Reading Response To A Billion Black Anthropocenes Or None By Kathryn Yusoff
In the book, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Kathryn Yusoff cites uses of geological terminology that serve to remove black people from the epoch of human or the Anthropocene. Many believe that the Industrial Revolution was the genesis of the global warming the planet is now facing, which could end in the extinction of the very animals who caused it. African slaves were the labor that powered the Industrial Revolution. This was not by choice of course, but Yusoff feels if an entire geographical period is going to be named for humans, the people who were forced to support it and who knew of its danger, should be included. However, the reference to slavery and people of African descent is often left out of any discussion of the Anthropocene, and that is one of the aspects of the current discourse on race relations and global climate change that Yusoff focuses on a great deal in the book.
Yusoff’s interesting focus is partly on the future and partly on the past. She says, “The Anthropocene might seem to offer a dystopic future that laments the end of the world, but imperialism and ongoing (settler) colonialisms have been ending worlds for as long as they have been in existence. The Anthropocene as a politically infused geology and scientific/popular discourse is just now noticing the extinction it has chosen to continually overlook in the making of its modernity and freedom” (Yusoff 11-12). However, artists have not been overlooking the extinction of the earth’s resources.
In a TED talk, Wanuri Kahiu, a Kenyan filmmaker, says her work has been labeled as Afro-futurist, which means it brings in fictitious elements, myth, science fiction/fantasy, specific to the diaspora of African peoples (Kahiu). The film, Pumzi (Breathe), written and directed by Kahiu, is set in a futuristic society where people live inside a climate controlled colony, there are no plants, water has dried up and people are forced to live by collecting their sweat, purifying it and drinking it so that it can be sweated out and collected again. The protagonist in the film, Asha, obtains a box of dirt that contains water. She leaves the colony where she works as a natural museum scientist to find a place to plant the tree with the soil and hopefully renew plants to the earth (Kahiu, Pumzi). In the TED talk, Kahiu talks about Pumzi. She says that she sees herself as a storyteller because they imagine worlds that no one has ever seen before. “This is the world we live in and this is the world that feeds us, and if we’re not feeding the world that feeds us and instead we’re feeding concrete, there is nothing we will be leaving behind, and there is nothing we will be able to say about ourselves as a generation of people” (Kahiu). In Pumzi, there is nothing left behind except wasted natural resources.
Yusoff sees the use and misuse of geological terminology to deny people of African descent recognition of their forced participation in the processes that are destroying the planet is to continue to deny them personhood. “The histories of the Anthropocene unfold a brutal experience for much of the world’s racialized poor and without due attention to the historicity of those events (and their eventfulness); the Anthropocene simply consolidates power via this innocence in the present to effect decisions that are made about the future and its modes of survival” (Yusoff 22). The prevailing perspective of global climate change is that of people of European descent. They do not see it as something immediate that must be dealt with now as indigenous peoples do. “The Anthropocene is configured in a future tense rather than in recognition of the extinctions already undergone by black and indigenous peoples. Following in the wake of humanism, the production of the Anthropocene is predicated on Whiteness as the color of universality” (Yusoff 59). The stories that Yusoff and Kahiu tell help to change that perspective or at least add others to the discussion.
No more labels. Perf. Wanuri Kahiu. 2014. YouTube/TED Talk. 2 May 2020. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4--BIlZE_78>.
Pumzi. Dir. Wanuri Kahiu. 2010. YouTube. 2 May 2020. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlR7l_B86Fc>.
Yusoff, Kathryn. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2018. E-book. 2 May 2020.