Pursuing Trayvon Martin: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Manifestations of Racial Dynamics 0739178822, 9780739178829

On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old African American male Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a 28-yea

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Pursuing Trayvon Martin: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Manifestations of Racial Dynamics
 0739178822, 9780739178829

Table of contents :
Chapter One: Now You See It, Now You Don’t
Chapter Two: Imagined Communities
Chapter Three: Indignity and Death
Chapter Four: No Bigots Required
Chapter Five: Two Forms of Transcendence
Chapter Six: The Irreplaceability of Continued Struggle
Chapter Seven: Dead Black Man, Just Walking
Chapter Eight: Distorted Vision and Deadly Speech
Chapter Nine: “Seeing Black” through Michel Foucault’s Eyes
Chapter Ten: Should Black Kids Avoid Wearing Hoodies?
Chapter Eleven: Can We Imagine This Happening to a White Boy?
Chapter Twelve: A Mother’s Pain
Chapter Thirteen: Social Presence, Visibility, and the Eye of the Beholder
Chapter Fourteen: Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Dilemma of the African American Parent
Chapter Fifteen: Refusing Blackness-as-Victimization
Chapter Sixteen: Politics, Moral Identity, and the Limits of White Silence
Chapter Seventeen: Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow
Chapter Eighteen: “What Are You Doing around Here?”
Chapter Nineteen: Trayvon Martin
Chapter Twenty: Coda—Through the Eyes of a Mother
Selected Bibliography
About the Contributors

Citation preview

Pursuing Trayvon Martin

Pursuing Trayvon Martin Historical Contexts and Contemporary Manifestations of Racial Dynamics Edited by George Yancy and Janine Jones

LEXINGTON BOOKS Lanham • Boulder • New York • Toronto • Plymouth, UK

Published by Lexington Books A wholly owned subsidiary of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 www.rowman.com 10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom Copyright © 2013 by Lexington Books All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Pursuing Trayvon Martin : historical contexts and contemporary manifestations of racial dynamics / edited by George Yancy and Janine Jones. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-7391-7882-9 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-7391-7883-6 (electronic) 1. Stereotypes (Social psychology)—United States. 2. Racial profiling in law enforcement—United States. 3. Neighborhood watch programs—United States. 4. Racism—United States. 5. Martin, Trayvon, 1995–2012. 6. Zimmerman, George, 1983– I. Yancy, George. II. Jones, Janine. HM1096.P87 2013 363.2'30890973—dc23 2012034865

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America

We dedicate this book to our little Manchild, Trayvon Martin, and to all native sons and daughters born of struggle and marked for death, in this, the Promised Land


Acknowledgments Introduction George Yancy and Janine Jones

ix 1


Now You See It, Now You Don’t : Magic Tricks of White Supremacy in the United States Jacqueline Anderson, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, and Anne Leighton 2 Imagined Communities: Whitopia and the Trayvon Martin Tragedy Maria del Guadalupe Davidson 3 Indignity and Death: Philosophical Commentary on White Terror, Black Death, and the Trayvon Martin Tragedy Stephen C. Ferguson II and John H. McClendon III 4 No Bigots Required: What the Science of Racial Bias Reveals in the Wake of Trayvon Martin Phillip Abita Goff and L. Song Richardson 5 Two Forms of Transcendence: Justice and the Problem of Knowledge Timothy Joseph Golden 6 The Irreplaceability of Continued Struggle Lewis R. Gordon 7 Dead Black Man, Just Walking William David Hart 8 Distorted Vision and Deadly Speech: Enabling Racial Violence through Paradox and Script Jennifer Harvey 9 “Seeing Black” through Michel Foucault’s Eyes: “Stand Your Ground” Laws as an Anchorage Point for StateSponsored Racism Devonya N. Havis 10 Should Black Kids Avoid Wearing Hoodies? Chike Jeffers 11 Can We Imagine This Happening to a White Boy? Janine Jones vii





73 85 91


117 129 141



12 A Mother’s Pain: The Toxicity of the Systemic Disease of Devaluation Transferred from the Black Mother to the Black Male Child Tracey McCants Lewis 13 Social Presence, Visibility, and the Eye of the Beholder: A Phenomenology of Social Embodiment David Polizzi 14 Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Dilemma of the African American Parent E. Renée Sanders-Lawson and Bill E. Lawson 15 Refusing Blackness-as-Victimization: Trayvon Martin and the Black Cyborgs João Costa Vargas and Joy A. James 16 Politics, Moral Identity, and the Limits of White Silence Samantha Vice 17 Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett 18 “What Are You Doing around Here?”: Trayvon Martin and the Logic of Black Guilt Vanessa Wills 19 Trayvon Martin: When Effortless Grace Is Sacrificed on the Altar of the Image George Yancy 20 Coda—Through the Eyes of a Mother: Reflections on the Rites of Passage of Black Boyhood Carol E. Henderson Selected Bibliography Index About the Contributors




193 205 215




259 271 287


I would like to thank Jana Hodges-Kluck, associate editor at Lexington Books, for immediately recognizing the gravity and timeliness of this important book. Jana is a tremendous delight to work with and is deeply invested in quality books. I would also like to thank Eric Wrona for his help with the logistics of the project. My coeditor, Janine Jones, is thanked for reminding me just how important it was to do this project now, to honor Trayvon Martin at this moment. Janine is an absolute delight to work with. We worked hand in glove together throughout the duration of this marathon project. Janine’s philosophical insights, her attention to detail regarding the logical integrity (or lack thereof) of arguments, and her demand for rigor and clarity, have allowed me to appreciate even more the stellar philosopher that I have always known her to be. Both her scholarship and friendship are greatly appreciated. Sincere gratitude is given to each author who made a contribution to this project and who did so within such challenging time constraints, especially as the book was/is extremely time sensitive. It was not just the speed with which the chapters were written and delivered, but the care and attention that was given to each chapter. I recall the moment that we began to make our initial contacts with respective contributors. What was evident, to me, as we began to receive immediate affirmations to participate in this project, was the sense of a collective recognition that this book project was bigger and more important than each of us. Indeed, there was the understanding that this project was about Trayvon Martin and the overarching sense of responsibility and obligation to honor him by making sense of his tragic death. For me, this is what drives this project, what gives it a transcendent meaning. I would also like to acknowledge Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, who have had to suffer as only parents can suffer because of the death of their children. My hope is that this book will bring comfort, knowing that there are so many who mourn with the two of you, and that there are those within this book who believe in justice and who firmly believe that there is a better day within our reach. I extend a very special thanks to Susan who has not failed to make sure that I dot my I’s and cross my T’s. Thanks for the com-passion; the etymology of that word rings true. And to my African American sons, it is your irreplaceability that paradoxically moves me to tremendous and irrepressible joy and yet great sorrow and longing. —George Yancy ix



I would like to thank Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton who, like Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, made sure that the light did not go out on the killing of their son. I would also like to thank the NAACP, spearheaded by a fearless Ben Jealous, Al Sharpton, Florida Democratic State Representative Mia Jones, who fought the passage of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and who sent letters to Attorney General Eric Holder and Florida Governor Rick Scott calling for impartial investigations into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and countless other organizations and the millions of supporters who fought to keep Trayvon Martin’s case alive and who continue to fight to keep his spirit living amongst us. I would like to acknowledge the editor, Jana Hodges-Kluck, without whom this volume devoted to Trayvon Martin would not be possible. And I take my hat off to each contributor for helping to transform this possibility into a reality. Finally, my sincerest thanks go to my co-editor, George Yancy, who, joining forces with me, worked tirelessly in a spirit of true friendship, deep philosophical engagement, and activism-from-the-academy. —Janine Jones

Introduction George Yancy and Janine Jones

Telling people that we were in the process of coediting a volume devoted to exploring the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has been a telling experience in itself. Announcing our project, we have both been met by quizzical smiles with lips offering words poised on the tips of tongues: “But are all the facts in? Do we really know what happened?” The suggestion may be that we cannot possibly know what happened because all the facts relevant to a discussion of Trayvon Martin are not yet forthcoming. And so, possible questions hang in the air unspoken, like rain clouds threatening precipitation: “So what could this volume possibly be about?” Could its methodology be credible? Rather than an objective exploration of Trayvon’s death will the authors, lacking the real facts, resort to relying upon their own subjective opinions, constructing views they want readers to adopt? Shouldn’t we wait until Zimmerman has had his day in court? Are the authors going to try Zimmerman in their own restricted court of public appeal; then sign, seal, and deliver a verdict against him based on truthiness rather than truth? Or will the various chapters simply read like emotional tracts bemoaning Martin’s death rather than as work exploring the meanings and truths that attach to it? Perhaps some of our interlocutors may not have intended to initiate a philosphical discussion, but their questions—“Are all the facts in? Do we really know what happened?”—raise profound philosophical questions. What is meant, for example, in asking “Are all the facts in?” Is the question here whether we (the press and the public) at present have access to something devoid of all interpretation, devoid of all value? In other words, is a fact/value distinction being assumed here? Do my interlocutors think of facts (e.g., it is a fact that P) as non-linguistic entities—the world or bits of the world—that match up with linguistic ones (e.g., “It is true that P”)? Or do they think that saying “It is a fact that P” is just a more emphatic way of saying “It is true that P”? In either case do they think that facts are just out there in the world to be discovered (or not), independently of norms of rational acceptability, which include norms for when it is relevant to take something into consideration? When our interlocutors asked, “Do we know what happened?” were they assuming that what we count 1


George Yancy and Janine Jones

as knowledge of what occurred should depend only on our cognitive uptake of events considered in isolation (e.g., x did this; y did that) rather than events situated within a web of events to be considered holistically (e.g., x did this; y did that in a context in which z1….zn holds)? These are questions to keep in mind when thinking about what are called the facts related to the Trayvon Martin case (or to any case). But now let’s consider what may be called the facts, according to George Zimmerman. ZIMMERMAN TO DISPATCHER George Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about. [00:25] 911 dispatcher: OK, is he White, Black, or Hispanic? Zimmerman: He looks black. 911 dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing? Zimmerman: Yeah, a dark hoodie like a gray hoodie. He wore jeans or sweat pants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now … he’s just staring. [00:42] 911 dispatcher: He’s just walking around the area, the houses? OK. Zimmerman: Now he’s staring at me. [00:48] 911 dispatcher: OK, you said that’s 1111 Retreat View or 111? Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse. 911 dispatcher: He’s near the clubhouse now? Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming toward me. He’s got his hands in his waist band. And he’s a black male. [1:03] 911 dispatcher: How old would you say he is? Zimmerman: He’s got something on his shirt. About like his late teens. 911 dispatcher: Late teens?



Zimmerman: Uh, huh. Something’s wrong with him. Yep, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is. [01:20] 911 dispatcher: Let me know if he does anything, OK? Zimmerman: OK. 911 dispatcher: We’ve got him on the wire. Just let me know if this guy does anything else. Zimmerman: OK. These assholes. They always get away. When you come to the clubhouse, you come straight in and you go left. Actually, you would go past the clubhouse. [1:39] 911 dispatcher: OK, so it’s on the left hand side of the clubhouse? Zimmerman: Yeah. You go in straight through the entrance and then you would go left. You go straight in, don’t turn and make a left. He’s running. [2:08] 911 dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running? Zimmerman: Down toward the other entrance of the neighborhood. [2:14] 911 dispatcher: OK, which entrance is that he’s headed towards? Zimmerman: The back entrance. [It sounds like Zimmerman says under his breath, ‘F-ing coons’ at 2:22] 911 dispatcher: Are you following him? [2:24] Zimmerman: Yeah. [2:25] 911 dispatcher: OK. We don’t need you to do that. [2:26] Zimmerman: OK. [2:28] 911 dispatcher: Alright, sir, what is your name? [2:34] Zimmerman: George. He ran. 911 dispatcher: Alright, George, what’s your last name? Zimmerman: Zimmerman.


George Yancy and Janine Jones

911 dispatcher: What’s the phone number you’re calling from? Zimmerman: 407-435-2400 911 dispatcher: Alright, George, we do have them on the way. Do you want to meet with the officer when they get out there? Zimmerman: Yeah. 911 dispatcher: Alright, where are you going to meet with them at? Zimmerman: Um, if they come in through the gate, tell them to go straight past the clubhouse and, uh, straight past the clubhouse and make a left and then go past the mailboxes you’ll see my truck. [3:10] 911 dispatcher: Alright, what address are you parked in front of? [3:21] Zimmerman: Um, I don’t know. It’s a cut-through so I don’t know the address. [3:25] 911 dispatcher: OK, do you live in the area? Zimmerman: Yeah, yeah, I live here. 911 dispatcher: OK, what’s your apartment number? Zimmerman: It’s a home. It’s 1950—oh, crap, I don’t want to give it out—I don’t know where this kid is [inaudible] [3:40] 911 dispatcher: OK, do you just want to meet with them at the mailboxes then? [3:42] Zimmerman: Yeah, that’s fine. [3:43] 911 dispatcher: Alright, George, I’ll let them know you’ll meet them at … Zimmerman: Could you have them call me and I’ll tell them where I’m at? [3:49] 911 dispatcher: OK, that’s no problem. Zimmerman: My number . . . you’ve got it? 911 dispatcher: Yeah, I’ve got it. 435-2400? Zimmerman: Yeah, you got it.



