We Got It! Part I: Real n— don’t die


Design by Eden Drajpuch

Photos from Atlantic Albums, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, N.W.A., Solange, World History Archive, Wu-Tang Clan, CC Media

Quinn Hughes, Staff Writer

Real n— don’t die

But they still want to try

To kill a n—-   like me but motherf-‘ real n—-   don’t die!

– Eazy E

What is dying? What is n—-   dying? What is the sight of, sound of, taste of n—-   dying? Can n—-  die? If we wish to use words and grammar to articulate anti-Black violence, Blackness demands that we first must do a deep meditation on these questions. Born out of the belly of the slave ship, Blackness as a structural position has not had access to death. For, to be held by a static position of death is to assume a static position of life that is inaccessible to the slave. Because the slave is unable to lay claim to gender, sexuality, or family lineage, Black people in the contemporary are unable to access the same plane of being as the living. Instead, Blackness demands that we develop a new method of analysis that can account for the non-being of the slave, forcing us to new epistemologies and uncharted waters. 

I am terrified by the way we use words. Words and grammars have shown themselves to be the ways in which violence is able to be preserved, tended to and perfected through time. However, in this plane of terror emerges a familiar instance of terrible beauty spilling out of and in excess to this violence. For Blackness, words and communication have fundamentally shaped the Black radical performance and aesthetic, being able to convey feelings of love, joy, beauty, and terror, counter to the violence of the world. 

In this piece and my work immediately following this article, I am interested in exploring the lives of words, performance, and aesthetics and how they have marked the lived experiences of Black people and Black community making. The ways in which they live on through the Black people, and Black communities, loving, caring and healing each other at the end of the world. In this essay, I look to outline my interpretations of the positionality of Blackness within the world as both a prerequisite to analysis of Black performance, and as a means of deepening the language that we have to discuss Blackness and the world that it has created. 

Before we can tackle our understanding of the violence that mark themselves on Black flesh, we must first begin in preschool. The developmental stage of young children offers us the clearest window into the ways in which western, late-stage capitalism performances of a gender and sexuality binary are ingrained in the minds of young people. The gendered performances of ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ are strictly enforced on young children and offer an excellent example of how human identity is formed. (It is worth mentioning that this binary interpretation of gender is not accurate, nor does it follow any scientific or logical schema; however, western culture describes this interpretation of gender onto those in society against their will).

Those who are marked as ‘Boys’ are instructed to perform in certain and specific ways: “Boys are loud”, “Boys play sports”, “Boys are messy.” The same process is performed on those marked as girls: “Girls are quiet”, “Girls play with dolls”, “Girls like pink.” This understanding of performance is not only enforced directly by teachers, parents and peers, but also indirectly in music, TV, and advertising.

The identarian markers of ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ are also enforced negatively, by young children what they are not. “Boys don’t wear dresses”, “Boys don’t cook”, “Boys don’t stay up late talking on the phone”. The same is done for those marked as girls “girls don’t play sports”, “girls don’t listen to rock and roll”, “Girls don’t play with action figures.” When society teaches young children how to perform one identity, it is necessary to teach them how not to perform based on the other ‘opposite’ of that same identity. We see here that in order for a boy to know that it is a boy, it must have a girl in its frame of reference to juxtapose itself . This is seen not only in gender but in all forms of identity.. Race, class and sexual performances are all maintained the same way. Human identity is formed through both an affirmation and a negation of actions and performances. 

If slave masters intended to own humans as property, there needed to be a way to separate the human from those being bought and sold. It is not sufficient to do this by the color of skin, though that is necessary, but there had to be some inheritable performative characteristics in order to ensure the preservation of racial slavery. The examples of gender roles in the aforementioned paragraph are created by both an affirmation of what they are and a negation of what they are not; the same is done to create the master’s identity on the plantation. In order for the human to know who they are, they need to know who they are not by fixing the position of the anti-human. If the human can trace a family lineage, they, the non-human, must not have access to a family lineage. This is done in the fact that slave parents were unable to lay claim over the bodies of their children. If the human can rely on a consistent representation of gender and sexuality, then the non-human, must be the category absent of gender and sexuality. This is seen in the fact that slaves were unable to consent to sexual acts, nor did they have the option of expressing their own sexuality. If the human suffers violence based on a cause and effect relationship to other humans, then non humans must suffer gratuitous violence for no reason. 

