Black Metamodernism: The Metapolitics of Economic Justice and Racial Equality

Brent Cooper | Race & Ethnicity | Theory | June 13th, 2019

I'd been thinking about this idea for a while before a redditor asked the very pointed question: Are there any black metamodernists? I didn't really have a complete answer yet, which is 'yes and no.' It's a complicated question, and it doesn't seem like many are rushing to answer it. Mostly no in the explicit sense like Hanzi , of developing the "metamodern" concept and advancing a program beyond the discourse of the Dutch school . But yes in many other ways, both explicit and implict.

Black to the Future

For starters, there is one obscure but direct source for 'black metamodernism,' in Transatlantic dialogue: contemporary art in and out of Africa , 1999 (limited to a snippet view). Art history professor Moyo Okediji described contemporary African-American art in terms of metamodernism as an "extension of and challenge to modernism and postmodernism." Without access I cannot offer a thorough review, but the point is clear; black metamodernism exists and was another one mostly missed.

The book jacket lists a number of black artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat. He is considered a type of black metamodernist described as 'returnee artists'; "African-American artists who return from Africa with a new awareness of their identiy that affects their work." (from Monni Adams book review ). This concept could certainly apply to Malcolm X or Dave Chappelle as well, who were forever changed and radicalized by their pilgrimages to Africa. I think metanoia, a fundamental change of mind, plays such a role in metamodern sensibility. All of this seems to align with metamodern critique, art, praxis, and values, and yet we do not hear much about a black metamodernism today.

Martin Luther King has already been accurately characterized as metamodern by Alexandra Dumitrescu, who thinks "he might have been a metamodernist avant la lettre ," and I couldn't agree more. King had a vision so progressive that it is only just being fully realized (actualized) today. The dream was cut short by his assassination, for which the white establishment is necessarily implicated. Even though he's gone and from a different era, his actions and ideas resonate now in a crucial way because they are still not achieved, so it's a battleground issue (conservatives try to co-opt and re-write MLK). And if we are going to mention MLK, perhaps we should also include Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Fred Hampton and countless other black activists ahead of their time, as implicitly metamodern.

Cornel West could be a metamodern thinker, pictured above, but he has never used the term, and this distinction matters, given its history at this point and his ability to wax on postmodernism. As I addressed in Gonzálezean Metamodernism, West is a good candidate to embrace the discourse, not only because he is invoked by González in that context, but because more broadly black theology is at the root of Hispanic liberation theology, and West is a cutting edge philosopher of sorts. Now is as good a time as any to (re-)introduce black metamodernism, as it builds on the turn González proposed for Hispanic Americans. Black people too are metamodern aliens in the postmodern promise land.

In Whose (Meta)modernism?: Metamodernism, Race, and the Politics of Failure (2018), James Brunton asks the right question, but also misses the source material I've mentioned. He draws his theory from Vermeulen and van den Akker, and David James and Urmila Seshagiri (2014), as well as many black poets, but he is yet another scholar 'missing metamodernism' in the broader sense I describe, and Okediji 's black metamodernism specifically.

This is a call to action to implicit black metamodernists, many of whom I discuss here, to cross over, to represent, and join the paradigm shift explicitly; my inspiration for metamodernism has in part already come from many of them. Wolfgenghis_Khan wants you; and so do we. I have written just two other articles about race/ black issues; one about black abstract art (where Basquiat is mentioned), and one about how racism is "abstracted " (made obscure), particularly by white racism against black people in the US. These are facets of my approach to metamodernism, and how abstraction can reveal or obscure the nature of racial politics and discourse. And in those I also have missed much of what I describe in this article, so it is all (re)combining into a broader black metamodernism.

Green Metamodernism

In terms of metamodern theory itself we can consider Nordic or Dutch as varieties of green metamodernism. The are green by being or having moved from the left beyond the liberal status-quo, but also green in the sense of being inexperienced or naive. To be sure, they are brilliant, but green (new, fresh) compared to their metamodern forebearers who have been missed. In the dominant Dutch School (art/ history/ culture) mode, the artist Reggie Watts is considered metamodern for his mind-boggling and heart-warming sincere absurdism. Donald Glover is metamodern too, as described here (2014), and here (2017), not least for his meta-humour in the metamodern show Community. Also, here is very comprehensive site, Metamodernity and Because the Internet , dedicated to the study of Donald Glover/ Childish Gambino and metamodernism. And this is all before his song/video " This is America " (2018) made a profound statement about race. After, we can understand him better through a lens of black metamodernism.

