When I returned to the U.S. from Kenya in December 2011, I could feel the poison re-entering my system: my skin changed again, as the hard Baltimore water scrubbed off the softer Nairobi water, and, with it, whatever healing Nairobi had effected. I returned to James MacArthur and Christopher Dorner, to the disposability and killability of black men; I returned to “jokes” about nine-year-old girls; to a panel discussion on Django Unchained hosted by film scholars at my university that did not, in the initial panel composition, include any single black scholar; I returned to a post-racial U.S., which meant that racist jokes could circulate with impunity; I returned to a world that Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois would have found too familiar, and mourned.
I returned to a world that Caribbean-born, Liberian intellectual Edward Wilmot Blyden described as uninhabitable. From the mid- to the late-nineteenth-century, Blyden had urged Afro-diasporic populations from the U.S. and the Caribbean to move to Africa, convinced that they could not thrive in western modernity. In helping to found a university in Liberia, he argued that any work produced during and after the Renaissance, the so-called age of exploration, was too racially toxic for African students. And so he attempted to create structures of knowledge devoid of toxicity. Reading Blyden shifted something in me and for me. I began to ask whether it was possible to live outside of toxicity. Whether, in fact, what felt like a utopian possibility rendered impossible by globalization could be any kind of model.
Drawing by Christopher Stackhouse.
All content seen here is reproduced. It has been seen and loved before. And it will be seen and loved again.