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date: 17 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter engages humanism and its fundamental assumptions by working through critical theory, black feminism, and black studies. It contends that there is a tension at the heart of humanism—while the ideal human appears to be the most widespread and available category, it has been constructed over and against certain qualities, beings, and threats. To elaborate on this tension, this chapter revisits the work of authors like Karl Marx and Michel Foucault. Marx acknowledges that the human is a site of conflict and antagonism even as his thought betrays a lingering commitment to progress and humanism. Foucault goes further than Marx by underscoring the fabricated quality of man and the ways in which racism functions to draw lines between those who must live and those who must die. In response to Marx and Foucault’s tendency to privilege Europe, this chapter engages black feminism and Afro-pessimism—Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers, and Frank Wilderson—who show how the figure of the human within humanism is defined in opposition to blackness.

Keywords: humanism, human, anti-blackness, conflict, violence, Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers, Frank Wilderson

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