Green metamodernists generally do not theorize race directly or explicitly, although Hanzi has deconstructed the alt-right at some length . The general aversion is probably in part because the importance of the subject is generally implied as metamodernism is ostensibly about synthesizing and transcending both the postmodern critique (which includes the intersectionality of race, gender, class, etc) and its target, modernism. Race just becomes a smaller but still important detail in a broader context of meta-theory, planetary crisis, and metamorphosis (systems-change). But race theory is also peripheral in part because these metamodern epistemic communities are mostly white people who are tacit allies.

On the other hand, 'black metamodern' discourse has not been maintained or linked up with contemporary metamodern discourse. So the problem is two-way. This crossover should happen for two reasons: 1) by metamodernism not addressing it, it appears racialized, ignorant, or biased, and 2) by black discourses not combining with the broader paradigm shift, it remains disempowered and marginalized by the anti-postmodern and white nationalist political climate.

Metamodernism, from its Dutch and Nordic schools of origin, appears to have a eurocentric and white bias, though they have a global orientation and sensibility, as well as tacit understanding and concern about systemic racism. As we've seen in all versions, metamodernism doesn't ignorantly deny the merits of postmodern critique, or abandon social justice that conservatives and centrists have written off, nor does it embrace the full excesses of SJW culture and what has been termed 'grievance studies' literature by some determined IDW-adjacent academic hoaxers - The whole problem there is that they don't realize that all academia/ scholarship has similar problems (even their own fields, which aren't social science), but they are singling out and mocking social justice while social justice isn't being achieved in reality.

But metamodernism hasn't yet provided a clear or viral enough answer for the postmodern impasse. Or at least we've tried, and few have paid attention. Meanwhile, the new centrism of the Intellectual Dark Web has filled the void (or rather spoke over the Other) with anti-postmodern and anti-social justice diatribes that actually inflame systemic racism (which they deny exists). Those on the left who have already united against the IDW would do better to understand their moves as metamodern, and generate greater collective coherence as such.

The IDW would have you believe progressivism is a lost cause, yet they stand in the way, provide no alternative, and tune out the people actually working on those problems. The IDW remain do not engage with actual leftist politics, let alone black sociology. I offered a broad critique of the IDW over a year ago , trying to pre-emptively assuage the culture war, much of which still holds up. The IDW have gotten worse in some respects, have been critiqued harder, and now is quickly crumbing and becoming obsolscent, giving rise to a new emergent discourse.

There is also the odd (right-wing) person who is fond of metamodernism, but interprets it for their own ends without really understanding it. They support Trump. They like Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Haidt. They are against immigration for personal (identity) reasons. They have no interest in the thorough critiques of any of these things. They, of course, have also been missing the metamodernisms as I have described in this series, but also in the contemporary sense that comes from Dutch and Nordic versions, because there's nothing in those sources to inspire right-wing ideology. On the contrary, they demand a much closer read of history, theory, and social consciousness.

In general, metamodernism is post-political, beyond the left-right spectrum, and refers to the era we are in (and so does hypermodernity). But along a particular axis of issues, metamodernism as a movement and sociological theory is uniformly aligned with the leftist movement today, as it is expressed throughout this series (vis-a-vis technology, liberation theology, black socialism), and some of my other writings. This doesn't mean conservatives aren't welcome to participate and contribute - they are - but it means zero tolerance for ignorance about what postmodernism actually means, and regressive dogmas about climate change or social justice. In the Dutch and Nordic versions, metamodernism assumes the viability of a socialist steady state, not surprisingly because they are from successful ones, and are relatively successful in such societies. The idea is to provide that to everyone, and it's not a pipedream.

