about zing


john connelly
luis macias
gavin wade
brandon ballengee
elizabeth cohen
thomas rayfiel

elizabeth cohen

Why did we Americans comply so readily? Because the “fact” of blackness implicates everyone. The “fact” of blackness is what haunts “the gaps left within us by the secrets of others,” as Abraham put it.7 And the “fact” of blackness, of course, circumscribes our notion of legitimacy. Like Abraham’s patient, Martin Luther King was concerned with legitimacy, specifically the manner in which black men had been disinherited from the Founding Fathers’ estate. In his famous “I Have A Dream” address, King challenged the executors of the national “will”:


So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition....When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir....Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.8


One hundred years after slavery, King hence demanded that the Father write him a good check, in essence restoring to the black man his rightful name. And yet this name had a price. Race would henceforth constitute the gap within us produced by the “secret” of a color blind Civil Rights Movement: that the “fact” of blackness was merely a product of whiteness. As Fanon put it, the white man has woven the black man out of a thousand details, anecdotes, and stories. Thus, if the black man was no longer forced to answer to the literal call of “Look a Negro” in a post-Civil Rights era, he still had to answer to those internalized stories and anecdotes in order to achieve a sense of “self.” A secondary mode of racialization was subsequently reinscribed through the denial of the Other’s difference, provoking a more insidious form of alienation. As Fanon put it, in words that spoke to those of King’s generation, “When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color. Whey they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my color. Either way, I am locked into the infernal circle” [our emphasis].9


It is important to note that interpellation need not be a verbal hailing. It can be the body that involuntarily speaks for anyone to see, as the student who publicly drew “Fanon” in silence so aptly demonstrated. But what initiated this acting out of another’s neurosis which predates her by about thirty years? That is to say, why the persistence of this unconscious interpellation, itself an index of the phantom’s presence? Unbeknownst to us at the time, what Julien’s film produced was a site of analysis, in the most clinical sense. What the film culled from Black Skin White Masks was the manner in which Fanon enacted the trauma of the gap as that site in which racial illegitimacy divided him psychically between white and black subjectivities. The brilliance of Julien’s film was that it demonstrated how Fanon had internalized the fight between father and son over legitimacy that we see repeatedly in matters concerning the phantom. Fanon’s literary enactment of both positions was a radical strategy in 1952 when “race” was not to be uttered by those seeking assimilation, which King and his followers advocated.

Furthermore, Fanon’s strategy was too transgressive even for those resisting acculturation, which characterized devotees of Malcom X, the “ne’er do well” son of the Civil Rights Movement. Whereas Malcom X pointed to a repressed authentic black position, Fanon pointed to the white position as both an external and internal factor in the black man’s psyche. It was whiteness that textually over determined Fanon’s black man, both disintegrating him and relegating black “authenticity” to an aporic space. Pursuing “the fact of blackness,” Fanon thus discovered that the gap in which race hides its name painfully alludes legitimacy:


Every hand was a losing hand for me. I analyzed my heredity. I made a complete audit of my ailment. I wanted to be typically Negro - it was no longer possible. I wanted to be white - that was a joke. And, when I tried....to reclaim my negritude, it was snatched away from me. 10

And yet, if Fanon’s black man was alienated from himself as a prerequisite of being “black,” the same held true for the white man. For if blackness is an inauthentic subject position based on a presumed inferiority to/by the white man, whiteness in turn suffers from inauthenticity based on a presumed superiority to/by the black man. Together these raced subject positions constitute a shared neurosis, though the “white” position need not always be based on such hegemonic formations. For instance, the man who adores the Negro, Fanon asserts, is just as neurotic as the man who abominates him, since either way a spectacle of “blackness” is produced solely for the white man’s conception of self. Put simply, if whiteness constructs blackness in order to support itself, a tautological space is created in which both positions (in actuality) are alienated from themselves and each other.