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On Rocks and Hard Places: A Reflection on Antiblackness in Organizing against Islamophobia



Throughout Europe and the Americas, groups and communities have been organizing against Islamophobic violence and policies that seem to be multiplying. France and Quebec have been among the societies whose laws have received international media attention and activist opposition, especially for the manner in which they have regulated religious symbols in the public sphere. By looking at the intersections of antiblackness and Islamophobia, the subjugated position of the Muslim Black subject becomes clearer. Délice Mugabo offers a genealogy of Islamophobia that centers on enslaved Black people rather than the conventional Arab or South Asian figure. Through an Afro-pessimist approach, this article then offers a critique of how antiblackness not only grounds Islamophobic policies but has also shaped grassroots organizing against Islamophobia in Quebec. The article provides a timely inquiry on the antiblackness that is foundational to coalition politics that center the state, citizenship, and rights.
On Rocks and Hard Places: A Reflection on Antiblackness in Organizing against
Author(s): Délice Mugabo
Critical Ethnic Studies
, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Fall 2016), pp. 159-183
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Accessed: 22-11-2016 00:46 UTC
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Critical Ethnic Studies
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P 159 O
On Rocks and Hard Places
A Reection on Antiblackness in
Organizing against Islamophobia
I begin at a place where language ends and where new utterances must
begin. I come to this project trying to nd the language for my own
presence in the New World. My name as slave, or Black female esh, in
the Western Hemisphere is well known by now. However, when I look for
my name at the times when I am made to appear on the blood soaked
clearing,” I am at a loss for words. At the clearing, the space of genocide
and settlement is where I experience a form of aphasia. I do not have a
location or a vantage point from which to orient and understand myself.
Tiany Lethabo King, “In the Clearing
This article focuses on the debate that occurred in  and  in
Quebec on the proposed “Quebec Charter of Values,” which called for
the ban of religious symbols in the public sphere. The debate provides us
with insight into how this so- called distinct nation organizes its policies
and public discussions to construct itself in ways that continue to disappear
Black people. Quebec has its own particular ways of erasing its history of
slavery, while casting white French- speaking Quebecois in innocent histori-
cal roles. I will illustrate how both the detractors and defenders of the char-
ter obscured or cast out the antiblackness that constituted their disparate
political projects. I come to this topic as a Muslim Black feminist raised
in Quebec, whose political trajectory started in various left- wing Quebec
nationalist institutions, leading to what Michel- Rolph Trouillot has called “a
legacy of intimacy and estrangement.1 A primary objective of this research
has been to follow Denise Ferreira da Silvas invitation to “write blackness
back into the political.2
To do this, I begin with a personal anecdote as a case in point of how
Muslim Black people were ejected from the public debate on the Charter of
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Values. I then explain how Afro- pessimism as a theory allows us to under-
stand how Black subjects are evicted from reections and discussions about
social life, leading me to a critical reassessment of conventional scholarly
understandings of Islamophobia that do not acknowledge the specic posi-
tion of the Muslim Black subject. I then historicize the presence of Muslim
Black subjects in North America in the context of enslavement and coloni-
zation, and show how my ontological understanding of antiblackness is
rooted in that history. Tying together the scholarly work on Afro- pessimism
and that on Islamophobia, I bring into focus the gure of the Muslim sub-
ject and how it is imagined in such a way that the possibility of a Muslim
Black subject disappeared during the charter debate. I use the charter to
look at how blackness was outside the relation between the religious and
subjectivity. To reect on this special issues theme, I then oer my critique
of the mobilization that occurred against the charter and how it played into
the Quebec nation- building project. I end with a reection on coalition poli-
tics and oer some questions that arose for me after observing how anti-
blackness was manifest in the anti- Islamophobia organizing that took place
during the debate on the charter.
The “Quebec Charter of Values” was the common name given to proposed
legislation that was rst announced in May  by the newly elected Parti
Québécois (PQ) government and eventually submitted to the National
Assembly as Bill  in September of the same year. The PQ presented the
charter as a solution to the debate that had started in  around the “rea-
sonable accommodation” of religious and cultural minorities in general,
and religious symbols in the public sphere in particular. Arguing that these
“minority” issues had yet to be resolved— and badly needed to be resolved—
the PQ proposed a series of measures that it argued would create the frame-
works needed to ensure the French- Quebecois majority was at ease with
religious and cultural diversity. These frameworks included (a) amending
the Charter of Rights and Liberties, (b) restricting state employees from
wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols, and (c) making it mandatory for
one to uncover their face in order to receive public services.
While much has been written about how racial politics played out dur-
ing the debate on the charter and the racist discourses that its defenders
employed,3 this article argues that opponents of the bill developed their own
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anti- Black strategies. As an example of how antiblackness was manifest in
the organizing against the charter, I oer an experience I had with a group
that I was involved in at the time of the debate, Indépendantistes pour une
laïcité inclusive (Sovereigntists for an inclusive secularism).4 The group mer-
its attention especially because of its composition of high- prole public g-
ures and the discourses that it contributed to produce or propagate through-
out Quebec, which ensured that its ideas played a key role in dening how
people in Quebec understood the parameters of the public debate. The wider
implications of their work points to how white radical and liberal activism
often also serves to rehabilitate and preserve whiteness and white racial rule
and order. My argument is that both the charter and its critics articulated
a vision of a future society that retained key elements of the antiblackness
of the present. The incapacity to imagine a future that is more than a per-
petual repeat of the present— even among activists who dene themselves
as antiracist— should awaken us to some of the limits of coalition politics.
The Indépendantistes organization informally started to take shape in
the summer of  and was ocially formed in early February  in
anticipation of the PQs unveiling of the charter.5 The group, composed of
sovereigntists of various political aliations, was meant to present an alter-
native vision of Quebec and Quebec nationhood to that proposed by the
PQ through the charter. One of its immediate concerns when it was rst
conceptualized was to lobby the Bloc Québécois— a federal political party
whose goal is to represent Quebec’s sovereign interests— to adopt a position
against Bill . Later it developed a wider goal of taking a position against
the charter in order to avoid losing further political support for the sover-
eigntist project from racialized people. In their main public statement, the
group argued that the charter was “a serious strategic mistake”:
A sovereigntist government must avoid adopting policies that systemati-
cally ensure that minorities who feel excluded and oppressed nd refuge in
the protections oered by the federal parliament, and thus, justify a belief
that Canada is the last resort against abuse.6
The group included political activists from all three of the main sovereign-
tist parties in Quebec. I was invited to the group due to my active partici-
pation and membership in both the Quebec feminist movement and the
provinces social democratic political party, Québec Solidaire. Shortly after
the events I describe below, I permanently left Quebec nationalist and white-
led feminist organizing, due to the deep antiblackness at their core.
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From the beginning, at each meeting of the group notable thinkers and
activists would join in. At one meeting, a prominent white francophone
academic known for his research on the Muslim North African community
in Quebec joined the group. I will call him Professor C. As we always did
when new members arrived, the groups existing members took turns intro-
ducing ourselves to the new arrivals. My turn was last but my introduction
did not go as planned. Professor. C boldly interrupted me after I had said
my name: “I don’t understand why you’re here. You’re Black. The charter
has nothing to do with Black people so why are you here?” I was speechless.
After my initial shock, I told him that I am Muslim. He sighed in exas-
peration and replied, “Okay okay, yes there are a few African people who are
also Muslims but this is about Quebecers and Arab people; it has nothing to
do with Black people.” Still in disbelief, all I could say was that whether Black
people are Muslim or not, living in Quebec meant that Black people can
participate in any discussion or debate about life in this province. Nobody
at the meeting interjected against Professor C’s comments.
Noticing that I had mentally checked out of the conversation after my
exchange with Professor C, a white woman cut the introductory part of the
meeting short and explained to everyone around the table that I was part
of the group due to my work in the feminist movement. It seemed at the
time this was her way of reassuring Professor C that I was not there sim-
ply as a Black woman but as someone who had paid her dues in the white
Quebec feminist movement. In any case, I did not read her comments as
an expression of solidarity. To me her comments revealed how femininity
and feminist activism continue to be imagined as the purview of white
women, in a way that could not have been transferred to my Black female
body in that moment, in that meeting, and certainly not in Professor C’s
eyes. So defending my presence in terms of my association to the Quebec
white feminist movement could only fall at. My race, gender, and religious
identity converged in a very specic way in that moment. In many ways,
because so much of the discourse on Islamophobia centers around the bod-
ies of non- Black Muslim women, I could not be Muslim because I am Black,
but also because I am a Black woman. The Arab, Asian, and Persian femi-
ninity that Islamophobes and their counterparts swear to defend and pro-
mote is the same femininity that black women have not possessed ever
since slavery.
That meeting was the last one that I attended. It was also the last time I
was involved in organizing against the charter since I learned that Muslim
Black women were evidently not interpolated to participate in the debate
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as their other “sisters” in Islam were. After the humiliation and the rage,
I decided to revisit that interaction with Professor C and reect on the
place(lessness) of the Muslim Black subject in Quebec.
