Black Consciousness: Political Realities

Monday, February 28, 2022 - 1:00pm
Lewis R. Gordon

Lewis R. Gordon examines the distinction between black and Black consciousness, and the conception of political life at work in the latter as a commitment to the struggle for liberation and freedom. Lower-case black consciousness, he argues, is the form of consciousness imposed upon people racialized as black in the Euromodern world of global capitalism and colonialism. Upper-case Black consciousness is the active understanding of colonized and racialized peoples as agents of history who, along with all those whom Frantz Fanon characterized as “the Damned of the Earth,” who break the bonds of caricatured two-dimensional history into the dialectical openness of possibility.

This talk is based on Lewis Gordon’s newest book Fear of Black Consciousness just published. At the heart of capitalism and Euromodern colonialism is a set of lies through which humanity is presumed closed in locked binaries of conquerors and conquered and their accompanying forms of invisibility: racialization, primitivization, silencing, exoticization, and (as Boaventura de Sousa and others have shown) epistemicide. These lies, Gordon argues, construct dominated and oppressed peoples as problems instead of as human beings attempting to live in societies that produce problems. Such lies are antipathetic to understandings of power suitable for human relations of social existence. Premised upon livable conditions for the few and liberty at the price of freedom, the dominating logic is of exclusion instead of inclusion, of supposed democracy for some instead of for all, of dependency on enslavement and dehumanization instead of the creative practice of decolonizing normative life and the liberation of life-affirming action. While it is imperative to unveil the fraud of white supremacy, Gordon argues it is also necessary to destroy that of antiblack racism because anti-whiteness doesn’t entail the elimination of antiblackness. Antiblack racism, he shows, is ultimately antidemocratic, and, through a discussion of what it means for politics (versus rule) to emerge, anti-political. This places black and Black liberation and freedom at the heart of challenging right-wing-oriented and, ultimately, fascist models of responding to the contingencies of human existence.

A long-time member of the Radical Philosophy Association, Lewis R. Gordon is Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy at UCONN-Storrs; Honorary President of the Global Center for Advanced Studies; Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa; and Honorary Professor in the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University, South Africa. He co-edits the journal Philosophy and Global Affairs, the Rowman & Littlefield book series Global Critical Caribbean Thought, and the Routledge-India book series Academics, Politics and Society in the Post-Covid World. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (Routledge, 2021) and Fear of Black Consciousness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022; London: Penguin Books,  2022) and as a Macmillan Audiobook (read by Landon Woodson and Lewis R. Gordon); with German translation, Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, forthcoming; Brazilian Portuguese translation, São Paulo: Todavia, forthcoming; Portugal Portuguese translation, Lisbon: Penguin Random House Portugal, forthcoming). He lectures and is involved in political and artistic projects across the globe. His twitter page is: