What Is The Afropessimism Theory?

Art depicting freedom from slavery
Emeka Ochiagha
July 8, 2021

“Afropessimism” is a relatively new concept that has been shifting conversations about Black life both within and outside of academia. Here’s everything you need to know about the concept and what it argues.

The term “Afropessimism” was coined by Frank Wilderson III, a Professor of Black Studies at UC Irvine. The theory argues that the Emancipation Proclamation was a non-event: the systems of power did not change!

Enslavement also, he argues, was not an event – it was a relational structure that is still very alive and well.

It argues that Black skin is still socially coded as enslaved skin, and because we are still marked as slaves, we exist in what Wilderson calls “Social Death.” This means we are not perceived as human beings to non-Blacks.

Anti-Black violence is a pleasurable experience for the non-Black to witness, he argues, and white supremacy has always had a sexual aspect to it, akin to rape.  

Anti-Blackness isn’t just simple hatred – it’s the primary organizing principle of our contemporary world order. His most powerful point? The world as we know it would have to cease to exist for Black people to be free!

Afropessimism as a theoretical framework can help us come up with sharper, more historically situated strategies in challenging and conquering white supremacy, now and forever.

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