Afro- Pessimism: Theorizing the Position of the Unthought
Afro- pessimism oers fruitful grounds of analysis to examine how Muslim
Black people were ejected from the debate and organizing around the char-
ter. Afro- pessimism is a theoretical disposition developed in opposition to
Marxist, liberal, and/or New Left perspectives on Black life. In a personal
communication with the author on February , , Black cultural critic
Art McGee described Afro- p essimism as follows: “basically [Afro- pessimism
is] the idea that western society is inherently antagonistic to Africanity and
Black people, that it is anti- Black at its core, that it cannot be reformed in
such a way that would give Black people or African descendant people full
human rights, or that Black people [c]ould come to be recognized as being
a part of the human family, without any qualications or contextual require-
ments.” The central claim here, that Black people are permanently expelled
from the category of the human, is explored in the Afro- pessimist literature.
In general, the claim rests on the observation that modern conceptions of
the human were forged alongside and through relations of racial slavery
that cast Black people as uniquely enslaveable. The characteristics ascribed
to humanness were, not coincidently, those denied to Black people. These
characteristics simultaneously protected non- Black people from enslave-
ment and authorized Black enslavement around the world. Structured by
an anti- Black ontology, racial slavery produced eects that have outlasted
the institution of slavery itself. Conceptions of the human, Afro- pessimists
argue, retain their original anti- Black foundations.7 To be human is thus to
be anything but Black.
As an approach that posits blackness as ontology and not identity, Afro-
pessimism continuously reveals all the ways in which the specic position
that Black people occupy in society cannot be analogized. In other words,
blackness must be addressed in its specicity and singularity. I also nd
Afro- pessimism useful because it allows us to understand how antiblackness
organizes social and political life in contexts where we may least expect it. In
other words, antiblackness was present but obscured in the proposed char-
ter and also manifested itself in the strategies developed by groups oppos-
ing the charter. Using an Afro- pessimist approach allows me to examine how
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antiblackness and Islamophobia serve to evict certain populations from the
category of the human.
Antiblackness has become the subject of an extensive literature that seeks
to disentangle anti- Black subjection from the ostensibly broader category
of racialized.8 In this article, antiblackness is conceived as a structure that is
foundational to the modern world, a structure that was constituted through
racial slavery and that endures into the present, in a period Saidiya Hart-
man calls “the afterlife of slavery.9 Thinking through the constitution and
consequences of this structure is the purpose of the emerging literature
on Afro- pessimism. As Hartman, Frank Wilderson III, and Tiany Lethabo
King have stated, colonialism started with the Middle Passage and Black
people continue this experience regardless of their origins.10 As Quebec
rewrites its founding myths to add secularism as one of its pillars, it is all
the more important that we foreground the place and the role of slavery in
the genealogy of these specic settler- colonial politics.
Afro- pessimist thinkers have been critiqued for overly prioritizing the
American context in their analysis. Notable scholarship has since devel-
oped on antiblackness in Brazil and the Netherlands.11 This article seeks to
expand on the Afro- pessimist literature on antiblackness by oering a case
study in which state policies organize ethnic and religious aliations as a
move to contest or negate blackness.
Islamophobia: On Being a Problem People
Sherman Jackson denes Islamophobia as the production of Muslims as
“problem peoples.12 He then explains that it can be manifested through
misrepresentation, harassment, intimidation, physical violence, and con-
tinued suspicion from private citizens, government ocials, and the many
tentacles of the state apparatus. Some scholars identify the attacks of Sep-
tember , , as a conjunctural moment that heightened and legitimized
Islamophobic discourses and policies in the United States and in Western
society more generally.13 Others date the dening moment to the original
Gulf War in .14 Either way, most scholars of and activists against Islamo-
phobia ground their analysis in Edward Said’s seminal work Orientalism.15
Some scholarship on Islamophobia has attended to Muslim Black popula-
tions specically. Junaid Rana, for example, endeavors to explain how Islam
in particular and religion in general came to be “racialized.” An important
part of the history she recounts is that the initial encounter with Islam in
what is now the United States was through enslaved Africans who arrived in
the Americas already practicing the Muslim faith, some with a knowledge
of the Qur’an and even a mastery of Arabic. “Early on the concept of the
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African Negro was placed into a logic that paired it with Moors, Indians,
and Jews,” Rana writes. “[Thus] in the context of the American colonies
and then the formation of the United States, religion was not far from the
construction of the logic of nation and race.16 Ranas argument is useful in
that she explains how religion did not supersede race through oering
Muslim Black people an entry into citizenship. On the contrary, it became
“part of that continuum that understood Black Muslims as Black” and, I
would add, enslavable.17 Despite Ranas eorts to specify the experiences of
Black Muslims, she eventually falls into the trap of universalizing the racial-
izing tendencies of Islamophobia later in her work. As per an Afro- pessimist
understanding, without oering an analysis of the specicities of the Mus-
lim Black experience, we risk enacting anti- Black modes of thinking.
In other similar work, the Muslim subject is not specied as Arab or
South Asian but is nevertheless treated in a universalistic manner that
forecloses any potential attention to the subject’s racialization as Black. In
Canada, for instance, Sherene Razack’s work has analyzed how public dis-
courses frame Muslim subjects as a risk to Western civilization and how this
myth then serves to cast them out physically and even legally from the pol-
ity.18 Razack focuses on an abstracted Muslim subject that one could assume
applies to all Muslim subjects. Yet her analysis examines how Muslim sub-
jects are “cast out” of the nation or placed in a “state of exception” to the
usual state- based procedural and legal protections aorded to its citizens.
These arguments do not account for the ways that Black people, Muslim
or not, are always already cast outside the categories of the human and the
citizen. The place of Muslim Blacks cannot be fully addressed in work that
universalizes the Muslim subject.
In a promising contribution, Rinaldo Walcott provides us with the con-
ceptual language to avoid such pitfalls through using the gure of the queer
Muslim Black to question how the “Muslim” gure has been represented
since /. For him, “the limits of our imaginations have signicant implica-
tions for our politics of liberation.19 He oers an oppositional history of the
Muslim presence in North America, one that challenges Rana’s version:
Kantian, modernist “Reason” could not make sense of an enslaved Muslim
presence, especially its representativity in Arabic, and in the practice of
Islam, which had to be vigilantly denied and invalidated for Christian doc-
trine to endorse slavery. Thus all enslaved Africans had to be reduced to the
non- religious or the African practices of monotheism (in this case Islam)
had to be ignored and denied since those practices troubled certain Euro-
pean reasons for African enslavement.20
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What is especially useful in Walcotts argument is that it allows us to under-
stand how Muslim Black people have never occupied the same category of
humanity as their Arab co- religionists. Since religion is one key marker of
the human, Arab Muslim subjects, however much they have been reviled in
Western culture in the Saidian sense, remain intelligible as human. Black
subjects, however, could not be read as properly Muslim, because doing so
would make them human and thus un- slavable. Walcott insists that we read
the Muslim presence in North America based on this centuries- old history,
since it is “an intervention that blackens and thus complicates a number of
histories, trajectories and politics.21
While it may seem that non- Black Muslims are also cast out of the
human— there are certainly contexts where violence is inicted on non-
Black Muslim bodies as Muslim— that anti- Islamophobia political strategies
that non- Black Muslims operationalize often rely on antiblackness reminds
us of the dierentiated position of Muslim Black subjects. As an example, in
a February  interview, Samah Jabbari, the spokeswoman of the Cana-
dian Muslim Forum, vociferously argued against the charter. Near the end of
her interview, her argument reached an apex when she said, “We [non- Black
Muslim people] won’t accept to be the slaves, nor the negroes of Quebec.22
Jabbari’s statement (“we will not be the negroes of Quebec”) betrays a
profound conviction that Muslims are not Black and, therefore, will resist
any attempt to be treated as Black people. The statement also reveals black-
ness to be the nothingness that stands in opposition to a beingness; it pres-
ents blackness as a cautionary tale. Such a fear in becoming Black can only
be reality for those who are not Black. That fear also has a geography. The
refusal to become the “negroes of Quebec” makes implicit that there are
places where nonblackness is clear.23 Arab, Persian, and South Asian Mus-
lims declaring their humanity amid discourses that ever- increasingly con-
ate them with terrorism is part of a plight for recognition. Black peoples
experiences of Islamophobia are thus distinct. Attempting to capture this
specicity, I use the concept “anti- Black Islamophobia” through the remain-
der of the article.
Situating Anti- Black Islamophobia in the “Afterlife of Slavery”
Although the case study that I analyze here took place in Quebec, it is
rooted in the continued history of global antiblackness. How antiblackness
structures not only Islamophobia but also activism against it is something
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to which we must continue to pay attention. My aim is to contribute to the
broader reection on anti- Black Islamophobia to which important thinkers
such as Ndella Paye and Joao Gabriell in France, Egbert Martina in the
Netherlands, Donna Auston and Muna Mire in the United States, and Hawa
Mire in Canada have contributed.
