This work started as a redress to the White Geology of the Anthropocene and found the guts of its mattering in the critical black feminist work of Sadiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection and the alluvial subjectivity of the Martinique poets Aimé Césaire and Édouard Glissant. Hanging out in the interdisciplinary spaces opened and sustained by these works, many other feminist black scholars have been crucial to the approaches developed in this book. While unable to give this work its full due here, I am particularly grateful for the courageous analytical and politically poetic work of N. K. Jemisin’s bringing together of race and geology across the rifts of broken earths, Sylvia Wynter’s metamorphosis of a black biopolitics, Tina Campt’s quiet futurity of images, Hortense Spillers’s grammars of dissent, Katherine McKittrick’s commitment to liberatory black geographies, Denise Ferreira da Silva’s location of the foundational inscriptions of race in global geography, Tiffany King’s ecologies, Michelle Wright’s challenge to linear time-space, Elizabeth Povinelli’s indigenous analytics that refuse redemption, Angela Last’s critical Caribbean geopolitics, Christina Sharpe’s atmospheres, and Fred Moten’s writing in the blur. Through the completion of this work, it was Dionne Brand’s writing that kept me company at 2:00 A.M. Her poetic relation, given without the possibility of resettling, insists that you must stay with and in the displacement. In that poetics, in its most material geographies, I found the new languages and structures of thought that a turn of epoch, the end of the world of Empire, seems to require. If there is what Brand (2001) calls a Ruttier—an oral poem that functioned as a map for sailors—recited throughout this text, its diasporic yearnings are listing toward the possibility of a gravity that defies antiblackness (in all its guises, across the black and brown commons forged in the afterlives of invasion, genocide, slavery, and settler colonialism). It is from Brand that I take an understanding of Blackness as a material vector that opens out new geographies of space and time that make fierce departures from the subjugating cuts in geography exorcised by imperial conditions. Blackness is understood as a state of relation (in Glissant’s sense of the word) that is assigned to difference through a material colonial inscription, which simultaneously enacted the cutting of geographical ties to land and attachments to ecologies. These diasporic subjects that are summoned here are the ghosts of geology’s epistemic and material modes of categorization and dispossession, which sit “beside the earth’s own coiled velocities, its meteoric elegance” (Brand 2006, 100).
Another way to conceive this would be to understand Blackness as a historically constituted and intentionally enacted deformation in the formation of subjectivity, a deformation that presses an inhuman categorization and the inhuman earth into intimacy. This contact point of geographical proximity with the earth was constructed specifically as a node of extraction of properties and personhood. At the same time, this forced intimacy with the inhuman was repurposed for survival and formed into a praxis for remaking other selves that were built in the harshest of conditions. The proximity of black and brown bodies to harm in this intimacy with the inhuman is what I am calling Black Anthropocenes. It is an inhuman proximity organized by historical geographies of extraction, grammars of geology, imperial global geographies, and contemporary environmental racism. It is predicated on the presumed absorbent qualities of black and brown bodies to take up the body burdens of exposure to toxicities and to buffer the violence of the earth. Literally stretching black and brown bodies across the seismic fault lines of the earth, Black Anthropocenes subtend White Geology as a material stratum.
While genocide (and ongoing settler colonialism) and slavery (and its afterlives) are by no means historically or culturally assimilate, as they have different critical discourses, not to mention territorial implications, that are put into contact through the legacy of White Geology and its geographical and subjective dispossession. This White Geology continues to propagate imaginaries that organize Blackness as a stratum or seismic barrier to the costs of extraction, across the coal face, the alluvial planes, and the sugarcane fields, and on the slave block, into the black communities that buffer the petrochemical industries and hurricanes to the indigenous reservations that soak up the waste of industrialization and the sociosexual effects of extraction cultures. If the Anthropocene proclaims a sudden concern with the exposures of environmental harm to white liberal communities, it does so in the wake of histories in which these harms have been knowingly exported to black and brown communities under the rubric of civilization, progress, modernization, and capitalism. The Anthropocene might seem to offer a dystopic future that laments the end of the world, but imperialism and ongoing (settler) colonialisms have been ending worlds for as long as they have been in existence. The Anthropocene as a politically infused geology and scientific/popular discourse is just now noticing the extinction it has chosen to continually overlook in the making of its modernity and freedom.
In the context of this selective perspectivism, Black Anthropocenes marks an interjection or erasure that is a billion missing articulations of geologic events to provide a counterforce or gravity to the historical junctures from 1492 to 1950 (under consideration by the Anthropocene Working Group for the initiation event of the epoch). I want to challenge the racial blindness of the Anthropocene as a willful blindness that permeates its comfortable suppositions and its imaginaries of the planetary—imaginaries that constitute its geographies of concern and attribution. As an erasure that is both performed and obscured in the “point and erase” action of the naming of the Golden Spikes, Blackness is a material index of resistance to the projection of this Anthropocenic New World–Old World globalizing geography. Refusing the neat placing of Anthropocene geosocial “events” in geology and the reverberations of colonization that they represent, I offer an altered thinking in concert with a billion Black Anthropocenes as a change of register. A billion Black Anthropocenes names the all too many voidings of experiences that span multiple scales, manifestations, and ongoing extractive economies, in terms of the materiality and grammars that inculcate antiblackness through a material geophysics of race. In this book, the writers of the Caribbean are read as both counteraesthetic and counteranalytic to the carceral geo-logics of white settlers in colonialism and New World slavery. While the book sketches a limited engagement with the diverse histories of black and indigenous studies, it instead tries to stay with these geographies of the Caribbean and Americas as inchoate within the settler states of North America and Europe. In the spirit of Brand’s poetics of maroonage and Wynter’s concept of replantation, I have prioritized a patternation of thought and practice in the inscription of geology rather than a more exacting genealogy. In the apprehension of geologic acts that underpin the Anthropocene-in-the-making, I recognize geology as a racial formation from the onset and, in its praxis, as an extractive and theoretical discipline.