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  • Risk, Blackness, and Postcolonial StudiesAn Introduction
  • Shona N. Jackson (bio)

The critical arguments against postcolonial studies are well rehearsed and have led to a double approach to the field in academia. Some have advocated, for instance, for the rejection of postcolonial studies and its incursion into disciplines created out of the late-twentieth-century protest movements that spawned Black, Indigenous, and Ethnic Studies programs across the United States. These programs are in fact indebted to the global change wrought by the post WWII independence movements of Third World states and thus always already implicated in theoretical formulations of the postcolonial that return to them. They have done so with the hope of reviving the more decisively oppositional positions of the anticolonial era. Others have advocated the incorporation of postcolonial studies into predominant subfields already established in curricular areas such as Modern British Studies or for stand-alone programs. This latter approach is both allied with and critical of colonial and imperial epistemologies as they have shaped the academic disciplines; it thus lacks the oppositional situatedness that was possible in the anticolonial moment and that present-day Black Nationalist positions seek to recover. Thus the field is arguably characterized by what we can call, after Paul Gilroy, a hegemonic “melancholia.” As an explanatory tool that tries to make sense of anticolonial power struggle and postindependence, late capital transformations of power, what we term postcolonial theory shares an intimacy with power that renders it ineffective as a real-world oppositional strategy. The status of blackness in these debates is often neglected, specifically the way in which the creation of fields and subfields that examine race and power fragment and compartmentalize blackness. What are deemed diasporic investigations of black identity are often detached from United States based projects and programs. Indeed, outside of dedicated black diaspora programs, postcolonial studies is often the only place that those working on blackness outside the United States can become intelligible to US based institutions. Further, its methodologies are instrumental for grasping the formulation of power dynamics in social worlds that do not fit North American racial frameworks. Despite all its constitutive problems, the field continues to prove productive of thinking beyond singular modes of opposition and instead reconsider the range of complex and often contradictory positions held by those critical of late imperial and neocolonial power. It remains essential for making visible and intelligible research that does not fit into the balkanized categories of difference produced by predominantly white, academic departments, social worlds, and ways of knowing the colonial world. From this vantage point, blackness must be viewed not in terms of a singular dimensionality vis-à-vis white power and history but as a condition of being across time and within various moments, both antithetical to and generative of regimes of power. [End Page 63]

To untangle the imbrication of blackness and postcoloniality in the early-twenty-first century, our section focuses on the question of risk. One can conceptualize risk in the field in manifold ways. While it is primarily understood in terms of economic theory, here I use it to rethink blackness in terms of broad and complex forms of subordination across time and within and outside nation-states. It is a way of accounting for the cultural and political distinctions that separate the anticolonial periods and strategies from the postcolonial; it is also a way of establishing links between the jeopardies endured by the black body in these moments as both distinct and continuous. Thinking risk in this manner may allow us to discern commonalities between various moments of crisis for blackness, such as the events around hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the recent anti-black legal rulings in the Dominican Republic. Katrina exposed the underbelly of black poverty in the United States and the risk faced by the black poor. It revealed clearly the continued subordination of blackness to white power and capital; it revealed, in other words, the United States’s own internal colonialism and was a sharp reminder of the fact that the coloniality of blackness in the United States was not eradicated by the Civil Rights gains of the 1960s. The 2013 decision by the Supreme Court to strike...


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pp. 63-68
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