The foundations of Afropessimism: A reading list by Frank B Wilderson III

Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America 
Saidiya V Hartman
(Oxford University Press, 1997)

This seminal text is a quintessential contribution to Afropessismism in multiple ways. Among its critical contributions, it centralises violence in its mode of critique and analysis of the regime of racial slavery in the 19th century. Hartman rethinks slave resistance not through the performance of agency; rather, she provokes the limitations and (im)possibilities in which resistance can be made legible against the libidinal economy of the slave.


Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms 
Frank B Wilderson III
(Duke University Press, 2010) 

The first Afropessimist monograph to focus on structural violence, my book Red, White & Black is an unflinching, paradigmatic analysis of anti-Blackness. It argues that the structural position, suffering and ontology of Blackness cannot be analogised to non-Black subject positions. My text engages the fundamental ethical and political question “What does it mean to suffer?” for the Black sentient object thrust upon the world as a product of modern racial slavery.


Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism
Jared Sexton
(University of Minnesota Press, 2008)


Despite being heralded as the answer to racial conflict in the post-civil rights era, the principal political effect of multiracialism is neither a challenge to the ideology of anti-Blackness, nor a defiance of sexual racism. Instead, Sexton argues that multiracialism displaces both by evoking long-standing tenets of anti-Blackness and prescriptions for normative sexuality. He marks the discourse of  interracial sexuality and sexual politics as the disavowal, trivialisation and deflection of sexual violence under chattel slavery.


Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Anti-Black World
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson
(New York University Press, 2020)

Rewriting the pernicious, enduring relationship between Blackness and animality in the history of Western science and philosophy, Jackson breaks open the rancorous debate between Black critical theory and posthumanism. In so doing, Becoming Human demonstrates that the history of racialised gender and maternity, specifically anti-Blackness, is indispensable to future thought on matter, materiality, animality and post-humanism. This inaugural monograph both critiques and displaces the racial logic that has dominated scientific thought since the Enlightenment.


On Black Men
David Marriott
(Columbia University Press, 2000)

Mutilated, dying or dead, Black men play a role in the psychic life of civil society — from national dreams to media fantasies. Marriott’s debut book deploys as well as innovates psychoanalytic theory to illuminate how violence determines and affects how Black men are viewed — and, in turn, identify — within the psychic life of White culture. It is an incisive theorisation of the nexus between White scopic fantasy, literary and visual culture and anti-Black violence.

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Frank B Wilderson III
Frank B. Wilderson III is an award-winning writer, activist, and critical theorist who spent five and a half years in South Africa, where he was one of two Americans who have held an elected office in the ANC during the country’s transition from apartheid.
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