Refusing Disavowal and Discovery: Notes on Narrative Epistemic Blackness as Method(ology)

Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa, London School of Economics and Political Science


This essay builds on observations of ritualized practices (politics and epistemologies) of discovery and disavowal during the 2020 Black Lives Matter mobilizations. While understood as recurring features over time and space, the paper focuses specifically on comparative illustrations of these phenomena in European sites such as the United Kingdom and Belgium. The paper brings this specific moment in conversation with other locales and times of seemingly great societal changes, as focusing on disavowal and discovery illuminates how a colonial status quo is both reproduced and invisibilized. I zoom in on academic disciplines and scholarship as complicit sites of learned knowledges and sense making and offer narrative epistemic Blackness as but one of the many possible methodological and analytical moves to confront, refuse, and mitigate disavowal and discovery. The paper seeks to rehearse and reflect on how knowledge-making practices can be deployed and (re)thought on terms that go beyond talking back to Whiteness or repackaging global racial capitalism with the virtue-signal of the moment. As such the essay calls for a more explicit re-alignment of academic sense-making with science “as if people mattered” (Koomen et al. 2023) or at the service of life (Myers 2023, McKittrick 2021) rather than power (Dussel 2008), i.e., the ethos of decolonial and anticolonial scholarship.

In the first part I offer a comparative narrative to illustrate the praxes of disavowal and discovery. The second part analyzes these in a wider context of what Charles W. Mills called epistemologies of ignorance (1997) and white ignorance (2017) as categories of social epistemology rather than observation of knowing and not knowing at the level of individuals. Before turning to a tentative conclusion, the third part develops a clearer understanding of what (narrative) epistemic Blackness as method––rather than as identity––and a politics of refusal could be about.

Disavowal and Discovery: Comparative Notes on the Epistemologies of Ignorance

Thus in effect, on matters related to race, the Racial Contract prescribes for its signatories an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and global cognitive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made (…) a cognitive model that precludes self-transparency and genuine understanding of social realities. (Mills 1997, 18)

 The primary difference between Britain and other empires was not “we were not as bad as the Belgians or the Third Reich”—which is true but is such a shit boast—but that Britain succeeded in dominating the globe and still kind of does, albeit as a second fiddle to the USA in the Anglo-American empire. (Akala 2018, 150)

One of Christina Sharpe’s definition of “notes,” reads: “a brief record of facts; thought written down as an aid to memory.”[1] (Sharpe 2023, 2)


“What did you learn in school about empire and colonialism?” I asked my BA international development studies students every year after I came to the United Kingdom in 2013.


I never went to school in the United Kingdom myself, but I did in Belgium and Italy. (Same difference?) I worked as a journalist, researcher, and civil servant in these places as well as in France, Germany, and more recently South Africa.  All the while I have been exposed to the cultural overreach of the United States as a lens through which to narrate (fiction, Hollywood) and know the world (news outlets).


The responses of my students were usually a variation of: “We once had an empire upon which the sun never set, or something like that. And then there were the World Wars, which we won. And then we lost the empire. And then the migrants came.”


The first time I heard a version of this account, I was somewhat taken aback. As a Black person from continental Europe—a second generation Rwandan born and raised in Belgium—everything in the United Kingdom and the United States had always sounded and felt so much more progressive and sophisticated. I was soon to find out that the British version of colonial amnesia just sounds more polite. That it had—probably much more importantly—benefitted from a more sustained, politically Black, organized pushback and contrapuntal (Said 1993) thinking over the decades. That the US version of this, minus the politeness, was based on similar histories of Black organizing; yet it suffered from a systemic siloing (if mentioned at all) of the genocidal, settler colonial part of this arguably 500-year-old story.


(The Europeans’—including the Brits’—disavowal of their part in this history is probably why the word outsourcing was invented.)


