The day after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, White liberal online magazine Slate concluded its “Trump Apocalypse Watch.” Curated by chief news blogger Ben Mathias-Lilley, the watch was, as he described in his initial March 2016 post, a “daily estimate of how likely Trump is to be elected president on a scale of zero to four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Referencing the New Testament’s harbingers of the Last Judgment, he wrote that zero would indicate Trump’s failure to secure the GOP nomination or a Clinton defeat. Four horsemen would mean he's sworn in as President. “Although it's unlikely we'll actually get that post up,” Mathias-Lilley wrote, “considering that the United States' communications system will be knocked out instantly when every other country in the world collaborates to pre-emptively nuclear-bomb us into oblivion.” The watch was updated regularly throughout the Republican primaries until the general election and, on November 9th, was updated to four horsemen. Faced with a Trump presidency and (I presume) reflecting upon Trump’s uniquely brash embrace of White supremacy and its attendant politics of economic deregulation, sexual violence, and xenophobia to name a few, Slate wrote: “Let’s hope it was all just hyperbole.” The us implied here, of course, is the majority of college-educated, poor, rich, and middle-class White people that had, a day before, elected Trump. By the time January 20th arrived, the United States was, shockingly, not entombed in a mushroom cloud. Trump was inaugurated with little fanfare. He wore a very long, red tie and suit that poorly fit him. Melania wore Herve Pierre to the ball.
The horsemen never arrived.
The word apocalypse is a modern derivative of the Ancient Greek apokalyptein, meaning to uncover or reveal. Donald Trump’s presidency has not ended the world, but according to those who followed Slate’s blog and continue to insist that Trump’s rise to power is anomalous, it has brought into relief or revealed a slew of mundane catastrophes they had previously chosen to ignore. Among these newly discovered tragedies of modernity that have become self-serving talking points: the continued war against Muslim life worldwide, genocide on the southern border and in the Mediterranean, and the expansion of the carceral regime under which Black people continue to live—from Oakland to Israel—that ensures the futurity of the global bourgeoisie and their blue-collared deputies. While this moment is certainly dire and unparalleled in certain respects, considering the violence now being waged against people that live under the boot of capitalist domination in the U.S. and abroad as unparalleled neglects the centuries-long histories of anti-blackness, colonialism, and imperial terror that have sustained the world as we know it.
That an exceptionally American president such as Trump would inaugurate the end of the United States is the paradoxical proposition that Trumpocalypticism rests upon. Franco Barchiesi writes that following Trump’s election, “Progressives held firm to the imago of American civil society as universally human and essentially ethical… despite falling short of such norms in this specific instance.” Let me be clear: pussy hat progressives are not reckoning with the fundamental violence that secures their “freedom” and predates Trump by hundreds of years. They are wracked by their lack of discipline to bear witness to this violence, in real time, in press briefings, in tweets, on t-shirts, on chyron after chyron.
As a Black person committed to the demolition of the anti-Black world at all costs, their failings mustn’t be my concern.
Any Black person that challenges the coherence of our anti-Black world in their art and daily life is familiar with the sensation of stagnancy that threatens to petrify us: the world has been fucked for a long time, and will remain fucked for a long time. As Jamila Woods reminds us in “Blk Girl Soldier”:
Look at what they did to my sister
Last century last week
They put her body in a jar and forget her
They love how it repeats
Last week and last century are one in the same. It’s (been) the end.
The end of this world—now an ongoing collaboration between our captors and our subjugated imagination—is, however, not imminent, nor is it likely anytime soon.
And still, life.
Still, those of us whose suffering structures the “rights” and pleasures of White folks must find a way to live.
Welcoming the end of the world (that has yet to arrive) while avoiding contamination by the feigned shock of this current moment is not easy. The timelessness of living while Black is taxing on the body: objective vertigo kills. I try to return to art and scholarship created by Black people—and especially Black people who are not men—for clarity and focus, instead of looking to Black women for comfort and resilient reaffirmation that the world is not on fire. Tellingly, after both the election of Donald Trump and Doug Jones, Black women were summoned to burp the proverbial baby after its gorging and showered with thanks for “saving America” (or earnestly trying to) by the same people who gawk at minimum wage increases and universal healthcare. Kamala Harris and Maxine Waters are just two recent victims of mammy-awe, memed into oblivion to save face for millions, their likeness abstracted from the anti-Black past and present in which they live.
The positioning of Black women as the figurative and literal way out of the (unbearably-transparent and worsening) world is a trademark of this moment’s Trumpocalypticism and illuminates how violence against Black women is integral to Americans’ envisioning of futurity. This performative praise obscures the reality of Black women dying: on the border, on the block, during delivery, during transport, in the classroom, in the home, in the prison, on and on and on. Mistaking this routinized worship as a redistribution or inversion of power is a grave error and one we ought to avoid, lest we repeat the past. We cannot afford to plot an escape using our captors’ compass. Said another way: listening to Black women die cannot stand in for listening to Black women. As Tina Campt writes in Listening to Images, “The grammar of black feminist futurity is a performance of a future that hasn’t yet happened but must.” How to prepare for what must come, but as of yet remains unknown?
Afro-pessimism is a theoretical lens forged through centuries of Black peoples’ evolving consideration of the relationship between anti-Blackness and world-making. Afro-pessimists build on the work of Orlando Patterson’s rigorous studies of slavery and argue that it must be defined not as a relation of forced labor, but one of property. Black people are not practically eligible for subjecthood in the way that non-Black people are, but instead are treated as objects of accumulation and fungibility: kidnapped, killed, sold, terrorized. In 1718 and 1818 and 1918 and 2018. A raid at 7-Eleven, a killer cop in San Francisco, a slave auction in Sabratha, a juvenile prison in Seattle. Last century, last week.
While I cannot, in this brief reflection, adequately illuminate the many ways that this theory cares for Black people by refusing to mistake superficial integration for the political annihilation that something akin to Black freedom requires, I name it to introduce the words of Saidiya Hartman, one of the theory’s preeminent interlocutors. In The Belly of the World: A Note on Black Women’s Labors, Hartman notes that imagining a future produced by the violently extracted labors of Black women is the insidious enterprise into which the modern world enlists those lusting for the safety of subjecthood.
But, Hartman suggests, other forms of envisioning and feeling another after in the present are possible. Of the self-sustaining, abolitionist care of Black women that remains “exploited by racial capitalism,” she writes, “[it is] most importantly… not reducible to or exhausted by it.” Indeed, this care “enable[s] those “who were never meant to survive” to sometimes do just that.” This caring is not concerned with cohering the World that prohibits Black women from being, but surviving long enough to end the world altogether, and beyond. It is care for one another, against the world. As The Daily Show with Trevor Noah correspondent Dulce Sloan decreed during a segment about Black women’s turnout to elect Doug Jones, “We didn’t do it for you. We did it for ourselves. No Black woman casts her vote going, “This one’s for Scott!” Fuck Scott.”
Before the breakdown, a breakdown:
Survived already living
In someone else’s
After. Time works against me and I leave it behind.
The state works against me and I leave
Him behind. I work against me and stay
Here: building inside of a Black hole I split and split and
Split this world apart
Jonathan Jacob Moore, or Jon Jon, is a poet and scholar from Detroit interested in the Black Apocalyptic. He lives in Washington D.C. and is the Book Reviewer for the Shade Journal. Learn more about his work at jonjonmoore.com and follow him on Twitter @hoodqueer.