Monday, June 1, 2020

Race and Animal Studies

There are a few new books out on the intersections of Black Studies and Animal Studies, and joins a longer list of works on race and animal studies. I thought it could be helpful to put together this list.

1. Just out now is Joshua Bennett's Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man.

The summary for the book:
A prize-winning poet argues that blackness acts as the caesura between human and nonhuman, man and animal.Throughout US history, black people have been configured as sociolegal nonpersons, a subgenre of the human. Being Property Once Myself delves into the literary imagination and ethical concerns that have emerged from this experience. Each chapter tracks a specific animal figure―the rat, the cock, the mule, the dog, and the shark―in the works of black authors such as Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Jesmyn Ward, and Robert Hayden. The plantation, the wilderness, the kitchenette overrun with pests, the simultaneous valuation and sale of animals and enslaved people―all are sites made unforgettable by literature in which we find black and animal life in fraught proximity.
Joshua Bennett argues that animal figures are deployed in these texts to assert a theory of black sociality and to combat dominant claims about the limits of personhood. Bennett also turns to the black radical tradition to challenge the pervasiveness of antiblackness in discourses surrounding the environment and animals. Being Property Once Myself is an incisive work of literary criticism and a close reading of undertheorized notions of dehumanization and the Anthropocene.

2. Also just out is Zakiyyah Iman Jackson's Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World.
The book summary:
Argues that blackness disrupts our essential ideas of race, gender, and, ultimately, the human.Rewriting the pernicious, enduring relationship between blackness and animality in the history of Western science and philosophy, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World breaks open the rancorous debate between black critical theory and posthumanism. Through the cultural terrain of literature by Toni Morrison, Nalo Hopkinson, Audre Lorde, and Octavia Butler, the art of Wangechi Mutu and Ezrom Legae, and the oratory of Frederick Douglass, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson both critiques and displaces the racial logic that has dominated scientific thought since the Enlightenment. In so doing, Becoming Human demonstrates that the history of racialized gender and maternity, specifically antiblackness, is indispensable to future thought on matter, materiality, animality, and posthumanism.
Jackson argues that African diasporic cultural production alters the meaning of being human and engages in imaginative practices of world-building against a history of the bestialization and thingification of blackness―the process of imagining the black person as an empty vessel, a non-being, an ontological zero―and the violent imposition of colonial myths of racial hierarchy. She creatively responds to the animalization of blackness by generating alternative frameworks of thought and relationality that not only disrupt the racialization of the human/animal distinction found in Western science and philosophy but also challenge the epistemic and material terms under which the specter of animal life acquires its authority. What emerges is a radically unruly sense of a being, knowing, feeling existence: one that necessarily ruptures the foundations of "the human."

These two new books join several other monographs on the intersections of race and animal studies.

3. Aph Ko's 2019 Racism as Zoological Witchcraft: A Guide to Getting Out.

4. Also in 2019 we had Lindgren Johnson's Race Matters, Animal Matters: Fugitive Humanism in African America, 1840-1930

5. Bénédicte Boisseron's 2018 Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question

6. Julietta Singh's 2018 Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements

7. Aph and Sly Ko's 2017 Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters 

8. And lastly, Claire Jean Kim's 2015 Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age

In addition to these several monographs, there have also been more than a few edited volumes on these issues. These include:

1. The 2020 collection, Colonialism and Animality: Anti-Colonial Perspectives in Critical Animal Studies edited by Kelly Struthers Montford and Chloë Taylor.

2. The 2019 collection Veganism of Color: Decentering Whiteness in Human and Nonhuman Liberation, edited by Julia Feliz Brueck.

3. The 2017 collection, Veganism in an Oppressive World: A Vegans-of-Color Community Project, also edited by Julia Felix Brueck.

4. And of course, A. Breeze Harper's 2009 collection, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society.

And of course, these are only books (and probably not all of the books), there are plenty more chapters and articles that address these issues. Hopefully, as animal scholars, this work will challenge a tendency in the field to simply engage in what Alexander Weheliye, in Habeas Viscus, correctly pointed out as "the not so dreaded comparison."