This panel proposes to contribute to CESA’s invitation to interrogate the limitations of critical ethnic studies by investigating the relationship between CES and black studies. We aim to pursue this agenda by extending the critical work by black feminists that has complicated our relationship to the transgenerational struggle with slavery’s afterlife, the collective and ongoing assault of antiblack sexual violence.
This panel suggests that despite its vigorous and productive endeavor to renovate the staid field of ethnic studies, CES has nonetheless carried forward some of the former’s antiblack traditions. We aim to investigate how these preoccupations of critical ethnic studies create a “crowding out scenario,” as Frank Wilderson puts it, for ethical accounts of black suffering and struggle. What are these preoccupations that render black subjects captive to non-black interests and fungible backdrops/implicit shadow figures/phobogenic specters for antiblack political claims? Their assumptive logics privilege a comparative methodology that necessarily relies upon a rubric of exploitation and alienation (whether from the dislocations of capital, colonization, patriarchy, or a mutually imbricated, and overgeneralized, process of hierarchical oppression supposedly articulating non-white subjects) as the lingua franca of racialization, and hence, of suffering and justice—overlooking the structural positionality that exceeds the empirical registers of lived experience, identification, or consciousness and in which blackness continues to serve as the human surrogate par excellence.
In her well-known take on bodily subjection, Hortense Spillers reads slavery as the institutionalization of bodily rupture. For Spillers, the articulation of sex, violence, and use means that black people cannot form bodies—they exist, rather, as mere “flesh.” Without bodies to claim as their own, writes Spillers, they are also structurally precluded from claiming “relations” between themselves. For our proposed panel, we will examine how the black studies archive is rendered as the degraded flesh within the critical ethnic studies epistemic framework, and how we might recover the “slave estate” that haunts the field writ large. Tiffany King examines the relationship between black studies and settler colonial studies; Sarah Ohmer explores the connections between black feminism and canonical ethnic studies feminists such as Gloria Anzaldua; and Tryon Woods offers a re-appraisal of recent developments within the critical ethnic studies fold—namely, Roderick Ferguson’s concepts of “queer of color critique” and “comparative racialization.” Central to each presentation is a re-centering of the relations of slavery, what Christina Sharpe has indelibly termed the “monstrous intimacies” of antiblack sexual violence that persistently animate black freedom struggles across the eras.