911 dispatcher: OK, no problem. I’ll let them know to call you when they’re in the area. [4:02] Zimmerman: Thanks. 911 dispatcher: You’re welcome. Call ends 4:07 1 A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT THESE FACTS Through Zimmerman’s account we are presented with questions that may be raised about facts. Here is one. When Zimmerman responded “Yeah” to the question as to whether he was following Martin, the dispatcher responded “OK, we don’t need you to do that.” But this statement can be interpreted in different ways. One might interpret it as Zimmerman having received an order from the dispatcher not to follow Martin. But the dispatcher’s statement could also be interpreted as a suggestion rather than as an order. And this makes a difference to how we view the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, for this points to a possible misstep by the police dispatcher, perhaps the first among many. Had the dispatcher said, “Don’t do that. Go home,” as a police officer recently told Janine’s neighbor who wanted to take out his gun and guard her house after a prowler had been lurking around it, we would have a different story on our hands. Either Zimmerman would have followed an explicit order given or he would not have. Had he not, a couple of things would have come up. First, although many of us may possess norms of rationality according to which Zimmerman should have understood that he was being given an order not to follow, the words “Don’t do that. Go home,” are a different speech act from “We don’t need you to do that.” We fail to construe “Don’t do that. Go home” as an order on pain of being accused of irrationality, or of being incompetent with respect to the English language, or simply of failing to follow an order, such failure usually resulting in consequences when orders are issued by the police. Further, failing to follow an explicit police order would, perhaps, have implications in a court of law, which the words “We don’t need you to do that” may not. How would Zimmerman’s violation of a direct police order play out in court given that it could be construed as a significant event leading to his killing of Trayvon Martin? How would Zimmerman’s failure to follow a suggestion play out by contrast? Ironically, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee stated, “We wish that he had just stayed in his vehicle.” 2 Is this the appropriate response to a police order that has been disobeyed? Perhaps it is, depending on the identity of the person who disobeys. But then again, it may be that an order was never given in the first place.


George Yancy and Janine Jones

Second, failing to issue a direct order has implications for how the Sanford police department must answer for the death of Trayvon Martin. One might ask, why did the police speak to Zimmerman as though they were handling him with pet gloves? Why were there no consequences for Zimmerman’s failure to follow a direct order, if one was given? So I raise the question again: is it a fact that Zimmerman was given an order? Further, can we know that he was given an order? Could we know that the norms governing the language the dispatcher used determine that Zimmerman had been given an order, rather than, say, a suggestion? And, is this one of those places where we are compelled to see our values as intervening in and wedded to so-called facts? Do we say to ourselves something like, “Anyone with good sense should have known that the dispatcher ordered Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon Martin.” But should anyone—including someone who, to our ears, is practically being cooed to by the dispatcher—have known? (That’s not the way the police officer spoke to Janine’s neighbor.) That anyone should have known that an order was being given—is this itself supposed to be some kind of fact that we can apprehend like picking up a dollar bill from the table, or does it require interpretation through a value-laden lens? Now here are some further questions to raise regarding the “facts” given in Zimmerman’s account: Zimmerman: “He [Martin] looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” Response: Is it a fact that Martin looks like he’s up to no good or that he looks like he’s on drugs? If it is a fact, it is a subjective one, not necessarily meaning that it is apprehended only through the lens of Zimmerman. For it may be that Zimmerman’s lens has been crafted and polished by a societal/cultural normative perspective from which Martin’s looking like he was up to no good would appear to those who have internalized such a perspective to possess the same degree of objectivity as the alleged fact that unsullied snow looks white does. Zimmerman: “He [Martin] looks black.” Response: Is this a fact, and, if so, what kind? As we shall see below, Martin says to his girlfriend on his cellphone that Zimmerman is white. Is he? Is it a fact that he looks white? By the norms that some have internalized in the United States, indeed he does not. To some, he looks like people whose communities and those outside their communities identify as Hispanic—that is, he looks like he could now be legally profiled in Arizona. So this is interesting. In other circumstances would Martin have thought that Zimmerman was white, or is it that when being threatened in a particular way someone who could be legally profiled in Arizona looks white to him? Zimmerman: “He’s in his late teens.”



Response: Is that a fact, Mr. Zimmerman? At your arraignment, in the surprise apology you made to Martin’s parents, you said you thought that he was a man a little bit younger than yourself. You’re twentyeight. That would put him in his mid to late twenties. So now we ask, is this a falsehood or a lie? Zimmerman: “These assholes always get away.” Response: Going by the norms governing the English language, I think we can safely assume that Zimmerman took Martin to be an asshole. On what grounds had Zimmerman determined that it was a fact that Trayvon Martin was an asshole, whatever that means? Zimmerman: “Something’s wrong with him. He keeps coming to check me out.” Response: Under what conditions is Martin’s continual checking out of Zimmerman—if indeed this is the case—sufficient grounds for it to be thought a fact (thought to be a fact by whom?) that something is wrong with Martin? If it is sufficient grounds regardless of who the thinker is or who is being checked out, then by parity of reasoning, shouldn’t it be a fact, even to Zimmerman, that something is wrong with him—that is, Zimmerman? After all, is he not checking Martin out, to the point of following him? But what may be a fact—not one spoken in the dispatch or the kind of fact the interlocutors with whom we shared the project may have had in mind—is that there is no parity in this situation. Authors of chapters in this volume may seek to explain, in various ways, using different forms of argumentation and language, why it may be an objective fact—whatever other details of the case may be— that there could not have been parity between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, and not because Trayvon allegedly weighed about eighty pounds less than Zimmerman.

Let’s now, through a police report, consider the so-called facts according to Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, identified as Dee Dee. Police Officer: I want to focus on that day, February 26, when you know obviously he was unfortunately killed, and I’m sorry to ask you about this. But did you have conversations with him that day? Girlfriend: Yes. Police Officer: At some point, did you find out that Trayvon was going to the store? Girlfriend: Around six-something. Police Officer: OK. And did he tell you what store he was going to? Girlfriend: No.


George Yancy and Janine Jones

Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: He just said [inaudible] store. Police Officer: Did he say why he was going to the store? Girlfriend: Yes. Police Officer: What did he say he was going to the store for? Girlfriend: Yeah, his little brother. Some food and some drink. Police Officer: OK, yeah, tell me what happened as he’s talking to you when he’s leaving the store on his way back home. Girlfriend: It started raining. Police Officer: It started raining, and did he go somewhere? Girlfriend: Yeah, he ran to the, um, mail thing. Police Officer: Like, I’m sorry, what? Girlfriend: Like a mail, like a shed. Police Officer: Like a mail—like a shed, like a mail area? Girlfriend: Yeah, yeah. Police Officer: Like a covered area, because it was raining? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: So did he tell you he was already inside, like, the gated place? Girlfriend: Yeah. He ran in there. Police Officer: OK, and what— Girlfriend: That’s when the phone hung up. Police Officer: OK. I’m sorry. Girlfriend: The phone hung up, and I called him back again. Police Officer: And what else did Trayvon tell you?



Girlfriend: And like— Police Officer: And I know this is difficult for you, but just take your time and tell us what you remember happened. Girlfriend: A couple minutes later, like, he come and tell me this man is watching him. Police Officer: OK. Did he describe the man that was watching him? Girlfriend: Yeah, he said white. Police Officer: OK. Did he say whether the man was standing, sitting, or— Girlfriend: He was in a car. Police Officer: He was in a car? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: And what did he say about the man that was watching him under the— Girlfriend: He was on the phone. Police Officer: He was on the phone? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: OK. And what did Trayvon say after that? Girlfriend: He was telling me that, like, this man was watching him, so he, like, started walking. Police Officer: He, Trayvon, started walking? Girlfriend: He gonna start walking. Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: And then the phone hung up, and then I called him back again. And then, I said, “What are you doing?” He said he’s walking, and he said this man is still following him, behind the car. He put his hoodie on. Police Officer: He, Trayvon, put his hoodie on?


George Yancy and Janine Jones

Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: ’Cause, he said, it was still a little bit dripping water, so he put his hoodie on. So I said, “What’s going on?” He said this man is still watching him, like in a car. So he about to run from the back. So I told him, go to his dad’s house. Run to his dad’s house. Police Officer: Go to what? Girlfriend: Run to his dad’s house. Police Officer: To his dad’s house, OK. Girlfriend: Yeah. So he said he was about to run from the back. So, next thing I hear, he just run. And I can hear that the wind blowing. Police Officer: So you could tell he was running at that time? Girlfriend: Yeah, yeah. Police Officer: OK. Then what happened? Girlfriend: And then he said he lost him. Police Officer: He lost what, the man? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: So was Trayvon—at that time, you could tell he was, like, out of breath, like excited? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: Like—right? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: OK. Take your time, I know this is difficult for you. Girlfriend: So he lost him. He was breathing hard. And by the sound of his voice, his voice kind of changed. Police Officer: Who, Trayvon’s? Girlfriend: Yeah.



Police Officer: OK. What do you mean by that? His voice changed? Girlfriend: I know he was scared. Police Officer: I’m sorry? Girlfriend: I know he was scared. Police Officer: How—and I know what you’re trying to tell me, but if you could describe to me how you could tell he was scared. Girlfriend: His voice was getting kind of low, a little bit low. He was running hard. Police Officer: OK. So you could tell he was emotional, like somebody who was, like, in fear? Girlfriend: Yeah. He said he lost— Police Officer: OK. He was breathing hard? OK. Girlfriend: He said he had lost him. He was breathing hard, and—and I told him, “Keep running.” Police Officer: So Trayvon said he started walking because he thought he had lost the guy? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: I said, “Keep running.” Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: He said he ain’t gonna run, ’cause he said he’s right by his father’s house. Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: So, and in a couple minutes, he said the man’s following him again, he’s behind him. I said, “Run! You going to run?” He said he’s not going to run. I could know he’s not going to run, because he out of breath. Then, he told me [inaudible] the guy getting close to him. I told him, “Run!” And then I told him, “Keep running!” He not going to run. And then he said—I told him, “Why are you not run-


George Yancy and Janine Jones

ning?” He said, “I’m not running,” because he’s tired, because I know he’s tired. Police Officer: I’m sorry, Trayvon said he’s not running because—he’s not going to run, he said, because you could tell he was tired? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: How could you tell he was tired? Girlfriend: He was breathing hard. Police Officer: OK. Real hard? Girlfriend: Real hard. Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: And then he told me this guy was getting close. Like, he told me the guy was getting real close to him. Next thing I hear: “Why are you following me for?” Police Officer: OK. So let me make sure I understand this. So, Trayvon tells you that the guy is getting closer to him. Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: And then you hear Trayvon saying something. Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: And what do you hear Trayvon saying? Girlfriend: “Why are you following me for?” Police Officer: “Why are you following me for?” Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: And then what happened? Girlfriend: I heard this man, like an old man— Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: —say, “What are you doing around here?”



Police Officer: OK, so you definitely could tell another voice that was not Trayvon. Girlfriend: Yeah, yeah. Police Officer: And you heard this other voice say what? Girlfriend: Yeah. “What are you doing around here?” Police Officer: “What are you doing around here?” OK. Girlfriend: And I called, “Trayvon, Trayvon, what’s going on? What’s going on?” Police Officer: This is you saying that? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: Then, I’m calling him. He didn’t answer. Police Officer: No answer from Trayvon? Girlfriend: Yeah. I hear something like bump. You could hear that Trayvon—somebody bumped Trayvon. I could hear the grass. Police Officer: OK. So you could hear there was something going on. Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: Like something hitting something? Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: OK. Girlfriend: You can hear—I can hear the grass thing. Police Officer: Out of the— Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: I guess, out of the— Girlfriend: Yeah. Police Officer: OK, and then what happened?


