Ontology is the study of the nature of being, becoming, and existence.
How do you see in the mirror? What do you see? Who do you see? Why?
When you were born, you had no self-awareness. You had to experiment— feel, touch, smell, learn, and most importantly, live pain and pleasure.
Eventually you came to know the ecology of your senses, as your self; your fingers, your body odor, your voice, or lack thereof. Your identity is born.
And once you begin to utilize and recognize these tools of living, you recognize those same traits in others.
The contrast is made immediately. There was never an escape, and there was never a pretense. This contrast extrapolates into every situation you experience with Others (and other Things) until your death, even with a weak sense of self.
Whether you exist or not was never a question, and may never become one for many, even through decades of experimentation.
Nevertheless, Others have often already decided for you:
“Are a boy, or a girl?”
“Are you a human?”
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, Spanish Renaissancehumanist, philosopher, theologian, and proponent of colonial slavery.
Many individuals have decided that Others are less than human: from ancient Grecian speciations of Georgian peoples by Hippocrates, to Amerika’s withholding of humanist ethics from African peoples by founder Thomas Jefferson, to Nazi Germany’s mimicry of Amerikan pogroms— this time aimed at both Blacks, Jews, and Afrikan Jews.
Whenever this individual has enough social clout by ancient standards, those views were adopted and enforced by the populous. In effect, they embody a passive form of the pogrom, ready to marginalize, exile, or kill.
The recurring theme from an international perspective is a hierarchy created in which Europeans were viewed as most human, or to be exempt from slavery upon some pseudoscientific natural right. These Europeans, who would continue to develop these theories into the ideology of white supremacy, would eventually refer to themselves as collectively white. This hierarchy, not materially different from its predecessor as much as it is rhetorical, would be reproduced throughout the world as Europeans raced to colonize every non-European society they could. In time, colorism becomes a function of colonies as an ideological characteristic of European imperialism, not so different from Confuscian ideological tenets being forcefully injected into Vietnam by the Han Chinese. In turn, global anti-blackness becomes the impetus of all ontological hierarchy.
But who were Africans by the time Europeans had sunk their fingers in the World?
Chattel. Property. Colonized.
More like apes than human. More like a fixed capital, than human. In summary, non-human.
The effects of European ideology “white supremacy” and their invasive imperialism became apparent in all aspects of life, from sugar cane fields in Waitikubuli (Dominica) to Eastern perspective on Africa.
This was all enforced without consent of any of the mothers, fathers, agendered adults and children, grandparents, who would permanently lose their cultures and connections to home, and in the future, the idea of what a home could mean in a society you are allowed to know.
The aforementioned process of losing one’s humanity is known as social death, a horrendous process that has permanently affected Black peoples more than any population of people on Earth; at the precise moment Africans began being dragged through the Middle Passage, or even earlier during the Arab slave trade (≈500 AD) as subhumans across continents, to India and to China, they were never allowed to return to their ethnicities, or to be Africans. They became Blacks. They became a subhuman Other, or subaltern. This is the unique case of Blackness, one that has never been addressed by any of the participants of chattel slavery— including the Church.
In the process, of becoming chattel and Blacks, Africans were stripped of their families, permanently separated from people who they could continue speaking to using their tribe’s language, or relate to spiritually. This continued on, and on, and on, millions forced to adapt to their new surroundings, new families, only to lose them again. This happened for centuries upon centuries, ten fold.
Eventually, most had no choice but to be Black, to forget or abandon most if not all of their identities, and to adopt the identity imposed on them. No longer could they reject this identity, for there was no other to claim.
“The ontology of slavery is the [extent] of the Black.” — Frank B. Wilderson III
The pre-Columbian period, the late Middle Ages, reveals no archive of debate on the questions of what to do with the ontologocal effects of slavery, as they might be related to that massive group of black-skinned people south of the Sahara.
Elmina Castle; oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara; ne of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade
No one asked: Should they have social death forced on them, as opposed to physical death (i.e. executions)? Should this form of chattel slavery be imposed on the internal poor, en masse? Should the scale of White slavery become industrial? Should the children of the White slave be enslaved as well?
This chattel slavery became unique to Black people in that we were offered no conditionals whatsoever, and neither was any progeny of ours. Suddenly, children were born Black, and had to be told they were slaves by any slave who had a modicum of dignity. Even with dignity, slaves existed without knowing what slavery meant. Black became synonynous with slavery and social death, an existence soon recognized and exploited by white Humans and non-Blacks with greater Human proximity (eg even Seminoles natives exclaimed they would not be made Black) . It was a genetic and ontological remaking of an entire population of peoples resulting in conditions such as permanent placelessness and cultural appropriation — in which Afrikan indigenous cultures that are still maintained by the Afrikan diaspora can be accused of appropriation of non-Black culture by those who use ideas such as sovereignty to further Black ontological genocide. And of course, the effect these accusations have is always of greater, more “positive” response than any accusations of cultural appropriation by Black peoples, which is always questioned and critiqued and given a less authentic merit.
Chattel slavery did not only completely recreate the existence of Africans, itself. It also created a current definition of what it means to be Human.
At all walks life, working class or bourgeoisie, Black people continue to face this ontologocal erosion that allows them to be discriminated against regardless of how much money they claim, or land they “own”.
Author David Eltis asserts in his book (Europeans and the Rise and Fall of African Slavery) that European society’s decision to not capture slaves from Europe’s own territory was a “bad business idea.” Eltis writes:
“No Western European power after the Middle Ages crosses the basic divide separating European workers from chattel slavery. And while serfdom fell and rose in different parts of early modern Europe and shared characteristics with slavery, serfs were not outsiders either before or after enserfment. The phrase ‘long distance serf trade’ is an oxymoron.”
