Daily Podcast #09 Zoé Samudzi /// Black Anarchism



Zoé Samudzi is a writer and doctoral candidate in Medical Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. She is co-author of As Black as Resistance (AK Press 2018). Learn more on her website.


As many of us are currently confined at home in many places of the world, and while we keep in our minds and in our hearts those who have no choice but to be at risk from the ongoing worldwide pandemic, because they’re doctors, nurses, cashiers, workers, homeless, incarcerated, or in any other precarious situation, we wanted to provide you with a daily podcast to use this time to reflect and organizing without talking about the pandemic itself — there might be already enough about it.

The concept is very simple. Every day, we ask one person the same question: “what is for you a moment of true decolonization?” The answer can be a historial moment or something they witnessed; something heroic and grandiose, or rather discreet and mundane; a durable blow to the structures of colonialism or a short instant of liberation.

We thank you for listening and wish you and your loved ones the very best wherever you are.

(music by hooksounds originals)

Radio Alhara The Funambulist

NB. The Funambulist daily podcast is also played every day at 3:30PM, Palestine time, on  راديو الحارة Radio Alhara, a new radio produced from locked-down Bethlehem and Ramallah, along with another 15-minute production about worldwide solidarity, created specifically by The Funambulist for the purpose of this show. 



Zoé Samudzi : The thing that I am most interested in with black anarchism, is the way that it does not preoccupy itself with the idea of citizenship. I was having a conversation with a friend and he was talking about how the Haitian Revolution predates Marx. And yet when Marx and subsequent communist theorists are talking about labor, they’re talking about labor stoppage,  they’re talking about whatever they don’t think about slavery as being a labor relation. They don’t think about the French Revolution…. I mean, we could think about it as a general strike. We could think about it as workers refusing to be subjected to these means of labor, withholding their labor, and throwing off not only the chains of their servitude, but the kind of demands of French colonization. So what does it mean if the Haitian Revolution becomes our foundation for thinking about labor? What if black people’s kind of collective refusal to be enslaved is our starting point for thinking about the relations of the state; of thinking about mutual aid, of thinking about anything? Why is the Haitian Revolution not as central to how we theorize politics, as it could be, is what we were talking about. 

And as we were having the conversation I had just started reading Marquis Bey’s new book Anarcho Blackness, which I won’t give too many details of but is this really like… you know how when someone is writing as though they’re writing inside of your head? It’s this phenomenal discussion about abolition, about what it means to think about black people’s relation to their own property or understandings of possession. And most importantly, it really emphasizes the thing that William and I talk about in our book when we talk about blackness as always existing outside of the state and as always existing outside of the state. And because black people understand their existence outside of the state, there’s an understanding of this creation of relation that does not involve the state. He’s talking about this anarcho blackness, this black anarchism that does not preoccupy itself with citizenship in the same way that white anarchism does because the primary unit of analysis— because we’re not thinking about the slave because you’re not thinking about some person as property, the primary unit of analysis becomes the citizen. And so they’re theorizing what does it mean to be a citizen within a state? How do we reject the state? Do we do this mutual thing somewhere else? Do we do this thing by ourselves? But ultimately, how do we think about ourselves as individuals, as people who are presumed to have liberties? Where as black folks are like, Cool, so we’ve gone from being property to existing in this afterlife of slavery, and so where do we go from here? It is a foregone conclusion that we will ever be assimilable and so then how do we create life from there. 

And so the thing that has been so remarkable, in this moment with people, all of these mutual aid projects and people thinking about anarchism is that black life as I have known it, has always been anarchistic. It’s always been about taking care of one another’s children. It’s been about doing things for one another because of this understanding of not understanding a self outside of another self, or the collective selves. It’s this idea of ubuntu and ubuntu that hasn’t been coopted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or all of these other corporations, but an ubuntu that recognizes there is no self outside of a collective. And there are so many other expressions of communality, communalism that are anarchistic but aren’t necessarily legible as being anarchistic through the kind of white canon that’s foundationalized on kind of relationship to the nation state and citizenship. And the more I read about it, the more I learn about practice in kind of different African communities. The more I learn about black indigeneity, the more I learned about Marroon communities, the more I realized that there is a whole structure of anarchism that I think we ought to pay a lot more attention because of the ways that it takes on hierarchies and the way that it takes on structures of authoritarianism, white supremacy by, in its practice, being horizontal, in its practice being so driven by kind of women and like, matriarchal care and relation is a lot more interesting, I think, than anything that like Kropotkin has ever written. 