George Yancy and Janine Jones

Girlfriend: And then, I was still screaming, I was saying, “Trayvon! Trayvon!” Police Officer: And there was no response? Girlfriend: Yeah, and then next thing—and next thing, the phone just shut off. Police Officer: The phone shut off? Girlfriend: It just shut off. 3 What are the facts here? According to Dee Dee, Zimmerman sounds like an old man (a man pushing thirty might sound like that to a teenager; in fact, by old, she may have meant a thirty-something or beyond). According to Dee Dee, Trayvon sounded scared, because his voice became low. According to Dee Dee, Trayvon was tired from running, because he sounded out of breath. She says that she knows he was tired. I suppose that she might say that this was a fact about Trayvon moments before his death. He was tired. And as Dee Dee tells it, according to Trayvon, Zimmerman is watching him; Zimmerman is following him; Zimmerman is on the phone— Zimmerman is white. Lastly, let’s consider the facts provided by various media outlets: • On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager from Miami Gardens, Florida, left his father’s girlfriend’s residence at The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a 260-unit gated community in Sanford, Florida, and went to a 7-11 store, where he purchased a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. He was wearing a hoody. On his return trip, Martin used a cellphone to convey to his girlfriend that a man was watching him from a vehicle. He also stated that it was raining and that he had covered his head with his hood. He described the man watching him as white. • At 7:09 George Zimmerman, a resident of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, identified on his voter registration card as white, called 911 dispatchers to report a guy “just walking around looking about [looking like] he’s no good or on drugs or something.” The dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following Martin, to which he responded, “Yeah.” He was told by the dispatcher, “We don’t need you to do that,” to which he responded “Okay.” • Apparently, six different people called 911 to report an altercation. Cries for help were heard by some of the witnesses. It could not be determined who was crying. • Within eight minutes George Zimmerman had shot Trayvon Martin in the chest at close range with a Kel-Tec 9 mm PF-9. Martin’s



body was taken to Volusia County Medical Examiner’s office, where he was labeled a John Doe, as allegedly, he was wearing no identification. However, “The Partial Report Only,” which was completed on February 27, 2012, at 3:07 a.m., lists Trayvon’s full name, city of birth, address, and phone number. An autopsy was performed on Trayvon hours after his death. Small traces of marijuana were found in his body. The first officer arrived on the scene at 7:17 p.m. Zimmerman was not standing far from Martin’s corpse. Apparently, he raised his hands in surrender. He relinquished his pistol. An officer took one single-face photo of Zimmerman, who had suffered a nose fracture and injury to the head. Further pictures were later taken at Sanford police headquarters. Officers did not seize Zimmerman’s vehicle because they said they thought he had been on foot. They canvassed the neighborhood, knocking on doors, but failed to learn anything about Martin’s identity. Zimmerman was taken to “investigative detention” at Sanford police headquarters. He was read his Miranda rights. He answered questions without the presence of a lawyer. Zimmerman provided his permit for carrying a concealed weapon. He was given a lie detector test (a voice stress analysis test), which he passed. Zimmerman re-enacted the scene for the police. His reenactment was recorded. Zimmerman’s wife brought him a new set of clothes, as those he was wearing were taken into evidence. The police department was assisted by the Seminole County sheriff’s office, which sent a representative to the scene with a live fingerprint scanner. A matched failed to show up for Martin. Zimmerman, who asserted the right of self-defense, under the Stand Your Ground Law, was released, apparently before the police department had conducted a full background check. He was not checked for drugs or alcohol. In spite of the fact that Chris Serino, the lead homicide investigator on the case, having filed an affidavit on the night of the incident recommending that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter, the State’s Attorney’s office and Police Chief Lee said they did not have evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s assertion of self-defense. Lee stated, “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him.” 4 Trayvon Martin’s father identified him to the police on February 27, 2012. Only on February 29 was a funeral director permitted to drive Martin to South Florida. Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton called for Zimmerman’s arrest. They retained Benjamin Crump (based in Tallahassee, the state’s most well-known civil rights attorney, who took the case pro bono). Crump then joined forces with Natalie Jackson, who possesses considerable knowledge of Sanford and Seminole counties.


George Yancy and Janine Jones

• Forty-eight hours had passed, and Zimmerman still hadn’t been arrested. Crump, knowing Trayvon’s parents needed a media strategy, hired Ryan Julison, who pitched their story to a long list of media contacts. Finally, on March 7 Reuters published an article titled “Family of Florida Boy Killed by Neighborhood Watch Seeks Arrest.” The following day, CBS aired a segment on “This Morning.” A media storm took off. • On March 22, 2012, Police Chief Bill Lee announced that he was temporarily stepping down, after having received criticism over how the Trayvon Martin case was handled. His resignation was rejected. State’s Attorney Norman Wolfinger also withdrew from the case. • On April 10 special prosecutor Angela Corey announced that Zimmerman would not be brought before a grand jury. On April 11, Angela Corey announced that George Zimmerman would be charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. She announced that Zimmerman had turned himself in. • On April 20 Zimmerman’s bail was set at $150,000. He stunned the court by taking the stand and apologizing to the parents of Trayvon Martin. Amongst other things he stated that “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am.” 5 This contradicts the statement that he made to the dispatcher that he believed Trayvon was in his late teens. On April 23, Zimmerman was released from the Seminole County jail on $150,000 bond. • On April 27 prosecutors asked Circuit Court judge Kenneth Lester Jr. to increase Zimmerman’s bail amount after it was discovered that he had raised more than $200,000 through a Paypal account on his website. • Prosecutors filed a motion to revoke his bond, because of the “deceit” about his finances and his possession of a second passport, acquired two weeks after the shooting. On June 1, a judge revoked bond for Zimmerman and ordered him to surrender himself in forty-eight hours. When the special prosecutor, Angela Corey, took over, she stated to the press: We have numerous homicides where immediate arrests are not made. And so, to us, it did not seem unusual. I think judgment has to be made when the final decision is reached, and that’s what we would have hoped the public would have waited for. But some people did not wait. And so, an arrest can only be based upon probable cause. And so, we believe that that’s what the Sanford Police Department was trying to do. And if there is any sort of determination as to what they did or



didn’t do, that will be handled by someone other than our prosecution team.

She continued: I can tell you we did not come to this decision lightly. This case is like a lot of the difficult cases we have handled for years here in our circuit. And we made this decision in the same manner. Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts of any given case, as well as the laws of the state of Florida. 6

Is This a Fact? Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP responded to this statement as follows: The reality is that she would not be the prosecutor but for this family standing up, and millions of people with them, and saying, “We need justice in this case.” We got charges here because a chief was forced aside and a prosecutor was forced to step aside, so that we could have a force led by somebody who would be impartial and this case prosecuted by somebody who would be impartial. This is a very unique situation, where we have had to wait weeks for justice and had to literally see a movement created in order to get this in the hands of a prosecutor who would do what the cops should have done on day one, lock this man up, charge him with murder, and get us headed towards a trial. 7

Or Is This a Fact? Facts aside, here is what we know for certain: Three black unarmed males have been killed by police officers or their citizen-proxies in the United States in 2011–2012 within a four-month period, and these are just the black males that we know about. All three were pursued to death. 8 This knowledge demands that we pursue Trayvon Martin through examining the racial dynamics of the historical contexts that gave meaning to his life and death, whatever else we don’t know notwithstanding. OVERVIEW OF BOOK In its initial stages, we decided that this should not be a book designed to showcase intellectual scholarship as such—something greater was at stake. We desired a book that was fueled by a collective sense of passion and urgency that would capture, through the collective voices of a critical cadre of scholars, the multifaceted implications and concerns surrounding the killing of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin. We wanted the book to be current and to capture the immediacy of this tragic situation


George Yancy and Janine Jones

and to provide critical and insightful discourse surrounding it. All of the contributors to this volume are fully cognizant of the historical significance of this tragic event—and the deep racial divide surrounding it—in relationship to the brutal killing of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, by two white men in 1955, and to the Rodney King beating by white police officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 1991. Indeed, we are all aware of the larger implications of the death of Trayvon Martin in terms of what we see as the devaluation of the lives of young black males in North America and black life, more generally. Whether one believes that the comparisons are accurate or not, or whether one does or does not believe that Trayvon Martin’s tragic death speaks to a deeper racial pathology regarding the irrational fear of young black males, what is unequivocally the case is that Trayvon Martin’s death has led to thousands of Americans (across race) rallying throughout the nation to bring attention to what so many see as an act of racial profiling, racial injustice, murder, and police incompetence. In this book, we have a diverse range of critical voices which address the panoply of the issues that the killing of Trayvon Martin has generated. We have assembled scholars in the areas of anthropology, law, history, criminology and criminal justice, gender and women’s studies, Africana studies, political science, religious studies, psychology, and philosophy. Through these multiple, yet overlapping, disciplinary matrices, we have created a text that bespeaks a rich heterogeneity, both in terms of critical voices and in terms of approaches, all of which speak directly and boldly to a shared determination to deftly explicate, theorize, and explore the meaning of the death of Trayvon Martin. Our collective concerns and themes are diverse. To get a sense of the richly discursive and multifaceted thematic dimensions of the text, consider the following. The text explores how a white supremacist society such as North America is capable of deploying various strategies to avoid talking about racism, specifically within the context of Trayvon Martin’s death. In our text, it is argued that no matter the outcome in the Trayvon Martin case that the relational dynamics between whites and African Americans in this country will rebalance themselves in such a way that racial hierarchies will remain the same; indeed, that white supremacy will remain. The argument here has important implications for the profound ways in which white supremacy is insidious, leading to the collective myth, for so many, that there are no racists in this country and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the body politic. The issue of white supremacy as a structural and systemic feature of North America is linked to the ways in which some scholars within this text contextualize the death of Trayvon Martin as an instantiation of a normal part of African American life, especially as black people have faced the brutality of white violence since slavery. The contention is that the ideology of white supremacy is not only deeply embedded within our



country, but that it is a hydra-headed phenomenon. Indeed, white supremacy enables the radical incoherence of white assessments of supremacist violence against African Americans as “race neutral.” Drawing on primary research that documents predictable patterns of dominant social and legal responses to the murders of black men by police officers, it is shown that white supremacist ideology in this case is manifested in the racial scripts that narrate dominant white responses to the devastating brutality that extinguished Trayvon Martin’s young life. The argument that the terror of white supremacy is a pervasive phenomenon and, indeed, is not restricted to phenotype, effectively counters the rhetoric that someone like George Zimmerman is exempt from the charge of racism. Linked to this notion of white supremacy, as other scholars within this text demonstrate, are the ideological and material forces of monopoly capitalism and state violence. Theorizing these features of our polity as inextricably linked gives rise to the crucial importance of self-defense on the part of African American people. In this text, the tragic death of Trayvon Martin is also conceptualized against the backdrop of a critique of neoliberalism as an attempt to obfuscate white racism, arguing that the neoliberal myth rests on a ruse of agency. It is shown that the death of Trayvon Martin unravels the painful illusions of post-blackness, specifically as his story brings sadly to the fore the realities of a system that produces the criminal label in ways sometimes masked by words such as choice, agency, drive, and other neoliberal slang. It is argued that neoliberalism is therefore a deceptively bright white fabric of illusions. Thus, within the history and current manifestations of white supremacy, the talented post-black identity is offered a tempting pass, but one that is always already probationary. Indeed, in this text the vulnerability of neoliberal citizenship and thus the cost of a ticket that demands homage toward white respectability and denies the possibilities of a genuine multiracial solidarity is explored. Other authors in this text raise the very challenging point that instead of becoming enraged and shocked every time a black person is killed in our society, we should theorize black death as a predictable and constitutive aspect of our democracy. This supports the earlier contention that Trayvon Martin’s death can be seen as a normal result of American society. As such, it is theorized that his death or killing is prefigured by mass or collective loss of the social standing and life of black people. Thus, it is argued that from the perspective of the dominant, white-inflected gaze and predisposition, blacks can be redeemed neither from sin nor from slavery. For a black person to be integrated, s/he must either become nonblack, or display superhuman and/or infrahuman qualities, which, from this perspective, constitutes a no-win disjunction. Within this context, a fascinating discussion of the concept of a black cyborg is discussed. Concerning questions of injustice, the theme of how “knowledge” can produce forms of injustice is also examined. This form of “knowledge” is


George Yancy and Janine Jones

theorized within the context of the black body that functions as a negative signified object that appears to transcend history, but is actually dutifully maintained by whites, in this case, to maintain control. The issue of control, and the reduction of black people to criminals in virtue of their phenotype, raises the importance of theorizing fundamental ways in which the transcendence of all persons ought to be respected. Along with the importance of transcendence as a locus of alterity and respect, there is also the issue of the fundamental irreplaceability of persons—for example, Trayvon Martin—and how through the deployment of symbols the fact of this irreplaceability can be forgotten or ignored. Irreplaceability speaks to an otherwise uncaring universe that makes the killing of Trayvon Martin all the more existentially significant and his death so tragic. When one thinks about this conception of irreplaceability, one’s sympathy especially deepens for Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, realizing that the loss that they sustained was of someone who was/is sui generis. When juxtaposed to the reality of systemic anti-black racism, the theme of irreplaceability vis-à-vis black people is not just a question of cosmological meaninglessness, but a form of meaninglessness perpetuated at the level of the sociogenic and where black ontology is deemed to have an illicit status. Related to this notion of black ontology as having an illicit status is the powerful argument propounded within this text that Trayvon Martin’s death was a “postmortem event,” that before the moment he died at the hand of George Zimmerman, he had, in some sense, already been dead. Extending this line of argument beyond black males as such, it is maintained that the lives of black Americans as such have always been priced cheaply and under-valued vis-à-vis white life. This raises important historical and contemporary questions around how black bodies have become “marked for death” within a white racist semiotic field. Dialectically linked to the contention that black bodies are “marked for death” or marked for a long social death is the fact that white men are actually treated as non-disposable persons, whose lives have meaning and value. But what, as one scholar importantly asks, would it mean to be able to imagine the opposite of this? One answer to this is that being able to imagine something is thought by some to provide good evidence that what has been imagined is possible. Yet, it is impossible, counterfactually, for us to imagine young white men in such ways, that is, as disposable, in our current context in North America. Why impossible? To address this question, the author discusses a conception of imagination that issues in such a result. Again within the context of injustice, another author raises the important question of the ethics of silence vis-à-vis injustice. The point here is that those who are privileged—those implicated in the very injustice being mourned—can become obtrusive when it comes to particular political events involving black people. In the light of the killing of Trayvon Mar-



tin, the author revisits this claim of the ethics of silence and raises a very important set of questions: What kind of voice is appropriate here, and what kind of silence? When is public outrage from those who are privileged whites merely another affront to the victims? When are the political reasons for silence from the privileged outweighed by the moral reasons that everyone has to protest against an injustice which, while so racially and politically charged, is also, and fundamentally, a personal and moral tragedy? Another theme explored in the text relates to the legal discourse underlying the “Stand Your Ground” statute in Florida. There is an analysis of Michel Foucault’s assertion that certain discursive fields must exist in order to provide “anchorage points that justify state racisms.” Using this framework, the “Stand Your Ground” statute is reviewed visà-vis state racisms and analyzed vis-à-vis the ways in which it promotes a discourse of prompting the hygienic necessity of cleansing and invigorating the social body by confiscating and removing black bodies from public spaces. Within this book, this “cleansing” process is also linked to white supremacy in the form of policing white spaces in the form of “White Meccas” or “White Wonderlands.” These demarcations are raised within the context of policing neighborhood spaces and how “trespassing” those raced spaces can lead to the death of black and brown bodies, that is, bodies that “don’t belong.” The theme of “not belonging” is also linked to specific questions raised by some contributors regarding the black body as a site of criminality, where to be black is sufficient to be deemed a criminal. Within this context, deep existential phenomenological issues are raised vis-à-vis the white gaze and black racial embodiment. Other scholars have examined white racism through the lens of the social psychology of contemporary bias that is shown to be an important and indispensable area of inquiry regarding the perception of black bodies. It is argued and demonstrated that this research is a necessary step in our nation’s movement towards racial progress and elevated dialogue regarding racial inequality. Hence, within this context, there is a critical examination of the dynamics behind racial disparities in perceptions of suspicion and its consequences—indeed, many times deadly consequences—and how an examination of such biases are linked to questions of injustice. Congruent with the notion of raced spaces, another author argues that part of the constituted meaning of the black body as problematic can be understood to represent a type of geographical demarcation or territorialization whereby the black body, Trayvon Martin’s body, may be “legitimately”/”illegitimately” present. Hence, it is argued that the killing of Trayvon Martin represents not only the way in which his killer constructed the meaning of his presence (for example, as “suspicious”), but also used the context of that “presencing” to further “justify” the legiti-


