Drones date, drones fuck, drones separate without needing to break up, drones have varying qualities of sexual encounter, drones wonder if they are doing things the right way for a drone of their age, socio-economic class, and decade, without formulating any particular philosophies of life or making any substantial changes. Drones talk about it, drones write about it, drones watch TV shows about it. Drones get asked by their family about it, and drones tell a little, or maybe tell a lot, but either way drones don’t really seem to talk about it in a way that fully explains it. Drones get drunk, they talk about dating with their friends that are drunk. Drones express their true ideas about dating, why they do it, what they think it means. Drones throw a bottle in the street, smoke the last of their cigarettes, break into an abandoned building and stand on the roof. But when drones wake up, it is only a matter of time before they go on a date again. We humans look at this data, as if we could understand any of it, and then we just move on. Humans have pastimes too.
Fucking drones is not, from the human perspective, a very attractive affair. It seems violent at times, and on other occasions, so benign as to be utterly boring. The way that drones fuck is certainly simpler than human sex in some ways. Drones cannot rape drones, because drones do not have wills that consent. They do not have genders, imbued with power relations. GPS, avionics, waypoint routing, and a single radio call sign are just about all they have in terms of quantifiable personalities. There is no capacity for fetish or kink like we have, no story or role to play. But the way that drones fuck can also be complex, in ways difficult for us to understand. During and after, they compare camera views with each other, subtling ranking and judging. These pieces of data are the basis for all their decisions, both sexual and otherwise. In a long chain of feedback loops and Markov chains, decisions made on the basis of a single data element become new data collected. Decisions become data, and data become new decisions, across an churning event horizon of intentionality that reaches out from the present, into the future. The vast amount of data produced while drones fuck soaks through everything that drones do. Drones’ online dates are saturated with data, dripping it everywhere, staining everything around it, leaving the residue of data on the backseats of cars, the second hand Ikea couch, the favorite shirt, the dress bought against better judgment, images of it saved in cellphones to be embarrassingly stumbled upon later, posted to the wrong social network by deliciously explicit mistake. The data might be like our emotions, our raw desiring energy translated into narratives about who, where, why, and how. But then again, it might be totally different. Another weekend, and drones come to make another decision. Some drones end up fucking, some don’t. More data, more wanton displays of data. Drones update their profiles. And another weekend, and it all happens again.
Drones date online in this way. They log on to the online dating site for drones. They get an account, and fill out a profile. Then the collection of data can begin. Drones watch each other, as they watch each other watching each other. Drones are always collecting data, and this is a fundamental aspect of their dating process. Who can say what it is the drones see in each other. We think they are long, gangly, faceless things, with hardly any variation to think of other than their inexpressive model numbers. Sometimes it is hard to say if they are dating at all, other than that they are on a dating site and so we call what they do dating. They might just be friends, or it might be a series of one-night stands, irresponsible decisions, and lapses into the base satisfaction of desires. Is this dating? It certainly doesn’t seem to be a path towards a stable relationship. What we do know, is that from this process of online dating, sooner or later the drones end up fucking.
Drones’ reproduction is outsourced to a separate life system. Like the larval stage on an insect, or the mycelium of a fungus, they are a significant part of the lifecycle, but not the part that engages in gamete swapping. They are the non-breeding cycle-part of their mega-organism: the military-industrial complex. The breeding part happens in budget negotiations of the vote-loving Representative Government, and in the contract negotiations between the State’s armed forces and Lockheed, General Atomics, and other contractors. And then, after a bit of technological gestation and the creation of a number of good homeland jobs, the drones burst from the skunkworks egg sac like newly born spiders, catching on the wind, riding around the currents of the globe, to life a lifetime of spying, bombing, sunning themselves on the secret tarmacs of the world, to be the gargoyles hanging from our informational downspouts, to hang out around the playground and the convenience store, bothering good citizens with their language and their music. Each drone secures the terrain and the sustaining resources of the organism like a system of airborne, hovering roots, until eventually they crash, break down, or are obsoleted, and the cycle can begin again. It is a beautiful thing, this unmanned, aerial birds-and-the-bees system. But like our lives, the temporality of drones between birth and death is also filled with mundane stretches of inactivity. Not every day can be a double tap. There is not always a vehicle to track. And so, drones date. They, as we say, “pass time”.
It’s Friday night in some zone of temporality and a large number of drones are logging on to online dating sites. They are sitting in front of their computers, and they are lounging on the couch on their touchscreen devices, putting their feet up on the cushions. Drones are dating online more often now than five years ago, as the social stigma wears off, and the capacity to have some sort of semi-valuable chance encounter via the comfortable channels of social media grows. Anyone can date online—mothers, college students, baby boomers, even older folks. It’s as easy as getting an email address, and adjusting oneself to another new normal of networked naturalness. Drones of a certain age are reaching that point in their lives when there are multiple worse options than this. Drones are thinking that it’s worth a shot.