In the United Kingdom and the United States, transatlantic slavery makes a guest appearance in these accounts. In Britain it is recalled as something firmly located in history because successfully abolished.[2]Abolition in this account, of course, was achieved in no small part because of the heroics of illustrious white British people, like William Wilberforce.


In Belgium we do not learn about him, from what I remember of my own experiences in 90s Flanders. We are, however, informed that, in spite of all the shade thrown at Leopold II, part of his concern was to curb the Arab slave trade in the Congo. (!)


Wilberforce’s heroism is powerful enough to make us forget about the constitutive relation between wealth accumulation, the Industrial Revolution, the expansion of the British empire and colonial systems, and Britain’s contemporary grandeur and wealth. Global colonial racial capitalism, quoi.


So, in the United Kingdom they remember and teach Wilberforce, but forget Olaudah Equiano (eighteenth century former enslaved Black abolitionist in London) and erase Edward Colston’s main profession (eighteenth century slave trader, “philanthropist,” and member of Parliament from Bristol)—for very different reasons, mind you.


The US version of this story is that it never had (as many) colonies as the others—not true—and that it is a nation born out of an anticolonial zeal for freedom and self-determination. That it has helped so many nations gain their freedom and independence. (In International Relations, we are taught self-determination through Woodrow Wilson’s Four Point program.)

And democracy.

And the freedom of their women.

En passant, it helped to “free” capital and markets (for extraction and exploitation).


All of this—barring the capitalist extractive side of the story—also not true.


Belgian (and other continental European) engagement with the transatlantic slave trade is next-level denial. People say, “we were not part of the slave trade,” and “the Congo Free state and Belgian Congo helped protect the Congolese populations from the Arab slave traders”—as I mentioned before.


When teaching international (development) studies in the United Kingdom—which cannot, should not, avoid a sustained engagement from the beginning, with empire and colonialism—the one pushback I sometimes received was that the colonial “encounter” surely had some beneficial features too? What is meant is the magnanimous transfer of features of the standards of civilization as understood in Western modernity’s self-image: literacy (written, in a handful of legitimate metropolitan European languages), the right religion or lack thereof, hetero/patriarchal/nuclear/monogamous family structure, rationality, medicine and hygiene, (land)ownership, metropole-oriented state (infra)structures, and homogenized systems of governance.


The other pushback: the British empire had at least not behaved as badly as what they heard about Leopold II and his colonization of the Congo. Or Hitler.[3]


I remind students that I am from Belgium, and that the arguments there perfectly mirror theirs: “At least we did not try and colonize almost the whole planet like the Brits.” (Or like the French, who still haven’t left West Africa.)


I try to remember what I learned about Belgian colonialism in the Belgian school system. The factual details may differ, but the story (and especially the omissions and disavowals) sound all too familiar. It goes something like this: “There was this adventurer who discovered the Congo. He told the Belgian King Leopold II about it, and he was super interested. He confiscated a piece of land 80 times the size of Belgium and called it—no irony—Congo Freestate. Other big powers like Great Britain and the United States were jealous of a small country like Belgium having such a vast piece of land in the middle of Africa and that’s when journalists from those countries started publishing reports on systematic human rights abuses, like chopping off hands if certain daily quotas of rubber production were not reached. To mitigate and control some of these practices Congo Freestate was transferred from Leopold II’s private ownership to the Belgian people in 1908 and thus became Belgian Congo. After that everything was much better. We built railroads and other infrastructure with the help of ingenious engineers, introduced modern medicine with the help of generous doctors, and literacy and Christian religion with the help of generous missionaries and teachers, and political order and stability with the help of the many Belgian civil servants and their families who moved overseas. By the end of the 1950s, for unclear reasons, Africans across the continent started asking for their independence, which we gave them in 1960. That was when we made a big mistake, by giving it to them way too quickly and leaving them to their own devices/demise. And that explains the many problems we still see in Congo to date.”