 The subject position of whiteness, in 2019,  is preserved by an active affirmation and participation in the violence at the level of the hold. Images of anti-Black violence are so widely circulated because in order for white culture to affirm and understand what it is, it has to rely on an understanding of what it is not. This is done by the ability to gaze upon, and participate in the conception of the non-human. This is seen in the mass circulation of images of anti-Blackness. In order for white culture to exist, there must be a consistent degree of violence being done at the level of the non-human. When the videos of police murders of Black people are widely circulated, it grants all those who see the video the ability to affirm and to understand the positionality of Blackness as the antithesis of the human. The reason why lynchings were a family event, why the body parts of the victims were sold, why pictures fixes the scenes of suffering in history books and museums, why the videos of Black people killed by the police are circulated millions of times across the internet and TV, why the Justice Department reopened the investigation of Emmett Till’s murder in 2018,  is because it is not enough to simply satisfy the individual performing the act, but rather it takes the active and passive participation of an entire ontological register and plane of being, to engage with this layer of violence — for them to exist at all.

Why is the body of Laquan McDonald shot sixteen times? Why is he shot at all? Why is he shot in the back? These questions cannot and will not be explained with a grand jury, a psychologist, a mortician, or dash cam footage. These questions demand being contextualized within the same logic as the scenes of violence on the plantation and in the hold. The shooting death of Laquan Mcdonald is not about killing him; it is not about the ability for Jason Van Dyke to protect his own body. It is about performing acts of excess violence onto Black flesh. Excess violence is the word used to describe the excess violence that exceed logic of capitalism or sociology, that can only  be described by an understanding that the violence of Blackness is created as a means of active identitarian affirmation of whiteness. Violence, that exceeds any rational threshold of limitation. Excess violence is done for no other reason then to establish and affirm the positionality of both the human and the non human. The human is able to exist and to understand both what it is and is not by performing excess violence. 

The human, and humanist language, are able to preserve themselves as long as there is a threshold of violence done onto Blackness. Pornography, advertisements, TV shows, movies, music, social media, political discourse, sports, literature, all edify the position of Blackness in the zone of non-being. It is here that we see why Blackness is unable to ever access the same plane of being as the human, as the humans ability to exist is predicated on anti-Black violence.

These acts exceed the linear boundaries of capitalist logic. It does not make monetary sense for a master to kill or destroy their own property. However, the value of the constitution of the identity of the master is more valuable than monetary gain. To put simply, the slave master recognizes the value of establishing the positionality of the human is more valuable than the money lost in the process. 

All this is to say that Blackness problematizes our conceptions of the human — the human exists because of the gratuitous violence done onto Blackness.  Blackness is confined to the positionality of the slave in the hold of the ship moving through the Atlantic Ocean, erased from family lineage, unable to conceptualize static notions of space and time. This is not Black people in the 1600s, not Black people on the plantation, not Black people in the 1920, not Black people in the prison industrial complex, but Blackness. Which is to say all Black people, Black culture, Black life itself. Which is to say the Black people who you see in your town, school, work, possibly in your mirror. Which is to say the Black person writing this article. All confined to the structural position of the slave in the hold of the ship. 


* * *

In the beginning was the word

And the word was


And the word was n—-  

And the word was death to all n—-  

And the word was death to all life   

And the word was death to all

   peace be still

– Nikki Giovanni

Contemporary political discourse surrounding Blackness employ what I describe as a liberal grammar: a series of words, phrases and philosophical notions that shape mainstream thoughts about Blackness and race in the western world. This liberal grammar describes a positive progression in Black subjectivity from slavery to the modern day.  Following a linear timeline, the liberal grammar subscribes to the notion that slaves were brought to America, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, went through Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement to the election of the first Black president, with Black life being made better each step of the way. Liberal grammars suggest that Blackness has a fluid and flexible subjectivity that can go from being a slave to a subject, with the simple act of signing a piece of legislation. We know that this fluid subject position is inaccessible for Blackness. For, in order for the Black to become on the same plane of being as a human, it would require the destruction of the entire register of being of the human. The literal end of the world.

Contemporary liberal discourse surrounding Blackness performs an extreme degree of violence. Terms such as ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are present in almost every single ‘nuanced’ discussion of race. The term ‘People of color’ used to describe all non-whites, has become a meaningless signifier that homogenizes lived experiences, and ignores the anti-human violence that lets the preceding term ‘people’ exist in the first place. Anti-racist coalition efforts are encouraged to center the role of whiteness as an institutional power. This imperative ignores the layer of ontological violence present at the level of Blackness. Our contemporary linguistic surrounding race is so deeply rooted in anti-Black violence, there is no salvageable method of change within it. 

Liberal methods of analysis are violent again in that they lead of to a series of very wrong, terrifying and quite frankly dumb questions and answers. “What are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” “Why don’t white kids invite people of color to their parties?” “What can we do to stop people from tanning for prom?”All of these inquisitions begin and end with the desire to incorporate Blackness into the same register of being as the human. These violent methods reproduces a degree of violence onto Black people. The language of diversity and inclusion perpetuates anti-Black violence by participating in and affirming language that is established by anti-Black violence. 