Having described the impossibility of a Muslim Black subject in the minds
of both the charter’s supporters and some of its detractors, it is important
that we take a step back here to think about the longer history of such an
impossibility. I want to situate the impossibility of the Muslim Black subject
in North America within a historical framework that takes the trans- Atlantic
slave trade as a dening moment in the dehumanization of Black people
and, notably, of Black people of Muslim faith. This historical perspective
grounds my ontological conception of blackness and of Muslim Black (non)
subjecthood. In so doing, I am suggesting that the erasure of Muslim Black
subjects within Quebec’s public discourse is no accident. Such work brings
us to rethink not only the debate around the Charter of Values in Quebec but
also what we may broadly refer to as secularism in relation to Black subjects.
To be clear, written, oral, and artistic records have shown that Black
people were the rst Muslims on this continent. Black scholars have long
documented the resistance of Muslim enslaved Black people in Brazil and
the United States,24 yet we must further investigate the stories of enslaved
Black people in Canada who were of the Muslim faith. For example, in my
own preliminary research on Black slaves in Quebec, I have found a boy,
Jacques Le Ber, who lived in Montreal and originated from Guinea, a largely
Muslim territory at the time. His owner was Pierre Le Ber, a merchant.
Jacques was baptized at thirty- six years old in  and given the name of
the owner’s father.25 According to some records, Olivier Le Jeune, who is
said to have been the rst Black slave in New France, also originated from
Guinea. Antoine, Archange, Jacques, Jean Boyd, Louis, and Pierre- Joseph-
César were all enslaved Black men and women in Quebec who originated
from Muslim- majority societies.26 Speaking at McGill University earlier this
year, Frank Mackey, a white historian of slavery and Black life in Quebec,
made the claim that a good example of white Quebecers’ historical benevo-
lence toward slaves is that they converted them to Christianity, baptized
them, and gave them Christian names as a way to incorporate them into
society. Mackey’s words were typical of the type of anti- Black violence that
is common in society, in that white society generally judges the unfreedom
of Black people in relative terms— it could have been worse; we treated
slaves well— in order to recenter the experiences of white people and to
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recast Black suering outside the national narrative. Again, the impossibil-
ity of Black life, since it necessarily exposes antiblackness, is manifest, even
in the very moment when slavery is acknowledged at all.
Jacquess probable situation may allow us to retrace the history of Islamo-
phobia in Quebec and to recognize the falsity of the argument about Black
inclusion in Quebec society: such inclusion has never brought freedom or
promise to Black people but has in fact been central to our subjugation.
Converting enslaved Black people in Quebec to Christianity only reinforced
their unfreedom and served to mark their owner’s “humanity.” Jacques’s
case, along with Mackey’s statement, reveals the extent to which Quebec
uses Black bodies to cleanse itself and its history (to make Quebec look
good and allow the French- Quebecois to feel better about themselves). The
forced conversion of Muslim Black slaves in Quebec parallels political proj-
ects such as the charter that seek to regulate and “include” Muslim Black
subjects into white society. This is the larger history of secularism in the
province that Quebec must contend with. Again, these are forms of anti-
blackness masking themselves as a commitment to Black freedom.
The stories of Black people from Guinea who were enslaved in Quebec
show us how being Muslim did not make them unslaveable, nor did their
conversion to Christianity. No religious practice or aliation propelled them
into the category of the human; they always bore the marker of the slave.
Secularism solidies religion as a category that allows non- Black people of
color to be categorized as human. Walcott explains that during slavery,
enslaved African peoples who were Muslims were not recognized as such
but instead were understood as practitioners of various African supersti-
tious and antireligious beliefs and that the fact that the Western denition
of the human has become secular does not translate into a recognition of
various modes of Black religiosity or spirituality.
To further this point, Sylvia Wynters work describes how race is invented
in many ways not just to justify the enslavement of Black people but also
to protect religious subjects from enslavement, which automatically placed
Black people outside of the religious. In actuality, perhaps it is not so much
that they are outside of the religious but rather that they are not taken seri-
ously as religious subjects. Wynter does this by locating the shift from
understanding the world as divided into believers and nonbelievers, as in
the Middle Ages, to white versus nonwhite/Black, after . The important
thing about this shift is that though nonwhite, non- Black, nonbelievers were
seen as nonhuman, they were not constructed as nonhuman enough to be
dragged into trans- Atlantic slavery. Antiblackness had to be invented for that.
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Wynter notably makes this argument in relation to Arabs (Moors).27 In other
words, secularism, for Wynter, has a very particular relationship to anti-
blackness. In her understanding, secularism is constitutive of antiblackness.
As secular as Quebec and Western societies proclaim to be, therefore,
access to the category of the religious is a determination of political subjec-
tivity. The charter illustrates how religion continues to be a descriptor of
the human, and how political society convenes discussions among people
admitted to this category. If we keep in mind that religiosity is a category
reserved for the human, Black religious practices in Quebec remain unintel-
ligible because of their impossibility.
This is why I suggest that secularism (or what is called laicité in Quebec
and in France) did not open up ways for Black people to be recognized as
human. Much of the erasure of the Black subject during the debate on the
charter actually served to negate religious or spiritual Black peoples access
to a category reserved to humans. The charter centers religious identity and
practice as the main point of entry into a conversation on race and racism.
That framing dismisses Black peoples from the conversation because we
do not have a specically recognized religious practice or identity. Religion
continues to oer a door through which some people can enter humanity.
This debate on religion reveals how religious identity is an identity only
accessible to those already considered human.
The Quebec Charter of Values: Looking for My People
From the beginning, the Quebec Charter of Values received widespread sup-
port from the white French- speaking population,28 which represents roughly
 percent of Quebec. In other words, it did not break down along the
familiar federalist and sovereigntist divide but appealed to French- speaking
white people of both major political persuasions, a rare feat in post- s
Quebec politics.29 From artists to former premiers, a wide array of social
actors seemed to have ideas on how to tweak the proposed charter in such
a way as to ensure it would best defend and promote Quebec’s “distinct
nationhood.30 Despite its broad support among white French- speaking
Quebecois, the Charter of Values nevertheless sparked a wide- ranging de-
bate and lively forms of contestation. The bill’s major point of contention
was the interdiction against public- sector employees wearing “ostentatious”
religious symbols (viz. the hijab for Muslim women) at work. It was mainly
this element of the charter upon which opposition groups formed.
While it was certainly premised on the idea that Quebec needed to be
defended (in certain ways), the text of the bill is remarkable in that it does
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not explicitly call out any group in particular. No religious, ethnic, or racial
group is referenced in the text of the charter. Instead, like much modern
legislation, the text is written in a seemingly neutral, abstracted language.
As such, the precise “threat” to Quebec remained opaque. “Quebec values
were repeatedly presented as being in danger, much as the French language
has been over generations. Following its liberal pedigree, it is important to
note that the charter implies we are all Quebecois, and that it aims to make
Quebec better for everybody. At a partisan event called “a secular brunch,
the then minister Bernard Drainville told the crowd: “We decided  years
ago to make French our common language. With the Charter of Values, we
are in continuity with Bill  [that made French the only public language in
Quebec]. As a matter of fact, this Charter . . . is the Bill  of values.31
Behind the seemingly “color- blind” charter, however, was a specic racial
project. The racial content of the project was revealed rather plainly in the
poster that the PQ government published to help people understand exactly
which religious symbols would be banned from the public sphere.32 Among
the banned symbols, the poster illustrated a drawing of a hijab, a niqab,
a kippa, a pendant with a large cross, and a Sikh turban. Revealed here is
the racism of the charter, or its operation as a vehicle through which white
French- speaking Quebecois people regulate a series of brown and Black
bodies who are Muslim, Sikh, or Jewish.
Before continuing with my specic analysis, it is important to situate the
charter within a broader understanding of the relationship between black-
ness and Islam. I argue that the Muslim subject that was at the center of
the charter debate and the organizing against Islamophobia was imagined
as Arab, Persian, or South Asian, and at times as a white convert, but de-
nitely not as Black. It is important to look more closely at that erasure and
think about the political implications of such a negation as we consider how
better to organize against Islamophobia.
Indeed, Black people were absent from any of the religious categories that
the charter sought to regulate. Black people’s religious practices appeared
in the charter debate— when they appeared in the debate at all— in the form
of “irrational” pre- Christian practices. The then minister of culture Maka
Kotto, born in Cameroon, described himself at a press conference as a
“Catholic with shaman tendencies.” To the assembled crowd of journalists,
Kotto said: “If my intention was to play Mystic, I would walk around with
my panther skull on my chest. Its my family totem but I don’t do it because
I adhere to the values that we agreed to adopt in the host society.33 His
intervention was one that introduced illegitimate religious practices in the
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form of African religiosity. As a matter of fact, his words maintained a divi-
sion between what constitutes an authentic religious expression in the rst
place. Indeed, the news headline that followed Kottos press conference
read: “Maka Kotto prefers to leave his panther skull in the closet,” men-
tioning nothing about the religious signicance such a practice may have.
Instead, much as Kotto had intended, African religion and spirituality were
cast aside as antireligion.