Disavowal, Discovery as Epistemologies of Ignorance: An Analysis

Sharpe (2023, 2) cites Charles Chestnutt (1969, 329) who says: “There’s time enough, but none to spare.” To which I would add Katherine McKittrick’s: “We have no time.” (2021, 6)


The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) mobilization in the late spring and summer of 2020 saw a remarkably large amount of people on the streets of many Western metropoles and beyond. Various forms of activism (such as tossing the statue of Edward Colston into the waters of Bristol Harbour), virtue signaling and clicktivism (for example, the black squares on Instagram), and policy proposals and initiatives (like renewed attention to “diversity and inclusion” in hiring practices, curricula and reading/watching/listening lists, changes in street and square names, questioning the police, calling for their defunding/abolition, initiatives to revisit the colonial and slavery past with related questions of reparations and apologies) followed or accompanied this street activism.

I want to engage with two sets of observations that come out of that (ongoing) moment. These observations fit into a larger context of what Táíwò has labelled elite capture of identity politics (2022) that often presents itself as some sort of progressive politics, and what scholars identify as more reactionary and right-wing “Whitelash” (Bonilla-Silva 2020) against what they have wrongly identified as cultural Marxism, culture wars, woke-ism, even Critical Race Theory, or—the irony—cancel culture.[4]

The observation that appears from a liberal or progressive participation in this mobilization carries with it phenomena that we could conceptualize as discovery. In 2020, not for the first time but amplified by the size of the moment, a professed commitment to antiracism was expressed against a background of a new discovery, shock, surprise, and ritualized consternation at the depth and severity of racism as an organizing principle of local and global orders. It allowed the participants to feel as if they were inscribing themselves into the start of a new, exciting conversation and movement, a vanguard of sorts.[5]

Similar to the time of colonial conquest and transatlantic slavery, discovery goes hand in hand with a desire to name (terra nullius), so as to capture and control. This requires an erasure, blindness, or denial of what and who is already there living and thriving, in ways that might be (willfully?) unintelligible to the conqueror who needs nothingness, emptiness, and absence to legitimize their existence and actions.

I conceptualize the second observation as disavowal. While it appears more clearly from the backlash/Whitelash camp against the resurgence of this antiracist movement and moment, it is somehow also present in the discovery activities of the liberal or progressive participation in the movement. Rather than a new phenomenon, disavowal is an equally ritualized resurrection of tired and tried tropes and pushbacks that are expressed statements like, colonialism was in the past; why are we copying what is happening in the US? What about anti-white racism? This is going too far; we have to be wary of cancel culture and woke-ism gone bad/mad.”

Similar to the times of colonial conquest and transatlantic slavery, disavowal is needed to make the violence, impositions, atrocities, injustices, and extractions that are a constitutive factor of the global order appear natural and invisible. This global order is in tension with the self-image of the colonizer and enslaver as civilized, enlightened, and morally superior.

While I present the phenomena here as a binary for analytical purposes, it might be more apt to imagine them as a circular continuum. They also do not necessarily point to predefined distinct groups of people, or to a difference between progressives and conservatives or even reactionaries. In that sense, the tropes of discovery and disavowal are enmeshed with each other as part of (but two sides of) the multifaceted Rubik’s cube of coloniality and concrete enactments in the larger biotope of Mills’ epistemology of ignorance (1997) or white ignorance (2017) which he qualifies as social epistemology. They are characterized by both not knowing (absence of true belief) and distortions and wrong knowledge (false beliefs) (Mills 2017, 53).

I offer discovery and disavowal here as phenomena or technologies of the status quo reproducing itself, even in the face of seemingly big changes underfoot. They walk alongside anticolonial and antiracist activism and scholarship, carried forward by various actors and political orientations—intentionally or not—at the service of the status quo. Radical and potentially revolutionary propositions are side-tracked or halted because they are pushed to attend to the same questions over and over again, as if it were the start of a new conversation.