Drone date online, but drones don’t think about it the way that humans do. Drones don’t have consciousness, and so they don’t desire or love–at least not in the way we think about it. In fact, “date” is probably a misnomer, but when translating between our human vocabulary and the algorithmic inner sense of an unmanned aerial vehicle, this rough equivalence is the best we can do. They aren’t dating as the end result of a socialized biological imperative. They aren’t looking to fulfill the fairy tale story they have accumulated in their minds over the course of their sexual and social development. They don’t have a psychological need to seek companionship, and to mirror their egos in their image of their closest acquaintances. They don’t have a sex drive that requires recurring fulfillment in the form of performative body narrative.
While Smith is playing with and against the ideas of dreaming and dreams, she’s also passing over a neoliberal politics of choice, of allowing the market to dictate social policy and subsequently, the market to impact identity choices. The citizens of Dream City have no choice but to dance whatever dance would be in between the Harlem Shake and the Harlem Shake. But what about those who don’t have choice? Those who can’t choose to be “mixed” even though, maybe they are by our contemporary standards of racial ancestry, but they look black so they’re policed as Black? Live as monolithically Black? Smith’s assertion of a lack of choice for her and for Obama—both at the top of their game—is curious. She’s the chosen one, isn’t she? And him. Don’t they have all the choices in the world?
In this space for THE STATE, I won’t be coming at the discussion in terms of the mixing of pure specimen A and pure specimen B. Rather, I’ll be looking for the mess, the grit, the excess, the tortures, the violence and perhaps most importantly, the disappearing and undone present.
A census doesn’t say everything about how people identify and how that changes over time, sure, but it signals the governmental discussion on race relations. How does a government attempt to control populations? The line becomes simultaneously structured and muddied when we begin to create more racial categories and erase the old-timey ones that may remind us of pain—past, present and future pains.
“It’s amazing,” writer Zadie Smith (a poster child for a cosmopolitan multiracial futures) writes in her essay “Speaking in Tongues,” “how many of our cross-cultural and cross-class encounters are limited not by hate or pride or shame, but by another equally insidious, less-discussed, emotion: embarrassment.” In the essay, which was based on her New York Public Library lecture in December 2008, she points to the intimacy of racism. Here’s more:
But I haven’t described Dream City. I’ll try to. It is a place of many voices, where the unified singular self is an illusion. Naturally, Obama was born there. So was I. When your personal multiplicity is printed on your face, in an almost too obviously thematic manner, in your DNA, in your hair and in the neither this nor that beige of your skin—well, anyone can see you come from Dream City. In Dream City everything is doubled, everything is various. You have no choice but to cross borders and speak in tongues. That’s how you get from your mother to your father, from talking to one set of folks who think you’re not black enough to another who figure you insufficiently white. It’s the kind of town where the wise man says “I” cautiously, because “I” feels like too straight and singular a phoneme to represent the true multiplicity of his experience. Instead, citizens of Dream City prefer to use the collective pronoun “we.”
I once saw this as a distinctly North American thing. (And racism in the U.S. is, of course, especially the one-drop rule.) A North American drug that fed off of ethnically ambiguous women, who look beige but fuck like they’re black. In many ways, however, the threads of our recently articulated desires are urbanely global. These desires are bought not by the postcolonial class but by the postcolonial studies class. There’s Trevor Noah, the first African comedian to be on Jay Leno’s show, who jokes about and profits from how he was “born a crime.” It’s easy, and preferable, to see hybridity and multiraciality as a space—and theatre—for an affirmation of diversity and multitudes. And in Trinidad and Tobago, racially mixed census figures engender a space of potential anxiety for voting. In the early twentieth century, we could hear it in the poems of Nicolas Guillen, an Afro-Cuban poet who tried to develop a “poetic mestizaje” as a sort of national project.
In February, Toronto Life, a monthly magazine in my hometown published a cover story proposing “The End of White Toronto.” The sub-heading on the web reads: “A new mixed-raced generation is transforming the city: Will Toronto be the world’s first post-racial metropolis?” If you look at the young faces in the images in the article, “mixed-race” is almost always read as young. The next generation. Never quite there but on the verge. It’s a future that’s unfinished.
The Toronto Life article echoed the Atlantic magazine’s January/February 2009 cover story. The author of the piece, Hua Hsu, claimed the “end of White America” because of the transformation of today’s racial minorities into a majority by 2042. The browning of America isn’t simply about color but it’s also about the creation of a “beige” class. “Mixed-race” is race reinvented and race anew, suggesting an identifiable body that is less threatening than Black, less bland than White. This perspective has played itself out in the public imagination over the last few decades and even more vehemently since the election of Barack Obama.
