The Christianity of Jay-Z’s Typological Anti-Blackness

Preface: This is NOT A THINK PIECE, this is NOT AN ADJUDICATION, this is a move to feel the possibilities that are made available in entanglement.

My skin is black
My arms are long
My hair is woolly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is AUNT SARAH
My name is Aunt Sarah
My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
My father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
What do they call me
My name is SAFFRONIA
My name is Saffronia
My skin is tan
My hair is fine
My hips invite you
my mouth like wine
Whose little girl am I?
Anyone who has money to buy
What do they call me
My name is SWEET THING
My name is Sweet Thing
My skin is brown
my manner is tough
I’ll kill the first mother I see
my life has been too rough
I’m awfully bitter these days
because my parents were slaves
What do they call me
My name is PEACHES
–Nina Simone, Four Women

Jay-Z’s recently released track, “The Story of O.J.,” has generated accusations of Anti-Semitism. The line in question, “You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America?,” is uttered in service of a prescriptive solution to the condition of Black America. Castigating those “throwing away money at a strip club” for not prioritizing credit, he spits, “Fuck living rich and dying broke.” The song is structured around a “nigga” typology inspired by the Nina Simone song, Four Women, whose chorus the song samples. While Simone’s song elaborates the multivalent expressions of Blackness lived in the wake of Anti-Blackness, Hov marshalls an indictment of “house nigga,” O.J. Simpson’s empty claim, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” to sell the “only hope” for Black America,  “financial freedom.” We’re told to take the “drug money and buy the neighborhood, that’s how you rinse it,” instead of dying “over the neighborhood that your mama renting.” Buy, for to rent is to die. Offering himself as a cautionary tale, he speaks of feeling “dumbo” for not buying a property in DUMBO, wishing he “could take it back to the beginning” when he “could’ve bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo for like 2 million. That same building today is worth 25 million.” Business savvy born of hindsight will allow us to do as he did and buy “some artwork for 1 million, 2 years later, that shit worth 2 million. Few years later, that shit worth 8 million.” Demonstrating a sense of the possibility he might be treating over the line of his own, quite Christian typology of Black authenticity he exclaims, “Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, it’s fine,” and  underscores the generosity of his “trying to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99.”

The Blackness of Marx’s Jewish Question, a Theo-Political Remix

The United States of America,
The Black Question,
Chicago, 20181

The American Blacks desire emancipation. What kind of emancipation do they desire? Civic, political emancipation.

America replies to them: No one in America is politically emancipated. We ourselves are not free. How are we to free you? You Blacks are egoists if you demand a special emancipation for yourselves as Blacks. As Americans, you ought to work for the political emancipation of America, and as human beings, for the emancipation of mankind, and you should feel the particular kind of your oppression and your shame not as an exception to the rule, but on the contrary as a confirmation of the rule.

Or do the Blacks demand the same status as White subjects of the state? In that case, they recognize that the White state is justified and they recognize, too, the regime of general oppression. Why should they disapprove of their special yoke if they approve of the general yoke? Why should the American be interested in the liberation of the Black, if the Black is not interested in the liberation of the American?

The White state knows only privileges. In this state, the Black has the privilege of being a Black. As a Black, he has rights which the Whites do not have. Why should he want rights which he does not have, but which the Whites enjoy?

In wanting to be emancipated from the White state, the Black is demanding that the White state should give up its racial prejudice. Does he, the Black, give up his racial prejudice? Has he, then, the right to demand that someone else should renounce his race?

By its very nature, the White state is incapable of emancipating the Black; but, adds America, by his very nature the Black cannot be emancipated. So long as the state is White and the Black is Black, the one is as incapable of granting emancipation as the other is of receiving it.

The White state can behave towards the Black only in the way characteristic of the White state – that is, by granting privileges, by permitting the separation of the Black from the other subjects, but making him feel the pressure of all the other separate spheres of society, and feel it all the more intensely because he is in Black opposition to the dominant race. But the Black, too, can behave towards the state only in a Black way – that is, by treating it as something alien to him, by counterposing his imaginary nationality to the real nationality, by counterposing his illusory law to the real law, by deeming himself justified in separating himself from mankind, by abstaining on principle from taking part in the historical movement, by putting his trust in a future which has nothing in common with the future of mankind in general, and by seeing himself as a member of the Black people, and the Black people as the chosen people.

