In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Black Nihilism and the Politics of Hope
  • Calvin L. Warren (bio)

Dedicated to the brave woman at the D.C. Metro station


Perverse juxtapositions structure our relation to the Political. This becomes even more apparent and problematic when we consider the position of blacks within this structuring.1 On the one hand, our Declaration of Independence proclaims, “All men are created equal,” and yet black captives were fractioned in this political arithmetic as three-fifths of this “man.” The remainder, the two-fifths, gets lost within the arithmetic shuffle of commerce and mercenary prerogatives. We, of course, hoped that the Reconstruction Amendments would correct this arithmetical error and finally provide an ontological equation, or an existential variable, that would restore fractured and fractioned [End Page 215] black being. This did not happen. Black humanity became somewhat of an “imaginary number” in this equation, purely speculative and nice in theory but difficult to actualize or translate into something tangible. Poll taxes, grandfather clauses, literacy tests, and extra-legal and legal violence made a mockery of the 14th Amendment, and the convict leasing system turned the 13th Amendment inside out for blacks. Yet, we approach this political perversity with a certain apodictic certainty and incontrovertible hope that things will (and do) get better. The Political, we are told, provides the material or substance of our hope; it is within the Political that we are to find, if we search with vigilance and work tirelessly, the “answer” to the ontological equation—hard work, suffering, and diligence will restore the fractioned three-fifths with its alienated two-fifths and, finally, create One that we can include in our declaration that “All men are created equal.” We are still awaiting this “event.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. placed great emphasis on the restoration of black being through suffering and diligence in his sermon “The American Dream” (1965):

And I would like to say to you this morning what I’ve tried to say all over this nation, what I believe firmly: that in seeking to make the dream a reality we must use and adopt a proper method. I’m more convinced than ever before that violence is impractical and immoral…we need not hate; we need not use violence. We can stand up against our most violent opponent and say: we will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…we will go to in those jails and transform them from dungeons of shame to havens of freedom and human dignity. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after night and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half dead, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. … [T]hreaten our children and bomb our churches, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you.

But be assured that we will ride you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we will win our freedom, but we will not only win it for ourselves, we will so appeal to your hearts and conscience that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be double. [End Page 216]

The American dream, then, is realized through black suffering. It is the humiliated, incarcerated, mutilated, and terrorized black body that serves as the vestibule for the Democracy that is to come. In fact, it almost becomes impossible to think the Political without black suffering. According to this logic, corporeal fracture engenders ontological coherence, in a political arithmetic saturated with violence. Thus, nonviolence is a misnomer, or somewhat of a ruse. Black-sacrifice is necessary to achieve the American dream and its promise of coherence, progress, and equality.

We find similar logic in the contemporary moment. Renisha McBride, Jordon Davis, Kody Ingham, Amadou Diallo, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Frederick Jermain Carter, Chavis Carter, Timothy Stansbury, Hadiya Pendleton, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kendrec McDade, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown, among others, constitute a fatal rupture of the Political; these signifiers, stained in blood, refuse the closure that...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 215-248
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.