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  • Toward Black Animality Studies
  • Samantha Pergadia (bio)
Joshua Bennett, Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020. 224pp. $35.00.
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. New York: New York University Press, 2020. 320pp. $89.00; $30.00 paper.

Over the last ten years, animal studies scholarship has taken a critical race turn just as scholarship on race revises standard accounts of the relationship between race and animality. As a corrective to scholarship that treats speciesism as the grounds for racism (or appropriately recruits race-based dehumanization as the analogic precedent for animal rights), scholars have turned both to the material histories that connect race and species in counterintuitive ways and to the racialization of animality. Neel Ahuja has reprimanded "the conflation of race and species" in animal studies, wherein racial discourse is assimilated into species discourse, for "flattening out historical contexts that determine the differential use of animal (and other) figures in the process of racialization." 1A suite of scholarship, including works by Kalpana Rahita Seshadri, Mel Y. Chen, Colleen Boggs, Michael Lundblad, and Claire Jean Kim, has examined the various and varied sites of entanglement between animality and race. [End Page 411]

Recent studies of race-based dehumanization indict the humanas a structuring organism, political framework, and ideology that precipitates racial violence. As such, posthumanism has become one of the primary domains in which animal studies and critical race studies collide. Reaching its apotheosis in the 1990s, posthumanist critiques of liberal humanism and anthropocentrism enabled attention to interspecies relations, nonhuman actants, and reimagined entanglements between human, animal, thing, and object. Yet the heterogeneous ontologies and subject formations offered by post-humanism―cyborgs, virtual bodies, autopoesis―often proceeded through racial elisions. Many have identified these racial and gendered assumptions, as posthumanism implies a volitional exodus from the very category denied minoritized subjects. Critics note that calls to move beyond the human often suggest an attempt to move beyond race. 2Fixating on technological possibilities of the future, posthumanism often elides both histories of dehumanization and genealogies of the subject that preceded Enlightenment humanism's. Furthermore, posthumanist modes of blending racialization and speciation have resonated as an appropriative or violent rehearsal of the historical alignment between animality and blackness. 3

Zakiyyah Iman Jackson's Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack Worldand Joshua Bennett's Being PropertyOnce Myself: Blackness and the End of Manenter the fold of this dialogue between animality studies, critical race studies, and posthumanism. Two terms that disorient Enlightenment humanism emerge from these works: vertigofor Jackson and vestibularfor Bennett. As a counter to posthumanist critiques of Enlightenment rationality that centralize the very ideologies they claim to move beyond, Jackson and Bennett create alternate ontologies and relationalities that ask readers to perceive differently―not via the dominant ocular-centric regime of Enlightenment knowledge, but through aural sensations. Unraveling the Enlightenment's Great Chain of Being and the linear, hierarchical schema that separated human from animal, black [End Page 412]from white, and male from female, Jackson shatters the "globally hegemonic metaphysics of theworld" and the relations that abide between thehuman and theanimal (101). Vertigo, the whirling loss of balance stemming from the inner ear, characterizes the dizzying and dazzling way Jackson throws one off balance through a multi-sensory disorientation. Reading Becoming Humanactivates a mode of perception wherein nothing is what it appears. Similarly centering an auditory sensation, Bennett treats the "vestibular sociality" of "black social life at the edge" (132). With their coincident release and shared concerns, Becoming Humanand Being Property Once Myselfconstitute a paradigm shift in the budding subfield of black animality studies. Both mark the violence and violations of the connection between blackness and animality, just as they seek to move beyond frameworks of humanism that depend on denigration of "the animal."

These two works join a cluster of scholarship emerging within black studies that has interrogated the whiteness of posthumanism and ethical frameworks for animal rights. Scholars who work on race within a posthuman or nonhuman frame consider race-based...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9949
Print ISSN
0010-7484
Pages
pp. 411-420
Launched on MUSE
2021-07-29
Open Access
No
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