In his “Feeling Brown, Feeling Down,” Jose Esteban Monuz explained what he saw as living and feeling brownness—a skin color, a minoritarian positionally and a mode of living. He explained:
“Brownness is not white, and it is not black either, yet it does not simply sit midway between them. Brownness, like all forms of racialized attentiveness in North America, is enabled by practices of self-knowing formatted by the nation’s imaginary through the powerful spikes in the North American consciousness iden- tified with the public life of blackness. At the same time, brownness is a mode of attentiveness to the self for others that is cognizant of the way in which it is not and can never be whiteness. Whiteness in my analysis is also very specific: I read it as a cultural logic that prescribes and regulates national feelings and comportment” (P. 680)
Brownness as a racial attentiveness becomes an affect that conditions living in and moving between various spaces that are characterized by the cultural logic of whiteness, which engenders such racial attentiveness as hyperawareness of difference, of surveillance, and of the need to react to such oppressive logic. The “Downness” that is coupled with such attentiveness in Munoz’s analysis is particularly poignant when narrated by the beautiful prose of an Utopianist who died at only forty-six years of age, all while finishing his third book The Sense of Brown.
Munoz’s downness appears tightly interwoven with the rage that James Baldwin used to describe being black in America: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.” In both cases, the minoritarian affect is rooted in the consistent struggle against the logics of discrimination, marginalization and white supremacy. In this context, these affective formations cease to be personal, individual or even only communal. Instead, they become the basic connective tissue that flows from the individual to the communal and back. Affect, after all, is rooted in orientation as Sara Ahmed reminds us: “Emotions involve such affective forms of (re)orientation. It is not just that bodies are moved by the orientations they have; rather, the orientations we have toward others shape the contours of space by affecting relations of proximity and distance between bodies. Importantly, even what is kept at a distance must still be proximate enough if it is to make or leave an impression.” As such, these different modes of minoritarian affects and affectations share their orientation to the logic of whiteness—an orientation based on attentiveness, revulsion, fear and anxiety. In this positionality, nonchalance, inattention, or “realness” are all luxuries that are difficult to assume and often impossible to emulate. Zadie Smith recalls “realness,” a category in New York drag balls that is designed to “precisely to defend against such humiliation,” of being always exposed, bullied and surveilled. She explains: “Realness was about walking in a convincing straight line. Could you get from A to B in the dullest way possible, as if dancing to B never occurred to you? Can you play it straight, look utterly real? Pass when passing is required? A cloak of temporary invisibility.”
This shared orientation, and affects that it produces and by which it is produced, does not make all minoritarian identities the same, or make them even feel similar. Instead, I argue, it creates a mode of affective kinship that connects these affects and orientations and offers a new space for the shared experience of hyper/in/visibility. This kinship is both real and imagined, achieved and becoming. Rooted in the shared orientation towards/away from the logic of whiteness, it is as real as the gaze of white heteropatriarchy upon the minoritarian body. At the same time, it offers the aspiration for recognition, and for the strength that is driven from shared affects and shared impressions. This aspiration is the reason why one looks for another queer or another person of color when walking into a restaurant. In the kinship, the shared experience of whiteness and its gaze, we can survive the rage.
In his “Can non-Europeans think?” Hamid Dabashi offered what he called a declaration of independence from postcoloniality and from the thoughts and affects that it engendered. In his view, a new generation was born that is less and less concerned about Europe, and its legacy and more interested in a different future. Dabashi’s optimism belies the survival and persistence of colonial and settler-colonial regimes, and the renewed colonial encounters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, not to mention the continuing encounters under settler Americas and Australia among others. Yet, Dabashi’s skepticism towards the persistence of colonial and postcolonial logic, which were often rooted in the production of new selfhood that would no longer be black or brown for they live in black and brown country, warrants further exploration.