On what grounds, then, do you Blacks want emancipation? On account of your Blackness? It is the mortal enemy of the state race. As citizens? In the United States, there are no citizens. As human beings? But you are no more human beings than those to whom you appeal.

America has posed the question of Black emancipation in a new form, after giving a critical analysis of the previous formulations and solutions of the question. What, he asks, is the nature of the Black who is to be emancipated and of the White state that is to emancipate him? He replies by a critique of the Black race, he analyzes the racial opposition between Whiteness and Blackness, he elucidates the essence of the White state – and he does all this audaciously, trenchantly, wittily, and with profundity, in a style of writing that is as precise as it is pithy and vigorous.

How, then, does America solve the Black question? What is the result? The formulation of a question is its solution. The critique of the Black question is the answer to the Black question. The summary, therefore, is as follows:

We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others.

The most rigid form of the opposition between the Black and the White is the racial opposition. How is an opposition resolved? By making it impossible. How is racial opposition made impossible? By abolishing Blackness. As soon as Black and White recognize that their respective races are no more than different stages in the development of the human mind, different snake skins cast off by history, and that man is the snake who sloughed them, the relation of Black and White is no longer racial but is only a critical, scientific, and human relation. Science, then, constitutes their unity. But, contradictions in science are resolved by science itself.

The Black American, in particular, is confronted by the general absence of political emancipation and the strongly marked White character of the state. In America’s conception, however, the Black question has a universal significance, independent of specifically American conditions. It is the question of the relation of Blackness to the state, of the contradiction between racial constraint and political emancipation. Emancipation from Blackness is laid down as a condition, both to the Black who wants to be emancipated politically, and to the state which is to effect emancipation and is itself to be emancipated…

America, therefore, demands, on the one hand, that the Black should renounce Blackness, and that mankind in general should renounce race, in order to achieve civic emancipation. On the other hand, he quite consistently regards the political abolition of race as the abolition of Blackness as such. The state which presupposes race is not yet a true, real state.

At this point, the one-sided formulation of the Black question becomes evident.

It was by no means sufficient to investigate: Who is to emancipate? Who is to be emancipated? Criticism had to investigate a third point. It had to inquire: What kind of emancipation is in question? What conditions follow from the very nature of the emancipation that is demanded? Only the criticism of political emancipation itself would have been the conclusive criticism of the Black question and its real merging in the “general question of time.”

Because America does not raise the question to this level, he becomes entangled in contradictions. He puts forward conditions which are not based on the nature of political emancipation itself. He raises questions which are not part of his problem, and he solves problems which leave this question unanswered. When America says of the opponents of Black emancipation: “Their error was only that they assumed the White state to be the only true one and did not subject it to the same criticism that they applied to Blackness,” we find that his error lies in the fact that he subjects to criticism only the “White state,” not the “state as such,” that he does not investigate the relation of political emancipation to human emancipation and, therefore, puts forward conditions which can be explained only by uncritical confusion of political emancipation with general human emancipation. If America asks the Blacks: Have you, from your standpoint, the right to want political emancipation? We ask the converse question: Does the standpoint of political emancipation give the right to demand from the Black the abolition of Blackness and from man the abolition of religion?


1. Original text, Marx, On the Jewish Question

Incarnation and the Child of/in Crisis: The Keys, the Cuffs, and the Racial

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

–Matthew 16:19

Pagans and infidels are bound by the power and judgement of the keys, because those who do not believe have already been judged.

–Augustinus Triumphus, 1214-13381

On May 8, anno Domini, 2017, the NYCLU released a report detailing the “outsized role” that NYPD police officers play in the “extreme racial disparities” evident in which NYC public school students are given summonses, arrested, and “unnecessarily handcuffed.”2 3 The data indicates that in 2016, 99% of NYC public school students handcuffed in “child in crisis” incidents were coded as Black and Latinx. The so-called child “in crisis” is a student designated by NYPD police officers, school administrators, and safety officers as “displaying signs of emotional distress.” The student is handcuffed, removed from the classroom, and then remanded to a hospital setting for a psychological evaluation. An “actual” crisis, psychological, or otherwise is not necessary for the initiation of the “child in crisis” operation, simply the belief of/in one, so determined by the adjudicating authority.

