REIMAGINING FUGITIVITY: IMPROVISATIONS ON JUSTICE
EDITED BY EMMA HETRICK AND KATHLEEN FIELD
In The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (2013), Fred Moten and Stefano Harney describe fugitivity as “the black thing that cuts the regulative, government force” of understanding, which is also that of whiteness. Thus, fugitivity connotes escape, the act of being (a) fugitive, but it also refers to fleeting moments of refusal, which are strategic, improvised, and shape-shifting. It takes place in moments of love and candor, and also in the nooks and crannies of the types of totalizing institutions that generate and preserve a centuries-old climate of antiblackness. This section, “Fugitivity: The Resurgence,” traces strategies of legal, ontological, and political refusal as they are born and reborn in such divergent localities as the carceral system, education policy, and contemporary literature. The works included here lash out against and take flight from the pervasive racism and xenophobia that characterize the afterlives of slavery, elucidating in concrete terms how neoliberal policies and racial capitalism perpetuate systems of inequity and also daring to strategize paths toward a hopeful future.
This section opens with a review of The Future is Black: Afropessimism, Fugitivity, and Radical Hope in Education (2020), a collection of essays edited by Carl A. Grant, Ashley N. Woodson, and Michael J. Dumas. Jeremy Horne explains how the contributors to the collection consider how fugitivity figures in schools. The contributors ask how Black students/people escape/flee afterlives of slavery and segregation, and look to hallways and after-school programs as “sites of possibility.” In writing against antiblackness in the education system, the contributors imagine a radical resistance that emerges from mourning Black suffering.
Moving from the educational system to the carceral system, Jaden M.B. Janak reads a text that critiques prison reform initiatives and how they inherently sustain the prison industrial complex and repackage its oppressive logic. In Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms (2020), authors Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law consider the carceral system’s complicity in upholding the legacy of colonialism, enslavement, and genocide and how it is structured to punish Black and Brown communities. Janak applauds Schenwar and Law’s analysis of the covert violence of popular reform movements and highlights their steadfast insistence that prison abolition is the only path toward a fugitive future.
The desire to institutionalize racialized persons, and refusals of this institutionalization, is picked up again in Jackie Pedota’s review of Unauthorized: Portraits of Latino Immigrants (2019) by Marisol Clark-Ibáñez and Richelle S. Swan. Noting the text’s use of both data and personal narratives, Pedota acknowledges the authors’ insistence on fully contending with the complexity and humanity of their subjects. The data and personal narratives reveal how the undocumented Latinx experience in the US cannot be confined temporally, geographically, or demographically. They conclude that US policies about immigration not only affect immigrants themselves but also affect all people living under US law.
In Just Us: An American Conversation (2020), poet Claudia Rankine similarly engages with storytelling techniques to challenge American institutions, from the government to the university, from a deeply personal, embodied experience. Jennifer Sapio’s review of Rankine’s use of multimodal techniques positions them as fugitive spaces that explore the subjectivity of Black humanity. At the same time, Just Us offers up an uncovering, a making visible, of how whiteness is at the center of spaces and places in the US. Despite, or perhaps, as a result of her critique, Rankine identifies radical hope in the collective gaze toward the future.
The final piece in this section also theorizes a future through the literalization of fugitivity. Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s film Antebellum cinematically render enslavement in the present day, while attending to how Black people in the US refuse to be confined by these historically contextualized antiblack practices. Emma Hetrick situates the film at the tenuous intersection of a range of genres, discovering that the film itself is enacting a refusal of categorization. Moments of the communities embrace by the film’s enslaved Black characters culminate in an escape that leaves the past in its wake.
The texts and film we have assembled here each attempt to locate opportunities for unofficial acts of subversion within institutions that thrive on their official right to weaponize (and legalize) antiblackness. These works take on the daunting task of suggesting how we might flee toward hopeful, radical futures, even when our society is sunken in the legal and systematic depths of racial capitalism. From small moments of stolen connection to invisibilized stories brought to light, to completely dismantling the monolithic institutions that form the hand of governance, the writers and filmmakers featured advocate for tackling systems oppression from within and outside the systems themselves, always centering the lived experiences of Black and brown people in “flight.”