My own effort is to try to bear witness to something that will have to be there when the storm is over, to help us get through the next storm. Storms are always coming.
—JAMES BALDWIN, quoted in Ed Pavlic, “Who Can Afford to Improvise?”: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners
To travel without a map, to travel without a way. They did, long ago. That misdirection became the way. After the Door of No Return, a map was only a set of impossibilities, a set of changing locations.
—DIONNE BRAND, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging
A Billion Black Anthropocenes is a mediation on the politics and poetics of abjection that underpin the becoming of the Anthropocene as a material and durational fact in bodies and environments: a subtended geology that differentiates and is differentiating in relations of power. Geologists may say, what has this got to do with geology, to which may be replied, everything! The Anthropocene was conceived as a political geology, and that is its practice, and besides, historically, when was geology anything but political in its narratives about the world, origins, and the weaponization of extraction as a motivation and mode of dispossession? Deep-time and near-time geologic questions are entangled with hard political questions about decolonizing and the possibility of futures. Noticing the meshwork of anti-Blackness and colonial structures of the Anthropocene, which constitute the distinct underbelly to its origin stories, gives visibility to the material and bodily work that coercively carries the Anthropocene into being and challenges the narrative accounts of agency there within. That is, the survival of these geologic surrogates disrupts, shows up, and contests the easy accounts of colonial universalism and its reproduction of power geometries in geological life. I want to alter how we think and imagine geological relations in nonextractive modes, to think about encountering the coming storm in ways that do not facilitate its permeant renewal. Regardless of the political weather that conditions the terminology around environmental rupture, there is no getting away from the radical presencing of geology in our lives, as energy, sensibility, storm, rift, and a growing awareness of what that energy costs across corporeal and planetary bodies (an awareness that has had its “quieted” witnesses since 1492). When the storm is over, there will be another. The storms are always coming, with faster and greater intensity. From a very literal point of view, these storms might very well be the loudest and most insistent political message and material instantiation of the Anthropocene today. If today’s storm is a prelude to another, what, in Baldwin’s words, would help us get through the storm next time?
A tentative movement toward the decolonialization of the Anthropocene might be made through geo-Poethics. Geo-Poethics takes up Silva’s use of the term Poethics to denote a black feminist praxis that might actively announce a whole way of knowing, doing, existing, as an ethical mandate. Silva (2014) says, “What is Black Poethic Intention? Is it an ethics, which instead of the betterment of the World as we know it aims at its end?” Such an Anthropocene geo-Poethics would turn against Man and the homogenizing impulse of humanist tropes into and another world of matter that puts race as central to the geosocial and geo-Poethical formations of the Anthropocene. This geo-Poethical tension might propel us toward the idea of a billion Black Anthropocenes as an unsettling in Anthropocenic thought. I have argued that the Anthropocene exhibits a colonial geology, a geology in which spikes are named and conceived, which in turn generates a specifically racialized territorialization of the earth. In light of this colonialism and how geomorphic moments are marked in the flesh of targeted communities, there is a need both to rethink the empirics of this social geology—that is, to pay attention to the material composition of these geologic moments—and epistemically not to reproduce those arrangements of power in the telling. Currently we have a White Anthropocene that transforms the epistemic traditions of the particular into a general expression without “refashioning at a collective level” the terms of humanity (Silva 2015, 99).