George Yancy and Janine Jones

macy of this construction. Trayvon Martin’s body, and the black body more generally, as the locus of injustice is linked to what one author refers as “the logic of Black Guilt,” which is a form of thought in which black innocence is deemed a site of impossibility. The author focuses on the central theme of “black guilt” in relationship to the tragic event of Trayvon Martin to address such issues as: “Why do such events happen?”; “Who benefits from the fact that they are allowed to happen?”; and, “How can they be brought to an end?” In addition to the critical examination of the claim that the black body is intrinsically suspicious, there is also critical and insightful attention given to larger cultural semiotics, particularly with respect to the hoodie worn by Trayvon Martin at the time he was killed. The cultural and political significance of black bodies in hoodies is explored, specifically against the backdrop of Geraldo Rivera’s claim that the hoodie Martin was wearing was as responsible for his death as George Zimmerman. The banality of the hoodie is also explored, suggesting that it is the black body as such that is seen as threatening. The potential emancipatory power of the celebration of black cultural creativity is raised, while also being critical of elements of black culture that detract from the well-being and advancement of black people. Specifically linking black women’s lives as having an illicit status and as a site of pathology, another scholar explores the concept of romantic paternalism and how it was deployed to create a society in which white women were protected by and dependent upon white men for their economic and physical well-being. The black woman, on the other hand, who works outside of the home was/is viewed as a “bad mother” because she is not devoting her time and attention to the rearing of her children and tending to her home as a stay-at-home mother. Yet, those black women who do not work outside the home, but rely on government assistance are viewed as “lazy,” “opportunistic,” and “welfare queens.” Using this as a framework, the ways in which Sybrina Fulton has been attacked on numerous website comment sections and private social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter as being a bad mother and a welfare recipient who is trying to exploit her son’s death for monetary gain are illustrated in this text. Also raised is the issue of how black mothers’ love and affection for their children (dead or alive) is not deemed genuine. Continuing the critique of black motherhood as a site of pathology, another author argues that in the case of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, the mothers were importantly instrumental in galvanizing collective political action. Providing her own personal narrative experience regarding a transformative moment for her as a black mother, she moves along a historical continuum, redirecting national conversation regarding young black men from imagined criminal to “son” in powerful and meaningful ways that recoup the humanity of black sons.



Other authors explore the reality that raising black children has always been problematic for African Americans in the United States, either during slavery or immediately thereafter. Black parents realized that children had to be encouraged to succeed while simultaneously acknowledging the manner in which racism could prevent them from succeeding. This important dilemma of black parenting is addressed. While it is suggested that, for many, such a dilemma seemed to have resolved itself visà-vis the election of President Obama, yet the killing of Trayvon Martin brings to the forefront the problem of raising black children in a racist society, making the dilemma even more intense, specifically in a moment when we have an African American president. NOTES 1. http://phoebe53.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/zimmerman-911-call-transcript-tra yvon-martin/. 2. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/17/us/trayvon-martin-case-shadowed-by-police-missteps.html?pagewanted=all (accessed June 23, 2012). 3. http://www.democracynow.org/2012/5/18/i_know_he_was_scared_trayvon. 4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Trayvon_Martin#cite_note-Lee-166. 5. http://abcnews.go.com/US/george-zimmerman-tells-trayvon-martins-parents/ story?id=16177849. 6. http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/12/45_days_after_killing_trayvon_ martin 7. Ibid. 8. The other two are Ramarley Graham, killed by a member of the NYPD in his own home on February 22, 2012, and Kenneth Chamberlain, a former U.S. Marine, killed in his own home on November 19, 2011, by a White Plains police officer. The police came to check on his health after his life aid medical alert pendant went off accidentally. He would not open his door to them, telling him that he was fine. The police insisted. On a video recording, Chamberlain can be heard saying to the police, “I’m a sixty-eight-year-old man with a heart condition. Why are you doing this to me? I know what you’re going to do: you’re going to come in here, and you’re going to kill me.” After knocking his door in that’s precisely what they did.

ONE Now You See It, Now You Don’t Magic Tricks of White Supremacy in the United States Jacqueline Anderson, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, and Anne Leighton

Is it more or less likely that Trayvon Martin would be dead had he been white? Is it more or less likely that George Zimmerman would have gone free that night had he been African-American? If Trayvon Martin had been white? If George Zimmerman had been African American and Trayvon Martin had been white? Is it more or less likely, had Trayvon Martin been carrying a gun and shot George Zimmerman as George Zimmerman came after him, that Trayvon Martin would have been immediately arrested?*

We are writing in the midst of the protests over the failure to arrest George Zimmerman after fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, and George Zimmerman’s subsequent arrest and arraignment. Observations and judgments fly about us as public pressure is brought to bear on the attorney general, whose investigation brings pressure on the sheriff’s department in Sanford, Florida, and throws light on “Stand Your Ground” laws and neighborhood watch groups. By the time this chapter is published, legal proceedings may or may not be completed, George Zimmerman may or may not have been tried, he may or may not have been found guilty, some “Stand Your Ground” laws may or may not have been modified or overturned, and Trayvon Martin’s family may or may not have received justice. *LESS, LESS, LESS, LESS, MORE



Jacqueline Anderson, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, and Anne Leighton

But one thing is certain: the relationality between whites and African Americans in this country will have rebalanced itself to remain the same, to maintain the body white, to maintain white supremacy. Among most whites, slavery and segregation are over, in the past, and it is time to move on. But the relationality between whites and African Americans has remained stable. Thus as yet another racialized “incident” emerges disturbing the body politic, various mainstream discourses develop for denying racism—individual or institutional—against African Americans. Reactions to reports of racism will continue to function to reaffirm and re-stabilize the relationship of white supremacy. Now you see examples of racism and, presto chango, now you don’t, as discourses form to enable the majority of Americans to keep their worldview unscathed each time another “incident” occurs. Watch the sleight of hand, the conjuring tricks, that normalize white supremacy in the arena of public consciousness, in the discourse that rational and unbiased people engage in. We use this occasion of the murder 1 of Trayvon Martin to highlight strategies and techniques utilized: conjuring tricks, focused distractions which focus by highlighting and enlarging, to the point of decontextualizing, as a matter of riveting, repeating, and recycling, thus distracting us from connecting the dots. For example, the corporate news media, turning an “incident” that won’t go away into a spectacle, focuses public attention anywhere but on racism: focusing on Bill Cosby saying it is not about race but guns, or Piers Morgan saying it is not about race but justice, or Geraldo Rivera initially saying that it was the hoodie. This received press attention, while protests were ongoing to at least get the sheriff’s department to do its job, as the public began thinking about the assault on Trayvon Martin. And implicit in this focused distraction is the “agreement” 2 that Trayvon Martin appeared dangerous. What did George Zimmerman see? He says he saw a suspicious man. Why did he see a suspicious man? Why did the cops who shot Amadou Diallo see a gun where there was a wallet? Why did the jury accept that the police were so scared of Rodney King that they had to repeatedly beat him while he was incapacitated? Conjuring trick, a reversal: the video of the police beating Rodney King became proof not of police brutality but of how dangerous African American men are: those cops were that scared. In the United States, a white supremacist nation, these acts are not racist because there are no racists. Focused distraction: turning attention to so-called “black on black” crime. Conjuring trick: trotting out Shelby Steel, as the media frames a defective aberrant black culture, a trope for maintaining white suprema-

Now You See It, Now You Don’t


cy as normalcy and in need of no correction. Meanwhile what is disappeared and ignored is that the vast majority of crime is white on white; what is ignored or erased is that the vast majority of violent crimes in the United States are committed by whites—financial crime, of course, but also aggravated assaults, rapes, larceny-theft, murder, terrorism. And regardless of the heinous acts done by white men, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacey, Ted Kaczynski, Jeffrey Dahmer, and so forth, nothing attaches to white men. Instead there is the association of drugs and gangs with African Americans and Latinos while the largest gangs are white; there is John McNeil serving life in prison, an African American man in a Stand Your Ground state, who stood his ground in his own house against a white intruder; there is the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug offenses that is thirteen times that of whites, while the rate of drug use is equal. What is ignored is that when an African American man commits a crime, it reflects on African Americans, but no matter how many white serial killers, terrorists, murders of various sorts there are, this never leaves the public thinking that white men are dangerous, monsters to be feared. Thus African Americans are rendered invisible as the stereotype of black men as dangerous fertilizes the white imaginary. In this post-racial white supremacist culture, there is the conjuring trick of using coded language, racialized without naming it racial: for example, crack cocaine laws, illegal alien policies (applied to Mexicans but not white Europeans), and there are tropes such as welfare queens and street gangs. 3 That is, a particular population may have been rendered invisible by hegemonic discourse in key ways, while also being rendered highly visible as a trope justifying marginalizing policies and informing everyday perceptions and reactions in the body politic. For African American men, the visible/invisible trick is performed through the trope of suspicious/dangerous. The perception that African American men are suspicious/dangerous is a cultural perception. The conjuring trick: what has been rendered invisible through this trope is the situation African Americans face. African Americans are no longer the population that endured and survived two hundred years of multigenerational chattel slavery through which white supremacy was built, followed by the expansion and development of white supremacy through the violence of white planters forcing Black Codes and the Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling which basically established that African Americans had no rights that whites were bound to respect. There is the erasure of the debate between Republicans and Whigs, over whether blacks were human that grounded Segregation. There is the erasure of 236 years of affirmative action for white men combined with the free labor of slaves and the appropriation of their intellectual products. There are lists of stolen patents. There is the big lie that the only constructive, imaginative contributions were made by white men. There are the absurd


Jacqueline Anderson, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, and Anne Leighton

scientific studies doctored to justify the colonial construction of race, whose authors, such as Samuel Morton, are still honored. There are the economic policies maintaining the gap between African Americans and whites. And so forth. Hence the conjuring trick of colorblind racism: racism disappears because there is no acknowledgment that skin color is relevant to the overall relationship between whites and African Americans; the conjuring trick of denying racial patterns when progressives challenge poverty and police action, but which come into play when officials determine funding for hospitals, schools, public transportation, disaster relief. . . . There is the continuing myth that African Americans haven’t done anything for African Americans, and the repeated bootstrap admonitions. There is erasure of the fact that when African Americans create thriving and profitable communities such as Black Wall Street and Rosewood, whites, both individual and official, will destroy them, bomb them, burn them. Because whites don’t know anything that blacks have done other than “black on black” or “black on white” crimes, the trope becomes the definition of African Americans. Then there is the successful undermining of Brown v. Board of Education through its translation into busing, creating chaos with schools and resulting today in schools being far more segregated (including schools with both white and African American students). More recently, Arizona legislators are targeting and criminalizing Mexican American and ethnic studies, and Texans in charge of schoolbooks are falsifying American history (e.g., removing the word slave from The Triangle Slave Trade), finding new ways to render African Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans invisible. All conjuring tricks, all disappearing acts when addressing “incidents” so the white imaginary is released from connecting the dots from slavery through segregation to contemporary institutions. All of this serves to convince concerned, good and well-intentioned people, not only whites, that something is being done; that there is an interest in fixing things; all of this serves to make disappear that what seems a fix—for example, busing or affirmative action—isn’t fixing anything, but instead, once institutionalized within the U.S. system, creates something far more chaotic; all of this serves to make disappear the fact that attempts to redress wrongs, once filtered through the white imaginary, are just games. The fix of Affirmative Action, while fought for by many, was quickly conjured into so-called “reverse” discrimination while policies reserving places at universities, benefiting children of benefactors to rural farm boys, continue to shape the student population. Meanwhile underprivileged African Americans continue to be blamed for any performance that does not meet white standards, while those in charge simultaneously fail