According to Eltis, population growth patterns in Europe during the 1300s, 1400s, and 1500s heavily outpaced growth patterns on the continent of Africa, demonstrating chattel slavery’s devastating effects on Africa’s growth patterns. In fact, Europe was heavily populated enough to easily provide 50,000 White slaves a year to the “New World” without serious disruption of either international peace or existing social institutions that supervised potential European victims, even stating that class warfare could have been been unlikely due to lower labor costs, a faster development of the Americas, and higher exports and income levels on both sides of the Atlantic. He explains in great detail how the costs of enslavement would have been driven way down if Europeans had taken White slaves to America instead of Black slaves from Africa, noting
“shipping costs… comprised by far the greater part of the price of any form of imported bonded labor in the Americas. I we take into account the time spent collecting a slave cargo on the African coast as well, then the case for sailing directly from Europe with a cargo of [Whites] appears stronger again.”
To Eltis, the decision to capture slaves from Africa was nothing more than symbolic. White chattel slavery would have destroyed the value of consent and social contract amongst those of the “white race” that were strictly reserved for the convict, beggar, indentured servant, or child. Even under heavy coercion during the Middle Ages and late modern period, “the power of the state over [convicts in the Old World] and the power of the master over [convicts of the New World] was more [defined] than that of the slave owner over the slave.” (Eltis) Karl Marx also takes note of the unnecessary political costs to civil society, had Europeans been willing to enslave Whites (Capital, 895–896), implying there must have been more to the decision.
However, according to afro-pessimist theorist Frank B. Wilderson III (Red, White, and Black) claims slavery is symbolic by refuting two misunderstandings:
He states that work, or alienation and exploitation, is not a constituent element of slavery, and that profits are not the most important motivations in slavery .
If slavery is “the permanent, violent domination of… alienated and generally dishonored persons,” (Orlando Patterson), then the basic characteristics of slavery “are accumulation and fungibility.” (Wilderson)
This is a much more accurate definition, as it still describes all the elements necessary to create a slave, regardless of race or ethnicity. But it also implies that Black people, at least in Amerika, are still slaves.
“The ontology of slavery is the [extent] of the Black.” — Frank B. Wilderson III
Ontological oppression is sad, and it is also materially oppressive.
Plantation Layout Slave Quarters
Even with the whips, the manual plantations, and Harriet Tubman out of the picture, there still exists a fungibility in Black existence that maintains an ontological hold over Blackness; Black people are still moved around and generally treated as fixed capital itself:
— through gentrification and natural disaster, not allowed to move back home until the individual or group of individuals has already forgotten that it is their home but lost.
— through constant cultural appropriating with little to no respect for Black consent, as if the culture is being produced for all to rape and distort until it is Black culture no more
— through mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex that capitalizes on low to no-wage labor of prisoners who, much of the time, are in jail for crimes that are no longer criminal (eg possession of marijuana)
—through underdevelopment which leads to widespread illness (mental and physical), famine, and the magnification of damage done by natural disasters that leas to further privatization of underdeveloped lands by its neocolonial predators
etcetera, because all these forms of exploitation are only possible in Amerika and Europe due to the chattel slavery of Afrikan Blacks. The same social death that inspired Amerika through all its stages of development and earlier would become the same to use against Jews in Nazi Germany, albeit without lasting ontological social death post World War II. We are left to our plantations and social death as a sort of anti-Human antimatter.
Wismin Wright carries her belongings out of her damaged home on September 23, 2017 Wesley Village, Dominica
Even now, as “post-racial”, or “post-human”, views of political society take hold over the minds of so called “people of color”, anti-blackness reproduces itself why ignoring the critiques of Black society left without an ontology that can be their own. No longer is it possible for us to go back to a Africa, for even there we are viewed as cultureless. And it ia humanly impossible to existwithout such an identity. And while cultures we produce are constantly raped and pillaged by non-Black people, in spite of our collective desire for that culture to not be warped into what is essentially a mess, we end up again as a chattel of culture or caricatures for what is essentially Amerikan imperialism, where eventually rappers can exist everywhere and suddenly everyone can say “nigga”. The word is no longer coded, because our ontology never existed — because our consent, as Blacks, never existed:
What are we other than Blacks?
What are Blacks, other than…
The Black has become a bleak reality, because it is now our ontology — the Black state of being. Like the blues, it will always carry with it the weight of ancestral trauma growing heavy in time under capitalism and the ideology of white supremacy that made mules of Blackness for all, but Blacks, to benefit from in any way they see fit in the future.
What this means is that anti-Blackness can now flourish proper within any economic system, Left or Right. Ontological oppression, then, is a tool used to create a sort of platform that all societies, except the utopian, can thrive on — a widely untouched hegemonyoutside of the Black community.
“Without this gratuitous violence, the so-called great emancipatory discourses of modernity— Marxism, feminism, postcolonialism, sexual liberation, and the ecology movement— political discourses [relying on modes/grammars of suffering], and their [theories] of exploitation and alienation, might not have developed.” — Frank B. Wilderson III
The implications of this truth only mean that the complete destruction of what the European Human deems “civilization”, ideologically and materially, is the only way to end an anti-Blackness that even the dichotomous Left versus Right is built on (by white people who benefitted frlm white supremacy and continue to today).
Until this hegemony is rendered obsolete and replaced with a true New Humanism or Humanism is done away with completely, it will continue to be so.