Debates in Latin American Social Theory

The Subject of Race (Pages 25-37)- Achille Mbembe

Entry Questions

Dub (Selection 1)- A.P. Gumbs

After watching the video and re-reading the poems by Alexis Pauline Gumbs answer the following questions:

Group 1

.the notion and practice of “witnessing” and the integration  of lives in the poem “they were witnesses”

Group 2

.the methods of colonialism in the poem “what did we learn from the turtles?”

Group 3

In these poems how does Gumbs build a notion of Caribbean history, ecology with a beyond the human?

. What are the central ideas of this writer, poet, thinker, filmmaker, or artist?

Cameroonian philosopher, political theorist, and public intellectual, Achille Mbembe understands “Black reason” as a collection of “voices, pronouncements, discourses, forms of knowledge, commentary, and non-sense, whose object is things or people “of African origin.” Mbembe says that these narratives “provided the justifications for the arithmetic of racial dominations” (27). The appearance of a “racial subject” generated two lines of inquiry: who are they? and who I am? One of them produces an “identity judgment” and the other a “declaration of identity” (28). These ideas circulated “within a vast global network, producing the modern Black imaginary.”

In the first line of inquiry, Black people are conceived as “not really one of us “a foreign body” that is part animal, part object, and somewhat ambiguously human, yet, kinless, out of the law and any type of national subjecthood. Technologies of separation, categorization, and control are developed from these discourses (3o, 31, 33).

In the second line of inquiry, Black people create an archive to reclaim their erased, or neglected history. They “assume their responsibility to the world by creating a foundation for themselves. Writing, performance, and political actions seek to refute and “exorcise the demon of the first narrative and the structure of subjection within it” (28-9)

. Analyze one specific section by your chosen author that best communicates what you identified in the question above.

Exploring the second narrative Mbembe says that:

The invocation of race “born from a feeling of loss, from the idea that the community has suffered a separation, that it is threatened with extermination, and that it must at all costs be rebuilt by reconstituting a thread of continuity beyond time, space, and dislocation.”

A contemporary poem that illustrates this second line of discourse is “Afro Latina” by ELIZABETH ACEVEDO a slam poetry champion and author of the award-winning novels, The Poet X, With the Fire On High, and Clap When You Land.


Open discussion:

Discuss the three distinct views on Afro-Latinidad discussed by Acevedo in her poem and how they relate to Mbembe’s theorization.

. Discuss how the structure of the text or film enhances the conceptual goals of the author or filmmaker.

This chapter is divided into thematic sections that examined:  European discourses on blackness; the history of enslavement and colonialism in Africa and the Americas; the legacies of slavery and racial division in the contemporary world; the different uses of the noun Black. Through all these interconnected parts he argues race is a security device, an ideology, and a technology of governance.  He argues that the “processes of radicalization aim to mark population groups, to fix as precisely as possible the limits within which they can circulate, and to determine as exactly as possible which sites they can occupy… it is all to prevent the dangers  inherent in their circulation and, if possible, to neutralize them in advance through immobilization, incarceration, or deportation.”  (35)

. Can you establish any analogy/relationship between what the author says or what the filmmaker presents and your personal experience? If this is not the case, can you establish any relationship to other works that you have read/heard/seen (books, comics, plays, paintings, photographs, podcasts, music, movies, series, documentaries, etc.)?

As a thinker, Mbembe is in constant dialogue with Frantz Fanon, a Francophone essayist, and psychotherapist who studied the psychology of colonized Afro-descendants. Commenting on Fanon’s work, Mbembe says that:

.race and racism always incite and engender a “double, a substitute, an equivalent, a mask, a simulacrum.” (32)

.”the people to whom race is assigned are not passive. Imprisoned in a silhouette, they are separated from their essence. According to Fanon, one of the reasons for their unhappiness is that their existence consists in inhabiting the separation [with whiteness] as it were their real being, in hating what they are and seeking to be what they are not.” (33)

Asynchronous Assignment on “The Subject of Race” (Pages 10-20)

Asynchronous Assignment


1. Read pages 10-20 from the essay “The Subject of Race” by Achille Mbembe.

3. Pick ONE of the following prompts and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 2/09 before the class. 200-word minimum.


Why does Mbembe conceptually tie the concept of race to that of European colonialism? What are his arguments regarding Blackness as something that is produced to allow a “social link of subjection”?


Elaborate on Mbembe’s conception of the Atlantic as an “epicenter of a new concatenation of worlds, the locus (space) of a new planetary consciousness” that emerged between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries. How did the Atlantic function as an incubator of a “Black condition”?


Describe the complexity of plantocracies in the Americas. Why does Mbembe define them as systems of unstable exploitation and “hunted by the specter of extermination”?


How the “subjects of race” were legally constructed and thus dehumanized? How slavery was at the core of the western structures of labor and wealth production?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about “The Subject of Race” do you want to bring into the discussion?

Back to Manahatta and Dub

Entry Questions

Were you born in the US or Latin America? Did you migrate to New York? When? From where? Where is your ancestral land? Do you still have contact with it? Do you belong to a diasporic community here in NYC? Where is home for you?

I. Land Acknowledgment: Lenapehoking

Back to Manahatta

.What type of lives does the Lenape lead?

.How would you summarize the history of colonization and displacement of indigenous tribes in what we know now as NYC? (01:18-4:07)

Nick Estes on Manifest Destiny

.What are some of the notions of “home” and the reasoning behind the founding of the Lenape Center? (4:08-6:00)

.What critique the documentary brings forth regarding the buying of Manhattan? How does the concept of land ownership clash with the eco-ideologies of the Lenape? (6:00-8:00)

.What happened to the indigenous groups inhabiting Lanapehoking after the “purchase”? How do contemporary Lenape people protect their native heritage and resist cultural obliteration?  (8:00-12:00)

.What are Lenape people looking forward to? (12:00-13:15)

I. Dub (Selection 1)- Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Dub (Selection 1)- A.P. Gumbs

Discuss the connection between “love”, “need” and ecological balance in the poem “love bugs and starfish”