Indeed, the contemporary postcolonial condition, intermingled as it is with renewed colonial encounters, is the result of the failures of the decolonial/first postcolonial nation state. At the same time, living in what we can term a second postcolonial era is deeply rooted in the modes of production and distribution of late capitalism with its reliance on mobile labor and transferrable services. Living in such postcolonial condition is tethered to the assembly lines of Apple, the Gap or Samsung, the phones in Comcast and Verizon’s service centers around the globe, the oil prices in the gulf and Texas, and the fortunes of stock markets in Europe, the US and Japan. It is also intertwined with the changing modalities of migration, from the extraction of educated “third-worlders,” the importation of cheap farm and service labor, and the rising xenophobia and anti-immigration narratives that ultimately retain these migrants hostage to their in/visibility. Along these assembly lines, phone lines, migrant lines and border lines, affects travel to render the new postcolonial subject brown and black in Brown and Black Country, and the minoritarian Northern subject, be they black, brown, indigenous or a holder of any other mark, a foreigner or a refugee with a mysterious birthing place outside the global North. In all these cases, the transition, the movement and the eternal estrangement queer such minoritarian subjects as they racialize queer subjects. Race, colonialism and queerness intermingle in their shared orientation under the logics of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. The attentiveness to the gaze, to the impossibility of being “real” and to the need to control the rage that can destroy oneself cements the kinship that colors living as non/un-white in late capitalism and its attendant second post/colony. But this attentiveness is not simply reactive. In fact, the recognition that such attentiveness creates, and the kinship that it generates expose the fragility of the heteropatriarchal white gaze and constantly undermines the logic on which such gaze is premised.
The work done on this blog will seek, explore and develop such attentive kinship. But here, such attentiveness is not only explored through the need for “realness” as one walks from A to B without breaking into dance or protest, but it also manifests in the awareness and keen attention to the logics of white heteropatriarchy in academic writing and thought production. Working from various corners of the academy, art and activism, the authors of this space write in attentiveness under such gaze and uncover the possibilities and potentials of kinships framed around race, colonialism, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, indigeneity among other markers of hyper/non-visibility.
Yet, a word of caution is necessary here. The narrative of attentive kinship, which I offered here, remains committed to deep seated ambivalence. First, suspicious of grand narratives and of their seeming naturalness, this proposal of attentive kinship is premised on the collectivity of “little narratives (petits recitsi),” to borrow Jean-Francois Lyotard’s formulation. The necessity of little narratives is rooted in the commitment to the irreducibility of these kin approaches, their uniqueness and the necessity to preserve such uniqueness and independence. Kinship, not unity, therefore is proposed as a consistent mode of aspirational recognition, where one sees parts of oneself reflected, reimagined and recreated, but never owned, taken or mimicked in others. As such, this space is not interested in offering meta-narratives or prescribing grand solutions. Instead, it remains intentionally close to particular spaces and certain contexts as they explore the possibilities of new writings and different affects. This connection to one’s own is at once intellectual and ethical. It reflects the authors’ commitment to the intellectual validity of theorizing from non-European contexts, and from deeply detailed contexts. It also exemplifies the ethical commitment to writing one’s own.
Second, this narrative proposal is also disinterested in the romanticization of kinship, of writing or of productivity. To be clear, the kinship proposed here is mandated by living in late capitalism ever attentive to white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. Comforting and empowering as this kinship may be, it remains marred and scarred by the attentiveness, the orientations, the affects and affectations that produced it. In short, kin do not always get along but the recognition upon which kinship is built remains somehow visible, for better or worse. Therefore, the articles in this issue do not necessarily assume a unified approach or pretend agreement. Instead, they offer their collage of pokes and critiques linked in attentiveness, kinship and the “real-ity” of living in late capitalism.
BALDWIN, JAMES, EMILE CAPOUYA, LORRAINE HANSBERRY, NAT HENTOFF, LANGSTON HUGHES, and ALFRED KAZIN. “THE NEGRO IN AMERICAN CULTURE.” CrossCurrents 11, no. 3 (1961): 205-24. P. 205
Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology . Duke University Press. Kindle Edition. Loc 63.
Smith, Zadie. Feel Free (p. 184). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Smith, Zadie. Feel Free (p. 184). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Note the birther movement