While the context I have painted thus far builds mostly on public debates in the world “out there” or in the classroom, I would argue that scholarship and the various disciplines through which we are trying to make sense of the world, like International Relations (IR) or political science or sociology, are an integral part of this phenomenon.[6] We could—again for analytical purposes—conceptualize these two sites, the “world out there” and academia respectively as spaces of politics and epistemologies of disavowal and discovery. In reality, of course, both appear in both sites. Politics in the places where we do knowledge, and epistemologies in the “world out there,” where we are seemingly engaging in practice, politics, and activism only.

Methods and Disciplines

I now turn to the epistemological side of the story by engaging disciplines like IR and political science and sociology through which scholars—in a systematized way—try to make sense of (global) social realities and phenomena. I specifically zoom in on the methods we choose to deploy and transmit.

I am thinking out loud about some methodological strategies that can help us confront the technologies of disavowal and discovery (that are both epistemology and politics) without attending to the agenda and time they are designed to demand from us. Which methods and methodologies do not allow for disavowal, consternation, or moves to (White) innocence (Wekker 2017)? Which ones make sanctioned ignorance (Spivak 1999) and colonial amnesia (Krishna 2001), or presentism, appear as impossible, inacceptable to the point of obscene?

Amongst the already existing and practiced methods and methodologies in the social sciences and humanities, here I offer narrative epistemic Blackness as method—rather than as identity—inspired by insights from thinkers like Christina Sharpe (2023, 2016), Katherine McKittrick (2021), or Joshua Myers (2023), to engage Blackness as a locus of enunciation to know about the world with the purpose of imagining one where many fit, or one that works for all. I argue that a focus on storytelling and narrative approaches (for IR see Inayatullah 2010, 2022; Dauphinee and Inayatullah, 2016) conveys more directly the stakes of our scholarly practices instead of being constricted by factual or rational truth finding as the only way in scientific sensemaking of the world. I read and offer them as possible strategies and avenues of “confronting, not attending to.” I conceive of this offering as an open and ongoing invitation, as there is not one (set of) method(s) that can address these concerns. Neither is it work that can ever be fully accomplished. So, the idea is not to replace existing practices and methods with other better ones and close the conversation. The methodological invitation or offerings or propositions should be read in a spirit of proliferation and abundance rather than as pawns in a zero-sum game.

Narrative Epistemic Blackness as Method(ology) and Politics of Refusal

“We have no time.” (McKittrick 2021, 6)

Ever since I decided to focus on knowledges and experiences of peoples of African descent to make sense of the world (a non-exhaustive understanding of epistemic Blackness), I have been thinking about how much time we could have saved. In our sense-making. In our sense-making at the service of the will-to-life (over the will-to-power).[7]

  • Intervention from the audience: “Lianas have come to us via the story of Tarzan. We need to retrieve their existence and significance outside of that narrative.”
  • Response of a professor panelist: “My mother lives in the village and she has known of lianas her whole life. She doesn’t know Tarzan. There is nothing to retrieve here.

The above is a paraphrased rendition of a conversation that took place at the 4th Ateliers de La Pensée in Dakar, Senegal, in March 2022. Les Ateliers are two yearly conversations conceived and curated by Felwine Sarr and Achille Mbembe since 2016. They bring together academics, writers, poets, and other artists (dancers, photographers, painters, theatre makers, musicians) to think and imagine Africa and the world from Africa.

The lines above are a mash-up of an insightful conversation between panelists and a question from the audience. They reflect the challenge to both articulate and legitimize what epistemic Blackness could be about, more specifically in the postcolony. The challenge is to have an imagination of sense-making that centers the knowledges and experiences of (politically) Black peoples and peoples of African descent both on the continent and in the diaspora and in between, without overlooking or privileging one over the other.[8] This is no easy feat as many if not most of us find ourselves in one or the other positionality or have been socialized to legitimize one over the other to make sense of the world beyond the self.

