“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein
“He who is reluctant to recognize me opposes me.” Frantz Fanon
The performance of violence on black bodies, in its theatrical nature, has become numbing, so much that it raises no eyebrows; or agitate blacks to revolt against that same violence.
Saidiya Hartman, however, through her reading of Fredrick Douglass, brings us to understand how violence was necessary in the making of a slave. Violence, in the physical and psychological sense, has always been central in the enslavement or turning-into-property of black people; to rob them of their humanness, subsequently, labour and resources. The continued slave-making of blacks for production, therefore, is denial of their humanness and reluctance to recognise them as human.
Notwithstanding, what accords whites the right to recognise blacks as human, when blacks know that they are? This question cannot be answered with simplicity that pays no regard to how multifaceted and complex the situation of blackness is; and how whiteness is always implicated in the former. The master knows that the slave is human, and so does the slave. The line of divide between them, however, made possible through racist domination and subordination of the slave, makes it improbable for the slave, even as human, to afford a life, or live, as one.
There is a complex of domination, made up of interlocking systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism and the killing of indigenous knowlegdes of the world (epistemicide); among others. Gender and class must not be studied outside the context of slavery, mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The turning-into-property of black people and the subsequent killing of their languages makes it improbable for the subject to make meaning and develop an understanding of the situation in which they find themselves in the world. It has become insurmountable for the African to make a study on gender and class, oftentimes race too, outside the Euro-American epistemological frameworks. This goes on as if the project of decolonisation was not one of making and developing an understanding of the world, outside the imperialist Europe.
In the struggle of blacks regaining their humanness and asserting their personhood, language becomes necessary than not. Put differently, the epistemological is the necessary part of black struggle. Frank Wilderson has somewhere written that the suffering bestowed ‘pon black people is one without analogue, for blacks do not have the grammar to account for the suffering. In any case with regard to class analysis, is there any African scholarship on class and capital before or during the time of Karl Marx? If yes, does the constant reference to Marx not further kill or subdue the work of those African scholars or an epistemic understanding of class and capital from an African perspective?
Walter Mignolo has once written, that, “…languages are not just ‘cultural’ phenomena in which people find their ‘identity’; they are also the location where knowledge is inscribed. And, since languages are not something human beings have but rather something of what humans beings are, coloniality of power and of knowledge engendered the coloniality of being.” It is in this sense that language should be understood, so African epistemes can be recognised and exalted to something of value.
Ndumiso is a member of Black Space.