After Elizabeth’s presentation on Wednesday, I have been thinking a lot about how James Baldwin engages with Frank B. Wilderson III’s critical framework, Afropessimism, through his discussion of Richard Wright’s life, work, and legacy.
In Alas, Poor Richard, Baldwin speaks on how his relationship with Wright and Wright’s work has evolved as Wright’s life came to its “untimely” (Baldwin CE 247) conclusion in Paris. Baldwin notes that Paris—among other European cities—was perceived as a “city of refuge” (Baldwin CE 249) for Black Americans in the 1960’s who had the means to emigrate from the US.
Perhaps this act of Black American’s seeking refuge on European soil during the height of the Civil Rights Movement can be seen as an attempt to decolonize oneself and one’s history. It’s not like decolonization through the adoption of Pan-Africanism into one’s American life; this does not do much to decolonize one’s surroundings. And it’s not like decolonization via Garveyism’s Back-to-Africa Movement; the effects of slavery and colonization still reside in African nations. Immigrating to Europe, home of numerous imperial nations, seems like it could be a step toward decolonization…or at least an ironic escape from a colonized reality. After all, the United States has been tainted with the tattoo of Afropessimism. Ever since the first African native was stolen from their own soil and enslaved by colonists, Blackness become “synonymous with Slaveness” or what I’d call irrredemption (Wilderson III).
However, as we talked about in class, the treatment of Black people and Black Americans in European cities is still far from that of a first-class citizen. Professor Kinyon shared with us an example of the subtle differences in how Black American immigrants and Black African immigrants are treated in Ireland: native Black Africans fall victim to more overt racism, while Black Americans are viewed with slightly higher regard (because of their “marginal whiteness” or closeness to whiteness as Americans). It seems as though Europe [and other continents]’s Knowledge and recognition of the history of Black peoples as a result of colonization leaves Blackness inseparable from Slaveness, yet again.
Now, I wonder, if Afropessimism knows no borders, is there hope at all for full redemption for the Black Individual? And if no, is any effort in the direction of redemption (even if unsuccessful) more destructive to decolonization than it is constructive?