What I took away from the exchange above was this: epistemic Blackness and, maybe more broadly or more specifically, thinking the world “from Africa,” needs to encompass the knowledge systems and experiences––the loci of enunciation––of both the peoples that know lianas (proxy for those thinking about relationality and many other things) only through the trope of Tarzan and those who know them in the absence of an explicit Tarzan. An additional important insight I stumbled upon while listening to this exchange is, first, that the dividing line between both does not neatly map onto a black and white frontier, or even west and non-west one. Second, regardless of whether one knows lianas via the trope of Tarzan or not, one’s existence as African, person of African descent, or as (politically) Black person, all our lives have—both invariably and in various ways—been impacted and violated by all that Tarzan is and represents. Herein lie both the stakes and legitimacy of the methodological project that epistemic Blackness seeks to be. These two, the stakes and the legitimacy, were best summarized in another poignant intervention during this fourth edition of Les Ateliers. Drawing from his novel Beyond the Door of No Return (2023) scholar-novelist David Diop recounted the story of Michel Adanson, a tale told in colonial times, by a colonizer and slave trader about peoples in a fishing community who had been asked why they left their fish to dry overnight on the rooftop of their huts, seen as every time a part of their catch had been eaten by wild animals. Their response was: “Il faut que tout le monde vive.” Everyone (literally the whole world) has to live. It is imperative that everyone lives. This everyone includes the beyond-human life. This more or less fictional anecdote re-joins the essence of what Enrique Dussel draws from the decolonial: it is the fundamental difference between the “will-to-power versus the will-to-life,” with decoloniality explicitly putting itself at the service of the latter.

I want to explicitly tie my conceptualization of epistemic Blackness as method to this project of life. Pour que tout le monde vive. Rather than identity, bodies, or particular histories in isolation. We hang epistemic Blackness on a project of life and thriving because shifting our trained gazes from the White colonial center of experiencing, and making sense of existence, is expected to have more survive, live, and thrive. In dignity. Because the opposite of this purpose has been inflicted, perfected, and experimented upon Black lives during the last four to five centuries at least.

The encounter around the lianas at Les Ateliers de la Pensée in Dakar, Senegal, is a reminder that this Blackness can in any case never be flattened out to a single identity, not even a relational one with regards to oppression or resistance. But it also shows how, irrespective of one’s position in Blackness, defining the extent to which we were more or less explicitly spoon-fed the Tarzan narrative, the fact that this trope was ever brought to life, continues to affect the global majority’s everyday, and the possibility and quality of life within it.

Concluding Remarks

“1. You already know enough,” writes Sven Lindqvist in Exterminate All the Brutes. “So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.” ([1992] 2007, 2) He starts his book with these lines and ends it in the exact same way,

  1. Everywhere in the world where knowledge is being suppressed, knowledge that, if it were made known, would shatter our image of the world and force us to question ourselves—everywhere there, Heart of Darkness is being enacted. 169. You already know that. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions. ([1992] 2007, 172)

The 166 subsections in between these first and last lines of the book are a testament, through meticulous illustration, of their deep, uncomfortable truth.


We know. Do we though? And who is we? And for what purpose do we know (or forget, pretend not to)?


I started writing this essay at a time when Ukrainians magically became White in the eyes of Western Europe. This meant that suddenly Europeans, especially their politicians, remembered how to organize taking people in, with dignity even. With access to social security. To the labor market. None of the permission-to-stay-harassment for at least two years. As it should be.

Meanwhile, Black and Brown people fleeing the same or other life-threatening situations, remained non-White. This means: stopped at the same borders of Fortress Europe. From the same Ukraine or elsewhere. Collectively subjected to cruel neglect, disposability, and premature death.

It means Palestine and a televised genocide. Yet again. One that did not start on October 7, 2023.


