BAR Book Forum: Zoé Samudzi and William C. Anderson’s As Black as Resistance
“Siccing law enforcement on Black people could arguably be understood as attempted murder.”
In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured authors are Zoé Samudzi and William C. Anderson. Samudzi is a writer and doctoral student in Medical Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. Anderson is a freelance writer whose work has been published by the Guardian, MTV, Truthout, and Pitchfork, among others. Their book is As Black as Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Liberation.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Zoé Samudzi: I think this book can help BAR readers understand that this present fascist moment is something of an inevitability because American constitutionalism, despite its promises of equal rights, is built upon the genocide and land theft of indigenous people and the creation of a permanent Black underclass. Because the American social contract was created so that certain people were already excluded and denied rights and freedoms, legal instruments were created so that anyone’s rights were subject to removal depending on the whims of the presidential administration. And as we’ve seen in the year and a half of Donald Trump’s presidency, the freedoms and safety of non-white people, religious minorities, immigrants (both documented and otherwise), queer and trans people, disabled people, sex workers, and working class communities have come under threat through entirely legal legislation and judicial challenges. Fascism is not simply heralded in by a charismatic leader: it has historically been a result of the institutional collaboration and appeasement, an accommodating social environment that shares its values (in the United States this means anti-blackness and white supremacist order, a trust in state authority), piecemeal changes and targeting of specific communities, and a populous willing to be mobilized, among other things. I hope the book helps BAR readers understand that American constitutionalism is not as watertight in its protections as we have come to believe it is.
William C. Anderson: Hopefully one of the primary things As Black as Resistance can do for readers is incite more action against the failures of liberalism. In the original essay we wrote that inspired this text, that was one of our primary goals. I’d like to think that we kept that conversation going throughout the book and expanded it into other realms of discussion. Ultimately, we need a true opposition in this country and the call to create that opposition is an urgent one. This isn’t a sectarian text, it’s not just for anarchists, it’s for people who are tired of all this ridiculousness and who want to see better in their lifetime. We go about explaining our thoughts around that by talking about the anarchism of blackness. That’s how we refer to the Black experience in this antagonizing environment that is the U.S.A. There’s a lot of potential in appreciating the intricacies of Black survival.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
Zoe: I am not an organizer so I would never act as though I have authoritative insight about what exactly the boots on the ground should be doing. But I largely hope that this book will inspire us to be efficient with our activist energies. What I mean is that state repression is coming from so many different directions and so many of the groups and individuals responding to it are people who are both activated against it and targeted by it. People are fatigued and burning out and being heavily surveilled and under-resourced, and some people are turned into informants to infiltrate and destroy units from the inside. Our work is an uphill battle and so we cannot afford to egoistically work in vacuums so as to command acclaim or replicate ongoing struggle: it’s urgent that organizing that seeks to challenge harmful state structures is communicative and that groups interact and support one another as is possible, and that work seeks to engage the fundamental causes of our marginalization as well as the symptoms of it. I hope that non-Black racial justice organizers who read this, in particular, will be honest and reflexive about their complicity in anti-blackness and be cognizant that white supremacy is not solely perpetuated by white people. I hope that all organizers are connecting white nationalism/fascism and settler colonialism and Islamophobia and neoliberalism and the War on Drugs and environmental racism at home to empire—which encompasses all these violences—abroad.
William: I was taking a “break,” kind of, from organizing a few years back in my mid-twenties. I initially began writing more because I noticed I could reach a lot of people that way. I wanted to inspire people and I was frustrated with so much of the liberal politics, non-profit industrial complex, and cult of personality I was seeing in movements. We have activists who are deemed leaders, often by the media, and they integrate seamlessly into celebrity culture. The problems with this sort of trend, which was going on long before our generation, is that it undermines everything we’re working for. If being a “successful” leader means proximity to capital or being an executive director in NYC making a quarter million, we’re in big trouble. I hope that activists will tear down what we’ve been told success and leadership is and refashion a movement that’s for people’s benefit, not personal benefit. Folks are not commodities and the problems of the world today shouldn’t be an outlet for people to amass social capital as well as actual currency. We need strong opposition that’s ready to fight for the basic rights we all deserve that are egregiously lacking in this country. We need healthcare, labor rights, environmental protections, thriving communities, and more. These aren’t partisan issues, this is nonnegotiable. We are owed.
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
Zoe:I hope that readers, specifically non-black and specifically white readers, will disabuse themselves of the notion that the state exists to “protect and serve” anything but the interests of white capital and stop calling the fucking police on Black people. We’ve seen, time and time again, white people calling the police on Black folks for both minor offenses and conflicts that could easily be mediated and de-escalated without involving law enforcement. I hope that, by showing that anti-blackness and Black death must be produced in order to maintain American social order, that people realize that siccing law enforcement on Black people could arguably be understood as attempted murdergiven officers’ impunity and willingness to use fatal force in these encounters. Through easing and unlearning our reliance on the police, I also hope that people can begin to better understand how to create their own community safety networks that don’t mirror and reproduce white supremacist vigilantism embodied by the police or the likes of George Zimmerman.