Haitian people compose the large majority of the Black community in
Quebec, and how the media portrayed Maka Kottos religious practice is
very much in line with the way that Haitian voodoo often appears as spec-
tacle in and for white Quebec imagination and consumption. Kotto is
encouraged to make a caricature of what Black religiosity may look like:
relegated to the absurd, unthinkable, or only thinkable in the space of a
prehistoric sub- Saharan Africa. In this respect, although Bill  is anti-
Muslim, in a sense Islam is still legible as a modern “threat.” This relates
to the violence of Professor C’s insults in that he expressed not only the
impossibility of Muslim Blacks but also the impossibility of Black religios-
ity within global modern politics. It is interesting how Muslim Blacks are
not “true Muslims” because Kottos comments also suggest that Catholic
Blacks are not true Catholics. Rather, Muslim Blacks and Catholic Blacks
are congured as almost- civilized Black people who are attempting to enter
civilized religion, and thus exiting blackness and entering the category of
human. As Zakiyya Jackson so poignantly argues, “There are no practices
that an individual black person can take up that will settle once and for
all the doubt that accompanies the assertion of a black humanity.34 Here
Jackson echoes the core argument in Calvin Warren’s “Onticide.35 In that
important work, Warren writes that we cannot speak of identity, sexuality,
gender, or even orientation as it applies to the Black subject because these
are categories that belong to the human, one in which the Black subject
does not belong. When state and white social power intervenes on their
lives, it is because their blackness, and not their religiosity, embodies vio-
lence and terror.
While some may consider it to be positive that the bill did not explicitly
target Black people, we need to be wary of these types of silences because
there is no such thing as benevolence in white supremacy. These absences
speak to the ways in which the charter sets a perimeter around those who
are always already constituted as political subjects and those who may only
become subjects if they follow the proper trajectory. Both the invisibility
of the Muslim Black in the charter debate and the continued unthinkability
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of Black religious practice suggest that blackness is itself imagined as out-
side the religious. Black people occupy a position that is rendered to some
extent as a temporal/racial outside and antipolitical in the sense of being
ontologically antisocial and anticivil.
Although race and racism were always the elephant in the room during
the debate on the charter, blackness, antiblackness, or the Black experience
never entered the public conversation. A popular reason for the general dis-
regard of antiblackness in the debate was the small number of Muslim Black
people in relation to either Arab or South Asian Muslims. The fact remains
that Black lives do not matter, regardless of how numerous we are. As Jared
Sexton writes, in a U.S. context where African Americans constitute a
numerical majority in several important urban centers, “black suering—
especially in its gendered and sexual variations— is in no way visible, known,
remembered, or properly told. . . . Such exposure is structurally foreclosed
by the force of antiblackness.36 And so it is in Quebec as well.
I will now steer the discussion toward the aspects of coalition building that
from the outset limited the scope of Black politics within the coalition: rst,
citizenship and democracy, and second, “unity.” Both sides of the debate
used as a starting point the notion that Quebec is not and never was racist.
Among those who opposed the charter, the group that garnered the widest
support and received the most attention in the media was Québec Inclusif,
which was started by “academics and professionals from the legal, philo-
sophical and journalistic elds.37 Québec Inclusif’s manifesto states that
“with this draft Charter of Values, the PQ fullls its shift from a civic or
liberal nationalism towards an exclusionary one” and that it is “at great risk
of weakening . . . Québécois identity rather than strengthening it.38 Indeed,
many opposed the charter because they saw it as a setback from the work
that Quebec has done over the past three decades to acquire a respectable
status among other Western nations (and also win over “immigrants” to the
sovereigntist camp). Interestingly, both “sides” of the debate on the charter
presented their arguments such that it was their shared long- term objective
to make Quebec into a model postracial society. This excerpt is from the
conclusion of the Québec Inclusif manifesto:
The proposed Charter of Values would force minorities to choose between
their conscience and their survival. Never in history has exclusion in this
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form been a part of Québécois values. Québec has for long been a warm and
welcoming land where each person could contribute to our great social
tapestry. We believe that it’s through greater social diversity, not by ostraciz-
ing certain individuals that we can continue to live in harmony. Québec
identity is not built upon the rejection of the Other.39
Perfectly in synch with Québec Inclusif’s framing of the issue, part of the
discursive strategy that was mobilized by non- Black Muslims who were
active during the debate on the charter was to appeal to the state as citizens.
Every time they were heard in public during the debate, they would preface
their statements with appeals to their Quebecois pedigree. In a radio inter-
view in April , Rachida Azdouz (a professor at Université de Montréal)
became audibly irritated after being asked to speak as a Muslim. She ex-
plained that other (non- Black) Muslims like her consider themselves as
citizens rst:
I hear a dierent discourse that is about associating oneself to a citizenship.
What they say is that Islam is not a citizenship. They say that for them,
Islamlandia is not a country, Muslimlandia doesn’t exist. . . . And these peo-
ple claim a dual citizenship. They are Canadian and Algerian, Canadian
and Tunisian, Canadian and Moroccan, Canadian and Afghan, but don’t
want to be considered Canadian and Muslim because Muslimlandia doesn’t
exist. Islam is not a country and not a citizenship and thats what I hear from
This type of discourse on rights and citizenship is not one that corresponds
to the position of the Black subject, nor does it address the project of Black
freedom. Saidiya Hartman signals the fallacy of believing that democracy,
often measured through the rights that it distributes, can bring freedom to
Black people. For her, it is an inconsistent logic to think that “the selective
recognition of sameness guarantees the identity of right and privileges,
while dierence determines rights in accordance with one’s place in soci-
et y.” 41 She explains further:
One is left to wonder what exactly equality does entail and, by the same
token, what constitutes a violation of equal protection. Did blacks consti-
tute a dierent class of individuals or were all men of one class? The vacilla-
tion between the disavowal and recognition of dierence encapsulates the
predicament of equality.42
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In addition, Joy James warns us not to equate democracy and its various
technologies (rights, law, etc.) with freedom. This is useful as we think about
Black geographical projects that allow for new ways of being. James explains
that “in fantasies of democracy, the enslaver rescues the savage from bar-
barity, and the abolitionist saves the savage from the enslaver,” but the truth
of the matter is that “both forms of salvation are captivity.43 James’s point
serves as a reminder of the ways in which the political state and its appara-
tus create the conditions for our suering and at the same time demarcate
the limits of our political action. It is important to remain aware of how the
political state also works to regulate itself in order to keep us in its fold.
James encourages us to consider how thinking in the familiar terms of vis-
ibility/invisibility and exclusion/inclusion limits our political imagination
to Black incorporation and facile ideals of democracy, ensuring at the same
time that Black geographies of resistance become captive of geographies of
domination. A dierent political imagination, one that eschews visibility and
inclusion as the foremost ends, is evident in the history of Black resistance.
Another important reason why antiblackness was not addressed in the
debate on the charter, especially as it applies to mainstream groups organiz-
ing against it, was the priority given to “unity” to defeat the charter. Address-
ing antiblackness in particular was seen as a potential threat to that illusory
unity. As Tamara K. Nopper has argued, “It can be dicult at times to draw
attention to inequalities among people of color because it disrupts a desire
for multiracial coalition.44 A relevant question that she raised as we reect
on antiracist activism in Quebec during and after the debate on the charter
is “how does our own desire to recognize diversity possibly contribute to a
progressive color- blind racism in which we have no basis of comparison?”45
A common argument at the time was that using a black- white binary was
not appropriate in the case of organizing opposition to the charter because
the Muslim imagined at the center of the charter was Arab. Indeed, Islamo-
phobia is too often understood as a white- on- brown form of violence. In
the experience I described at the onset of this article, casting aside a black-
white binary does not lead to a more robust understanding of racism, as
many purported antiracist activists may maintain in such instances. Instead,
blackness is cast aside completely, no longer relevant. What I am arguing is
that that precise eviction, as in the statement “what are you doing here, this
is not an issue that involves Black people, its about [white] Quebecois and
Arabs,” is a form of antiblackness that maintains itself as antiracism. Here
again, it is useful to go back to Sextons explanation as to what lies behind
these types of assertions:
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First, [such opposition to a black- white binary] often serves to expunge
critical discussions of black history altogether rather than expand the dis-
course as it supposedly claims to do. Second, it relies upon an insidious
notion of black empowerment vis- à- vis other oppressed groups to make
its claims about the exclusion of nonblack people of color by both whites
and blacks. It thereby rationalizes the aforementioned expunging.46
Anthropologist João Costa Vargas has written much about the resistance
that Black scholars encounter when they explain the specicities of Black
suering and death. Costa Vargas explains that this resistance is often artic-
ulated as an accusation of playing “oppression Olympics,” whereby “our
supposedly unwarranted focus on anti- blackness amount[s] to the unethi-
cal attack against and even erasure of the experiences of non- white and
non- heteronormative allies.47 When Black scholars and activists engage
in multi racial solidarity movements, Costa Vargas proposes that we scruti-
nize further this seamless transition from Black focus to a people- of- color
framework. Though he emphasizes that negating these kinds of coalitions
altogether would be unsustainable, he points out that they must be consid-
ered a possi bility rather than a requirement. For Costa Vargas, an unwaver-
ing belief in multiracial alliances puts “an immense moral, analytical, and
political burden on blacks, not the least of which was the requirement that
we unconditionally love the non- black.48 In a world where Black life is
always on the edge, our own vision of the future must remain at the center
of our collective action.
