By Staff Writer Laïssa A.
The Black Radical Tradition has long dwelled on how best to end white supremacy, and achieve something called Black liberation. Liberation, emancipation, freedom, whatever one may call it–is the goal of many politically engaged Black people. In this essay, I will ponder the possibilities of human rights practitioners taking the Black Radical Tradition seriously, focusing particularly on Black anarchist politics. The purpose is not to propose a way for human rights to decolonize or progress, but for those concerned with human rights to think of the possibilities of other methods of changing the world. What might taking seriously Black radicals look like? What do Black anarchists, in particular, offer in their critical engagement with the state?
In the last decade or so, abolitionist frameworks, specifically related to the carceral system, have reached a mainstream audience in the United States. Abolitionists have torn down assumptions, forcing people to rethink the meaning of justice and punishment. They have also pushed to expand the political imagination of many.
Whether the nuances regarding the calls for abolition are completely understood is another thing, but an increasing number of people in the U.S. are describing themselves as abolitionists. Now, not all abolitionists are anarchists, but the similarities between their theories of change, especially in their calls to abandon notions of reforming structures of violence, cannot be understated. Therefore, I think that all those who stake a claim in human rights should take the interventions of these Black radicals and their calls to do more than just organize the state differently more seriously.
Many human rights are claims made to the state. Citizens make claims to the state in which the state is obliged to return. By questioning the very thing that most people take for granted, the existence of a state, and a state that Black people in the U.S. have longed worked to integrate into, reform, or revolutionize, anti-statist or anarchist politics allow for a more radical break with the status quo. What would it look like if we imagined more seriously abandoning the state project and looked elsewhere? What might that mean for something called liberation? If liberation is your concern.
Some Black radicals maintain the inability to reform the racist capitalist state. For those not on this political spectrum, this may appear unprincipled, not rigorous, or simply chaotic. Their politics may even appear pessimistic about the possibilities of change. To be clear, they are pessimistic about the possibilities of the state being what some might want it to be. However, it is not a defeatist ideology. By letting go of what is assumed to be stagnant, we see what sort of possibilities that may open up.
Human rights discourse is often faced with criticism of a European/Western bias, seen as a colonial undertaking or simply as ineffective. This has been met with various calls to decolonize or simply abandon human rights discourse completely. However, human rights remains a tool in a very heavy tool box of things people use to gain certain rights and freedoms.Those of us who consider ourselves practitioners must realize it is not the only tool. By opening up to different articulations of what a just world might look like, those interested in a just world take a step closer to it.