The war in the Ukraine and the COVID 19 pandemic are already important markers of the 21st century. With all the problematics of war and global pandemic these two events make clear the success of transatlantic enslavement and subsequent colonial projects, highlighting their impact on contemporary life, thinking, and performances of belonging. The global stain of anti-black racism is so normative that relatively clear thinking people believe that in fleeing a war and in negotiating a pandemic it is expected that priority should be given (those who live, die, and whose lives are permanently lay in ruin) based on a skin hierarchy that have come to denote one’s race, and thereby one’s presumed value and moral capacity.
The echoes of Hilliard d’Auberteuil 18th century statement: “Policy and safety requires that we crush the race of blacks by a contempt so great that who ever descends from it even to the sixth generation shall be covered with an indelible stain” (quoted in Hutton 2007 p. 132) lays heavy as whiteness and whiteness belonging continues to stir the pot of “Contempt so Great.” On its surface it looks solely as an oath against the humanity of African/African Diaspora and melanin rich communities across the globe. But in practice, in the living out of life, which is of course where the gravity and the granular of any project reveal its true purpose, d’Auberteuil’s statement is about the making of white as a race, and the progression of bringing into its fold persons who assent (whether through coercion or choice) to surrender their humanity (their human sensibilities; their moral gravitas) to the gift of presumed superiority. Hence, whether in pandemic or war, performing horrific acts against melanin rich bodies become ‘second’ nature. This new race of people must be made to engage in daily performances of belonging to race (as in white/whiteness), particularly in high-stake occurrences such as war and pandemic, unpinning white race-making from political policy, economic reasoning, sociability, health and the likes. Contempt so Great means that these acts of performing for and into whiteness must be made (and has been made) intuitive beyond second nature; it is nature. And, here, silence is a powerful and riveting strategy; whereby, it is deployed, in much the same way the notion of innocence (in the context of race-making) is now understood as a strategy to absolve guilt. Silence is complicit.
The silence of the major world organizations and political voices in condemning the abuse and violence against melanin rich bodies fleeing the war in the Ukraine, because of the innocence of (white) victimhood, is ruthless. Where are the 40,000+ African/African Diaspora students fleeing the Ukraine war? Of the hundreds who some how managed to cross borders into other European countries, many are being held in detentions centers, others are in temporary situations that require that they find funds to pay for housing, food; and daily necessities because they are not granted refugee status because of their visible melanin rich bodies; they are not allowed to continue their studies because they lack access to transcripts (transcripts that white Ukrainians also do not have, but universities across Europe have been quick to provide space and place); and they, likely most traumatized by the distain meted out to them from all sides, are not being offered trauma care.
But those African/African Diaspora and other melanin rich students from the Ukraine who managed to make their way across the border into European countries are the lucky ones. African/African Diaspora students and other melanin rich students stuck in the Ukraine are starving; lack access to life-sustaining food and water; are surrounded by harmful agents on both sides of the war; and left in silence by lack of media coverage. And this war wages on and on. By now, lack of access to electricity to power their mobile phones mean that their communication with the world outside the war-zone, also sparse from the beginning, is now, well, you know… They are abandoned in a land that is not their own and surrounded on all sides by people who scorn their skin and lives. And, not even their lifeless bodies will stir the highly frayed and tattered moral fabric of a tone-deaf world.
HUTTON, C. 2007. The Creative Ethos of the African Diaspora: Performance Aesthetics and the Fight for Freedom and Identity. Caribbean Quarterly, 53, 127 – 149.