What has made anti-black violence such a predominant feature of life not only in the U.S. but around the world? Why does race seem to color almost every feature of our moral and political universe?
How does slavery, in all of its cultural, intellectual, and other modern forms, continue to define the African American experience?
Frank B. Wilderson explores those questions – newly resonant in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers – in his new book Afropessimism, which the University of California, Irvine, professor discusses in a special, two-part online Library event. After his brief presentation, he is joined by former Library media specialist Lorenzo Butler in an expanded conversation on the challenges inherent to the lives of African Americans.
Wilderson grew up in the 1960s in a predominantly white neighborhood in Minneapolis, where he said his academic parents “did not want me to be a discredit to my race.” Thus, he couldn’t dance or sing in talent shows. He had to memorize poems and recite the likes of Kipling’s Gunga Din “to show how intelligent I was.” He became one of our most profound scholars on the black experience in America and a co-architect of Afropessimism, an increasingly prominent intellectual movement that sees blackness through the lens of perpetual slavery.
He argues that blacks, unlike any other disenfranchised group, essentially will remain slaves in a world in which they can never be truly regarded as human beings, where, “at every scale of abstraction, violence saturates black life.”
Wilderson is a professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at UC Irvine and the author of two other books, Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid and Red, White & Black. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Creative Nonfiction, among other literary honors.
Butler was part of the Library's public affairs staff for seven years, until October 2013, and now is the director of business communications for the National Basketball Association's Miami Heat.