Black Ecologies

An opening, an offering


Originally published in MARCH journal of art and strategy.



In what I am calling the weather, antiblackness is pervasive as climate. The weather necessitates changeability and improvisation; it is the atmospheric condition of time and place; it produces new ecologies.
–Christina Sharpe

I along with others think the Anthropocene is more a boundary event than an epoch.
–Donna Haraway

Some saw in the Black [human] the salt of the earth, the vein of life through which the dream of a humanity reconciled with nature, and even with the totality of existence, would find its new face, voice, and movement.
–Achille Mbembe







1.

The war against Blackness, begun 500 years ago,
is the event horizon of planetary extinction.
And still,
and yet,
and therefore:
Beyond the boundaries of a billion Black anthropocenes1
exist infinite Black ecologies.


2.

Through our bodies, we can learn a thing or two (or infinitely more) about integration:
Ecologies are assemblages of integral relationships between bodies.
Bodies are bits of matter and energy
that unite to become humans and microbes,
ponds and planets,
communities and worlds.
Our bodies are ecologies;
ecologies are bodies of bodies of bodies…
Bodies nest ad infinitum, interdependent, indivisible.
Each body is a point; each point is a threshold;
each threshold opens onto an ecology.

Each Black body points to a line of code drawn in sand and skin; each line is a boundary
that obstructs movement across ecological thresholds; each boundary hypoxifies both the Black body and the world’s ecology.
To return oxygen to humanity, each bounded Black body must be named; each name must be known. There are too many names to know.

But Black bodies are not doors of no return.
Naming and acknowledgments are necessary, but they are just the openings
that enable us to make offerings.
Rupturing the boundaries around and within Blackness,
which holds all bodies and all names,
opens wormholes.
Through them, we can sow the seeds
of other ecologies-of-being(s).


3.

To open a wormhole, we must:

a. Locate a boundary drawn through our ecological body:
But where to begin?
1492?2 1619?3 1452?4 1682?5...
There are too many boundary dates to note,
but for our pruposes
I propose descending through this one:

1758. Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus publishes the tenth edition of Systema Naturae. This “seminal” scientific text transplants a system of classifying Earth’s plant species onto the human species. In the name of “science,” Linnaeus dissects Homo sapiens with a system of social categorization6 raised from the demonic grounds7 of slave plantations and, through the inscription of ironclad nomenclature into abstracted flesh, he animates a racialized chimera of stratified bodies: Homo...

Americanus: reddish, choleric, and erect; hair—black, straight, thick; wide nostrils, scanty beard; obstinate, merry, free; paints himself with fine red lines; regulated by customs.

Asiaticus: sallow, melancholy, stiff; black hair, dark eyes; severe, haughty, avaricious; covered with loose garments; ruled by opinions.

Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; hair—black, frizzled; skin—silky; nose—flat; lips—tumid; women without shame, they lactate profusely; crafty, indolent, negligent; anoints himself with grease; governed by caprice.

Europeanus: white, sanguine, muscular; hair—long, flowing; eyes—blue; gentle, acute, inventive; covers himself with close vestments; governed by laws.
8

European men anoint themselves with Sylvia Wynter’s capital “M”9 and conjure a cosmology10 they call Enlightenment. Enlightenment exploits the subjective murkiness inherent to ecological existence to sanction capitalism’s foundational enterprises of genocide and slavery after the fact.11

Man orders himself as the height of existence—as WhiteHuman—and us as its bottom—as Blackinhuman. Fearing the force of White and the pitfall of Black, Others become equatorial, folded into the unsettled gradient of the Brown in-between,12 striving toward the northern pole. The ecology of Humanity enters a state of dysbiosis.13

b. Open a wormhole to other ecologies:

Conflating phenotypical darkness with phenomenological darkness, darkness with the unknown, and the unknown with fear, Enlightened Whiteness casts a surgical light. With each shadow banished, new shadows are revealed; within each particle, smaller particles are found. Yet, the new forms of knowledge gained are half-starved.14 With each body annihilated or enslaved, assimilated or segregated, the less the Enlightened know about themselves. Each person, place and particle split sounds the bell for the planet’s splintering.

And yet, and still, and therefore, through the alchemical fusion of the phenotypical and the phenomenological, darkness of flesh is imbued with the dark power to reintegrate the world.


4.

Through our bodies, we can learn a thing or two (or infinitely more) about segregation. Enlightened Bodies are as segregated internally as they are externally. The Human is segregated from the bacterium, even though ninety-nine percent of the DNA in the Human body is nonhuman.15 The Enlightened Human is segregated from the plants that provide him with the oxygen they need to exist; the plants create this oxygen in turn from the carbon dioxide that the Human expels. The Human is segregated from the land which, as Frantz Fanon reminds us, is the most important value, because it provides us with bread and dignity.16

Beneath the Black human body is the body of Earth, whose flesh is Black with oil and soil—Black with life. Yet, classified as Black, Earth becomes extinction’s ground zero; as Black human bodies dis-integrate under the magnification of Enlightenment, the Black body of Earth disintegrates. A sickly rainbow of bodies and souls floats above Enlightened ecologies in ethico-eco-philosophical zero-gravity. The Enlightened Human calls this weightlessness Freedom.

Enlightened ecologies are spheres of existence flattened into two dimensions: Property and Profit. Enlightened ecologies are hierarchical rather than rhizomatic. They are latitudinal and longitudinal, surface and flesh, black and white.

The quintessential Enlightened ecology is the plantation. In plantation ecologies, Earth is emptied of Native peoples and knowledge through genocidal clearing; enslaved Black bodies are emptied of humanity; the indwelling value of the Black Earth is transfigured into a financial abstraction.

Plantation ecologies are invasive: Once industrial monocrop agriculture has drained life from soil, the oil industry spreads throughout the Black Earth’s fractal viscera; her skin crawls with prisons and petrochemical plants.17 Plantation ecologies are virulent: As capitalism advances and thickens like a strangling fruit,18 all the world becomes a plantation. The habituating force and raison d’être of the plantation ecology is Death.


5.

The Black Earth asks me: What does it mean for Black people to fight for the rights of Nature when y’all are still fighting for your basic human rights?

In the light, the equation of existence appears reducible to division.
Darkness multiplies. In the light, knowledge of the world appears in sharp relief. Darkness holds a more intimate wisdom we are once again coming to sense:
What has been called darkness, the unknown, the void, the abyss, empty space,
we now know as dark matter. Dark matter is the glue that holds existence together.19
Perhaps we can think dark matter through another, older name:
Kinship.
I answer the Black Earth through my bodies:
The rights of nature and human rights must be won ecologically, in solidarity, as kin.
Perhaps we can think kinship through another, simpler name: Love.

Little by little (or perhaps more rapidly from the perspective of the Black Earth) Enlightened Humanity is coming to recognize the need for the dark wisdom it worked hard to extinguish. More and more, Western scholars look with deference and humility toward Anishinaabe Original Instructions,20 toward Quechua Sumak Kawsay,21 toward Aboriginal dreaming.22 They spin the West around to face the rights of Nature: the eco-philosophical integrity of the world—the horizon.

Yes:
more and
more.

But where is Black Africa and her dark diaspora? So great is the world’s disregard for the Dark Continent and her people that few have noticed the absence of our eco-philosophical voices within the rising chorus of environmental scholarship.

To survive climate change, humanity needs to get radical. To get radical means “to get to the root.”23 Black Africa is humanity’s root. Her uprooting seeds Enlightened ecologies. Her diasporic seeds are portals to other ecologies-of-being(s).

As Malidoma Somé, a spiritual philosopher from the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso, affirms,24  the time has come for African philosophy to be recognized beyond the realm of anthropology. It is time for Black studies to be re-read ecologically and for the de-Enlightening world to sit quietly and listen rapturously to Black people’s perspectives on ecological re-integration.


6.

