I begin with the premise that there are three states of consciousness: 1). being awake, 2). being asleep and dreaming, and 3). being asleep and not dreaming. It is the third state of consciousness that gives us a clue about our relationship to others and the universe (Anton, 2006).
When we are awake, there is a sense of self (the “I”) and we feel in control over our cognitive processes. Our identities, memories, and responsibilities hinge upon this sense of self. But when we are asleep and dreaming, we do not feel in control over our cognitive processes.
During dreams, we experience a form of ventriloquism: we are the main characters in a film that we did not direct. Nonetheless, there is still a clear sense of self that separates us from others and the world in dreams. These two states of consciousness [being awake, and being asleep and dreaming] share the sensation of being differentiated (Anton, 2006).
During dreamless sleep, however, there is no sense of self. All cognitive functions and sensory organs are nullified. We become blank slates with no identities, memories, or responsibilities. During this state, we recess from all daily cares and become one with the universe. We never directly experience this state – we are only able to reflect upon it during waking life (Anton, 2006).
That being stated, we can argue that the two states of consciousness are forms of fracture, and dreamless sleep is a form of wholeness.
The problem is: we tend to identify ourselves solely with our waking self, and suppress the fact that we sleep dreamlessly (Anton, 2006). What dreamless sleep tells us about “the greater scheme of things” is that there are no permanent divisions between persons, or between persons and their environments. Any and all divisions (i.e. political, social, etc) are self-imposed.
Dreamless sleep challenges us to re-think our relationships to others and the environment. I will now apply the wisdom of dreamless sleep to the notion of racism for the sake of exploring a different way of being in the world.
Race and Perspective
Race is not a biological fact, it is a social construct. All racial categories (i.e. white, black, etc.) are political and social impositions of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Prior to the dawn of the Slave Trade in 1441, there were no “white” or “black” people – there were Europeans and Africans of various ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities. While there were differences among Europeans, these were differences of degree, not of kind. All European nations were Christian and had monarchies. How did Europeans become “white”? By confronting radically “different” groups of people (Sweet, 2003). When Europeans confronted sub-Saharan Africans and Native Americans, they noted their political, economic, social, religious, and cultural differences. These groups had different skin tones, ways of governing, and religious beliefs – and were racialized. The term “white” marks from who are similar, while being racialized means one is Otherized.
When Europeans went into Africa, they robbed Africans of their bodies and land; and destroyed their languages, religions, cultures, histories, families, and knowledge of self. The perspective of Africans was wiped out, and replaced with a white worldview of politics, economics, culture, etc. (Fanon, 1967).
The white perspective is, was, and always will be anti-black. The white perspective requires the eradication and destruction of blackness. There is no black perspective. This does not mean that black people lack a point of view – it simply means that the black perspective is not recognized as a valid one. Therefore, black people are forced to view themselves and the world more generally from the white perspective. The white perspective grounds our very sense of “I” (Fanon, 1967).
Since whites are superior, their bodies are deemed valuable and worth protecting from violence (i.e. the police, the military). Since blacks are inferior, their bodies are deemed wasteful and not worth protecting from violence. This means that black people can be violated over and over with impunity and immunity (Butler, 2004).
White bodies are the norm and standard (i.e. for beauty and health). As a result, white bodies are largely invisible. Inversely, black bodies stick out like sore thumbs because they are the most visible deviation from the white bodily norm. We have, then, an existential tension between body and perspective. Whiteness is a perspective without a body, and blackness is a body without a perspective (Gordon, 1995; Sartre, 1948).
As the only legitimate perspective in the western world, whiteness can be likened to a waking state of self-consciousness. Blackness lacks a legitimate perspective, and thus, can be likened to a state of dreamless sleep.
Since blackness lacks a perspective, it is the only forum from which the Western world can be destroyed. This metaphysical ‘void’ can become a space for organizing against all social injustices. The absence of a [white] perspective for blackness is precisely what gives it revolutionary potential. As Frantz Fanon pointed out: “there is a zone of non-being, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born”.
That zone of non-being is blackness.
Anton, Corey. 2006. “Dreamless Sleep and the Whole of Human Life: An Ontological Exposition”
Butler, Judith. 2004. “Undoing Gender”
Fanon, Frantz. 1967. “Black Skin, White Masks”
Gordon, Lewis. 1995. “Bad Faith and Anti-black Racism”
Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1948. “Being and Nothingness”
Sweet, James. 2003. “Spanish and Portuguese Influences on Racial Slavery in British North America 1492-1619”