In the case of Quebec, we can see how the idea that the debate on the
charter was about white and Arab people helps evade the continued history
of antiblackness more than it helps anyone to move or think “beyond” it.
In a talk at McGill University earlier this year, Rinaldo Walcott argued that
the white citizenry needs brown Muslims to do a certain kind of work in the
process of racialization. He explained that post /, brown Muslim people
were in many ways shocked to realize that they were experiencing some
of what Black people have been going through for centuries. But in that
realization, they also made a move to disappear Muslim Black peoples. In a
place like Quebec that readily erases its own history of antiblackness and
slavery, it is no surprise that an attempt at disappearing Black people would
be a welcome move.
In addition to Québec Inclusif, several Muslim groups were also formed
to mobilize against the charter, and their general line did not stray from that
of their white allies. One of them was the group Québécois musulmans pour
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les droits et libertés, or “Muslim Quebecers for rights and liberties.” A point
that this coalition of fty Muslim groups reiterated in the media was that
“Québec has made great leaps forward for its citizens and its institutions
thanks to the Quiet Revolution, but this Charter creates quibbles between
Québécers and we do not want to move backwards.49 We can see here the
type of respectability politics that is at play in opposing the charter through
supporting Quebec national politics: we are supposed to believe that since
the s, Quebec has been a model antiracist society, a safe beacon in a
dangerous Anglo- American world. Gone are the long history of antiblack-
ness and everyday forms of anti- Black violence. These kinds of nationalist
arguments were prevalent in the discourses against the charter and, intended
or not, served to consolidate a liberal (and deeply oppressive) state.
Groups and individuals who had mobilized against the charter breathed
a sigh of relief on April , , when the PQ was defeated in the provin-
cial election and the proposed charter was subsequently laid to rest by the
incumbent government. While we can all be glad that the thousands of
Muslim women in Quebec who wear the hijab do not have to choose be-
tween their faith and their livelihood, I do not read the defeat of the charter
as an antiracist victory. Instead, I would like to revisit the charter debate
through an Afro- pessimist lens and analyze the experience that I had as a
Muslim Black feminist organizing against it. As Nicholas Brady so poignantly
wrote, the reality of engaging in struggle in an anti- Black world is that anti-
blackness is an ontological question that arrives always too early or too late
for consideration. “Contrary to the feeling of some,” oers Brady, “there
has never been a black time, only an anti- black world where black people
exist as its absent center, always too loud, needing to be silenced, yet always
remaining unthought and hyper- present.50
Another consequence of antiblackness is the (im)possibility of political
reform. Since the problem of an anti- Black world is ontological, in that Black
people are cast outside the category of the human, it cannot be reformed. For
example, Frank Wilderson III, one of Afro- pessimisms prominent intel-
lectuals, argues that all attempts to reform society are bound to fail for Black
people, since society itself is fundamentally anti- Black. The only acceptable
solution, according to Wilderson (and other Afro- pessimists), is the creation
of an entirely new world. In a recent interview, Wilderson explains what is
at stake in rejecting Black incorporation and/or integration: “They’re trying
to build a better world. What are we trying to do? Were trying to destroy
the world. Two irreconcilable projects.51 In other words, Black peoples
experiences can only be transformed through the destruction of the current
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social order. This echoes Jamess ideas about the spatiality of Black political
imagination and resistance. For them too, what makes Black political proj-
ects is their transformative possibilities and not their ability to integrate
Black communities into racist societies.
Both the charter and the mobilization against it revealed who is a politi-
cal subject in Quebec. The movement against the proposed bill proceeded
by mobilizing only those who were identied as political subjects. It did
so through a consideration of whose political subjecthood was threatened
or problematized. It was even more apparent in the way that Black peoples
participation in the debate served a particular purpose: they were either
an example of what no one wants to become (i.e., Black) and/or an example
of an antiracist struggle that is now relegated to the past. “Multiethnic”
coalitions in Quebec work in such ways that Black struggles only appear as
a cautionary tale. Jabaris warning to white Quebecers that non- Black Mus-
lims will not be “the negroes of Quebec” is a clear illustration.
Further, one must not read Professor C’s comments as simply ignorant,
for he did recognize that Muslim Black people exist. Instead, his position is
akin to what Nopper has called the “‘stay in your lane approach’ which con-
nes how Black people should trace and confront slavery and its afterlife.52
This approach is one that is prevalent in how non- Black Muslim activists
in Quebec as well as their allies such as Professor C do not recognize Islam-
ophobia as a marker of the afterlife of slavery for Muslim Black people.
Although Professor C reluctantly agreed that there are Muslim Black people,
he dismissed the possibility of them being political subjects in this specic
struggle for justice.
Professor C’s remarks spoke less of my invisibility and undesirability than
of my disposability within coalition politics. Usually, in the groups that I
have been involved with politically, my role has been that of the token Black
woman. I was always asked by these groups when and how I was planning
on bringing in other Black folks. But this time around, I was being dis-
missed because my social and cultural network was useless. Far from being
asked to bring in other Black folks, my own presence seemed unnecessary
and contaminating. To Professor C, I was excess— a familiar view of Black
people that Denise Ferreira da Silva describes as racial violence, whose pre-
cise calculus is “black body = value + excess.53 To be seen only in terms of
value and excess, not just by the racial state but by so- called antiracist activ-
ists, raises important questions about the relationship between antiracism
and anti- Black racism— or, indeed, the antiblackness of antiracist politics.
The visibility of the Black body is used to perform a specic kind of politics
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within coalitions. The question that we should take more seriously is the
following: what precisely are the conditions of possibility and impossibility
for Black people in ostensibly antiracist coalition politics?
It would be useful to bring into this argument other scholars of antiblack-
ness to reect further about how Muslim Black people in Quebec occupy
the position of the unthinkable and how that made opposition to the charter
insucient to address their suering. In his  article “Neither Humans
nor Rights: Some Notes on the Double Negation of Black Life in Brazil,
Jaime Amparo Alves explains that while it remains crucial to recognize the
power of the creative to fuel Black life amid the perpetual state of terror that
our communities across the globe continue to live, it remains paramount
that we challenge our political imagination and “push forward a radical
agenda that demysties concepts such as freedom, human rights, and civil
society” and, I would add, justice.54 Alvess ideas are helpful because when
I make the critique that the charter and the debate around it revealed Black
people’s status outside of the human, the common response is for Black
people in Quebec to work toward being “recognized” or “included” in that
category. Instead, I propose that we imagine and build toward other and
more creative ways of being. So far, and as the previous examples have
shown, because the discourses and goals that were mobilized by opponents
to the charter retained an anti- Black logic within which Black religiosity
remained unimaginable and Black suering in general was invisible, the
project that they espoused could not lead to a place of Black freedom. To
transform our coalitional organizing would require that we forego our
investment in a justice that is distributed and recognized by the state. To
consider their organizing as the site of possibility for Black people would
be, as Calvin Warren put it, “to place our hope in a future politics that avoids
history, historicity, and the immediacy of black suering.
What Does Justice Look Like?
In the context of Quebec, where naming blackness alone is considered as an
attack on the nation- building project, I made a point to dedicate much of
this article to naming the racial violence that the charter enacted on Muslim
Black people. I took on Hartman and Wilderson’s provocation to not “con-
sciously or unconsciously peel away from the strength and the terror of
[the] evidence in order to propose some kind of coherent, hopeful solution
to things.55
One could only approximate what justice looks like because the Black sub-
ject occupies a position for which there is no grammar of suering available.
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On the other hand, white and other non- Black people can reference a gram-
mar of civility they can deploy, as Tryon Woods has explained, a discourse
of the nation- state in a manner that makes them legible as subjects within
that social formation.56 Borrowing from Wilderson and Sexton, this could
be the dierence between a justice that seeks to repair a suering that is
contingent (rights being infringed) and justice that targets structural suer-
ing (a violence that is gratuitous, that knows no limit nor logic).57 Does
justice look the same for Black and non- Black subjects? In the case of the
charter, I have demonstrated in this article that the proposed bill did not
solve the eviction of Muslim Black people from the religious.
Moving forward, I argue that obliterating the roots of antiblackness from
the charter is due less to Muslim Black people being a small numeric minor-
ity in Quebec than about the ways in which antiblackness structures, on
the one hand, commensurability between religion and humanity and, on
the other, Black religiosity as unthinkable.58 It is important to observe pub-
lic policies and legislation just as much as the discourses and strategies that
are deployed at the grassroots level because civil society plays a particularly
salient role in (re)producing antiblackness.
One could argue that groups such as those I have just presented often do
not realize how their platforms and their goals are rooted in antiblackness.