Black ecologies travel with the Black body on tides of cellular memory and seed the gaps between worlds. Their ancestors are the brown bodies of wetlands—fecund cradles of more-than-human life, which the Enlightened Human classifies beneath whiter sands and bluer waters; which the Human carves up, drains of vitality and disappears to make way for industrial development; and which, despite this degradation and debasement, remain merciful hosts to migrating maroons of all species.25

Black ecologies wink into existence as resistance to plantation ecologies. Ecological resistance emerges from the cypress trees in whose crowns we crouch, muskets over shoulders, listening for dogs; the Indigenous nations who welcome us into their families; the handfuls of Europeans who join us, refusing the role of Colonizer;26 the parakeets who nest near us, fleeing their own deaths on plantations;27 the mud sinks who grab at the legs of slave catchers, stealing their balance; the mosquitoes who bite at us all, knowing that the sweetness of flesh is not carried in color; and the soils who cocoon our bodies while the worms and roaches return us to freedom in oneness with the Black Earth.

Black ecologies know our suffering, struggle and survival.
They are our suffering, struggle and survival.

Black ecologies persist today as the human bodies that block pipelines and petrochemical plants. They are cultivated by human hands, stained with shadows of indigo,28 oil, and blood, which plant marsh grasses in humble rituals of repair. They blossom, as memories of plantation plots,29 in community gardens and in secret jars in solitary confinement cells.30 They flourish as Great Green Walls31 dreamed up from African sacred groves.32

Black ecologies are syncretic: Like resistance to slavery, which often germinated in the spirtitual grounds of vodou, santería and candomblé, they generate systems for mutual living—living systems—by synergizing poetry and science, past and future, teachings from North, South, East and West, networking the many into the one. Black ecologies are diasporic: They spread to the rhythm of grandma’s knitting needles, weaving the world’s loving reintegration. Whatever their scale, they are expansive because they photosynthesize the wisdom of more-than-human ancestors.

Black ecologies cannot decompose Timothy Morton’s plastic Dark Ecology, a philosophy of “coexistence” that holds no space for the repair of racism.33 Nor are Black ecologies fooled by the Cartesian logics that tell us that Black is the lowest point on the spectrum to White. Black ecologies laugh with deadly gravity at the confusion of Enlightened Human Reason:

Black is not the absence of light; Black absorbs light, holding it close to its bosom.

Black ecologies are the nadir to Enlightenment’s zenith.34 Enlightenment has lifted us to unthinkable heights of madness; Black ecologies reorient us intuitively toward the Black Earth. Black ecologies don’t upend the hierarchy that places Black people at the bottom of Humanity and Humanity above the Black Earth, shifting Black to the top and White to the bottom, but rather explode it outward from the base. Humanity will horizontalize, lying prostrate as humble human, not just big toes35 but whole bodies pressing into the ground in a sublime encounter with our planet, with our kin, with ourselves. Black ecologies will hold us all.

7.

This is why Black bodies
are key and coup
in Humanity’s war against existence.
Black bodies can jump the broom
over and beyond dishonored Humanity
and land
not as Human, but more-than-human,
not as thing, but everything.

Black ecologies multiply;
they are migratory;
they resist ecologies of extinction.
Don’t be frightened;
Black ecologies won’t replace you,
they will repair you;
they will restore Us.

Reparations for racial capitalism are owed,
but not only through financial settlement.
Landscape reparations are owed,
but not only through the removal of racist monuments.
Land restitution is owed,
but not only through the acknowledgment of Indigenous names.
The reparations that are owed
will return land to people
and people to earth
and both to ecological being(s).
Black ecologies are the sacred relations
through which ecological reparations can be offered to our segregated Earth.
Through the cultivation of Black ecologies,
the wholly Enlightened Earth may yet become a Black whole.









