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Physics of Blackness

Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology

Michelle M. Wright
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt130jtph
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  • Book Info
    Physics of Blackness
    Book Description:

    What does it mean to be Black? If Blackness is not biological in origin but socially and discursively constructed, does the meaning of Blackness change over time and space? InPhysics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology, Michelle M. Wright argues that although we often explicitly define Blackness as a "what," it in fact always operates as a "when" and a "where."

    By putting lay discourses on spacetime from physics into conversation with works on identity from the African Diaspora,Physics of Blacknessexplores how Middle Passage epistemology subverts racist assumptions about Blackness, yet its linear structure inhibits the kind of inclusive epistemology of Blackness needed in the twenty-first century. Wright then engages with bodies frequently excluded from contemporary mainstream consideration: Black feminists, Black queers, recent Black African immigrants to the West, and Blacks whose histories may weave in and out of the Middle Passage epistemology but do not cohere to it.

    Physics of Blackness takes the reader on a journey both known and unfamiliar-from Isaac Newton's laws of motion and gravity to the contemporary politics of diasporic Blackness in the academy, from James Baldwin's postwar trope of the Eiffel Tower as the site for diasporic encounters to theoretical particle physics' theory of multiverses and superpositioning, to the almost erased lives of Black African women during World War II. Accessible in its style, global in its perspective, and rigorous in its logic,Physics of Blacknesswill change the way you look at Blackness.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4350-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction. Many Thousands Still Coming: Theorizing Blackness in the Postwar Moment
    (pp. 1-36)

    For a few centuries now, Blackness has been big business, attracting attention and reaping raw profit not only in the West but increasingly in the world at large. In one of its earliest and most famous manifestations, Blackness was sold as a balm to white self-regard and resulted in a fantastic boon in profits when African slaves were marketed as “Negroes”—a distinctly subhuman species who possess, Thomas Jefferson remarked, “that immovable veil of black,”¹ thus excusing from further consideration the accusations of inhuman practice lobbed by abolitionists. Today, the myriad ways in which Blackness is sold is dizzying: its...

  4. 1 The Middle Passage Epistemology
    (pp. 37-72)

    This chapter focuses on how the Middle Passage epistemology both operates and “stalls,” revealing how it sometimes fails in its attempt to represent an integrative and diverse representation of Blackness in its construction of collective Black identities in the West. It also shows how these limitations are caused by logical paradoxes that result from understanding time as linear and progressive. I begin with a brief exploration of the linear progress narrative as it is defined in lay discourses on theoretical particle physics and then discuss the specific behavior of this spacetime when it is used to define Black collective identities....

  5. 2 The Problem of Return in the African Diaspora
    (pp. 73-108)

    Its implied diasporic scope complicates the Middle Passage epistemology, thereby suggesting that the question of returning, whether physically or metaphysically, to the collective’s point of origin inevitably arises. Rendered in its most basic form, a linear progress narrative struggles to be diasporic, because the notion of return suggests a reversal of the progressive direction from the narrative’s origin to the present day/era. Nondiasporic epistemologies accommodate the idea of return more easily—they chart an (uncritical) march forward through progress, but they do look back. Indeed, the problem of return and the paradoxes it entails attend any linear progress narrative: to...

  6. 3 Quantum Baldwin and the Multidimensionality of Blackness
    (pp. 109-140)

    What do James Baldwin and the quantum—a discrete quantity of energy whose non-Newtonian behavior has made it one of the foci of theoretical particle physics—have in common? Notably, in the introduction to their volumeJames Baldwin: America and Beyond, Cora Kaplan and Bill Schwarz produce Baldwin as a puzzle, difficult to categorize based on his quantum-like, peripatetic movement: “In no department of his life was Baldwin ever won by the concept of ‘a straight line.’ We can see evidence of this in his prose . . . adding subclause to subclause and detour to detour. Even so, when...

  7. 4 Axes of Asymmetry
    (pp. 141-172)

    The discipline known as Black Atlantic studies has, arguably, long escaped the confines of its explicit spatial and temporal parameters—at least informally. Scholars such as Ivan Van Sertima, Stefan Goodwin, Jeremy Lawrance, and John K. Brackett have uncovered Atlantic histories of Black Africans and Black Europeans who lived before “Blackness” was invented as a racial category—indeed, before “Europe” was conceived as an organizing identity for the Western part of the Eurasian continent.¹ The historians Edward Alpers (“The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean”)² and Cassandra Pybus (Black Founders)³ have complicated our understanding of Middle Passage trajectories, showing us...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 173-176)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 177-190)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-202)
  11. Index
    (pp. 203-209)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 210-210)