Zakiyyah Jackson occasionally vitiates universalism under the guise of “a racially hierarchized universal humanity” (Becoming Human 18). However, as is so often the case in contemporary theory critical of liberal humanism, her tacit definition of the universal is an abstract type, which is unworthy of the name. Jackson parenthetically identifies the “international” quality of “legislation drafted by exponents from more powerful and stable nations” as “(universalist)” (16). Liberal humanism’s purported universality is in fact nothing more than its hegemonic normativity—and Jackson also writes of antiblack Western “normative humanity” (19).
There is more to this cross-examination than wanting to point out the contradiction of a “hierarchized universal humanity.” I think, with Todd McGowan, that the counter to liberal humanism’s antiblack abjection-animalization involves universality. If one rejects universality, then what is left other than the liberal respect for particulars? But understanding how this is possible without contradicting Jackson’s incisive critique of animal studies, humanism, posthumanism, and other contemporary discourses critical of anthropocentrism and the human-animal binary, requires that the false universalism of an abstract umbrella category be replaced by a universality that is concrete (Hegel) and singular (Badiou). A concrete universal cannot be instantiated. It is not an abstract kind that can be inferred from its finite manifestations. No particular can be equal to a universal. It is, to invoke Badiou, an infinite Idea, a resource for the particular’s destruction and supercession by, in the case of a political Truth, more egalitarian existence. Why an “Idea”? Because its “proper medium is thought”—it exceeds the empirical index of past experience even as it begins from it (Badiou, “Eight Theses”). The universal is “subtracted from all identitarian predicates” even as it proceeds via them.
No individual human “is human” in the sense of being equal to the universal type “the human.” But then, “the human” is no longer a suitable name for the Truth it has tried to identify in past epochs. Perhaps it never was. But even if we were to posit an alternative name, a more suitable slogan, it would not play such a taxonomic role, for taxonomy is antithetical to universality. A slogan guides action, it does not identify instances of itself. (Compare, for example, the slogans “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.” The former is a universalizing banner because in prioritizing the abject particular it explodes normative humanity; the latter is reactionary because it rejects the Truth of radical equality in favor of preserving racist class identity.) The existential rubric that, and through which, antiblackness originated is anti-universalist in form, function, and content. Jackson writes of the mutual imbrication of “race” and “species” in Enlightenment-era texts: “Thus, African peoples qualify as human but only tentatively so, given their purported physical or mental similarity to nonhuman animals and vice versa” (22). Liberal humanism’s teleological understanding of “the human” is a social taxonomy masquerading as science. Inclusion, recognition, and qualification are all anti-universal statuses because they perpetuate extant rubrics for appearance. A universal, in this case a political universal, exists insofar as a historical process overwrites such sedimented orders.
I agree with Jackson that
“blackness is not so much derived from a discourse on nonhuman animals—rather the discourse on ‘the animal’ is formed through enslavement and the colonial encounter encompassing both human and nonhuman forms of life. Discourses on nonhuman animals and animalized humans are forged through each other; they reflect and refract each other for the purposes of producing an idealized and teleological conception of ‘the human’” (23).
And again: “We misdiagnose the problems of Western globalizing humanism when we take universalism at its word, seeing its failures as simply a problem of implementation or procedure” (34). Barbara Fields further explains this relation of humanity and animality (“Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the USA”). The animalization of humans at the level of bio-racist taxonomies was an intellectual cheat effected in order to cover over the contradiction between slavery and such Enlightment ideals as equality and liberty. “The human” names not a universal but its defeat.