Metamodernism, by all available standards, reflects a progressive culture towards a cosmopolitan post-capitalist demilitarized vision of society that will mitigate climate risk, not an ethnonationalist hyper-capitalist militarist denialist prophecy of social control that will accelerate and exacerbate collapse. The choice is starkly contrasted, and the latter is called hypermodernism, not metamodernism. With this in mind, I see no right-wing person actually theorizing metamodernity, coherently at least, but there is still a need for a course correction in green metamodernism by black metamodernism.

Back in Black Metamodernism

My role here is not to be an expert on black metamodernism per se, but to defer to the real experts in their fields and to help widen the space of the new discourse. Outstanding black scholars are not in short supply, but are still fighting an uphill battle against a white-privileged status-quo. Many are immensely wise, strong willed, and influential, and yet lack the clout they truly deserve. Their critiques have not reached far enough to affect the needed change. And the lack of convergence through metamodernism has not helped either.

Notable black thinkers/ activists/ leaders include Cornel West, Charles W. Mills , Tressie Mcmillan Cottom, Michelle Alexander, Ta-nehisi Coates, Michael Eric Dyson, Benjamin Dixon, Mansa Keita, Bill Fletcher Jr., Wosny Lambre, Briahna Joy Grey, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, Kwame Anthony Appiah , Patricia Hill Collins , Kimberlé W. Crenshaw , Angela Y. Davis , Henry Louis Gates, Jr. , and many more . Could this be a cross section of black metamodern thought? Many of them have theorized or criticized postmodernism as well, so it would not be a stretch to entertain metamodernism, especially with these added perspectives (Borgmann, González, black, in addition to Dutch and Nordic strands).

This negligence of black metamodernism is part of the wider pattern of Missing Metamodernism  - even amongst black scholars. They could perhaps be forgiven for not dropping everything and devoting themselves to Dutch or Nordic metamodern developments, but they also have a precedent with 'black metamodernism,' so we hope they will learn and develop it with us and speak up. Take up this meta- mantle and converge with metamodernism more broadly, to develop a new paradigm.

Much of the public discourse is not lacking in racial awareness, evidenced by the following TED talks, but it's a broader question of some (white) people's interests and attention spans. And the mainstream media is still deeply filtered and divisive over race issues. My purpose here is just to share some of what's out there, so that it can't be ignored or missed by those interested in metamodernism. And so it can't be denied by the centrists and right-wingers that want to preserve some mythical abstraction of white Western civilization. The point is that black culture was metamodern before some industrious white people rediscovered metamodernism.

In The Dangers of Whitewashing Black History, David Ikard recounts the story of his son in Grade 4, who was taught that Rosa Parks was frail old black women, diminishing her life-long struggle and the story of social justice behind her. David wanted to confront the teacher, but because of his experience with the "white fragility" of some people, he knew that might be a bad idea. So he instructed his son to learn the true history, which he did, and his son gave a speech debunking the myth. The teacher apologized to student, and subsequently retaught the Rosa Parks lecture. This is why Rosa Parks wrote her autobiography, so she could tell her own story, David said, but it still so easily becomes whitewashed. In 1950s, lynching was normal. MLK's house was bombed twice. Rosa parks was not an 'accidental activist.' These facts are often submerged by a more sanitized narrative.

Then there was a book draft David reviewed for his brilliant white professor "Fred" (not his real name) while he was a graduate student. Fred was writing a history of the civil rights movement, David explains, "specifically about a moment that happened to him in North Carolina when this white man shot this black man in cold blood in a wide-open space and was never convicted." David saw a problem in a particular personal story of how Fred talked with his black maid (which already has racial undertones in itself).

1968, MLK had just been assassinated, Fred is 8 years old, and his maid is crying and he asks why. "It'll be okay" he says… "Didn't Jesus die on the cross for our sins?" and 'maybe things will work out.' The maid, despondent as she was, tempered herself and gave little Fred a hug and a cold Pepsi. For Fred, it was proof people could cross racial lines to overcome adversity; that love could conquer all; he did a good thing. David called bullshit. The story wasn't about the maid, it was a selfish story about Fred naively thinking he was helping. The whole episode was clouded by the fact Fred was technically her employer, so she couldn't get mad at him. After being called out, Fred then realized that he misread the moment.

