The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
5 April 2021
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the Summer of 2020, Kris Sealey reflects upon the intractable and totalizing logic of anti-blackness. Working through thinkers like Frantz Fanon, Fred Moten and Saidiya Hartman, her piece aims to stitch together both the impossible nature of articulating an ‘elsewhere’ untouched by anti-black violence, and the ways in these ‘elsewheres’ are always given life in the generative spaces of lived blackness. From this tension, Sealey invites readers problematize easily digestible prescriptions for making worlds in which black lives do, indeed, matter.
Image credit: Natalie del Villar (Original Artwork)
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
f the revolution will not be televised then what we see on the TV is not the revolution.
If the revolution will not be televised, then what we see on the TV will always not yet be the revolution. Not yet the total destruction of this world for another. Not yet the crumbling to ash of the totality of anti-blackness for something else.
The revolution will not be televised because it is always too early.
Or too late. Uncapturable by the camera’s aperture. In the key of decolonization, of an order that supports an “emancipatory figuration of blackness” (1), the revolution will be one that “sets out to change the order of the world [and so will be] a program of complete disorder.”(2)
Uncapturable by the camera’s aperture.
The revolution is always too early and too late. Like Fred Hampton and the Black Jacobins – untimely in this world’s time, its timing and rhythm. The revolution will be out of this time, out-of-time, against the rhythm of this world. It will be in the Break (3) of – and the breaking of – its beat.
And so, it will not be televised.
We will not see the revolution on the TV because when it comes ‘we’ will be no longer. Because we ourselves will be revolutionized, undone and replaced by something unrecognizable. By something not yet seen by eyes that know only the options of anti-blackness, not yet seen by a camera’s aperture that is too much of this world – of its common sense, its sensibility of anti-blackness – to ever be able to capture the revolution, the Break into the next.
If the revolution will not be televised then what we see on the TV is not the revolution.
We move in our lanes of ‘us’ and ‘them’, structurally antagonistic yet deeply intertwined. Straddling the train tracks. The ‘them’ calls the ‘us’ to say they are so sorry that we have to prepare our daughters and sons for gratuitous state violence. To say they are so sorry that we have to etch out lives in an unlivable anti-blackness. As though what they have practiced all their lives – living in a defunct whiteness that is nothing if not anti-black– can ever count as actual living. To ask ‘What can we do to help?’ as though the audacity of this question, its sadistic irony, doesn’t occur to them.
“I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker…” (4)
The revolution will not be televised because the Great Break from all this – the fire next time (5) – will (we can only pray) break and burn us all.
Fred Moten tells us that “what it is that is supposed to be repaired is irreparable. It can’t be repaired. The only thing we can do is tear this shit down completely and build something new.” (6) White supremacy and its constitutive anti-blackness is etched in the brick and mortar of this American house. As both Cornerstone (7) and founding premise, white supremacy “binds the larger edifice of [our] society together like mortar in between bricks, holding [everything] in place.” (8) Fresh coats of paint, then, only cover over what remains unchanged, hidden, protected from a fundamental undoing.
Protected from Baldwin’s fire next time, always in that next, other time. Too early and too late for any fundamental undoing of the brick-and-mortar of the American house.
And perhaps this has always been the point – to keep camouflaged this brick and mortar so that its chameleon properties can thrive, churn out, era after era, more of the changing same. So that era after era, the relations of power that white supremacy names might adjust itself effortlessly under and through the flow of modernity’s time. So that, in that flow of time, all possible permutations give always (and only ever) “the resubordination of the emancipated.” (9)
So that Stand Your Ground must steal away Trayvon Martin.
And No-knock Warrants must steal away Breonna Taylor.
So that the Right to Bear Arms must steal away Philando Castile.
The list goes on since the banality and everydayness of this anti-black violence is our common sense, scandalous but in no way unusual. It shocks but, as common, never surprises. This is what is required for an impossible figuration of blackness-as-emancipatory to be our common sense, our Ground Zero, camouflaged and chameleon starting point for all meaning-making.
The Break does not participate in this commonly held sense. It lives against this meaning-making that shapes us both as subjects and citizens, calls us to be something Other than Man. (10) It is against the groove of – in a different key from – the rhythm of this world.
The Break is never televised because it is not of common sense’s sensibility. It is un-common, undoes what is common, from a place that is otherwise than or perhaps Under the Common. (11) It is disorderly in its refusal of what the Common curates as the (im)possibilities of blackness as emancipatory, in its insistent desire for something other than blackness as social death. (12) Wayward, riotous, troublesome and queer (13) in its rehearsals of black freedom that surpasses a world that simultaneously codes for the negation of that black freedom.
The Break is generative. It germinates another world that is out-of-time and disorderly against the horizon of this one. And yet, the Break has always been germinating with-and-against this world, its daring generativity daring the common sense of this world with the audacity of its own minor key. (14)
A minor key that chooses watery death over New World plantations, and that knits together kinship over and against natal alienation.
A minor key that chooses infanticide over partus sequitur ventrem. (15)And that conducts its way through the Underground. (16)
A minor key in every minor revolution that says, “Better an errant path than the known world.” (17)That proclaims, along with Frantz Fanon, that “the density of History determines none of my acts. I am my own foundation.” (18)
Such errant paths will not be televised, because the TV broadcasts in grids and straight lines. The TV broadcasts in a major key that invites us to sit in the driver’s seat with a Coke. (19)
So what we see on the TV is not yet and no longer the revolution. Not yet and no longer the Break and the breaking of this world. Not yet and no longer the fucking with funking up jostling of and tricking over the Plantation/relations of power that white supremacy names. All of this the camera’s aperture cannot capture.
And perhaps this is the point of the Undercommons. That out of a zone of nonbeing (20) one comes to know that “[k]nowledge of freedom is (in) the invention of escape, stealing away in the confines, in the form, of a break.” (21)
Artist NATALIE DE VILLAR
Fresh coats of paint, then, only cover over what remains unchanged, hidden, protected from a fundamental undoing.
We will not see the revolution on the TV because when it comes ‘we’ will be no longer. Because we ourselves will be revolutionized, undone and replaced by something unrecognizable
1. Saidiya Hartman, “The Burdened Individuality of Freedom”, in Afropessimism: An Introduction Frank B. Wilderson III, Saidiya Harman, Steve Martinot, Jared Sexton and Hortense J. Spillers, Racked & Dispatched, January 2017, 37.
2. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, Grove Press, New York, 1963, 36.
3. Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
4. Jack Halberstam, quoting Fred Moten in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Minor Compositions, New York, 2013), 10.
5. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, First Vintage International Edition, February 1993.
6. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study.
7. Alexander H. Stephens, “Cornerstone Speech”, March 21, 1861
8. See Jesse McCarthy’s review of Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism, Liveright, April 2020: https://www.lareviewofbooks.org/article/on-afropessimism/.
9. Saidiya Hartman, “The Burdened Individuality of Freedom”, 34.
10. Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Toward the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation – An Argument”, The New Centennial Review, Vol 3(3), Fall 2003, 257 – 337.
11. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study.
12. Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Harvard University Press, 1982.
13. Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2019.
14. Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments.
15. “That which is brought forth follows the belly (womb)”
16. Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer: A Novel, One World, New York, 2019.
17. Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, 61.
18. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann, Pluto Press, 1986.
19. Gil Scott Heron, “The Revolution will not be Televised” (https://www.metrolyrics.com/the-revolution-will-not-be-televised-lyrics-gil-scottheron.html).
20. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.
21. Stephano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study.