- The New Black Novel and the Long War on Terror
September 11 redrew the map of racial power in the US. More than event, 9/11 was the "'mother' of all events," what Baudrillard referred to as the absolute event, "the pure event uniting within itself all the events that have never taken place" (3). September 11—not the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon themselves, but the discursive complex through which they became and continue to become knowable within frameworks of citizenship, safety, and national belonging—was an important flashpoint along the continuum of racial projects that have advanced US empirebuilding since 1898. Borders tightened around new technologies of security. Detention centers across the archipelagoes of the US military carceral complex, from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib, increased their capacity; those mechanisms of normalization that extended their tentacles beyond the modern prison to the home, the school, and the street corner reached out, now with feverish desperation, to catalog and track Arabs and Muslims, who every now and then were referred to as "the new Black."1 The security theater of the international airport collapsed together black and brown others, marking everything from the Afro to the hijab the potential dwelling of a box cutter or explosive. Here were the new geographies of terror: sites of imperial carcerality erected and named for so-called homeland security or Iraqi Freedom, dug into the landscapes and carved out of the techniques, fantasies, and nightmares of modern gendered racial terror. As Sohail Daulatzai writes of the cartographies that link the wartime colony to the prison,
the racialized discourse of empire is now producing a subject where the foreign and the domestic collapse upon themselves, as the fears of "terror" are conflated with "Black criminality," [End Page 664] gangs, prison culture, and urban violence. The carceral logic and captive power that has historically been forged around Blackness in the United States not only makes legible this new emerging threat, but it also becomes the template for the exporting of this prison regime to the colony in the "War on Terror."(136)
In the post-9/11 spaces of war, 9/11 ruptures the space-time continuum and calls forth in the name of safety racialized modes of surveillance, capture, and pain that transpose the history of domestic racial terror—the racial terror of slavery and Jim Crow, of lynching and the War on Drugs—onto the imperatives of counterterrorism in order to resecure and reorder the space of the homeland.2 What was the impact of this racial-spatial reordering on African American literature?
This essay interrogates how the long war against terror … shifted the spatial imaginary of black American literature, transforming the figuration of migration, national belonging, transnational social and political movements, and diasporic identities.
To begin with this question refuses the frameworks of genre and generation that have often guided discussions of late-twentieth-and early-twenty-first-century African American literature and suggests in their place a literary analytic that views the War on Terror as a racial-spatial regime that orders, and is disordered by, the contemporary black novel. This essay interrogates how the long war against terror—a decades-long assault on third world radicalism which preceded but also was intensified by 9/11—shifted the spatial imaginary of black American literature, transforming the figuration of migration, national belonging, transnational social and political movements, and diasporic identities.3 Given the tendency to read twenty-first-century African American literature within periodizing, generational, and formal terms that elevate the domestic as the proper analytic frame—through rubrics such as post-soul or the Obama era—attending to how black American literature is visited by the recurring terrors of the contemporary era allows us to better understand this varied body of texts as both products of and problems for US global-corporate power. Black characters' movements across cities and regions in post-9/11 novels by authors such as Teju Cole, NoViolet Bulawayo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Michael Thomas reflect, at once, how black literature bears the imprint of domestic policies of securitization through preemptive war, torture, and incarceration, while at the...