And there is many more TEDx that challenge basic misconceptions and expose systemic racism: Black Self / White World - lessons on internalized racism | Jabari Lyles | TEDxTysonsSalon (2017); White Men: Time to Discover Your Cultural Blind Spots | Michael Welp | TEDxBend (2017); Let's get to the root of racial injustice | Megan Ming Francis (2016). Not to mention the ample books and documentaries out there.

From the Intellectual White Web to Black Lives Matter

The more you know, the less ignorant you are, but some people can't be bothered. From the current smorgasbord of trashy thought leaders, Jordan Peterson is probably the most obtuse white person one can picture. He is tacitly against identity politics and racism, white supremacy, and white nationalism, while not having a clue how they actually operate in the world and through his own discourse. The Peterson paradox is being able to unironically praise MLK in one sentence and condemn his core values (like democratic socialism ) in another without an inkling of cognitive dissonance.

Imagine being so functionally ignorant of systemic racism that you lecture about how 'white privilege is a marxist lie' at Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC (2018), behind a picture of Abe Lincoln, as if that means something in this context. It is scholarly dereliction to be so ignorant about those concepts, to say the very least. And then to cry crocodile tears when Michael Eric Dyson calls you out as a "mean mad white man." And then for your demagogic bile and self-help slop to fuel the xenophobic incel rage of white nationalist shooters. And then to get even angrier that you have incessant critics, as if don't they have something important to explain to you. And then you give a high school book report of The Communist Manifesto to Zizek. But at least you've made over $1M in the past year and are now doing a business scam thing with Kobe Bryant and George W. Bush , and chumming with far right politicians who want to purge humanities teachers. So much for classical liberalism. Fear not mean white man, have a cold Pepsi, we know you're doing your best, just like "Fred" was with his maid.

At the end of the day black metamodernism is not just about the 'black' modifier; it's not self-interested minorities with narrow identitarian priorities, like their white majority racist counterparts. Many black scholars do not dwell on race, they are well rounded, but rather race is forced upon them because of their skin color and place in society. Some become experts by choice, others by circumstance. The dream is for racial equality and economic solidarity, not black supremacy, but white anxiety keeps murdering this dream, keeping the nightmare (whitemare?) alive and well in America.

"Black Lives Matter" (BLM) is actually a proportional response to the criminalization of drugs, profiling of minorities, and being incarcerated or killed by racist or paranoid cops. Whether the cops are overtly racist or subconsciously is beside the point, because they are still racist in effect and consequence. Opponents of BLM generally miss the point, only seeing a black power grab, but that itself is a racist interpretation based on ignorance, fear, and (social) media distortion and polarization. The reality is, as Brunton described it;

"The Black Lives Matter movement argues that we need to recognize precisely the opposite of what the movement's hashtag declares that is, historically, white patriarchy has failed to treat black lives as though they matter. American liberal democracy has failed to provide the rights and privileges of citizenship to a large portion of the citizenry, and the election of a black president has failed to usher in a post-racial society." - Brunton, Whose (Meta)modernism?: Metamodernism, Race, and the Politics of Failure (2018)

Like with MLK, this progressive (black) metamodernism includes the racial struggle, but is about the larger quest for socio-economic and even environmental justice. As such, black metamodernism is not reducible to a shallow form of identity politics. To avoid this caricature, the first task is to consolidate the new subfield as metamodern, as could be done for each path in (ie. Borgmann, González, etc…). The second task is to re-integrate back into a broader more inclusive notion of metamodernism to address the meta-crisis of hyper-capitalism. This series tries to advance both tasks in a small way.

Furthermore, it's all about climate change now, the anthropocene, and (quite certain) global existential risks that humanity are creating. There is this overriding sentiment that if 'we're all going to die' then might as well do the right thing now. And as you can see (below), black metamodernists are already ahead of this curve, which is why we should already be united under one paradigmatic umbrella.