Now You See It, Now You Don’t


to recognize the standards by which African Americans excel and whites fail. The point of Affirmative Action was that white men remain incompetent at judging anyone but their own kind. Conjuring trick: the ease with which the current discourse on race has been refocused by both white and African American intellectuals such that the emphasis has shifted from national accountability for the stubborn negative demographics of African Americans to individual personal responsibility. Hence the current absurdity of racism without racists. There is the conjuring trick of the disappearing elephant in the room, the gap that was created with the formation of the United States and is still widening: an unemployment rate at two times the national average since 1954, a $10,000 median income gap since 1886 that’s never been closed; indeed today African Americans are experiencing greater poverty. Schools serving African Americans are left to flounder, and African American kids still score badly. The doors to experience are basically closed to African Americans—individual, educational, entrepreneurial. The fact that there are more African Americans under correctional control today than there were slaves in 1850 . . . all of this disrupts and undermines communities. If there were in prison the percentage of white men today that there are of African American men, if the reality were that most white men would be imprisoned at least once before the age of twenty-five, as is true of most African American men, the public discourse would shift to addressing widespread institutional failure. Conjuring trick: no such public discourse exists about widespread institutional failure in relation to African Americans in the white imaginary. What the trope of African American men as suspicious/dangerous makes disappear is that these circumstances exist not because African Americans are bad or incompetent (although some are), but exist as a direct result of the effects of white supremacy on African American communities. The trope becomes that everything associated with African Americans is dangerous. This is the way that African Americans have been rendered invisible. African American presence has disappeared, and the presence that emerges from the trope that is a focused distraction is a degraded presence for which this country is in no sense accountable. This conjuring trick becomes the expression of white supremacy. 4 Frame the event as a discourse about individuals. 5 Focused distraction—zoom in on individuals so the conjuring trick of the frame appears natural, common sense: Examine Trayvon Martin for gang connections, test his body for the presence of drugs and alcohol (but do not test George Zimmerman). At the moment you discover Trayvon Martin to be squeaky clean, examine George Zimmerman’s history with the Sanford sheriff’s department then quickly cut to George Zimmerman’s bruises. This involves individualizing without really individualizing as nobody exists context free. Overall, the move is to decontextualize any situation and regard everything that happens that might be called racist on indi-


Jacqueline Anderson, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, and Anne Leighton

vidual terms, portray it as the individual actions of two people not complexly related, unrelated in or by U.S. racial and immigration history in this post-racial age. Then each “incident” can be understood as an anomaly and hence is not relevant to the body politic. So the body white remains unscathed. And what Descartes has taught us kicks in: if it doesn’t make sense in the privacy of our own ideas, one can doubt it, making it incumbent on those speaking outside “common sense” to fit into the dominant paradigm: there is no obligation on the part of the knower to extend themselves. If it is not clear and distinct to you, you can dismiss it. White supremacy in the United States is a foundation, like an axis, held in place by all that surrounds it. 6 What if one were to acknowledge the functioning paradigm of white supremacy? To actually see the individuals in situation involves acknowledging the different institutional, historical, economic, and social patterns that different individuals negotiate to survive, how the institutional, historical, economic, and social patterns play out in each individual’s life. Then there is the conjuring trick of blaming the victim: treating as reasonable the question of why Trayvon Martin was where he was (in this post-democracy age). Victimize the perpetrator: focus on the fact that George Zimmerman was physically hurt and ignore the likelihood that Trayvon Martin tried to defend himself against a threatening man chasing him. A law of white supremacy: don’t ever let an African American man fight back. There is no defense against being black, that is a crime in the white imaginary. There is the conjuring trick of the disappearing of George Zimmerman’s accountability for his careless imagination upon encountering an African American male. There is the conjuring trick of focusing on the motivations and stated intentions of individuals in this post–political correctness age. That way, if they say they didn’t intend anything racist we can rest assured, unless someone amasses compelling evidence to prove they were lying about their intentions. Presume transparency in this post-Freudian age. Rest easy knowing that the assertion of intention, or lack there-of, on the part of privilege trumps any articulation of patterns that map onto the behavior of citizens. 7 White supremacy is not about individual incidents. A single incident is a matter of racism, and racism is understood in the white imaginary, at this point in time, to be something bad. Thus when something bad happens, many scramble to deny it was racist, and the only challenge to that is to argue that the person is lying. Thus many find ways of deflecting attention and the racism disappears—there was a good reason for George Zimmerman to shoot his gun, he was scared. 8

Now You See It, Now You Don’t


White supremacy does not characterize acts, it characterizes a relationship, one constructing complex interrelationships among individuals in the United States, one that is affirmed by public response to attacks on African Americans, individual and institutional. So racism disappears while white domination remains unscathed and the white worldview of superiority remains intact. White supremacy so infiltrates this country from its very genesis that it is like water to a fish. For us, it is the air we breathe. Racist acts and utterances become indefinable as racist because, as Derrick Bell made clear, racism is in the very structure of the nation and no passing of laws is going to change that. It is just normal. And that’s the magic of white supremacy: there are no racists and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the body politic. This is the absence that is always already present. But . . . While white supremacy is the necessary air for the body white to live, it is foul air for actual bodies. If the system weren’t challenged and its stability threatened by everyday actions and connections and friendships never meant to exist that render white supremacy, not false but nonsense, 9 if the system didn’t continuously need maintenance and repair, there would be no need for focused distractions or conjuring tricks. NOTES 1. In using the term murder we’re not expressing a legal opinion. 2. We are thinking of Wittgenstein’s notion of “agreement” in the sense of not disagreeing, of forms of life (PI §§240–42). 3. This paper is a partial analysis. We are not addressing the construction and maintenance of tropes as they play out in connection with women, women of color as well as white women, or in connection with black/brown relationality, or in connection with white woman/black man relationality, or as it plays out in the “confusing” of various peoples of color (e.g., Arabs, Indians, Latinos, Iranians, African Americans, Native Americans, Pakistanis). In fact, the only population in this country who is not victimized by tropes is white men. As they understand themselves, they have become the new victims. But they are not victims, tropes don’t hurt them in substantive ways: white guys don’t not get hired because of some trope. 4. Thus, if the President of the United States ponders how he would react if he had an African American son, he is portrayed as biased and stepping out of his place while many whites contemplate beefing up gated communities. Perhaps the clearest current symbol of white supremacy in this post-racial age is Donald Trump successfully coercing President Obama to produce his long form birth certificate while U.S. senators and congress people did nothing to intervene and stop the spectacle, and those who elected Obama did not rise up in outrage. This is the existential fear whites exhibit in being willing to listen to this while also being self-congratulating in allowing themselves to be presided over by an African American. That is, whites need African Americans to affirm their own superiority, and then need African American men as dangerous to leave another contradiction out of view: that protectors are predators


Jacqueline Anderson, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, and Anne Leighton

(including George Zimmerman). For white supremacy, for this sense of superiority, of being white, the white imaginary needs blacks. 5. U.S. criminal law praxis fits the body white like a glove. The state is both victim and prosecutor; jurors are routinely required to practice collective amnesia, to unhear and unlearn; jurors practice isolation and denial, neither listening nor speaking about the elephant in the room until authorized to do so; pronouncements are either/or propositions, “guilty” or “not guilty”; judgments are solely placed on individuals. The media thrives on this frame, embracing individual stories of good and bad, innocent and guilty, victim and perpetrator. Focusing on details it selects and endlessly repeats, the media scrambles to flesh out the narrative of the good innocent victim and the bad guilty perpetrator. Breathing life into the artifice, it then examines it as real. New or previously discarded details are presented as “evidence” or “proof.” Of what? Game, set, match. We are reacting to and debating the golems of the body white. 6. We are thinking of Wittgenstein’s notion of foundation not as building blocks but as an axis (OC §152). 7. Offsetting the challenge to the white imaginary of Brown v. Board of Education, thus stabilizing white supremacy, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that racial disparities in law enforcement are constitutional as long as there is no discriminatory intent. See Scully referencing McClesky v. Kemp (1987) and U.S. v. Armstrong (1996); Lawrence citing Washington v. Davis (1987); and Bell. On the other hand, in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workers who sue their employers for age discrimination need not prove that the discrimination was intentional (New York Times, March 31, 2005). 8. All this is appropriate because there are no racists, except those who avidly avow racial hatred, and they are exceptions that prove the rule—the necessity of the KKK to show how white America is not racist. Even the targeting of self-avowed white supremacist groups sets other whites to distance themselves while still benefiting from their acts, allows the white imaginary of superiority to remain unscathed. 9. We are thinking of Wittgenstein’s distinction (following Einstein) in On Certainty between something being false and something being nonsense, note particularly OC §305.

TWO Imagined Communities Whitopia and the Trayvon Martin Tragedy Maria del Guadalupe Davidson

In the book Searching for Whitopia, Rich Benjamin chronicles his journey through three predominantly white communities (St. George, Utah; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and Forsyth County, Georgia) that, in many ways, have been manufactured in response to the changing American demographic. Benjamin observes: A prediction that made headlines across the United States ten years ago is fast becoming a reality: By 2042, whites will no longer be the American majority. A related, less reported trend is that as people of color, especially immigrant populations, increase in cities and suburbs, more and more whites are living in small towns and exurban areas that are predominately, even extremely, white. 1

These white spaces have been called by a number of different names, including “White Meccas” and “White Wonderlands,” but Benjamin, for his part, employs the term Whitopia 2 to describe such communities. Benjamin goes on to define Whitopia as a space that is: whiter than the nation, its respective region, and its state. It has posted at least a 6 percent population growth since 2000. The majority of that growth (often upward of 90 percent) is from white migrants. . . . Whitopia has a je ne sais quoi—an ineffable social charisma, a pleasant look and feel. 3

Although Benjamin describes these places with a rather lighthearted tone in several places in his book, at the same time he clearly understands the 33


Maria del Guadalupe Davidson

serious implications of such spaces. As affluent whites increasingly flock to Whitopias, it becomes difficult for whites and non-whites to have potentially meaningful interaction in social/public spaces. In fact, I would argue that this country begins to re-segregate. 4 Importantly, along with the development of Whitopias, comes the need to protect and maintain such communities from external threats. Barriers like gates, guard towers, policies that require visitors to register their license plates upon entering a community, signs warning of security cameras, and ever-vigilant neighborhood watch programs exist to police the boundaries of Whitopias. As a result, the development of such communities does not leave the lives of non-whites untouched. Instead, it potentially presents an elevated level of danger to non-whites who, for whatever reason, find themselves within these spaces. The desire to defend Whitopias is at least part of the impetus behind the establishment of laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law (known in some places as the “Make My Day” law). The “Stand Your Ground” law broadens the scope of the legal use of lethal force in the name of self-defense. As explained by David R. Dow: Florida’s law permits people to shoot to kill not only if their lives are in danger, but if even their property is threatened; beyond that, it permits them to shoot to kill if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent a felony. A law like that serves one purpose and one purpose only: to unleash armed vigilantes who roam through neighborhoods with a license to kill someone they reasonably believe might be doing something wrong. 5

On February 26, 2012, the danger that Whitopias pose to black and brown bodies became evident. Many discussions of this event have revolved around the specific details of the actual encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Other discussions of this event have situated it within a broader historical context in which white violence against black victims has gone unpunished. While I do not deny the importance of such debates, I suggest that there is a deeper cause underlying this tragic incident having to do with real and imagined spaces in America. Trayvon’s black male body—wearing a hoodie, apparently the apparel of those “up to no good,” armed with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea—transgressed the boundaries of a Whitopia, and it was the protectand-defend mentality exhibited by some occupants of this demarcated white space that resulted in the loss of his life. David Dow puts it succinctly, “When you mix a license to kill with deep and embedded racial distrust, you have a recipe that is certain to produce tragedies like the Martin killing.” 6 To develop this point, I trace the existence of Whitopias back to visions of the Garden of Eden (the first gated community). I then explore the vision of community that underlies invented white spaces as well as the corresponding threats to those who dare to trespass on them.