As scholars, we have to complicate how colonial amnesia and White Innocence operate and transform our engagement with it as a constructive intervention at the service of life. Rather than dwell in the fleeting satisfaction of being right—for a minute, until everyone forgets again. ‘Cause, where is the joy in being right about racism?


By employing interdisciplinary methodologies and living interdisciplinary worlds, black people bring together various sources and texts and narratives to challenge racism. Or, black people bring together various sources and texts and narratives not to capture something or someone, but to question the analytical work of capturing, and the desire to capture, something or someone. (McKittrick 2021, 4)

Black method is precise, detailed, coded, long and forever. The practice of bringing together multiple texts, stories, songs, and places involves the difficult work of thinking and learning across many sites, and thus coming to know, generously, varying and shifting worlds and ideas. (McKittrick 2021, 5)

If we are committed to anticolonial thought, our starting point must be one of disobedient relationality that always questions, and thus is not beholden to, normative academic logics. (McKittrick 2021, 45)

(… the work, the practice, is disobedient, not undisciplined). (McKittrick 2021, 35 ftn 2 on Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed)

However, such efforts must stay creative in how relinking, marginality, and solidarity are conceived not the least because one effect of imperialism, neoliberal globalisation, and colonialism is that we know so little about those we are in solidarity with. We know so little about the most important aspect: experiential knowledge and ways of staying at the multiplicity of human experiences that do not then instrumentalise how and what we know. (choi 2021, 67)


I am trying to think of various locations of epistemic Blackness. Not as a set of predefined, discrete places where it can be found or accessed but more as a method question. When I define epistemic Blackness as a methodology of centering, of starting with or taking seriously the experiences and sense makings of peoples of African descent and (politically) Black peoples, then part of the question that a commitment to this project entails is: How do we go about this? Does the positionality or relation to the colonial of the “we” matter, including geography (of one’s intellectual traditions)? Let me foreground my engagement with this question by proffering that the answer to this question is decidedly infinite, and we probably should try to resist the desire to answer it in the abstract or in closed, exhaustive terms. For the purpose of my intervention here, I have dwelled on two methods because I am most curious about them as scientific methods at the moment, and also because they do not tend to take center stage in the family of serious or legitimate scientific methods, especially not in the more traditional or conservative disciplines of IR and politics. I say this not to reproduce the idea of their strangeness or illegitimacy, and certainly not to erase the beautiful and creative work that has been conducted so far in these fields with these methods. I rather seek to signal how these disciplines reproduce themselves through syllabi and pedagogy: the autobiographic example and narrative approaches are not those that feature in most undergraduate or even postgraduate methods courses in those programs (Rutazibwa 2020).


We must build spaces to re-member that we Black folk have a tradition of recognizing that it is all a lie. (…) asking what produces the lie, rather than what constitutes the lie, is a more necessary response than simply refuting the lie. For the lie, this capacity for lying, is the very idea of the West. (…) something much more profound than the racialized signifier of “Black” (…) It was about experience. There was the lie, and then there was life–living. (Myers 2023, 2–3)


Akala. 2018. Natives. Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. London: Two Roads.

Bonilla-Silva, E. 2020. Protecting Whiteness: Whitelash and the Rejection of Racial Equality. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Chestnutt, C. 1969 [1901]. The Marrow of Tradition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

choi, shine. 2021. “Everyday Peace in Critical Feminist Theory.” In Routledge Handbook of Feminist Peace Research, edited by Tarja Väyrynen, Swati Parashar, Élise Féron, Catia Cecilia Confortini, 60–69. London: Routledge.

Howell, A. and Richter-Montpetit, M., 2020. Is securitization theory racist? Civilizationism, methodological whiteness, and antiblack thought in the Copenhagen School. Security Dialogue51(1), pp.3-22.

Inayatullah, N., ed. 2010. Autobiographical International Relations Abingdon: Routledge.

Inayatullah, N. and E. Dauphinee. 2016. Narrative Global Politics: Theory, History and the Personal in International Relations. Abingdon: Routledge.