When we employ liberal methods of analysis, we risk forgetting that there is no way for Black people to articulate our lives and performances in a way that can make sense, in the western connotation of the word, to the rest of the world. We risk forgetting that Black subjectivity is within the confines of the hold. We risk forgetting how Black people have survived this crisis of being in the past. We risk losing the reason why our ancestors found the strength to get up each and every day. We are risking everything. 


* * *

“I wrote this (poem) for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they are frightened out of their wits”

-Maya Angelou 

Black scholarship in the crisis of non-being, the emergency of the hold, must begin with epistemology, or the project of critically thinking about what we know and how we know it. Because the violence of the world restructure the way that Black thought is understood in the contemporary, we must perform the necessary labors of thinking and rethinking violence. Blackness demands of us another method of reading, writing and thinking that is accurately able to understand the situation of Blackness in the zone of non being. 

The demand to begin and end our methods of thinking with Blackness in the hold of the ship lead us to a series of new questions that can account for the non being of Blackness. How have Black communities survived, and continue to survive the crisis of Blackness? How can methods of Black care and community offer methods of survival for Black people? What is Black love, life and death? 

A common response to the conjecture that Blackness if fixed to the hold is the inquisition, “Where is the hope?” This question saddens and angers me. As we come full circle, we see where the hope is, by understanding where it is not. It is not in the school board meetings. It is not in the 2020 presidential election. It is not in your favorite podcast produced by the New York Times. It is not in a diversity and inclusion conference for educators. It is not in the  deepening understanding and analysis of the presence and role of whiteness. It has been with us all along. It is not in increased funding to get students of color to get higher representation in AP and Honors STEM courses. It is not in the Pythagorean theorem. It is not in the year(s) of the Black male. There is nothing for us there.

The answer is in the hold, and it will remain in the hold. Hope is found within the social lives of Black people who have, and continue to, survive the ongoing crisis of anti-Blackness. Hope is found within food, dance, song, love and care. The hope is found in Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, Reggae. It is found in kitchens, barber shops, and churches. It is always already inside and outside of us. It is in the proclamation, demand, and command; Black is beautiful. The world that folds, destroys, and rips apart the flesh of Blackness, has no hope within it. Instead, it is the world that move through, beyond and past, us that hold our hope. It is beyond the material in between what can be touched and what can be felt. Between what is seen and what is known, and what is said and what is heard. 

The proclamation “real n—-  don’t die” is the necessary premise of our epistemology and knowledge production in the ever present emergency of anti-Blackness. In a world structured by dead, dying and soon to be dead n—-  , our grammatical praxis must orient itself within an understanding of the ways in which Blackness refuses, complicates and destroys our understandings of death and dying. To be Black, which is to say to live as Black, perform as Black, care as Black, love as Black, mourn as Black, is to be in refusal of and in opposition to, a static position of death. 

As far as Blackness is concerned, the dead are never truly dead; the living are never truly living. Real n—-   don’t die is the necessary epistemic for Black methods of resistance  because it offers us an appropriate method of analysis that has the power and potential to unmake the grammatical violences imposed onto us by the world. 

Liberal ideology continues to ask Black people to invest in a brighter day, that comes from an invaluable amount of votes, protesters, marches, and phone calls to you local elected officials. Through the proclamation “real n—-   don’t die” we are able to see the ways in which the corporal futurity that predicates liberal grammar enacts a register of violence onto Blackness. 

Real n—-   don’t die offers us the tools and language to care for the dead and dying Black people globally as a means of  refusing life, death and the suspension of Blackness between, above and in excess to both. 

Real n—-   don’t die, grants us the ability to orient ourselves towards a new conception of freedom that has been with, around and in excess of us forever. 

Real n—-   don’t die, is the demand for new epistemic ground that can orients its self within the crisis of Black abjection.

The phrase is comprised of the moans, shrieks, cries, and laughter that emerge in excess of Black life. It is comprised of the life that resisted and spills out of the epidermalization of the flesh. It is the light, air, and water that flows endlessly around Blackness. It is the footnotes to and scribbles in the margins of the hieroglyphics of the flesh. It is the sun, moon and stars. It is everything and nothing. However, most importantly, real n—-   don’t die is demand, and celebration of Black love, care and world making at the end of the world. 

N—-  , hustlers don’t stop, they keep goin’

You can lose your life but it gon’ keep goin’

Why not risk life when it’s gon’ keep goin’?

When you die somebody else was born

  • Young Thug