Imagined Communities


FROM THE GARDEN OF EDEN TO WHITOPIAS The biblical story of Adam and Eve has undergone countless interpretations: as the origin of sin, as a felix culpa leading to the emergence of freedom, and so forth. For our present purposes, one interesting angle on this saga is to shift the focus away from the human protagonists—Adam and Eve—and instead to focus on the motif of the garden itself. In so doing, the story offers a tale of two contrasting places—a pre-lapsarian and a post-lapsarian world. The story of the fall then comes to signify the loss of a place—specifically, the loss of a locus amoenus—which offers well-being, safety, and security. The idea of a locus amoenus shows up in such expressions like “heaven on earth” or “close to heaven on earth.” Often, it is associated with wholesomeness or with a return to a simpler and quieter way of life. This “wholesomeness” is also envisioned in popular media through, for example, television shows that project the image of an Edenic community. Programs like Little House on the Prairie, The Andy Griffith Show, and Desperate Housewives present, in their own ways, some version of an Eden. What they have in common, moreover, is a predominantly white cast with no significant roles, if any, assigned to non-whites. That said, what I would like to suggest is that the dominant culture’s fascination with such images transcends televisual images and carries over to the establishment of “ideal” white communities within cities, rural and exurban areas. These Whitopias evoke a desire for a simpler way of life and attempts to re-create Edenic spaces in which one can be prosperous, safe, and secure. Lynn Jensen, whom Rich Benjamin describes as a “middle-class mother in Livingston County, Michigan, a Whitopian exurb,” reflects this desire: I wish I could go back in time. We had stable lives. Mom could stay at home, and we could afford it. Life was slower. God I’m sounding like my parents—all nostalgic for the old days. But it’s true: There wasn’t trouble like there is today. 7

Yet, accompanying the image of the Garden of Eden, there is the opposing image of a post-lapsarian world. The fall from the locus amoenus is a prominent theme in Christian iconography and the object of countless artistic representations, including The Prado Altarpiece (1430). The postlapsarian world is one that is chaotic, noisy, unpredictable, dangerous, and importantly, diverse. In order to protect itself, Whitopia must be vigilant about its borders and the various external threats to its existence, including non-white “gangs,” diversity or multiculturalism “done badly,” 8 and the “flood” of so-called illegal immigrants who threaten, more broadly, the culture of the nation. Not wanting to repeat the mistakes of Adam and Eve, the citizens of the new garden—aka Whitopia—now take heed of the angel Raphael’s warning about the presence of the foreign element: the serpent. For in-


Maria del Guadalupe Davidson

stance, one citizen—“Mrs. Sears”—interviewed by Benjamin in Whitopia was so concerned about changes to the social fabric of society that she founded the Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration in her community of Dixie, Utah. Benjamin quotes Mrs. Sears as saying: “We are at a very scary time and I fear for our country. At this rate, the people who understand its basic values will be a minority.” 9 Benjamin attended one of her council’s meetings. After hearing numerous statistics about illegal immigration that seemed skewed toward maligning primarily Mexican immigrants, Benjamin described his mood in the following way: “I feel bunkered in with a crowd of determined white folks trying to pull up the drawbridge against an encroaching nation.” 10 The metaphoric drawbridge image is an insightful characterization of Whitopias like, for example, Dixie, Utah. Whitopias offer a place of refuge for those seeking to withdraw from the post-lapsarian world of “diversity done badly” and to nestle into the safety and comfort of a re-created garden populated by people just like them. The goal of such refuges is captured nicely by another one of Benjamin’s narratives. He rented a cabin in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which, at the time his book was written, was “95 percent white” 11 and ranked “fourth among 361 metro areas for the fastest white population growth between 2000 and 2004.” There the owners had “hung a small sign above the door leading to the lakefront deck: “Almost Heaven.” 12 Here we find the establishment of a locus amoenus. Of course, it is likely that many inhabitants of Whitopias would deny the above descriptions of their communities, and most of all, the racial motives behind the development of them. They might reply that no white person ever moved there just because it is predominantly white and that there is no policy that excludes non-white people from their communities. It is likely that they would add that the reasons for living in such communities have nothing to do with race at all. Benjamin acknowledges this point, but adds an important caveat: Most whites are not drawn to a place explicitly because it teems with other white people. Rather, the place’s very whiteness implies other perceived qualities. Americans associate a homogenous white neighborhood with high property values, friendliness, orderliness, hospitability, cleanliness, safety and comfort. These seemingly race-neutral qualities are sub-consciously inseparable from race and class in many whites’ minds. Race is often used as a proxy for those neighborhood traits. And if a neighborhood is known to have those traits, many whites presume—without giving it a thought—that the neighborhood will be majority white. 13

Although most whites may not move to Whitopias specifically to live with other whites, this does not mean that their choice is without an underlying racial intention. The explicit reasons for moving to such communities has to do with the search for certain positive traits, such as

Imagined Communities


safety, outdoors living, property values, and so forth. But, the perception of these traits, as Benjamin notes, is strongly associated with predominantly white communities. Moreover, the maintenance of these traits is strongly associated with the maintenance of such communities as white and easily leads to the establishment of policies that support this association, such as high priced housing, lack of public transportation, and zoning laws. Inasmuch as these choices and subsequent actions are informed by a perceived association made by residents of Whitopias, this begs the question of what shapes their imagination and how they connect their place of residence with their identity. In exploring these types of questions, the work of Benedict Anderson on imagined communities can help us to understand how human beings conceptualize their spatial and group identity. For Anderson, the idea of a nation is one example of “an imagined political community.” 14 One significant feature of nations is that they are limited: “Even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations.” 15 Another feature of a nation is that they are imagined not real: “The concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm.” 16 Finally, nations are imagined communities that connect their members to one another: “Regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.” 17 Working from Anderson’s characterization of the formation of national identity, I maintain that Whitopias, though smaller, can be understood along the lines of the same model. First, the identity of a Whitopia has a finite border or a gate that demarcates what is inside from what is outside. This feature has important overtones vis-à-vis the previous distinction between the two different worlds: pre-lapsarian and post-lapsarian. Many residents interviewed in Benjamin’s book acknowledge that they are keenly aware of this border and the need to preserve it from “external threats.” Second, these borders are not natural or real, instead they are produced either through community planning or imagined belonging. Following Anderson’s model, the formation of imagined communities leads individuals to see themselves as connected to other members of a community, in spite of whatever real differences separate them. On the basis of this sense of belonging, the members of Whitopia become willing to act on behalf of this imagined community to protect and maintain it.


Maria del Guadalupe Davidson

MAINTAINING WHITOPIA AND THE DEATH OF TRAYVON MARTIN Based on the above discussion, I think we can now piece together George Zimmerman’s vision of his community and begin to understand the significance of Trayvon Martin’s presence within that vision. As we noted, Whitopias or gated communities are not created by happenstance—they arise for specific reasons, and they exist to create and then maintain a certain order. David Low, for instance, observes that “the creation of gated communities, and the addition of guardhouses, walls, and entrance gates to established neighborhoods, is an integral part of the building of the ‘fortress city.’” 18 Yet, like the Garden of Eden, these fortress communities are not impregnable, and thus require constant monitoring and surveillance by guards, surveillance cameras, or neighborhood watch volunteers. It has been reported that George Zimmerman called the police other times to report suspicious activity” and that each time the person he reported happened to be black. Does this suggest anti-black racism? Perhaps not but I am more inclined to agree with David R. Dow who argues that: The tragedy of this case—and there is no other word to describe the killing of a young man who has done nothing wrong and nothing to arouse any reasonable suspicion that he had—is a product of the interaction between two insidious factors: racism and state-sanctioned aggression. 19

George Zimmerman’s past actions and his own words—“It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about. . . . Now he’s coming towards me. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male (emphasis added). . . . Something’s wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is. . . . These assholes always get away.” 20 —allow us to assume race played a factor in this tragedy. Trayvon’s intrusion into George Zimmerman’s imagined white space—his Whitopia—marked him as suspicious in Zimmerman’s eyes, marked him as a threat to this space, and eventually marked him for death. DEDICATION Dedicated to my cousin Mi’Quan A. Lawrence (1993–2012)—One Family, One Love.

Imagined Communities


NOTES 1. Rich Benjamin, Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America. Hyperion e-Book, 2009, 8. 2. Ibid., 7. 3. Ibid., 16. 4. In my opinion, after Brown v. Board, this country did experience a certain amount of desegregation, especially in schools and other social places. And even if whites and blacks did not live together the way that some had hoped, at least socially there was more interaction. Since Whitopias are situated so far away from cities, there is less chance for integration even in places like supermarkets, libraries, etc. 5. David R. Dow, “George Zimmerman Will Never Be Convicted of Murdering Trayvon Martin,” The Daily Beast, May 22, 2012 (accessed May 24, 2012). Regarding the use of the term “reasonably” in Row’s quote, I think, unfortunately, that the burden of proof is very low vis-à-vis black people. In fact, a black person’s blackness in Whitopia automatically means that he/she is doing something wrong—by virtue of simply being there. Their being there provides so-called reasonable suspicion. 6. Ibid. 7. Benjamin, 20. 8. Ibid., 8. 9. Ibid., 71. 10. Ibid., 92. 11. Ibid., 268. 12. Ibid., 25. 13. Ibid., 22–23. 14. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 2006, 5. 15. Ibid., 6. 16. Ibid., 8. 17. Ibid. 18. David R. Dow, “George Zimmerman Will Never Be Convicted of Murdering Trayvon Martin.” 19. Ibid. 20. These are George Zimmerman’s words from the 911 recording that have been made public.

THREE Indignity and Death Philosophical Commentary on White Terror, Black Death, and the Trayvon Martin Tragedy Stephen C. Ferguson II and John H. McClendon III

INTRODUCTION The current wave of White terrorism against African Americans is a manifestation of a profound and fundamental crisis within the political economy of monopoly capitalism. The recent tragedy surrounding the murder of Trayvon Martin is a nodal point in the normal part of the daily life of African Americans in the United States. What is commonly represented as an unusual or bizarre example of racism is only a small portion of the greater human tragedy facing African Americans. The public outcry over the Martin case has captured mass news media attention, and as a result a sizable number of people in the United States are engaged in debate and dialogue over the merits of the case. Were George Zimmerman’s actions within the boundaries of the law? Is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law merely a legal camouflage for an open season of killing African Americans? In short, we, among so many others, see these issues as hotly contested. Prior to the Martin case, few were aware of this draconian law and its implications. As reported in the Tampa Bay Times: Those who invoke “stand your ground” to avoid prosecution have been extremely successful. Nearly 70 percent have gone free. Defendants claiming “stand your ground” are more likely to prevail if the victim is Black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a Black per41


Stephen C. Ferguson II and John H. McClendon III son faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a White. 1

The Martin/Zimmerman case has gained widespread publicity because it involves a conflict between civilians, however, there are a host of cases involving White terrorism that are not as well known where the U.S. government is directly complicit. The greater number of Black deaths and injuries at the hands of White terrorism, over the course of history, have been unreported, undocumented or given very little media attention. 2 And, yet, Herbert Shapiro notes, The violence generated by White racism is one of the obvious realities of American society. Yet it is one of the ironies of contemporary experience that many Americans have been conditioned to associate violence with the behavior of Black people, to concentrate their attention and their fears upon the crimes against property or persons committed by Black individuals. 3

While the Rodney King beating gained notoriety, the widespread Black anger over the verdict in that case has much to do with the repeated failure of the courts to render a modicum of justice in a multitude of police brutality cases, specifically within the context of the LAPD. This is why we contend that White terror in the form of police brutality, for example, is a normal part of the daily life of Black people in the United States. What is exceptional (as with the Rodney King case) is when such acts are given sufficient media coverage to garner broad public attention. Jill Nelson captures the everyday nature of police brutality for Black people in the following comments: Outrage. Disgust. Sadness. These were the emotions felt by most African Americans on February 4, 1999, when they heard that Amadou Diallo, a twenty-two-year-old immigrant from Guinea, had been shot at forty-one times, and killed with nineteen bullets by members of the New York Police Department’s Street Crime Unit. Yet, while shocked by the magnitude of police firepower used to kill this unarmed young man, we were not surprised. In a wide range of communities of color, being harassed, or brutalized, or even murdered by the police has never been cause for surprise. Alarm, yes, but not surprise. 4

Nelson additionally comments on the 1968 Kerner commission report: The Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to look into the cause of the urban rebellions of the 1960s, reported in 1968, “We have cited deep hostility between police and ghetto communities as a primary cause of the disorders surveyed by the Commission. In Newark, in Detroit, in Watts, in Harlem-in practically every city that has experienced racial disruption since the summer of 1964—abrasive relationships between police and Negroes and other minority groups have been a major source of grievance, tension and, ultimately, disorder. . . . Police misconduct—whether described as

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brutality, harassment, verbal abuse, or discourtesy—cannot be tolerated even if it is infrequent. It contributes directly to the risk of civil disorder. It is inconsistent with the basic responsibility of a police force in a democracy. Police departments must have rules prohibiting such misconduct and enforce them vigorously. Police commanders must be aware of what takes place in the field, and take firm steps to correct abuse.” 5

Contemporary police brutality has roots in a long history of racial violence against Black people by both the coercive apparatuses of the State (e.g., army and the police) and by paramilitary racist groups (Ku Klux Klan, and many others) in addition to “random acts of violence” by White youths and adults. Historically, the State apparatus uses its coercive powers, in the form of the army, police, prisons, and the judicial system, to maintain the status quo—that is, the hegemony of the ruling class. State violence or terror is of particular significance because it is sanctioned by law and thus given formal legitimacy. “Rule by law” sanctions the use of violence on the part of the bourgeois State. We should acknowledge that, despite the appearance of being a priori rational principles, law, and its accompanying legal principles are “economic reflexes”—that is, they reflect and thus support the dominant social (class) relations in bourgeois society. 6 The Fugitive Slave Law was such an exercise in state violence against slaves who were completely stripped of civil and human rights. The reduction of African American human beings to private property meant they were legally presumed to be no more than things to be bought and sold. This reification—reduction of humans to the status of things—had drastic and horrendous implications for African American women. As owned “things” African American women had no recourse against the most degrading forms of physical violence to their bodies (rape) as well as the cruel violation of their progeny that is selling away their children to other slaveholders or even selling mothers away from the children. 7 The denial of African humanity was not only expressed on the auction block but also reaffirmed in the legislative chambers throughout the United States. The Louisiana legislature declared in 1807: “Slaves should always be reputed and considered real estate; shall be subject to mortgage, according to the rules prescribed by the law they shall be seized and sold as real estate.” 8 For African American slaves, the exercise of human rights consequently required extra-legal means. By asserting their humanity and escaping to freedom, African Americans fought against the legal mandates of the state that reduced Black people to chattel. Subsequently, state ideology—as bourgeois and racist ideology—had to be confronted not accepted. Mary Frances Berry eloquently captures in her groundbreaking text, Black Resistance/White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in America, that this Black resistance to this law was persistent. Runaway slaves and the Underground Railroad remains proof positive of


