchevêtrements impérialistes et coloniaux unissant la France, la Palestine, Détroit et l’Algérie.