But it is important to pay closer attention to dreams and projects that can-
not imagine Black life. What I have learned from my involvement with the
Indépendantistes is that I cannot work side by side with people who are
not able to imagine what joy would look like for me in a new world. Coali-
tion politics are often premised on the idea that when coming together,
all parties must be ready to compromise. Yet, under these premises, Black
people have the most to lose. What would coalitions look like if they were
not premised on loss? What is commonly called “throwing people under the
bus” could be better dened as “necessary death.” When a coalition comes
together, those who are not in its dreams are the rst people we throw under
the bus. The danger with the “politics of necessary death” is that the coali-
tions that are borne out of them can only eliminate those whose future is
DÉLICE MUGABO is a Black feminist activist. A Muslim of Rwandan origin,
she was born in the Republic of Congo, and immigrated to Quebec at ve
years old. For almost a decade, she worked for an antipoverty and housing
rights community organization where she developed an understanding and
a critique of Quebec politics. In  she participated in organizing “‘Create
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Dangerously’: Congress of Black Writers and Artists,” an event marking the
forty- fth anniversary of the Congress of Black Writers and Artists that was
also held in Montreal. She then went on to cofound the Black Intellectuals
Reading Group in . Although now based in Halifax, her work remains
committed to the Third Eye Collective, a Black feminist group in Montreal
that focuses on gender violence within Black communities and transforma-
tive justice.
I would like to acknowledge Samah Aan for inspiring my work on anti- Black
Islamophobia, and to thank Nathalie Batraville, Ted Rutland, and K. Wayne Yang
for commenting on previous versions. I am particularly grateful to Darryl Leroux
for supporting me to develop my ideas. An earlier version of this paper was pre-
sented at the Canadian Black Studies Association conference in May  at Dal-
housie University.
1. Michel- Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of His-
tory (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, ), xix.
2. Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Before Man: Sylvia Wynter’s Rewriting of the Mod-
ern Episteme,” in The Realization of Living: Sylvia Wynter and Being Human, ed.
Katherine McKittrick (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, ), .
3. Leïla Benhadjoudja, “Vivre ensemble au- delà du soupçon à l’égard de l’Autre,
in Le Québec, la Charte, l’Autre: Et après?, ed. Marie- Claude Haince, Yara El- Ghadban,
and Leïla Benhadjoudja (Montreal: Mémoire d’encrier, ).
4. Sovereigntists advocate for Quebec to become a state independent from Can-
ada. The rst referendum on that option was held in  and a second one
in . Because various groups, political parties, and an important segment of
the population remain invested in the sovereignty project, the issue continues to
inuence many other debates in Quebec.
5. I am basing this on e- mail exchanges with group members. They state on their
website that “Indépendantistes pour une laïcité inclusive (IPLI) held its rst meet-
ing on February , , and became registered with the Québec Entreprise Register
on September , .” See All translations are mine unless
otherwise noted.
6. “Rassembler plutôt qu’exclure: Déclaration des Indépendantistes pour une
laïcité inclusive sur la Charte des ‘valeurs québécoises,”
7. Jared Sexton, “The Vel of Slavery: Tracking the Figure of the Unsovereign,
Critical Sociology (): – , doi:./.
8. Jared Sexton, “People- of- Color- Blindness: Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery,
Social Text , no.  (): – , doi:./- - .
9. Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ), .
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10. Ibid.; Frank B. Wilderson III, Red, Black, and White: Cinema and the Struc-
ture of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, ); Tiany
Lethabo King, “In the Clearing: Black Female Bodies, Space and Settler Colonial
Landscapes” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, ).
11. João H. Costa Vargas, Never Meant to Survive: Genocide and Utopias in Black
Diaspora Communities (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littleeld, ); Jaime Amparo
Alves, “Macabre Spatialities: The Politics of Race, Gender and Violence in a Neolib-
eral City” (PhD. diss., University of Texas at Austin, ); Egbert Alejandro Martina,
“The Netherlands and Its Discontents, or: How White Dutch Folks Started Worry-
ing and Urged ‘Us’ to Take Rioters Seriously,” Processed Life Blog, September ,
12. Sherman Jackson, “/ a Decade Later: The Ironic Impact of Islamophobia,
Hupost Religion, September , ,
13. Tariq Ramadan, “Even Now, Muslims Must Have Faith in America,Wash-
ington Post, September , ; Amir Saeed, “/ and the Increase in Racism and
Islamophobia: A Personal Reection,Radical History Review  (): – .
14. Serif Onur Bahçecik, “Internationalizing Islamophobia: Anti- Islamophobia
Practices from the Runnymede Trust to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,
Ortadogu Etutleri , no.  (): – ; Vashti Kenway, “The Hidden History of
Islamophobia,Marxist Left Review, no.  ().
15. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, ).
16. Junaid Rana, “The Story of Islamophobia,Souls: A Critical Journal of Black
Politics, Culture, and Society , no.  (): .
17. Ibid., .
18. Sherene Razack, Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and
Politics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ).
19. Rinaldo Walcott, “Black Queer and Black Trans: Imagine Imagination Imag-
inary Futures,Equity Matters, October , ,
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Samah Jabbari, TV interview by Stéphane Gendron, Racisme envers les
musulmans, Montréal, February , ,
23. Jabbari’s statement caused an uproar on social media among the Black com-
munity and brought her to issue an apology through her Facebook page. What is
interesting is that along with her apology, Jabbari posted several pictures of herself
standing along Black girls and women at social events. One must ask what the
unnamed and silent Black bodies in those pictures were meant to perform, stand in
for, and cover. Neither Jabbari’s apology nor her subsequent public statements pres-
ent or explain where and how Black people in general and particularly those who are
Muslim t into the political vision and agenda of the organization that she represents.
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34. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, “Waking Nightmares— On David Mariott,GLQ: A
Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies , no.  (): , doi:./- .
35. Calvin Warren, “Onticide: Toward an Afro- pessimistic Queer Theory”
(paper presented at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Washing-
ton, D.C., November , ).
36. Jared Sexton, “The Obscurity of Black Suering,” in What Lies Beneath:
Katrina, Race, and the State of the Nation, ed. South End Press Collective (Cam-
bridge, Mass.: South End Press, ), .
37. Québec Inclusif, “Manifesto for an Inclusive Quebec,” September , .
Quotations are from the version I accessed in April , , at http://quebec-inclu-/?lang=en. A slightly modied version now appears at http://www.
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid.
40. Rachida Azdouz, radio interview, Dimanche magazine, April , , http://-/chronique.asp?idC
41. Saidiya V. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self- Making in
Nineteenth- Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, ), .
42. Ibid.
43. Joy James, “Afrarealism and the Black Matrix: Maroon Philosophy at Democ-
racy’s Border,Black Scholar , no.  (): .
44. Tamara K. Nopper, “Where Do We Go When We Go ‘Beyond Black and
White’?,” November , ,///where-do-we-go
45. Ibid.
46. Sexton, “Obscurity of Black Suering,” .
47. João Costa Vargas, “Clyde Woods: Life after Black Social Death,Antipode
(): , https://radicalantipode.//woods__costa-vargas
48. Ibid., .
49. Samira Laouini, radio interview by Geneviève Asselin, Téléjournal Midi, Sep-
tember , ,.
50. Nicholas Brady, “The Void Speaks Back: Black Suering as the Unthought of
the American Studies Associations Academic Boycott of Israel,Out of Nowhere
Blog, December , ,///the
51. Frank B. Wilderson III, radio interview by Jared Ball, Dr. Hate, and Todd
Steven Burroughs, “‘We’re Trying to Destroy the World’: Anti- blackness and Police
Violence after Ferguson,” October , , ,
52. Tamara K. Nopper, “On Terror, Captivity, and Black- Korean Conict,Decolo-
nization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, September , , https://decoloniza///on-terror-captivity-and-black-korean-conict/.
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53. Denise Ferreira da Silva, “To Be Announced: Radical Praxis or Knowing (at)
the Limits of Justice,Social Text  (): .
54. Jaime Amparo Alves, “Neither Humans nor Rights: Some Notes on the Dou-
ble Negation of Black Life in Brazil,Journal of Black Studies , no.  (): .
55. Saidiya V. Hartman and Frank Wilderson III, “The Position of the
Unthought,Qui Parle , no.  (): .
56. Tryon Woods, “The Fact of Anti- blackness: Decolonization in Chiapas and the
Niger River Delta,Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self- Knowledge
, no.  (): – .
57. Frank B. Wilderson III, “Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil
Society?,Social Identities , no.  (): – ; Sexton, “People- of- Color- Blindness.
58. In Canada and the UK, policies toward Black immigrants have been more
restrictive due to apprehensions about Black people igniting “social unrest.” Vilna
Bashi, “Globalized Anti- blackness: Transnationalizing Western Immigration Law,
Policy, and Practice,Ethnic and Racial Studies , no.  (): – .