1.  In her book, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, author Kathryn Yusoff engages a “citation practice” to draw Black feminist voices into majority-White conversations about the Anthropocene, arguing that every Black death is a Golden Spike precipitating climate change. This text, a response to her opening, looks to and beyond the boundary events of Black Anthropocenes to call for a conceptualization of Black ecologies.












































2.  Columbus arrives on the Taíno island Guanahani in the Bahamas, Caribbean Sea.

3.  The first enslaved Africans are kidnapped to North America.

4.  The first Portuguese slave ships return from Guinea.

5.  The first Slave Codes come into force in the Virginia Colony.

6.  “This cycle [of English social paranoia and violence against free Afro-Americans] articulates the structure of racialization that has given rise to the modern American concept of "race." That is, this new white cultural identity, constructed through and on an imposed social category differential between the English and the Africans as wholly "other," then formed the basis for the modern concept of racialization.” See: Steve Martinot, “Motherhood and the Invention of Race,” originally published in Hypatia 22(2), Spring 2007. Available at: https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~marto/mother.htm#nt3.

7.  See: Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

























8.  These taxonomic descriptions are omitted from the most accessible sources of information on Linnaeus’ binomial nomenclature, e.g. Wikipedia. Cited from Audrey Smedley, Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview, 2018.

9.  Wynter writes: “In the wake of the West’s second wave of imperial expansion, pari passu with its reinvention of Man now purely biologized terms, it was to be the peoples of Black African descent who would be constructed as the ultimate referent of the “racially inferior” Human Other, with the range of other colonized dark-skinned peoples, all classified as “natives,” now being assimilated to its category—all of these as the ostensible embodiment of the non-evolved backward Others—if to varying degrees and, as such, the negation of the generic “normal humanness,” ostensibly expressed by and embodied in the peoples of the West.” See: Wynter, 2003.

10. Glossary. A cosmology is a branch of both metaphysics and astronomy that conceives of the origin and structure of the universe, including its constituents and components, elements and interconnections, causalities and consequences, laws and freedoms, space and time.

11. Glossary. After an action is performed; in legal parlance, after a crime has been committed.

12.  Glossary. noun: 1. A supernatural limbo or purgatory of ghosts. 2. Inbetweens are the drawings which create the illusion of motion. verb: 1. in animation, the process of generating intermediate frames between two images, called key frames, to give the appearance that the first image evolves smoothly into the second image.

13.  Glossary. noun. A state of imbalance between the types of bacteria present in the bacterial ecology, or microbiota, of a person’s body, which leads to dis-ease.

14.  Aimé Cesaire, “Poetry and Knowledge,” in Lyric and Dramatic Poetry, 1946-1982, The University Press of Virginia: 1990.

15.  Bonnie Basler, “How bacteria ‘talk,’” TED 2009. Last accessed 13 Aug 2020. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/bonnie_bassler_how_bacteria_talk/transcript.

16.  Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, [1961] 2004), 9.








































17.  See, e.g.: Imani Jacqueline Brown, “Should we consider fossil fuel extraction an unjust enterprise?,” Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 2 Feb 2020. Last accessed: 31 Jul 2020. available at: https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/should-we-consider-fossil-fuel-extraction-an-unjust-enterprise

18.  From: James Vandermeer, Annihilation (London: 4th Estate, 2014).

19.  “Dark matter … helps protect [stars] against the tidal forces of the massive host galaxy.” See: S. De Rijcke, S. J. Penny, C. J. Conselice, S. Valcke, E. V. Held, “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,” Volume 393, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 798–807, https://academic.oup.com/mnras/article/393/3/798/967373.




































20.  A cosmology, or living philosophy, of Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region of Turtle Island (aka North America). The Original Instructions remind humans how to exist in and with the world with care and reciprocity. See: Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (Penguin Books, 2013).

21.  Translated as “Buen Vivir,” or “good living,” sumak kawsay is a cosmology, or living philosophy, of the Quechua peoples throughout South America. It reminds humans how to live in communities of ecological and cultural harmony. See, e.g.: https://www.pachamama.org/sumak-kawsay.

22.  An Aboriginal Australian philosophy of communion with human and more-than-human ancestors, grounded in the interconnectivity of all elements of existence. For more, see: Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies; A Requiem to Late Liberalism (Duke University Press, 2015).

23.  Quite literally the denotative meaning. “I use the term radical in its original meaning—getting down to and understanding the root cause. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.” Quoted in Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 1.

