I have to write this Phenomenology of Blackness paper.
Seriously, I was having lunch with a colleague who said to me “I don’t read you as a black person,” while I was sitting there, being a black person. Now, this colleague was white, but I’ve had theother threeblack people in my department say the exact same thing. Hell, this was the mantra of my childhood: “you’re not like other black people,” and “I don’t see you as a black people,” or “you’re whiter than us,” or any other structuring of that argument.
I’d like to say that I perform whiteness to an extent, yet the materiality of my black body prevents me from being considered as a black person. To take the words of Sara Ahmed, there is a likeness to whiteness that is seen in my embodiment, but that likeness is seen only after the interaction with my black body. Hence, to whiteness, I am other than other black people, closer to whiteness. Which is generally how it goes: I’m read as white over the phone, through paper submissions, e-mails, etc, and people aresurprisedwhen they meet me that I’m black.
On the other end, the embodiment of whiteness through habit and language tends to mark me as other to blackness, despite the materiality of my body. That is, my behavior and embodiment are read as closer to whiteness, despite the materiality of my black body, and thus I am perceived as different from most of the black people who I’ve interacted with. I’d call this experience unique to me, but I have spoken with several other black people who experience this kind of thing in varying degrees.
So I’d posit that blackness is, in similar ways to whiteness in Sara Ahmed’s view, an uncompleted history that orients bodies against the white space of the world as defined and constructed by colonialism. Further, blackness has an aspect to it that is embodied, performed in such a way to affirm the material reality of a black body: without the performance, the body (despite its material) is read as something other.
I need to get James Major’s “Cool Pose” and re-read Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and Fanon, but I think this is a path worth exploring.