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... As Abdel-Fattah (2017, p. 400) cautions, "there are dangers in simply transposing black theory onto a collective 'Muslim' experience". I am acutely cognizant of the convergences and divergences between Black Muslim and South Asian Muslim experiences in the diaspora (Massa 2020;Mugabo 2016) as well as problematic racial hierarchies in Muslim communities and use these analytical tools with the utmost respect and gratitude. 12 The question of intra-community oppression and complicity in the maintenance of racial hierarchies is an important and complicated one. ...
... 12 The question of intra-community oppression and complicity in the maintenance of racial hierarchies is an important and complicated one. Black Muslims in particular face layers of intersecting racisms, even within Muslim communities (Massa 2020;Mugabo 2016). Mugabo (2016, p. 165) writes, "Black people, Muslim or not, are always already cast outside the categories of the human and the citizen" (Mugabo 2016, p. 165), and we must be mindful of the reality of such problematic set of relations, particularly when considering the important work of challenging racial hierarchies in Muslim communities. ...
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In 1974, the Pakistani Constitution was amended to declare Ahmadi Muslims as “non-Muslim”, initiating a systematic and hegemonic structural attempt to restrict Ahmadi Muslims from professing and practicing the Islamic faith in Pakistan. This state-sanctioned exclusion led to the mass migration of Ahmadis out of Pakistan into diasporic contexts. Using autoethnography, this article examines how being an Ahmadi Muslim woman in Canada remains rooted in deeply divisive politico-religious conflicts that transcend temporal and spatial boundaries and result in multiple layers of marginalities in the diaspora. I am conscious that my self-formation is racialized, gendered, and classed across three primary intersections: as a Pakistani/South Asian; as an Ahmadi Muslim; and as a woman. This “triple consciousness”, a term coined by Black feminist scholars and Afro-Latinx scholars in the United States to extend W. E. B. Du Bois’ “double consciousness”, produces a liminal and contradictory space of belonging—one that requires further reflection and analysis in the Canadian context where the racial continues to dominate our social world and proximity to Whiteness is privileged and rewarded.
... The present globalized context of social polarization and hostility around Islam has placed several marginalized migrant communities under much duress [60][61][62][63] and the precipitous rise in Islamophobic attacks since 9/11 are a public health concern [64]. This polarization and hostility has cast the Muslim body as both a perplexity and a threat, which has served to legitimize anti-migrant and Islamophobic policies and rhetoric across the U.S. (along with a host of other countries) [65,66], in line with structural racism [67]. Perhaps in part due to discrimination based on their migrant status and religion, Somali individuals (especially in FGM/Caffected communities) have reported feeling "not normal" and "different" in their Western host country [68] a notion perpetuated by discriminatory public discourse depicting the "barbaric" nature of FGM/C and related cultures [69]. ...
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While Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) continues to garner global attention, FGM/C-affected migrant communities, who are often racialized minorities in the U.S., face additional challenges which may impact their physical and mental health and well-being. It has been proposed that an overly narrow focus on the female genitalia or FGM/C status alone, while ignoring the wider social experiences and perceptions of affected migrant women, will result in incomplete or misleading conclusions about the relationship between FGM/C and migrant women’s health. A cross-sectional study was conducted across two waves of Somali and Somali Bantu women living in the United States, ( n = 879 [wave 1], n = 654 [wave 2]). Socio-demographics, self-reported FGM/C status, perceived psychological distress, and self-reported FGM/C-related health morbidity was examined against self-reported experiences of everyday discrimination and perceived psychosocial support. In statistical models including age and educational attainment as potentially confounding socio-demographic variables, as well as self-reported FGM/C status, self-reported discrimination, and perceived psychosocial support, self-reported discrimination was the variable most strongly associated with poor physical health and psychological distress (i.e., FGM/C-related health morbidity and psychological distress), with greater perceived psychosocial support negatively associated with psychological distress, when controlling for all the other variables in the model. FGM/C status was not significantly associated with either outcome. Discrimination, more frequently reported among ‘No FGM/C’ (i.e., genitally intact or unmodified) women, was most frequently perceived as linked to religion and ethnicity. Our findings are consistent with views that discrimination drives negative outcomes. In this population, discrimination may include the ‘quadruple jeopardy’ of intersecting relationships among gender, race, religion, and migration status. We find that self-reported experiences of discrimination—and not FGM/C status per se—is associated with adverse physical and mental health consequences in our sample drawn from Somali migrant communities living in the United States, and that social support may help to mitigate these consequences. Our findings thus reinforce calls to better contextualize the relationship between FGM/C and measures of health and well-being among Somali women in the United States (regardless of their FGM/C status), taking psychosocial factors more centrally into account. Clinical Trials.Gov ID no. NCT03249649, Study ID no. 5252. Public website:
... Empirical evidence demonstrates that diasporic Muslims create new identities in the immigrant context, and that these religious-based identities are not simply the replacement of racial categories; instead, religious and racial identities are created in relation to each other (Ajrouch and Kusow 2007;Chon and Arzt 2005). Additionally, theorizing "Muslim identity" as a racial identity runs the risk of obfuscating the experiences of Muslims inhabiting intersectional identities, especially black Muslims (Guhin 2018;Mugabo 2016;Shah 2019). Just as it is possible to study immigration and immigrant identity in conjunction with race theory without collapsing immigrant identity as racial identity, I argue that we also need to study religion and religious identity in conjunction with, rather than collapsed into, race theory (Jacobson 1997). ...
Scholars explain immigrant generational differences in perceptions of discrimination through differential exposure to social norms and milieu of the host society. This logic, however, fails to explain why differences persist even for acts of egregious violence. In this chapter, I draw on theories of everyday racism, boundaries, and imagined communities to explore divergences in how inclusivist and exclusivist reflexive Muslim participants frame similar experiences of Islamophobic racism. Exclusivist Muslim participants, who view only one approach to Islam as correct, quickly recall discriminatory experiences, describe the incidents in language that evokes pain and insecurity, and identify Islamophobia as a major problem in Canada. Inclusivist Muslim participants, who view multiple approaches to religion as correct, have trouble recalling discriminatory experiences, use strategies to dismiss those incidents, and simultaneously recognize and dismiss tension around Islamophobia in Canada. These findings have implications for the role and utility of religiosity in the stress process model.
... Nous ne pouvons appréhender les inégalités vécues par les populations noires sans négliger d'aborder d'autres questions importantes touchant l'immigration, les droits des femmes ou l'islamophobie, par exemple. Les communautés noires sont diverses et comprennent des immigrantes et immigrants de différentes générations (Sall, 2020), des femmes noires engagées dans des luttes féministes et antiracistes (Berthelot-Raffard, 2018;Flynn, 2014) et des musulmanes et musulmans noirs (Mugabo, 2016). Il n'est donc pas réducteur de poser des questions de société à partir de l'expérience des Canadiennes et Canadiens noirs puisque l'on peut ainsi examiner à la fois les dimensions plurielles du vécu social. ...
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Reconnaissant la longue histoire des revendications de plusieurs générations d’Afro-Canadiens et Afro-Canadiennes et l’urgence d’aborder le racisme anti-Noir, nous proposons trois axes d’actions d’une démarche épistémologique émancipatrice pour informer la conception et la réalisation d’études qualitatives. Nous nous appuyons sur le corpus de chercheurs et chercheuses critiques pour suggérer qu’il est important : 1) de mobiliser le corpus d’intellectuelles et intellectuels noirs et des théories sociocritiques lors de la conception d’un projet de recherche; 2) de pratiquer la réflexivité de la conception d’un projet de recherche jusqu’à la dissémination des résultats; 3) de reconnaître la pertinence d’intégrer la pluralité des savoirs des communautés noires. Nous présentons ces trois axes d’actions tout en sachant que cette liste n’est pas exhaustive. Plutôt, en s’ancrant dans les principes décoloniaux, afrocentriques, antiracistes, féministes et intersectionnels, cette démarche épistémologique consolide la recherche à visées émancipatrices et transformatrices par, pour et avec les populations afrodescendantes.
... Antiblack racism highlights how across North America, Black people have been the target of a systemic and structural racism that has positioned them as "outside the category of the human" (Crichlow, 2015, p. 190). Délice Mugabo (2016) explains that Afropessimism, the idea that "western society is inherently antagonistic to Africanity and Black people," concludes that "the characteristics ascribed to humanness were . . . those denied to Black people" and that "to be human is thus to be anything but Black" (p. ...
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In this paper, I examine Canadian mainstream media’s response to Black Lives Matter Toronto, focusing in particular on two events that occurred in the city in the Summer of 2016 and Winter of 2017. By relying on Critical Race Theory, I argue that a White-dominated press has been unwilling to engage with the message presented by Black activists under the excuse that the tone of the message is overly harsh and threatening to White audiences. After analysing the historical roots of such a claim, I conclude that, in the current climate, there is no space for any dialogue in what remains an oppressor-oppressed relationship across the country, including in Toronto, Canada’s most multicultural city.