How is it possible to dislodge the language of geology so that such dispossessing movements cannot be so easily made? This is a question of redress that frames the Anthropocene in the alchemy of race and geology as a calculus of extraction. If the Anthropocene prompts a recognition of the change in quality of the subjective force of geology, it must do so at a material level in the ways that geologic relations structure, sustain, condition, and constrain agency. And it must do so at a symbolic level, to challenge the ways in which geologic classification organizes psychic lives and modes of nonbeing. That is to think about how “geopower” (Yusoff 2018) is a product of subjugating relations as well as geopolitical consideration and capitalization rather than to reinforce and reiterate the “naturalization” of colonial dispossession of land and minerals. This historic analysis extends concern for the contemporary subjects caught in dehumanizing geologic relations that deform the earth in various ways (which is recognized in the Anthropocene) and that deform subjects (which is not explicitly recognized). Rarely are these twinned structural deformations thought together as an epistemic praxis that finds its resolution in inhuman relation. Who is protected by such a division in these inhuman structures? How does geologic nomenclature space the distance between these two conjoined operations? If the imagination of planetary peril coerces an ideal of “we,” it only does so when the entrappings of late liberalism become threatened. This “we” negates all responsibility for how the wealth of that geology was built off the subtending strata of indigenous genocide and erasure, slavery and carceral labor, and evades what that accumulation of wealth still makes possible in the present—lest “we” forget that the economies of geology still largely regulate geopolitics and modes of naturalizing, formalizing, and operationalizing dispossession and ongoing settler colonialism.
What would a geology look like that refused its role as formulated by the adage that Charles Lyell famously coined—“the key to the past lies in the present”—and moved, instead, with the anticipatory geologic formations of the Anthropocene, a formulation that explicitly recognizes that the key to the future lies in the present and that the present is not just future oriented but that the future is already inscripted in the present, already bounding with the material recombinations of the bad material formulations of the past secreted into future possibilities? Writing a geology for the storm next time would move away from the immediate political gratification of naming a Golden Spike or being author of a new origin story into the historical record of a geology that is at once destabilizing of the historicity that it carries and cognizant of the bloody catalog that it has marked. A set of questions emerges from this derangement of geology:
- 1. How does the formation of the Anthropocene as a political geology reformulate and reimagine material relations that have hitherto been organized by anti-Blackness?
- 2. What displacements of violence go into this maneuver to organize around an “innocent” geologic subjectivity in the pursuit of a future environmental citizenship? What strategies of individuation and communing are involved in the geologizing of the social?
- 3. Who is vulnerable to injury by the idea of the Anthropocene, epistemologically and materially, in the erasure of differentiated effects and sharing of the surplus? In parallel, what becomes invulnerable to scrutiny?
- 4. How do these propositions of geologic life in the Anthropocene organize and manage a set of relations in a regulatory framing of propertied and properties? What are the normative presuppositions of geology as a way of operating and extending settler colonialism through the nomenclature of materiality and the praxis of extractions?
- 5. Since geology is a hinge that joins indigenous genocide, slavery, and settler colonialism through an indifferent structure of extraction, indifferent to the specifies of people and places, how does the refusal of responsibility in the mapping of pasts and futures of geology leave the present unchecked?
A Billion Black Anthropocenes proposes a new graphia of geology that unearths the racial secretions in its historic and future praxis. Rather than seeing Blackness as biopolitical, we might also see it as a geopolitical act in the division of flesh and earth though the grammar of the inhuman. What I propose is that the Anthropocene produces a geophysics of anti-Blackness enacted through sets of material and psychic relations in the designation of property and properties. The championing of the collective in geology under the guise of universality or humanity is actually a deformation of the differentiation of subjective relations made in and through geology. This is how the codification of geology (as land, mineral, metal, gold, commodity, value, resource) becomes the historical basis of theft, actioning a field of dispossession in which the language of containment is used to materially organize extraction, where violence is covered in the guise of liberating surplus wealth from people and the earth. A Billion Black Anthropocenes goes in search of a grammar of geology for the storm next time. It proposes that the event of geology become truly marked by the colonial marks that have instigated its passage across the “measure of the world” (Césaire  2000, 73). It embraces its intimacies with the inhuman. It asserts an insurgent geology for the end of the world, for the possibility of other worlds not marked by anti-Blackness, where the inhuman is a relation, no longer an appendage of fungibility. It is a refusal of the white overburden of geology that has secreted its excess into every pore of the earth. No geology is neutral.
The problem was gravity and the answer was gravity. (Brand 2014, 157)