The Black Socialists of America were on the podcast New Models - Episode 12: BLACK SOCIALISTS (Z, Busta, Keller, @LILINTERNET ). They describe how they founded it response to how Cornel West was attacked by "black liberals" for critiquing Ta-nehisi Coates, and realized there wasn't a real platform for Black American socialists, anti-capitalists, leftists, etc. At 7:30, they start to get into it;"I don't want to slam postmodernism too hard here but…" Needless to say, they are beyond postmodernism, and have a thoughtful critique that could be described as metamodern.

The Michael Brooks Show (TMBS) invokes black sociology often (consider the work of the Association of Black Sociologists on twitter too), especially with the frequent guest Bill Fletcher Jr . Brooks is so committed his twitter bio says "Member of the Yacubian Left," a nod to the theory that an ancient 'black scientist' created white people through eugenics. On TMBS 91 " Wonkery Won't Save Us & Green Imperialism ," Brandon Sutton (The Discourse podcast) was recently on to brilliantly break down systemic racism and the neoliberal agenda (May 21, 2019). Sutton is also cautious about cancel culture and performative wokeness that run the risk of undermining their goals. TMBS has been critical of Kanye's politics and black activism (vis-a-vis Trump), from black perspectives. Briahna Joy Gray (former Intercept editor and now Bernie's press secretary) is a regular guest too.

Michael Brooks and guests have been the most incisive critics of the IDW, because they already have this implicit metamodern awareness, as noted in Gonzálezean metamodernism. To be sure, black metamodernists would go after the mostly white Intellectual Dark Web, not join it like Candace Owens, Coleman Hughes, or Thomas Sowell to be instruments for a racist status-quo. See ' Coleman Hughes is bad for the discourse ', and this vid , and James B. Stewart, Thomas Sowell's Quixotic Quest to Denigrate African American Culture (2006). Hughes and Sowell, despite whatever intellectual merits, are truly not grounded in racial reality, and are certainly not metamodernists, but reactionary modernists.

Last Light on Black

There is still so much more to explore in this potential subfield than I have not covered here. I have just scratched the surface of black metamodernism, as with the other articles in Missing Metamodernism. Afrofuturism seems pretty metamodern. The movie Black Panther was a critical and commercial success; perhaps a black metamodern film in a metamodern franchise. A black writer named Germane Marvel has authored a couple Medium posts on metamodernism which seem to offer fresh philosophical musings about it; Meta Something? , followed by Meta Nothing? Research in Black Feminist Science explores how "the intellectual endeavors of marginalized black women have historically represented radical challenges to structures of knowledge and systems of oppression."

Some more artefacts of black metamodernism to consider include Get Out , The Legacy of Black Reconstruction, by Robert Greene II , Bernie's Plan for Racial Justice, by Meagan Day , The Boondocks (TV series) , and Into the Spiderverse . And through the internet over the past couple years I have connected with a few black people in Africa and elsewhere interested in metamodernism, but without having a proper African version of it. I think now it is safe to say there is one, and it can be developed more.


I hope I have established a solid precedent for what I suggest by a broad 'black metamodernism'; a shrewd awakening and reality check for what Charles W. Mills calls 'white ignorance,' among many other things, that metamodernism has not hitherto immunized against. Social justice still demands resolution, despite what the (pseudo-)intellectual posturing against it would tell you. The ample literature on structural racism may seem to shout through the matrix of postmodernism, incomprehensible to the new center, but we are listening. In a time when racial tensions are still high and systemic racism persists around the world, particularly against people of color in the United States, not to mention the scourge of white nationalism and dastardly race/IQ pseudoscience, we cannot make excuses for the absence or negation of a black metamodernism that was always present.

Furthermore, postmodernism and social justice are under constant attack for the wrong reasons, while questionable postmodern (gibberish) scholarship is still being produced, normatively for the right reasons, but at the limits of critique. For many of us in the culture war, this is the whole point of a metamodern intervention; to cut through the bullshit and end the culture war itself (along with actual war), while also reforming the research and education paradigm towards these ends. Who but (black) metamodernists could most aptly advocate for this?

→ Read Part 1: Missing Metamodernism
→ Read Part 2: Borgmannian Metamodernism
→ Read Part 3: Gonzálezean Metamodernism

Brent Cooper is founder and Executive Director at Abs-Tract , a UK think tank.