Alexander Weheliye reminds us, in resonance with Rosi Braidotti’s lecture, that the human was never a category that could be taken for granted. Black life, he argues, still has not been recognized as completely human; rather, it is constituted as the ontological limit of modern humanity. To think of the question of the boundaries of the human, then, is to necessarily think with blackness. Blackness is not reducible to the question of race (and race is not reducible to blackness), but at the same time blackness cannot be separated from the flesh. This is evidenced in the fact that the first mapping of DNA through the mitochondrial DNA was, for a long time, ascribed as a normative European white marker of humanity. However, as Amade M’charek makes clear, this sequence, named the Anderson sequence, was actually composed of bovine cells, HeLa cells from the now well-known Henrietta Lacks whose DNA was used without permission for all kinds of medical discoveries, and cells from a donor based in England. The whitening of the DNA line mirrors the ways in which blackness has to be killed off for individual black people to be recognized as human.
The liminality of blackness within humanity is figured also in the process of ungendering. The ungendering that black people are subject to is both a marker of dehumanization, and provides possibilities of thinking beyond the human, or to a new kind of human. Ungendering opens up possibilities for new forms of gender through the disavowal of the normative frameworks under which we understand the conditions of entry into humanity. Ungendering is about the excessive and unidentified forms of gender in black life, where ungendering works as a form of impairment that constantly needs to be produced. Ungendering of black life opens onto the somebody-elseness that is the bifurcated reality of black flesh under the conditions of white supremacy. But despite the deadly implications of such hierarchies, as becomes more apparent with every passing day, there is also an archive of difference contained in black life, in blackness, and in black critical thought that Weheliye reminds us we need to pay attention to. There are ways of thinking beyond the human that extend throughout the black critical tradition, seen in the works of Frantz Fanon and Aimé Cesaire, but especially, and in particular in the black feminist tradition exemplified by the brilliance of thinkers such as Sylvia Wynter and Hortense Spillers.
We ended the seminar with the provocation to think with blood and glitter. These two figures speak to what is so thrilling in Weheliye’s thought, and in thinking the boundary of the human. For it is in flesh that the real stakes of the biopolitical are marked, through the blood of the ancestors and their manifestations in contemporary life and through blood spilled in the ongoing violence of living under white supremacy. But it is in glitter that the fabulous diffractive cornucopia of black feminist thought, and black life more generally, produces new versions of how we can think the future of what might be called human. Glitter points to the queer, ungendered realms of imagination and peoplehood that are both human and more-than- human, both of the body and of the collective, composed of light and sparkle and the fabulousness of the dance floor. It is here, in blood and glitter, that black futurity seems to lie.