William:Liberalism. People associate liberalism with opposition to the right, but it’s just not that. It’s a compromise with the right-wing. As things have gotten worse, the liberal political establishment has only negotiated people into more ridiculousness absurdities. This isn’t an accident, this is because the liberal political establishment is just as interested in maintaining the same terrible things empire represents as the right. If there’s disagreement at all, it’s only on how empire should manifest itself or look as far as presentation goes. Instead of activists, organizations, and movements feeding into the Democratic Party and hoping to secure transformation therein, it’s a hope that people will let go of this bad relationship. A left is crucial and not a left of center on the right side of the political spectrum. We need a real left that is going to make sure people get what they need and don’t treat human rights like negotiable things.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
Zoe: My intellectual heroes are mostly Black women. I have a deep respect, of course, for Mariame Kabe’s work and how she persistently and consistently puts often abstract transformative justice & abolitionist politics into really clear words and praxis. I am inspired by Christina Sharpe’s “wake work,” Saidiya Hartman and Hortense Spillers’ gendering of social death, and the OG Sylvia Wynter who set that project into motion. Alexander Weheliye and Tina Campt are two scholars who are not only deeply invested in the Black feminist project writ large, but they make incredible biopolitical interventions around visual culture and technologies, describing how the things we observe and consume are unavoidably imbued with (often anti-Black) meaning and that Black feminist/Afro futurity can provide us with tools for asserting our own liberatory gazes—that means a lot to me as a photographer, and so does the work of John Berger who provided my first clear set of instructions around conflating artistic and “rigorous” academic gazes in Ways of Seeing. Carrie Mae Weems, Wangechi Mutu, Lorna Simpson, Deana Lawson, Okwui Okpokwasili, Teju Cole are artists whose creative sensibilities always make me pause and think (and reconsider and reimagine). I’ve also got a lot of contemporaries—too many to name and I don’t want to try for fear of accidental omission—whose thoughtful work I always try to put into conversation with my own.
William: Lorenzo Komboa Ervin really helped me in a lot of ways. When I met him, that’s where this all started coming together for me. When I started reading his book, I was blown away by how easily he was explaining away all the nonsense. We’re not saying a whole lot that hasn’t already been said by him and others. I’m inspired by people who are well known and people who are not well known. I am inspired by people who are very compassionate and thoughtful and also people who are deeply problematic, sometimes very troubling. It’s complex how inspiration happens with me.
I have a deep appreciation for these people in no particular order: My mother, Mariame Kaba, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman, Nawal El Saadawi, Kwame Ture, Robert F. Williams, Huey P. Newton, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Fanon, Frederick Douglass, Hortense Spillers, Maria Mies, Claudia von Werlhof, Silvia Federici, Jared Sexton, Frank Wilderson, Eunsong Kim, Theodore Foster, and many more. My family and my friends are my heroes and they inspire so much of what I do. Janitors and people who clean up after others in this society are my comrades and they are some of the most inspiring people I know. We would have no world without janitors. There are so many music artists and poets and other creators I should list here too, but I’m getting lengthy. I could list people all day, but I’ll stop here.
In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?
Zoe: I hope that a key takeaway from this book, through trying to demonstrate how so much of public life and sociality in the United States is predicated upon anti-blackness, is reevaluation (or reminder) of what Black people actually deserve: self-determination, life for life’s sake. I hope we are able to convey that the value of Black life is not in our ability to be perfect, good, or even adequate people and victims to deserve empathy. I hope this book is able to co-imagine a world where we not only have “equity,” but a notion of justice that facilitates reparations for historical and ongoing harms, but is built in such a way that it is inhered with safeguards that seek to prevent these structural violences or can judiciously respond to harms when they do occur. As fantastical and utopic as this may sound, there are already projects and organizations and communities mobilizing around these values and I hope this book spurs readers on to support and build upon them.
William: Much of the book is about what’s wrong with this world and if people see the underlying message in the text they’ll see we want better. So many people want better, but they don’t know where to begin. Well, one thing that’s made clear in this text is that we cannot accept the worsening wrongs of this world if we hope to achieve betterment. The world as we know it is unacceptable and part of achieving the world we want is undoing the oppression of this one. It’s easier to imagine the world you want when you can name everything that youdon’twant. By discussing the trouble overwhelming us, we try to paint a picture of possibility.
Roberto Sirvent is Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He also serves as the Outreach and Mentoring Coordinator for the Political Theology Network. He’s currently writing a book with fellow BAR contributor Danny Haiphong called American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of U.S. Empire.