In everyday parlance, anti-blackness refers to the specific forms of racism contingent upon or cast through the denigration, disenfranchisement, and disavowal of people racialized as Black (and their attendant cultural practices and production). Additionally, anti-blackness is a term that attempts to more accurately name particular types of racist attitudes and practices that are levied against Black people specifically, which can potentially become attenuated through broader terms like racism, or subsumed and obfuscated by popular framings like People of Color (POC).
As a theoretical concept, anti-blackness is indebted to the work of Afro-pessimists. Afro-pessimists approach blackness as an ontological conundrum. They postulate the impossibilities of Black subjecthood and Black humanity, and maintain that the negation and even violent annihilation of Black people is a structuring feature of the western (specifically within the context of the United States) society. Moreover, they trouble the reconciliation of blackness to notions of citizenship and the self, and instead proffer that blackness continues to function as that which is irretrievably bereft as articulated by theories like Orlando Patterson’s social death, or Sadiya Hartman’s the afterlife of slavery. Furthermore, Afro-pessimism argues that any generative understandings of blackness must account for this truism.
As an intellectual concept then, anti-blackness takes a cue from Afro-pessimism to consider how this antagonistic and even antithetical relationship between blackness and subjecthood/humanity manifests across individuals and institutions to engender, uphold, and propagate antipathy towards and exclusion of Black people. Relatedly, anti-blackness must be understood as being operationalized and impactful in nuanced ways and as always already interfacing with a number of different social, cultural, historical, technological factors that have significant analytical as well as material implications. For example, scholar Moya Bailey is credited with coining the term misogynoir. According to Bailey, misogynoir “describes the co-constitutive, anti-Black, and misogynistic racism directed at Black women, particularly in visual and digital culture” (Bailey). Bailey and other scholars who continue to offer nuance to theories of anti-blackness impel us towards a critical vigilance of the efficaciousness and labor of framings of anti-blackness particularly as related and seemingly collegial ideas such as anti-racism establish themselves as at home in the public discourse.
Bailey, Moya. "Misogynoir in Medical Media: On Caster Semenya and R. Kelly." Catalyst, vol.2, no. 2, Sept. 2016, pp. 1-31.
Dumas, Michael J. "Against the Dark: Antiblackness in Education Policy and Discourse." Theory Into Practice, vol. 55, no. 1, 2016, pp. 11-19.
Dumas, Michael J., and Kkhana miraya ross. "Be Real Black for Me’ Imagining BlackCrit in Education." Urban Education, vol. 51, no. 4, 2016, pp. 415-442.
Dumas, Michael J. "Losing an Arm’: Schooling as a Site of Black Suffering." Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 17, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1-29.
Garriott, Patton O. et. al. "Anti-Black Racism, Self-Esteem, and the Adjustment of White Students in Higher Education." Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, vol. 1, no. 1, 2008, pp. 45.
Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. Macmillan, 2008.
Lindsey, Treva B. "Ain’t nobody got time for that: Anti-Black girl violence in the era of# SayHerName." Urban Education 53.2 (2018): 162-175.
Madriaga, Manuel. "Antiblackness in English Higher Education." International Journal of Inclusive Education, vol. 22, 2018, pp. 1-15.
Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death : a Comparative Study. Harvard University Press, 1982. Print.
ross, kihana miraya. "Call it what it is: Anti-blackness." Opinion. New York Times, 4 June 2020.
Sexton, J. "People-of-Color-Blindness: Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery." Social Text, vol. 28, no. 2, 2010, pp. 31 – 56.
Sexton, J. (2008). Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism. University of Minnesota Press, 2008
Wilderson III, Frank B. Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms. Duke University Press, 2010.