Linguistic capital is context-specific: the power of a language in one context changes in another. While English might be the language of highest linguistic capital in many settings in “Western” countries, that trend can shift when in a different linguistic context. This is the case for Islamic institutions in the “West” and how Arabic use is oftentimes perceived by non-Arabic speakers. This article examines views on Arabic use by attendees of three linguistically diverse Islamic institutional settings through the responses provided by 15 members of the Islamic community in one city in the U.S. Qualitative data was collected over a period of two years using semi-structured interviews. This work draws attention to three primary findings: 1) Arabic maintains linguistic capital within Islamic institutional spaces, 2) “linguistic othering” (Jaspal and Coyle, 2010) occurs in Islamic institutional settings and can have a significant effect on the way that attendees view their relationship to the institution, and 3) education and teaching methods can contribute to linguistic marginalization in Islamic education spaces. The subsequent sense of isolation can lead to decreased institutional attendance and may have a significant negative impact on the identity of institutional attendees. The conclusion of this paper offers recommendations on how Arabic can be incorporated into Islamic spaces without it being a source of alienation through the method of translanguaging.
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Through exploring the representations and political participation of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi order of Montreal, this article analyses the relationship between Sufism, secularity, and political authority in Quebec in ongoing debates around religious “moderation” and State neutrality laws post-9/11. I offer an in-depth but necessarily bounded ethnographic account of this Sufi group in an attempt to expose a process of localisation and instrumentalisation of a particular Muslim identity in Quebec reflecting local pressures of religious reformation. I will argue that the charisma attached to the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi order, as articulated by politicians as well as non-Muslim Montrealers, is one that has emerged most particularly in the past 15 years and is embodied in the current local leader of the community, Shaykh Omar Koné. Yet, this charisma operates within centuries-old Orientalist discourses about Sufism and Islam, and most notably is validated in Quebec through recent secular politics of “moderation” and State neutrality bills as heritage of the 1960 Quiet Revolution. Writing as a French-Canadian, in this article, I will offer an insight into the construction of a Sufi consciousness in Quebec, a tale that I trace through multiple accounts, though primarily through my interactions at the Montreal Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Centre and with their imam, Shaykh Omar Koné from 2014 to 2017.
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Property relations in 1980s Montreal were a venue of struggle and change. In this period, a well-organized tenants’ movement and the election of progressive governments spawned a series of legal and policy changes that strengthened tenants’ rights in the city. During the same period, however, an emerging police, government and media discourse cast Black communities as criminal ‘ghettos’, and a variety of mechanisms, including new policies meant to protect tenants’ rights, were used to evict criminalized Black tenants. Guided by recent work on property and Black geographies, respectively, this article examines how racial subjects are constituted in struggles over tenants’ rights. The racial limits of tenants’ rights in Montreal, it argues, are traceable to the socio-spatial relations of slavery and the intensifying criminalization of Black life in the 1980s, each of which nullified Black spatial belonging in the city. The tenant, the article concludes, is never just a tenant, but also a racial subject – a subject formed at the edges of blackness. In a terrain forged by slavery and its afterlives, the possibility of expansive tenants’ rights presupposes a right systemically denied in advance for Black people in the Americas: the right to exist here in the first place.
Chapter 3 explores the profile of the terror suspect or extremist as conceived through a ‘technology of monstrosity’ (Halberstam 2000). It explores the uses of racial profiling and surveillance informing the governance of ‘Muslim-looking’ bodies and the racialised power asymmetries of visual technologies of (in/hyper-)visibility and (mis)recognition through which the Muslim body is produced as the target of discipline and control. It extends analysis of the workings of Islamophobia by exploring the racialisation of religion as involving differences in experiences for Muslims depending on their location within the racial terrain and spectrum of moderate/extremist. The production of racialised Others as threats functions as a strategy of governance that is reflected in changes in penal practice involved in the policing and (in)securitisation of ‘Muslim-looking’ bodies within the ‘war on terror’ context. Meanings ascribed to racialised bodies are informed by practices of Gothicisation that illustrate how representations of ‘monstrous bodies’ have moved across differently racialised bodies (black to South Asian), from ethnicity (the figure of the ‘Paki’) to religion (Islam), and across differently gendered bodies (Muslim males to Muslim females) in response to changes in the socio-political context. The chapter examines racialised and gendered surveillance practices through which Muslims are (in)securitised and advances the stereotypes of the ‘imperil/led Muslim woman’ to address how Muslim women simultaneously feature as victims and agents of terror. The final section suggests an alternative to the racialised power hierarchies of seer/seen in which ‘the look’ functions as an invitation rather than imposition.
On 4 July 2017, Peter Scotter, 56, was sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court for racially aggravated assault by beating after ripping the niqab off a young Muslim woman’s face whilst she was out shopping with her nine-year-old son. The force made her almost fall to the ground and she was left fearing going into town.
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Especially since the September 11 attacks, the position of Muslim communities living in Western countries has become under focus. Many Muslim political leaders, activists as well as scholars have pointed to the existence of Islamophobia, or an irrational fear or prejudice towards Islam and Muslims, as the cause for discrimination against Muslims. The literature on Islamophobia has grown, various governmental programs have been implemented to repress it, while scholars developed means to measure it as an attitude. Rather than focusing on Islamophobia itself, this paper seeks to shift the focus on anti-Islamophobia practices of various organizations , especially the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It looks at the emergence of anti-Islamophobic discourse in the 90s, how this discourse isolates and problematizes Islamophobia by redefining what Muslims stand for. This paper argues that anti-Islamophobic practices cannot be simply taken as a strategy to combat Islamo-phobia. While it drives its legitimacy from repression of xenophobia and discrimination, it simultaneously seeks to govern by promoting certain ways of social coexistence .
This is a transcription of an radio interview with Frank B. Wilderson III, taped in October of 2014, in the midst of the ongoing anti-police struggles taking place in Ferguson, MO. Wilderson is in conversation with IMIXWHATILIKE hosts Jared Ball, Todd Steven Burroughs and Dr. Hate.
This article addresses the relationship between anti-racism and decolonization in the North American context. It argues that the logic of decolonization movements for indigenous sovereignty and against the settler states of Canada and the USA overlap the discursive field of contemporary post-racialism in ways that circumvent the challenges and possibilities offered by black radicalism in the historic instance. After engaging recent theoretical literature on settler colonialism, it is suggested that the freedom drive that abolishes slavery unsettles both colonial and decolonial forms of sovereign determination.
Heeding the 2011 revolts in Britain, beyond social scientific and historic explanations that resolve such events either as expressions of a social or a political pathology, this paper explores the following question: what if, moving otherwise, the critique of racial violence, dismissing value and entertaining excess, stays with violence? What account of racial subjugation and liberation would emerge from it? For in Fanon’s description of the colonial space as a product of colonial (juridicoeconomic) violence, the distinction between the Native’s and the Settler’s positions refers to a valuation, named through the articulation of extreme moral signifiers, namely, good and evil. Following a staged conversation among three contemporary black intellectuals, I find a possible venue for a post-Fanonian radical black thought when they refuse to write violence — colonial/racial terror — in the racial table where (black) means suffering and (white) freedom or (black) means nonvalue and (white) value. Taking a shortcut with Fanon, foregrounding the exposition of the violence that constitutes the colonial space, this paper announces a praxis designed to clear the ethical-political grounds reaching beyond the becoming of a “new man,” the one which the colonial figurings of the Native, the Slave, and the Woman have always already signified.
This article examines the challenges of conceptualizing Black existence within the realm of what has been defined as civil society. Rather than entering the Afro-pessimism versus Afro-optimism debate, its aim is to provide ethnographic material to further an understanding of the (im)possibilities for redressing Black injury from racialized categories such as law, justice, and humanity. How might we understand mourning and grieving when the racial alterity of the Black subject positions "it" outside the domains of citizenship and humanity? This double negation-neither human nor citizen-is the basis from which the article provides a critique of the racial terror perpetrated by police-linked death squads in São Paulo, Brazil.
This article offers a critique of the concept of “people of color,” highlighting a form of blindness to the singularity of racial slavery internal to its articulation. It pursues a theoretical itinerary that reads the radical black feminism of Saidiya Hartman and Hortense Spillers, the political ontology of Frank B. Wilderson, and the cinematic vision of Haile Gerima against certain signs of prevarication, even gainsaying, regarding the nature of slavery and its afterlife in prominent strains of critical (race) theory, here advanced by noted scholars like Giorgio Agamben and Achille Mbembe. The disseminated misrecognition of modern slavery is then traced in the discourse of post–civil rights racial politics, especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
This article explores the difference that anti-blackness makes in making linkages between the rebellion in Chiapas and the resistance in the Niger Delta. I use Fanon's insights on blackness and the colonial condition to analyze how these disparate movements are sutured into a global structure of humanity. I argue that the implication of Fanon's treatment of the colonial condition is that while indigenous Americans in Chiapas and Africans in the Delta are similarly situated within the political economy of globalization, they occupy distinct positionalities in the structure of humanity. This simultaneously shared and divergent social positioning is due to the fact of anti-blackness, and can be seen in both the forms of the respective social movements in Chiapas and the Delta, as well as in the different reactions by global civil society to the situations in each location.