The framing offered by the NYCLU locates the “problem” in the extremity of the racial disparities. The elimination of racial excess and “unnecessary handcuffing” are the stated aspirations toward keeping “students and staff safe.” In the words of NYCLU Advocacy Director Johanna Miller, “the NYPD should not treat schools as places to hunt for students they believe committed a crime off of school grounds. Students should never be afraid to go to school.” The hunters should be made to abide by the permitted bounds, the warren of their fair game limited to the gates of public schools, lest crisis grant them permission to transgress in the pursuit of safety. The “problem” is a paradox. Crisis is ever present not in the figure of the “child in crisis,” but the ever present, yet constituitively foreclosed racial crisis, and it’s incarnations, the children of crisis. We are offered an account of “the problem” from the formation that institutes the conditions under which “the problem” emerges. An account that names “excess racial disparity” as the evil, forecloses the extension of this “solution” as but another operation of authority. Racial disparity becomes that which must be overcome in the pursuit of grace, yet the life of grace is racial.

Authority is the anima of the police and all that constitutes the legible and illegible life of the crisis. Domination obscures itself as a condition of its institution. Never in question, the decisions issuing the distinctions that render crisis legible are also the resources that extend the possibility of resolving conflict within it’s dominion. Authority is emancipation, so gleaning an essence of legitimacy from the peformative transcendence of its adjudication. Crisis is Racial Life. That what might have been a child is now annihilated, consumed in the sacramental performative act of binding evil. Hancuffed, there by the grace of god goes race.

Jared Rodríguez is a Doctoral Candidate in African American Studies at Northwestern University. Their forthcoming dissertation, Apocalyptic Blackness: The (Im)Possibility of Political Theology in Four Chapters, offers an account of the Christanity of Anti-Blackness and Racialized Modernity.

  1. Wilks, Michael. 2008. The problem of sovereignty in the later Middle Ages: the Papal monarchy with Augustinus Triumphus and the publicists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pg. 414. Original Latin: Pagani et infideles potestate clavium ligati sunt et iudicati, quia qui non credunt iam iudicati sunt. Translation mine. 
  2. Anno Domini is Latin for year of the/our Lord (Christ). 
  3. City School Safety Data Shows Handcuffs Used Disproportionately On Black And Latino Children, 

In the Shadow of Eleggua: The Prince of This World book event

This response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Jared Rodríguez, Doctoral Candidate in African American Studies, Northwestern University.

MIRANDA: But who is that? He doesn’t look very benevolent! If I weren’t afraid of blaspheming, I’d say he was a devil rather than a god.

ESHU: (Laughing) You are not mistaken, fair lady. God to my friends, the Devil to my enemies! And lots of laughs for all!

–Aimé Césaire, A Tempest1

I met the devil on a Saturday morning cartoon. Crimson, horned, and fully Technicolor with pitchfork in tow, the devil rode the shoulder of a cartoon cat named Tom. After the devil’s first attempt at convincing Tom to murder his cat compatriot and keep their mouse bounty for himself he began slapping the cartoon cat while exhorting “Now listen here, you’re a citizen ain’t ya? Ya got rights. That mouse was yours first. You had priorities on it. Okay then. Plant that axe in his toupee and you’ll have that cheese-napper all to yourself. Go on, swing it.” In true Tom and Jerry fashion, the axe blade slides off of the handle as he brings it down on his buddy’s head and all Tom gets for his
troubles are the bumps and bruises of a lesson unlearned pid_23793when the mouse escapes in the course of the tussle he greedily initiated. Tom clearly couldn’t hear me shouting at the tv, “don’t do it,Tom!” “That’s Eleggua, It’s a trap!” Tom and Jerry introduced me to the Western figure of the the devil, one I could only understand in the shadow of the Orisha syncretized with the Christian Devil, Eshu.2 Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World stands in the fine company of Tom and Jerry in continuing my education in the strange and mysterious folk-ways of Christianity’s Devil.3
Continue reading “In the Shadow of Eleggua: The Prince of This World book event”