But how is “mixing” considered news and also, new? Hybridity-as-concept made a postcolonial veer in the late 20th century and, generally speaking, hybridity was refashioned from a negatively coded category to a productive, emancipatory and resistant praxis, as Franco-Mauritian Françoise Lionnet contended in Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (1989) through the concept of métissage. In 1994, The Location of Culture, by Homi Bhabha, set the theory of hybridity in motion. For Bhabha, the liminal state of being in between creates a “moment of aesthetic distance that provides the narrative with a double edge, which like the coloured South African subject, represents a hybridity, a difference ‘within,’ a subject that inhabits the rim of an ‘in-between’ reality.” When I first read this, it sounded like a drug I hadn’t ever tried, hadn’t ever dared to try.
According to global studies and sociology professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse in ‘Hybridity, So What? The Anti-Hybridity Backlash and the Riddles of Recognition,’ “hybridity is to culture what deconstruction is to discourse: transcending binary categories.” Bhabha, too, writes that “the emphasis on the disjunctive present of utterance enables the historian to get away from defining subaltern consciousness as binary, as having positive or negative dimensions. It allows the articulation of a subaltern agency to emerge as relocation and reinscription.” Okay, okay, okay, so hybrid racial categories can go beyond set racial categories? At the same time, however, we must keep in mind: what were those same categories designed for?
The first time I read Michelle Cliff’s 1987 book No Telephone to Heaven, I immediately forgot which character had said this line. Was it Harry/Harriet, the queer Jamaican character? Or was it Clare Savage, the cosmopolitan “bi-racial” protagonist? It could have been either/both really. And that was partially the point.
What I did remember, however—what I felt—was the resonances of feeling the impulse of having to choose identity. The backdrop, for Clare, and to some extent for Cliff too, is about negotiating an existence in between races, cultures, nationalities and an endless act of et cetera. In the book, Clare undergoes a process of becoming(s) through a series of transatlantic yearnings, which culminate in her realization that she must choose her identity. And then, well, dies for that choice. In an essay called “Clare Savage as a Crossroads Character,” Cliff writes that “in [Clare’s] death she has complete identification with her homeland; soon enough she will be indistinguishable from the ground. Her bones will turn to potash, as did her ancestors’ bones.”
All the same, Clare is never accepted and never accepts herself. I’m still not sure what’s worse. No Telephone to Heaven complicates the idea of wholeness and that in order to “be true to yourself” if you have one parent, say, of European ancestry and the other of African ancestry, you should, as a citizen of the West (or perhaps the global West, i.e., the world) acknowledge the ambiguity of your both/and state of being, as if everyone doesn’t exist in a similar mode of being. A multimodal existence— a similar vacillating position of entering, understanding and being in the world. Don’t we all exist between things—parents, cultures, lovers, yesses and nos, life and death?
What I remembered, then, was what I didn’t think I had to be aware of. What I remembered was that until then, until that very moment when I read No Telephone to Heaven, I had identified as “mixed,” which would refer to my White mom and my Black Jamaican dad, who got married and had sex and had miscarriages and then had me. But I mean, isn’t a child always a mixture? Aren’t we (and is the “we” here decidedly North American?) all products of mixings and jumbles and breaking of the law pre-Loving v. Virginia and also victims and perpetrators of rape before abolition, and, and, and…?
I won’t get into how I learned how not to identify as “mixed,” how I began to understand that “mixed-race” in my generation was predicated on racial essentialism, false notions of purity, historical inaccuracies and worst of all, a sense of superiority over those who were only Black. Soon, I understood “mixed” as an intermediary between Black and White, a cushion almost, between racism and progress.
For this series, I’m interested in the way we talk and don’t talk—about mixing, hybridity and amalgamation—and how crossings are represented and circulated. Sometimes, are they even mixtures at all? In light of the “post-racial” myth (a nightmare, really—a ghost that embodies dispossession and folly), visions of the future are often articulated in terms of a “new minority,” that is to say, on the basis of an exalting color-blindness. An all-Brown world! There’s a fever, an agitated delirium among all things amalgamated. Cosmopolitan. In 1998, in the midst of the so-called U.S.-based “Multiracial Movement” that rallied to allow for individuals to be able to mark one or more under the race category in the U.S. census, Danzy Senna pointed to the turn of the century as the “Mulatto Millennium” in 1998. “Strange to wake up and realize you’re in style,” she wrote. Yet, the dozing persists. And unlike Senna’s essay, it’s hardly funny. It’s easy to say that it’s tragic. (Maybe that’s funny.)