So you’re asking me about a moment that I found to be really exciting in thinking about black anarchism. It was the publication of Saidiya Hartman’s new book, Wayward Lives, which is really exciting to think about in relationship to “Scenes of Subjection” as these foundational texts for black feminist anarchism. So “Scenes of Subjection” is this incredibly dense, but incredibly beautiful text about what it means to live and to try to make life in the afterlife of slavery. So thinking about the fact that slavery was never abolished, the 13th amendment creates a loopole for legal enslavement, that so many of the conditions of inequality endure that the wealth that was created from chattel slavery still exists. And there are so many institutions and individuals who have made all of their money from slavery that black mobility is kind of stunted, almost permanently, by this condition of enslavement and so long as the nation state endures, the specter of chattel slavery will also continue. And there’s something that is really pessimistic about that idea, obviously, that there’s no hope for black people, so long as the United States continues to exist. And it’s unfortunately true that there is no hope for the attainment of full human status for full liberation and emancipation that’s it’s simply not possible but what we see in Wayward Lives, which is kind of paradoxically a case study and what it means to exist in the afterlife of slavery is that despite the inability to attain full humanity and full rights that black people are still making robust and full lives for themselves and in communities with one another. 

There is this girl who’s just completely refusing to acknowledge the idea of private property and stealing her neighbor’s beautiful things and perfumes and garments. You have black queerness and queer womanhood. Even in the slum that is this place that she describes as being slated for demolition, this ghetto, to which black people are kind of forced to live there are still these ways of being in support of one another, of subverting the state, right, not concerning themselves with what it means, to like, “I’ve broken a law, And as a citizen, I know I must not break laws, but a complete flouting of this idea of legality in order to continue making life because that’s simply what it means to sustain black life,” it means a recognition that the state is always bearing down on you and so it is a disregard of the state. I always find it so funny when I encounter anarchists who are like : ”anarchy doesn’t mean disorder, it doesn’t mean chaos. It’s this ordered way of like voluntary relation and participation”. And I used to be like that, and now I’m like, No, black anarchy is chaos, because black life is chaos. Black life is surveilled, and it’s policed, and it’s destroyed prematurely. And yet, black anarchism is this praxis of understanding what it means to sustain that chaos and to sustain one another within that chaos. And it means mutual aid. And it means, trying to figure out what it means to make a world that is safe for black trans women. For black children. It means trying to figure out how we can think about justice outside of the carceral system, it means transformative justice, even when it doesn’t seem like an answer is ever achievable, and there is no answer. And that’s kind of the beautiful thing about it, there is no prefabricated politic, and there is no end— black anarchy is abolition, and abolition is not something that ever has an end. We are continually encountering hierarchies, and we are continually encountering violences and so we are continually endeavoring to emancipate ourselves from those violences in ways that prioritize autonomy, in ways that prioritize mutual aid and mutual considerations. 

I was having a conversation today on Twitter and someone was like: “Oh, you know, in China, there were all of these anti-market…” And I was like: “ Yeah, but what about black life in America?”. If anyone is going to offer lessons about what it means to survive a pandemic, about what it means to survive martial law, to survive the most abject and most horrible conditions, I think that black people would offer some of the most kind of generative ideas, not like solutions and fixes because unfortunately, even with all of these different practices, like black people are still dying prematurely of particular health conditions and still being murdered by the police and whatever. But I think that there are some really beautiful instructions historically, presently, that can be taken from blacklife.