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this historic struggle. Slave narratives from Frederick Douglass, Henry Box Brown, and Sylvia Du Bois give voice to the message that Harriet Tubman brought to the forefront: the Fugitive Slave Law must be challenged by all means. By escaping from slavery, African Americans were exercising their free will in open defiance of the law and its subsidiary violence. 9 Consequently, African Americans—from slavery to now—have constantly faced White violence with a sense of indignation and with an ancillary struggle for self-respect. The quest for self-respect is dialectically joined with expressions of indignation. We claim that the ire expressed in response to White violence is grounded in a notion of self-respect, which is rooted in a rights-based moral theory that extends beyond a given set of ruling legal proscriptions. From slave narratives to Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to Malcolm X and his arguments for human rights contra civil rights, the overriding principle becomes a basic affirmation of Black humanity under the violent assault of White terror. Maintaining dignity and self-respect are key values in the ethics of the Black oppressed against White terrorism. However, following Malcolm X, we argue, if there is a history of “unpunished violence” against African Americans and a demonstrated failure of the bourgeois State to protect the lives and property of African Americans, there is every justification for African Americans to act to defend themselves “by any means necessary.” As a fundamental political right, the right and necessity of self-defense must be safeguarded. In this chapter, we offer a brief philosophical commentary on the some issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin case. Why the Black outrage about Trayvon Martin? In the wake of White violence, what can philosophy offer in terms of our understanding of the nature of the indignity associated with Black death at the hands of White terror? Correspondingly, in view of White terror, is there any dignity attached to the manner in how a person dies? How should one live in the face of the nitty-gritty material realities of White terrorism? In the face of White terror, is there an ethical justification for retaliatory violence? 10 STATE AND VIGILANTE VIOLENCE: THE BLACK RESPONSE In 1919, Claude McKay’s bold antilynching poem, “If We Must Die,” was the penultimate articulation of the militant spirit of the “New Negro” and the harsh circumstances of the “Red Summer” of racial violence. The title of the poem urged fellow African Americans to stand up for their right to exist and to be willing to die for the cause of racial dignity and defense against racist violent assault. The poem’s powerful effect is derived from his anger over the indignity attached to White terrorism. McKay’s poem

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gives expression to a tradition within African American political culture of maintaining Black dignity in the face of White terrorism and Black death. In the final lines of the poem, McKay writes: “Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” McKay celebrates the heroism of African Americans who fought against White terrorism during the “Red Summer” of 1919. 11 At the heart of McKay’s poem is the view that self-respect is embodied in resistance to White terror. “Fighting back” is a matter of affirming Black humanity, that is, asserting our dignity as human beings. Most importantly, the virtue of courage is seminal in fighting against the racist “cowardly pack” intent on murdering Black people. What the reader should not overlook is that African Americans took up arms and fought back in self-defense during the “Red Summer” of 1919, which was a series of violent mob assaults (race riots) waged against African American communities throughout the country. In a number of instances (as they engaged in combat with their racist tormentors) Black men, as the veterans of World War I, were dressed in army uniforms. Trained to fight on behalf of the ruling state power, now Black men seized the new power of armed combat to realize the aim of garnering self-respect. Ironically, some of their (White) tormentors were also in uniform. In this instance, we observe that patriotism and racism merged as currents within an ideology that was overtly political and decidedly aligned with state power; that is, state power in its pursuit of violence as White terror. Several of the race riots of 1919 involved the armed forces, police, and paramilitary groups in cooperation with White supremacist civilian groups—such as the Klan—that collectively carried out joint attacks on Black communities. It was not uncommon for police to arrest the very victims of White terror. As Richard Wormser reports: On the afternoon of July 27, 1919, a stone-throwing melee between Blacks and Whites began after a Black youth mistakenly swam into territory claimed by Whites off the 29th Street beach in Chicago. Amidst the mayhem, Eugene Williams, a Black youth, drowned. When a White police officer refused to arrest the White men involved in the death, and instead arrested a Black man, racial tensions escalated. . . . Violence escalated with each incident, and for 13 days Chicago was in a state of turmoil. By the time the riot ended, 23 Blacks and 15 Whites were dead, 537 injured, and 1,000 Black families were left homeless. The Chicago riot was part of a national racial frenzy of clashes, massacres, and lynchings throughout the North and the South. 12

The “Red Summer” of 1919 is a classic instance of the federal government’s unadulterated refusal to defend the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. In fact, with the Plessy decision as legal precedent, the State deliberately undermined the substance of the law and the meaning of citizenship for the “darker” brothers and sisters in civil society. More-


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over, when we take into account the State’s open collaboration with White terrorist groups, the issue of African American civic duty to this country, by way of joining the World War I effort, for some proved to be a matter of utter disrespect; due to the fact that recognition of Black citizenship was restricted to obligation of military service and at the same time the neglect of the rights of citizenship. In sum this disrespect of Black rights is historically rooted in Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s remarks in the 1857 Dred Scott decision. Taney argued that the framers of the Constitution “regarded [Negroes] as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.” 13 The “Taney principle” articulated an “ethics of dualism” in contrast to one of equality as the philosophical ground for the persistence of White supremacy. While African Americans are expected to be loyal citizens of the United States, they are not afforded the equal protection of the U.S. government. By means of denying constitutional rights, we have the denial of human rights. Consequently, African Americans were relegated to the status of subpersons; in Aristotle’s framework, a living tool, property without a soul. 14 We contend that the “Taney principle” contrasted two basic principles: one of rights, and the other of obligations or duties. So, the “Taney principle” denied all rights to African Americans. Yet, it required African Americans to abide by duty and obligations of slave labor. Certain “obligations” are of necessity imposed on African Americans. We should not forget that slavery was predicated upon coerced labor and coercion of this sort necessitates violence of an institutional character. This is why we contend that the Fugitive Slave Law was a law anchored in state terror and against any slave seeking to achieve some measure of human rights via freedom. In its postbellum form, the obligations affixed to the “Taney principle” were expanded such that besides labor of various kinds—sharecropping, tenant farming, domestic work, chain gangs, menial labor—there was also military conscription. The principle of obligations without rights projected a new agenda for Black political philosophy. Under the racist climate of poverty, disfranchisement, and the specter of White violence, the very idea that Black men would fight in the imperialist campaign of World War I became a matter of intense debate. The paradox for African Americans is that, on the one hand, they were the victims of state terrorist violence and, on the other hand, they must serve as instruments of racist/ imperialist violence. This point was not lost on a number of activists such as Hubert H. Harrison, A. Philip Randolph, Richard B. Moore, Ben Fletcher, and Grace Campbell. In turn, Black resistance to and agitation against World War I were met with various forms of state repression. W. E. B. Du Bois’s call to “Close Ranks” issues forth a public debate that

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was of major proportion with respect to political philosophy and the issue of African American identity vis-à-vis the state. 15 The debate over participation in World War I was situated in the context of the political question, should Black men fight on behalf of a government that not only systematically refused to protect African Americans against political, economic, and physical abuse—for example, no legislation was ever passed against lynching—but also for a State that at every level (local, state, and federal government) was complicit in acts of violence against African Americans? In many areas of local and state government, official governmental representatives were also members of known White terrorist organizations. The line of demarcation separating the state from civil society was non-existent and especially when it came to White terror and violence against African Americans. The Black Legion, which split from the KKK, was centered in Ohio and Michigan and attracted many law enforcement personnel. Members wore Black uniforms with skull-and-crossbones insignia and were responsible for numerous murders of communists, socialists, and “uppity Negroes,” such as Earl Little, Malcolm X’s father. 16 The dialectic of obligations without rights is complicated by the fact that a number of military ventures were directed at people of color and more specifically those of African descent. The Spanish-American War led to open dissent by African American soldiers who in turn decided to join the ranks of the Philippine resistance to U.S. imperialism. Later, the military occupation of Haiti and its African-descended population, which historically coincided with segregation, lynching, race riots, and police brutality, accented the racist character of state coercion and violence. For some African Americans such as Rayford W. Logan the occupation of Haiti was problematic and was an expression of imperialism, and its most blatant form of racism. 17 The military occupation of Haiti and the seizure of Puerto Rico and Hawaii required the use of physical force and political/economic intimidation. The dignity and self-respect of the people of all these respective territories was under assault. Moreover, as in the case of Puerto Rico and the Jones Act, Puerto Ricans were conscripted into the armed services and forced to serve in World War I. Nevertheless, they shared a similar fate with African Americans since the Supreme Court case Balzac v. Porto Rico (1922) declared that Puerto Ricans were not subject to the full rights of U.S. citizenship. Hence, the “Taney principle” became operative for Puerto Ricans. 18 Thus, the similarities between the plight of African Americans and people of color under the yoke of U.S. imperialism could not be ignored. This was accentuated when African Americans were conscripted to serve as military personnel in these respective de facto colonial territories. The issue of patriotism and racism again reemerged as an ideological expression of state power and imperialist interests. Now, African Americans


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had to choose between proving their loyalty to the U.S. government and the reality that they shared a common plight with the people of annexed territories under the violent subjugation of state power. In 1951, the most concerted critique and directly political confrontation with state-sanctioned violence against African Americans was a petition before the United Nations known as “We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations: For Relief from a Crime the United States Government against the Negro People.” William L. Patterson of the Civil Rights Congress and Paul Robeson were among many that joined in the effort to bring before the world the systemic violence experienced by African Americans. Robeson and Patterson were intent on demonstrating how the United States government was complicit in the genocidal attacks on African Americans. Patterson had the responsibility of bringing the petition to the UN delegation in Paris and Paul Robeson in turn to the United Nations headquarters in New York. 19 As Patterson observes: Many of your petitioners are Negro citizens to whom the charges herein described are not mere words. They are facts felt on our bodies, crimes inflicted on our dignity. [Italics added] We struggle for deliverance, not without pride in our valor, but we warn mankind that our fate is theirs. . . . We, Negro petitioners whose communities have been laid waste, whose homes have been burned and looted, whose children have been killed, whose women have been raped, have noted with peculiar horror that the genocidal doctrines and actions of the American White supremacists have already been exported to the colored peoples of Asia. . . . White supremacy at home makes for colored massacres abroad. Both reveal contempt for human life in a colored skin.

The petition explicitly draws the connection between racism in the United States and U.S. imperialism abroad: Jellied gasoline in Korea and the lynchers’ faggot at home are connected in more ways than that both result in death by fire. The lyncher and the atom bomber are related. The first cannot murder unpunished and unrebuked without so encouraging the latter that the peace of the world and the lives of millions are endangered. Nor is this metaphysics. The tie binding both is economic profit and political control. It was not without significance that it was President Truman who spoke of the possibility of using the atom bomb on the colored peoples of Asia, that it is American statesmen who prate constantly of “Asiatic hordes.” 20

In the same year that Patterson issued his petition, Harry T. Moore, the executive director of the Florida NAACP, and his wife, Harriette Vyda Simms Moore, were murdered for his investigation of the murder of three suspected Black rapists. Moore’s investigation uncovered the involvement of local law enforcement. Despite an FBI investigation and

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public outrage, however, no indictments were ever issued in the murders of Harry and Harriette Moore. The murders caused a national and international outcry, with protests registered at the United Nations against violence in the South. Harry Moore was the first NAACP official killed in the civil rights struggle. 21 As Kenneth O’Reilly, Ward Churchill, and Jim Vander Wall have documented, state repression reached its heights with the COINTELPRO, a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at discrediting Black political figures in addition to infiltrating and disrupting Black political organizations. The COINTELPRO tactics took place between 1956 and 1971 with the stated purpose being to protect national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order. As such the FBI engaged in various tactics such as discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and state violence, including political assassination. The FBI, for example, conspired with the police departments of many U.S. cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia, Chicago) to encourage repeated raids on Black Panther homes—often with little or no evidence of violations of federal, state, or local laws— which resulted directly in the police killing of many members of the Black Panther Party, most notably the assassination of Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969. 22 From the Palmer Raids to the FBI campaign against the Black Panthers, there is a long record of systematic state repression and police terror. THE SOULS OF BLACK BOYS: TRAYVON MARTIN, WHITE TERRORISM, AND BLACK SELF-RESPECT From Rodney King to Sean Bell to Amadou Diallo, there is a growing specter of racist violence confronting African Americans. 23 Why the Black outrage about Trayvon Martin? It is impossible to detach the Black outrage over the murder of Martin from the historical backdrop that we have sketched. Police harassment, brutality, and repression include activities such as police homicides; unlawful arrests; assaults; threatening and abusive language; the use of racial slurs; sexual exploitation of Black women; the beating of prisoners in police custody; racial profiling; police complicity in drug-dealing, prostitution, burglaries, protection schemes, and gun smuggling; and the lack of justice available to Black defendants in the courts. One of the consistent and persistent problems associated with police brutality is the matter of racial profiling. 24 The Martin case ostensibly rests not only on the matter of the exercise of a law that at best


