Searching for hope amid hopelessness: The modern evolution of Afro-pessimism and social death

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2020-12

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Abstract

Following the rise of social unrest across the modern, 2020 American landscape, a greater emphasis has been placed on America’s complex history of racial inequality. Specifically, the renewed focus on Black disenfranchisement and racial inequality has brought the field of Afro-pessimism into the foreground of academic and cultural discussions, sparking conversations surrounding the validity of the Afro-pessimist concept of social death. The notion of social death—which is based around the core idea that non-Black subjectivity is dependent upon Black desubjectivation—is defined by an inherent sense of permanent inescapability. However, the groundswell of social change taking place in 2020 has raised the question: Is Black social death inherently inescapable regardless of social change or progress? By examining the malicious treatment of Colin Kaepernick, as well as the literary depictions of race and social death in the works of Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, and Kazuo Ishiguro, it is made evident that social death is not a static social construct. While Kaepernick’s contemporary treatment reflects the present conceptualization of social death, the literary landscapes created by Butler, Whitehead, and Ishiguro reveal the evolutionary nature of social death and challenge the rigidity of both Afro-pessimism and Black social death. Rather than accepting the current structure of social death, the three authors posit social realities in transition, neither tethered to the traditionally rigid notion of Black social death nor free of social and racial inequalities.

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Keywords

Afro-pessimism, Afrofuturism, Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, Kazuo Ishiguro, Social death, Frank Wilderson, The Nickel Boys, Never Let Me Go, Parable of the Sower, Dawn, Colin Kaepernick

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