- Breaking Down the DoorHorror and Black Radical Fiction
The FBI assesses it is very likely that Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will likely serve as justification for such violence.—Federal Bureau of Investigation Counterterrorism Division, “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers”1
All too often, debates concerning the ethical and practical place of violence in revolutionary movements fixate on those radicalisms based in communities of color. That this is the case is no accident; by their very existence, race radical groups threaten two key tenets of power: the stability of white supremacy and the rationale over when violence becomes a “justifiable” tactic. To label such groups as terrorist organizations allows the state to mobilize public fear of violent action in order to redraw racial boundaries in ways that best serve the white hegemony. To observe this policing mechanism in action, [End Page 91] one need look no further than the 2017 report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterterrorism Division regarding the “terrorist threat” of “Black Identity Extremists,” a term the FBI broadly applies to any resisting agent in the black community seeking to disrupt dominant racial discourse. The epigraph at the start of this piece, taken from the report, exemplifies the government’s desire to criminalize the idea of both black organization and—just as importantly—self-determination. The very invention of the “Black Identity Extremists” moniker denotes a state anxiety regarding any group of black individuals laying claim to an identity separate from that provided by power. Likewise, the prominent placement of “premeditated” and “retaliatory” in labeling this group as terrorism reveals the report’s larger objective of delegitimizing black resistance. Violence by black subjects serves no threat to the dominant order so long as it presents itself as irrational or otherwise chaotic. Those violent acts hinting at a self-determined, self-actualizing school of black thought, however, threaten power’s hold over the rationale of violence, thus necessitating their status as enemies of the state.
Fear holds a dominant place in the government’s efforts to undercut black radicalism. Labeling black resisters as terrorists recalls a national grammar based in horrifying acts of violence. Even so, my interest lies less in how the government wields this fear over the public and more in how black artists weaponize this same state fear of the self-determined black radical in order to create narratives that challenge and critique the boundaries of white hegemonic discourse. Fiction, I contend, serves as a crucial platform for black artists to navigate questions of resistance and violence as they pertain to the possibility of dismantling racist discourse. More specifically, in navigating power’s attempts to control discussions of race and violence, black artists turn to a familiar source: the power of horror.
This article argues for a new reading practice capable of registering the use of horror in the crafting of a black radical aesthetic. Horror’s deconstructive and diagnostic tendencies—in other words, moments of unsettling or violent spectacle—allow for black radical narratives that reject the constructs of hegemony. Such radical narratives respond in part to what Jodi Melamed deems “the new racial capitalism”2: a neoliberal iteration of Cedric Robinson’s theorizing of power,3 which conceives of racialism and capitalism as simultaneous and inextricable ideologies. In this late-twentieth-century racial order, issues of race and radicalism run through the dominant discourse of the [End Page 92] state. Significant to this control is the delegitimization of radical movements through the lionization of nonviolence. A horror race radicalism, conversely, overturns binaries of violence/nonviolence and refocuses the discussion of radical fiction on the development of truly new black subjectivities capable of challenging power’s racial categories.
Looking to political theory and writing on the nature and possibility of violence, this essay interrogates the role of horror in black radical fiction, narratives that use horrific radical violence as a critical methodology with which to break from racialized subjectivity. Violence becomes the way to escape the foreclosing antagonism of Blackness and the state. These narratives...