Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The US Decentred: From Black Social Death to Cultural Transformation

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The US Decentred: From Black Social Death to Cultural Transformation

Article excerpt

Frank B. Wilderson III Red, Black & White: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2010 ISBN 9780822347019 RRP US$26.95 (pb)

Patricia de Santana Pinho Mama Africa: Reinventing Blackness in Bahia Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2010 ISBN 9780822346463 RRP US$23.95 (pb)

The following detailed quotations should help readers grasp core ideas of the two books mentioned above, before I proceed to evaluate critically, in a combined review, each publication's approach to its discrete topic.

Frank B. Wilderson III, activist-author-scholar-academic, tackles the topic of racial antagonisms and their representation in socially engaged films and related critical discourse. As such, the aim of his book is to:

embark on a paradigmatic analysis of how dispossession is imagined at the intersection of (a) the most unflinching meditations (metacommentaries) on political economy and libidinal economy (Marxism, as in the work of Antonio Negri, and psychoanalysis, as in the work of Kaja Silverman) (b) the discourse of political common sense, and (c) the narrative and formal strategies of socially or politically engaged films. (7)

For Wilderson, most 'non-White and nonheterosexual people in the United States exist in social and political conflict within its structure' which is different from 'existing in social and political antagonism to its structure', (149-50) and leads Wilderson to claim that his argument 'is one never before made in films studies, Native American Studies, Black Studies, or, for that matter, comparative ethnic studies'. (152) In other words, 'whereas the coherence of Native American cinema may not reproduce the White supremacy of Settler/Master cinema, its grammar of suffering, and the way that grammar labors cinematically depends on what I will call "Savage" Negrophobia-a Native American brand of anxiety as regards the Slave'. (152)

Patricia de Santana Pinho, Assistant Professor in Latin American and Cultural Studies, explores the meanings of Africa in Bahian (Brazil) constructions of blackness. Convinced that '"race" matters in Brazil,' (220) and with her own identity in mind, she goes on to argue:

[a] country that experienced more than three and a half centuries of slavery, and a more recent governmental policy explicitly aimed at whitening the population, not to mention everyday forms of color discrimination in domestic life, cannot be imagined to be immune to the power of 'race' ... All I can add is that, more important than being Brazilian, nordestina, female, Bahian, mestiça, or claiming any other identity that would grant me fragmented rights within the Babylonic structure of capitalism, I opt to be increasingly human. I want to strengthen my own humanity, and not in an egotistical way. (220, 223)

Wilderson's analytic framework is mainly structural and descriptive, while Pinho's accents the importance of reinventing Africa within diasporic black communities. Furthermore, Pinho demonstrates ways in which, even when abused, recreations of Africa have often incited and driven 'black resistance'. (1) Framing her analysis between race, culture and identities in contemporary Bahia,1 Pinho engages with three major debates in Cultural Studies: the importance of black diasporic cultures, race as a notion and 'the essentialism' of racial identities. (3, 4, 5, 11, 59-60)


Wilderson's style of writing is persuasive while his passionate, uncompromising commitment to every word, passage, idea in his book is undeniable. At the same time, Wilderson shows impatience and, at times, barely controlled anger or irritation with aspects of his topic that leads to weaknesses in his book to which I shall return. In the meantime, Red, White and Black's most persuasive aspects are as follows.

As we shall see below, blacks in the US cannot and do not have ontology, or so Wilderson argues, denying with the same breath the workability of analogy as a method, because analogy can only be a ruse. …

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