24.  Malidoma Patrice Some, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, Penguin, 1994.











25.  For more on Creole maroon villages in Louisiana’s swamps, see: Kalamu ya Salam, “History: Jean Saint-Malo, New Orleans Maroon,” Neo-Griot: Kalamu ya Salaam’s blog, 19 Jun 2012. Last accessed 17 Aug 2020. Available at: https://kalamu.posthaven.com/history-jean-saint-malo-new-orleans-maroon-ex.

26.  For more on colonial refusal and tri-racial isolate communities, see: James Koehnline, ed., Gone to Croatan: Origins of North American Dropout Culture (Autonomedia, 1994).

27.  J. Drew Lanham, “Forever Gone,” Orion Magazine, 2018. Last accessed: 31 Jul. 2020. Available at: https://orionmagazine.org/article/forever-gone/.
























28.  Glossary. As Tiffany Lethabo King writes in The Black Shoals, Indigo-stained hands are the shadowy trace of Black human a priori and a posteriori merger with nonhuman existence on and beyond the plantation.

29.  See: Sylvia Wynter, “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation,” Savacou, vol. 5, 1971.

30. “Jackie, in your letter you asked me: “What sort of house does a man who has lived in a 6’ x 9’ cell for over 30-years dream of?!”— In the front of the house I have 3- squares of gardens. The gardens are the easiest for me to imagine, and I can see they would be certain to be full of gardenias, carnations and tulips. This is of the utmost importance. I would like for guests to be able to smile and walk through flowers all year long.” -- Herman Wallace, excerpt from a letter to jackie sumell, February 1, 2006. Activist and former Black Panther Herman Wallace was held in solitary confinement for 41 years for a crime he did not commit. While imprisoned, he made many attempts to grow plants in his jail cell. Herman was exonerated of all charges on October 1, 2013. He passed away three days later. For more, see: Solitary Gardens, http://www.soliarygardens.org.

31.  Glossary. A pan-African project to seed a mosaic of forests across the Sahel, from Senegal to Djibouti. This region is the frontline of desertification, which propels Africa’s people to attempt dangerous migration of Europe. This desertification is the product not only of climate change, which is an indirect consequence of Enlightened ecologies, but also of largely French colonial land use practices that uprooted Indigenous land tenureship and imposed a system of industrial plantation agriculture.

32.  See, e.g.: Michael J Sheridan and Celia Nyamweru, African Sacred Groves: Ecological Dynamics and Social Change (Ohio University Press, 2008).

33.  Morton dedicates the following five sentences to dismiss concerns (raised by Black and Brown, feminist, post-colonial scholars and activists) that ascribing undifferentiated blame for climate change to the entire human population, regardless of actual and historical national and cultural responsibility, is racist (and precludes our ability to actually redress climate change and its related ills): “The user of Anthropocene is saying that humans as a race are responsible, and while this really means white humans, whites go unmarked. There is such a thing as the human. But human need can not be something that is ontically given: we can’t see it or touch it or designate it as present in some way (as whiteness or not-blackness et cetera). There is no obvious, constantly present positive content to the human. So Anthropocene isn’t racist.” See: Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

34.  Glossary. In Arabic, “nadir” means “counterpoint.” Astronomically, the term is used to reference the lowest point in the sky, named as the opposition to the highest point—the “zenith.” It also carries the secondary meaning of: “the lowest point in a person’s spirit.” Black ecologies reject the oppositional astronomical and colloquial language in favor of the Arabic original, which implies balance rather than contestation.

35.  “[...]The function of the human foot consists in giving a firm foundation to the erection of which man is so proud [...] But whatever the role played in the erection by his foot, man, who has a light head, in other words a head raised to the heavens and heavenly things, sees it as spit, on the pretext that he has this foot in the mud.” See: Georges Bataille, "The Big Toe,” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, trans. Allan Stoekl, with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. (Minneapolis: UMP, [1929] 1985). Available at: https://supervert.com/elibrary/georges-bataille/the-big-toe.

36. Theodore W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. (Stanford University Press, 2002 [1987]), 1.




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