Inayatullah, N. 2022. Pedagogy as Encounter. Beyond the Teaching Imperative. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Krishna, S. 2001. “Race, Amnesia, and the Education of International Relations.” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 26 (4): 401–424.

Lindqvist, S. 1997. Exterminate All the Brutes. Granta.

McKittrick, K. 2021. Dear Science and Other Stories. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mills, C.W. 1997. The Racial Contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Mills, C.W. 2017. Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Myers, J. 2023. Of Black Study. London: Pluto Press.

Rutazibwa, O.U. 2020. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Coloniality, Capitalism and Race/ism as Far as the Eye Can See.” Millennium 48 (2): 221–241.

Rutazibwa, O.U., R. Shilliam, and G. Younge. 2021. Keynote: Geographies of Racism, BISA Conference.

Said, E. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. Random House: Vintage.

Sharpe, C. 2016. In the Wake. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sharpe, C. 2023. Ordinary Notes. London: Daunt Books Originals.

Spivak, G. C. 1999. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Táíwò, O.O., 2022. Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (and Everything Else). Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Wæver, O. and B. Buzan. 2020. “Racism and Responsibility–The Critical Limits of Deepfake Methodology in Security Studies: A reply to Howell and Richter-Montpetit.” Security Dialogue 51 (4): 386–394.

Wekker, G. 2016. White Innocence. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

[1] Other of Sharpe’s (2023, 2) iterations of notes are: VERB: to notice or observe with care; to notice, observe, and related senses. TRANSITIVE VERB: to take notice of; to consider or study carefully; to pay attention to; to mark. NOUN: a symbol, character, or mark used in writing, printing, etc. NOUN: tone, call, sound; a particular quality or tone that reflects or expresses a mood or attitude. VERB: to make, or have the effect of, a note. NOUN: a single tone of definite pitch made by a musical instrument or the human voice.

[2] When invoked in the present (as people smugglers, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, sweatshops), it is firmly displaced as something that continues to happen elsewhere or is done by criminal others in the here and now.

[3] Unlike Akala’s by-the-way mentioning that this might well be true, I would not as easily make such assertion—it would require us to agree on the terms of comparison. More importantly, considering the obscenity and morbidity of such an endeavor, I’d rather make a case for a deployment of politics of refusal when it comes to these types of hierarchical (anti-) virtue-signaling comparisons of who is implicated in the most death and destruction.

[4] An interesting point of further exploration is probably the extent to which we are dealing with opposing positions on a continuum or rather at a much messier picture of overlapping and interlocking complicities in disavowal.

[5] Again, an important and interesting further elaboration of this point could be drawing out the stark contrast (and similarities?) with the use of the idea of the vanguard (party) by the Black Panther Party for Self-determination and its theorists like Huey P. Newton or Eldridge Cleaver.

[6] In IR for instance, we saw this combination of ritualized consternation, discovery, and disavowal of the importance and existence of race and racism as a constitutive feature of both the study and the practice of IR in the discussion around securitization theory (see Howell and Montpetit 2020 and Wæver and Buzan 2020) in the journal Security Dialogue.

[7] Dussel, 2008.

[8] I try to resist drawing up a clear definition of epistemic Blackness as ideally it is a tool for knowing the world differently with no closed meaning, nor built on exclusions and otherings. My invocation of (political) Blackness here is an explicit move in that direction. I gesture towards the rich traditions of scholarship and activism/organizing that have brought this term into being to name the solidarities and actions, as well as shared experiences—especially in the United Kingdom—of Black and Asian “minorities” in the past, and often forgotten in more contemporary invocations of Blackness and intersectionality. It is in this regard that in my use of (political) Blackness I align myself with the contemporary invocations of this spirit by Gary Younge when he stated that “there is no country in this world without politically Black people.” (BISA Conference 2021, Keynote: Geographies of Racism, with Robbie Shilliam and myself: )