“It Was Just the Talking That Was Important”: Racial Capitalism and Black Affect in Walter Rodney’s “The Groundings with My Brothers”

Abstract: Aspects of Black racialization have been sorely neglected in affect scholarship. This essay proposes a reading of Walter Rodney’s classic Black liberation text “The Groundings with My Brothers” in light of its generally unnoticed affectivity. Rodney’s practice of ‘grounding’ invites a reading in terms of affective relations between bodies. The compassionate stance and breakdown of class and racial hierarchies implicit in grounding suggest a new relational mode of being disruptive to the functioning of racial capitalism, which is contingent on the erection of empathy barriers to prevent the free flow of affective energies between its subjects. The textual body of “Groundings,” too, comes under investigation, as I locate ‘impressions’ of its author’s various bodily encounters in the rhetorical fabric. While its impressibility runs against masculinized rules of feeling, Rodney’s text still taps into exclusionary patriarchy. In the last section, I show how subsequent response essays ‘ground’ with Rodney, bringing the practice of grounding into intersectional and transnational territory and closer to its promise of bodily relations built on solidarity.

In the years since Patricia Clough first proclaimed an ‘affective turn,’ what began as mainly a scholarly interest in bodies and their various encounters has undertaken a rare migration from academia to the popular consciousness. We see a discourse of Black and brown bodies prevailing in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as well as in the larger cultural dialogue surrounding it (Peters). Discursively foregrounding non-white bodies in such a way highlights their material situatedness in a social structure wherein they are found to be stripped of rights, reduced to freely violable lumps of ‘dark matter’ (Winant). Conversely, the Black body discourse invites inquiry into the bodily relations produced by activists in protest movements against racial injustice such as BLM.

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