This short essay is a response to Rachel N. Hastings's poem “Black Human.”
Rachel N. Hastings's powerful poem “Black Human” invokes the Black cultural memory of a time before, before modernity, when Black humans were not confined to any particular place or continent, before encounters with the Europeans who would ultimately brutalize, steal, and enslave them. It is an optimistic vision that calls on the listener to step up. The poet and the listener are Black, and the project is the claiming of a Black identity beyond/before colonialism and slavery.
Reclaiming the category of Moor/“more” speaks to how a people who were later enslaved are more than the history of slavery. The Moors were not a distinct or self-defined people, having traveled and occupied parts of Europe and North Africa during the Middle Ages. The ambiguity of the figure of the Moor leaves it open for the taking. For me, the invocation raises two opportunities for inquiry. It is the well-established historical case that “Blackness” as we understand it today, as an identity category, did not exist before modernity—capitalism was built on slavery justified by the creation of the idea of race—so I ask, What resources does the figure of the Moor offer for resistance against racism? Is it an invocation of a time before as a place of radical self-definition?
To envision a pre-racial moment for subjectivity is to envision a time when our divisions did not fall along lines of skin color. Any struggle for justice in that context or any living in peace would involve the solidarity of others whose heritage may or may not be that of Moors but of those traveling with and around those with dark skin without assigning any particular meaning to distinctions of shade. How is the deep memory connected with the imagination of a future? Is the reclamation of that memory construct useful in envisioning solidaristic cross-racial movement today? What do Black freedom fighters do with a call to remember the absence of race itself while fighting against those categories that are influential in the here and now? Is multi-racial solidarity possible? Or desirable?
These are questions raised in the Black Lives Matter movement: What identities and memories do we claim essentially and strategically to get resistance done? What is the relationship between the claiming of a self who is more and movements that confront the ongoing racism that is of more recent origin and its enactment in police violence and mass incarceration? How can we perform this work together?