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demonstrates decidedly disproportionate attacks on Black lives, but also we have the return to civilian vigilantism that undercuts any notion that African Americans have rights that a White man was/is bound to respect. The matter of indignation and its corollary self-respect are the linchpins for our philosophical analysis. This reoccurrence of the “Taney principle” allows civilian vigilantes to attack Black lives under the shadow of the law. Here again what results is the disappearance of the line of demarcation between the power of the state and the prescribed limits of civilian status. Under the cloak of the law, White civilians by means of racial profiling can now violently act with impunity. Hence, under the guise of “Stand Your Ground” law, local police allowed Zimmerman to go free merely on his own account of events. (It took forty-four days for the authorities in Florida to arrest and charge Zimmerman for the murder of Martin.) The inherent danger of a Black man-child wearing a “hoodie” functioned as a sufficient condition for carrying out the racist murder of a Black man-child. Consequently, Black outrage has to be understood as a response to the “Taney principle” and the corresponding unmitigated violence against Black males and females. State terrorism in the form of police violence is a permanent feature in African American communities. As the left-wing prison activist and writer George Jackson profoundly observed, “Anyone who can pass the civil service examination today can kill me tomorrow. Anyone who passed the civil service examination yesterday can kill me today with complete immunity.” 25 In fact, if Zimmerman had been a police officer, it is likely no arrest ever would have been made, as police are rarely punished for racist abuse, violence, or murder committed in the performance of their duties. The presumption that Martin appeared to be a criminal to Zimmerman is a sufficient condition to exercise deadly force without due consideration of Martin’s rights. Another aspect of this presumption is that when under question as to why he was present in the vicinity of this gated community, Martin was required to establish his right by offering proof to the satisfaction of Zimmerman. Akin to a runaway slave or the pass laws of the former Apartheid South Africa, White authority trumps Black rights. And, in the last resort, the exercise of violent force is used to maintain the established class and racial order. Thus, Black outrage is a response to the violent attack on the minimal conditions for not only civil rights, but also most importantly basic human existence. A survey of African American history shows that African Americans have not quietly tolerated wanton police violence. African Americans from Frederick Douglass to Robert Williams to Malcolm X have argued for and exercised their right to self-defense against White terrorism. In light of the moral outrage by many people concerning the death of Trayvon Martin, what can philosophy offer in terms of our understanding the nature of the indignity associated with Black death at the hands of

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White terror? Despite the conceptual nature of philosophical inquiry, philosophy has the ability to step down from the clouds of speculative, arid abstractions. By means of philosophical interpretation and rational justification, philosophy can take us beyond the immediacy of moral outrage to offering diagnostic clues to solve what is literally a matter of life and death. Philosophy can, contrary to received opinion, offer a guide for the rational resolution of life and death issues and problems. Our philosophical approach—grounded on materialism—presupposes that philosophical inquiry extends beyond the intellectual work of philosophical reflection and thus grapples with issues about public policy and social change. Rather than accept the social world on the basis of authority or faith or tradition or even convention, we—as philosophers—are concerned with offering a rational account for the nature of things. For the philosopher as activist, one of the tasks of philosophy is that of a guide to action for social change. Hence, as Kwame Nkrumah so aptly noted: “Practice without thought is blind; thought without practice is empty.” 26 Or, in a similar vein, Marx wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Consequently, philosophy should not be satisfied with merely offering an interpretation of the world. Most importantly philosophical inquiry should provide a theoretical and scientific explanation of the world in order to change it. In view of White terror, what is the value of a Black boy’s life? Is there any dignity attached to the manner in which how one dies? How should one live in the face of the nitty-gritty material realities of White terrorism? We argue that maintaining dignity and self-respect are key values in the ethics of the Black oppressed against White terrorism. A number of African American philosophers such as Laurence Thomas, Tommie Shelby, and Bernard Boxill have formulated philosophical arguments concerning Black self-respect. 27 We should also acknowledge that William R. Jones and Jesse McDade offer an alternative philosophical perspective with respect to how violence and self-defense are integral to the subject of Black self-respect. We contend that maintaining dignity and self-respect are key values in the ethics of the Black oppressed against White terrorism. We agree with Laurence Thomas, when he argues: A person has self-respect, I shall say, if and only if he has the conviction that he is deserving of full moral status, and so the basic rights of that status, simply in virtue of the fact that he is a person. Having selfrespect, then, is not so much a matter of being able to give a run-down of what one’s basic rights happen to be as it is a way of viewing oneself vis-à-vis others from the moral point of view. Everyone, including oneself, is equally deserving of full moral status and so of being treated in accordance with the basic rights that come with that status. And the reason for this is just that one is a person. 28


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However, we would add to Thomas’s proposition that “deserving of” is not only a question of “full moral status” but also “full” civil and political status and the basic rights that accompany latter positions. We submit that the idea of “moral status” is not removed from how the civil and political status quo is organized; that is what is constituted as civil society and the state. The bourgeois state and civil society (social relations of production) in this country ground the moral norms that are constituted as hegemonic. For example, the moral norm that Black people are subhuman derives from capitalist property relations and which gains ideological endorsement via institutional racism. This view stands in opposition to African American self-respect. Likewise the notion that all people are created equally and endowed with inalienable rights is also a bourgeois moral norm that supports the view of “full” civil and political status for African Americans and thus affirms Black self-respect. Yet, we contend that the very idea “full” civil and political status is at best requisite mandates that are minimal conditions. Thus full civil and political status is necessary and not sufficient conditions for the complete exercise of self-respect. If self-respect is understood as founded on rightsbased premises, then basic rights—while inclusive of full civil and political status—are not exhausted by this. This is because full civil and political status is a concern of the law and law is an aspect of state power. Hence, the very same state powers that sanction White terrorist violence are also the grounds for civil and political status. The contradictory unity of opposites demands qualitatively different conceptions of rights and status if complete self-respect is our aim. Given that the exercise of White terrorist violence has legal sanction and the power of the state, then we argue that in essence what transpires is the political exercise of power. Since White terrorist violence as the exercise of political power, we submit this in turn demands the political response of countervailing force. The exercise of countervailing force to White terrorist violence is not just a matter of exercising the constitutionally sanctioned second amendment rights—the right to bear arms. Rather the notion of rights, in this instance, extends beyond the purview of the U.S. state power and legal sanction. This is at the core of Malcolm X and his notion of human rights and Paul Robeson and William Patterson’s We Charge Genocide Petition in 1951. Thomas argues that a person deserves to be afforded self-respect in virtue of the fact that he is a person. Thomas presumes the inviolability of the human life. Accordingly, if Trayvon Martin is a person, then he should be granted self-respect, the moral status of a person, and the basic rights of that status. Yet, Zimmerman’s actions negated any sense of Martin’s value as a person. In his individual drive to protect property above all, Martin was accorded little ethical significance or value. Even more pointedly, the “Taney principle” was operative such that Martin had no rights that Zimmerman was bound to respect.

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For biological life, death is part of the natural order of things. Whether one dies from cancer or AIDS or violence by others, it is a human tragedy. Yet, Martin’s untimely death by way of White terror evokes a great sadness because it speaks to how African American lives have been profoundly shaped by a deathly history of White terror and state violence. His death speaks to how state violence and White terror have historically been justified as legitimate forms of social control—whether in the form of state-sanctioned executions or the unregulated use of force by police and prison guards. For African Americans, everyday life is lived with the possibility of dying at the hands of White terror and state violence. Yet, the possibility of deadly violence by “murderous, cowardly” mob must be fought against with retaliatory violence even if it means “dying, but fighting back”! 29 Some may query, in the face of White terror, is there an ethical justification for retaliatory violence? Malcolm X among others argued if there is a history of “unpunished violence” against African Americans and a demonstrated failure of the state to protect the lives and property of African Americans, there is every justification for African Americans to act to defend themselves “by any means necessary.” In the face of White terror, Malcolm did not deem it politically effective to appeal to the conscience of the oppressor, hoping that the oppressor would be moved by the sight of the undeserved suffering of the oppressed. As such, the esteemed African American philosopher William R. Jones argues, Accordingly, the appropriate antitoxin is not to prick [the oppressor’s] conscience but to muzzle his firepower. . . . In sum, the oppressor will lift his foot from the oppressed man’s neck only when he sees a gun barrel, bigger than his own, aimed at his defenseless head. 30

As a fundamental political right, Malcolm asserted that the right and necessity of self-defense must be safeguarded. But now when the time comes for our freedom, you want to reach back in the bag and grab somebody who is nonviolent and peaceful and forgiving and long-suffering. I don’t go for that—no, I say that a Black man’s freedom is as valuable as a White man’s freedom. And I say that a Black man has the right to do whatever is necessary to get his freedom that other human beings have done to get their freedom. I say that you and me will never get our freedom nonviolently and patiently and lovingly. We will never get it until we let the world know that as other human beings have laid down their lives for freedom—and also taken life for freedom—that you and I are ready and willing and equipped and qualified to do the same. 31

At the founding rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm X argued that African Americans have a natural right to self-defense. In addition to this natural right, African Americans also have


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rights as citizens which are to be protected by the United States. Malcolm explains: Since self-preservation is the first law of nature, we assert the AfroAmerican’s right to self-defense. . . . The Constitution of the United States of America clearly affirms the right of every American citizen to bear arms. And as Americans, we will not give up a single right guaranteed under the Constitution. The history of unpunished violence against our people clearly indicates that we must be prepared to defend ourselves or we will continue to be a defenseless people at the mercy of a ruthless and violent racist mob.

He continues: We assert that in those areas where the government is either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property of our people, that our people are within our rights to protect themselves by whatever means necessary. I repeat, because to me this is the most important thing you need to know. I already know it. We assert that in those areas where the government is either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property of our people, that our people are within our rights to protect themselves by whatever means necessary. 32

Malcolm forcefully argues that it is legitimate and necessary for the oppressed to utilize similar tactics and instruments of power that are employed against them. Moreover, if the State is not actively addressing the grievances of African Americans, then African Americans should exercise their natural rights to defend themselves against White terrorism. Otherwise, African Americans will be a “defenseless people at the mercy of a ruthless and violent racist mob,” Malcolm’s political philosophy clearly contrasts with Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of moral suasion. For King, nonviolence is the only practical option for political struggle and the resolution of political conflict. In contrast to the one-dimensional approach of King, Malcolm’s employment of “by whatever means necessary” sanctioned the “ballot or the bullet.” The justification of retaliatory violence, for Malcolm, is dictated by the social and historical context. More specifically, the use of violence depends on 1) a history of “unpunished violence” against an oppressed people, and 2) the oppressor’s inability to address legitimate demands for social justice. During an interview with Les Crane, Malcolm argued, That in areas of this country where the government has proven its— either its inability or its unwillingness to protect the lives and property of our people, then it’s only fair to expect us to do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves. And in situations like Mississippi, places like Mississippi where the government actually has proven its inability to protect us and it has been proven that often times the police officers and sheriffs themselves are involved in the murder that takes place

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against our people then I feel, and I say that anywhere, that our people should start doing what is necessary to protect ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we should buy rifles and go out and initiate attacks indiscriminately against Whites. But it does mean that we should get whatever is necessary to protect ourselves in a country or in an area where the governmental ability to protect us has broken down. 33

Here Malcolm begins by squashing the claim that he is advocating indiscriminate violence against Whites. Rather the use of retaliatory violence is dictated by the fact that the State has failed to protect the rights of African Americans as citizens. Malcolm makes it plain that the ethical justification for retaliatory violence rests in the natural right to self-defense. In circumstances where the “Taney principle” is operative, then the only legitimate response is retaliatory violence. As Malcolm brilliantly asserts: So, we are honored to have with us tonight not only a freedom fighter, but some singers on that program today—I think they’re all here; I asked them to come out tonight because they sang one song that just knocked me out. I’m not one who goes for “We Shall Overcome.” I just don’t believe, we’re going to overcome, singing. If you’re going to get yourself a .45 and start singing “We Shall Overcome,” I’m with you. But I’m not for singing that doesn’t at the same time tell you how to get something to use after you get through singing. I realize I’m saying some things that you think can get me in trouble, but, brothers, I was born in, trouble. I don’t even care about trouble. I’m interested in one thing alone, and that’s freedom—by any means necessary. 34

NOTES 1. Kris Hundley, Susan Taylor Martin, and Connie Humburg, “Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Yields Some Shocking Outcomes Depending on How Law Is Applied” (June 3, 2012), Tampa Bay Times. http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/ crime/florida-stand-your-ground-law-yields-some-shocking outcomes-depending-on/ 1233133; Patrik Jonsson, “Stand Your Ground Law: Florida Review Panel to Draw Wide Scrutiny” (May 1, 2012), The Christian Science Monitor. http:// www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2012/0501/Stand-Your-Ground-law-Florida-reviewpanel-to-draw-wide-scrutiny. 2. In 1916 the NAACP organized an Anti-Lynching Committee to develop legislative support and to educate the broader public. In 1918 NAACP Secretary John Shillady supervised the report, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889–1918, which was published in 1919. There were some 3,224 cases of lynching between the years of 1882 and 1918 (NAACP, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1889–1918 [New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969]). By 1922, the number increased to 3,436 (NAACP, “The Shame of America: 3,436 People Lynched 1889 to 1922”). Also consult Robert Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching: 1909–1950 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980); Oliver C. Cox, “Lynching in the Status Quo,” Journal of Negro Education 14, no. 4 (Fall 1945): 576–88; and Jill Nelson, Police Brutality: An Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000). 3. Herbert Shapiro, White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), xi.


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4. Jill Nelson, “Introduction,” Police Brutality. http://www.jillnelson.com/book-police-brutality.html. 5. Jill Nelson, “Introduction,” Police Brutality. http://www.jillnelson.com/book-police-brutality.html. 6. See Vladimir Lenin, State and Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket, 2010); Malik Simba, Black Marxism and American Constitutionalism: An Interpretive History from Colonial Background to the Great Depression (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2010), 1–13. 7. “A Mother Is Sold Away from Her Children,” in Black Women in America: A Documentary History, ed. Gerda Lerner (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 10–12. 8. Malik Simba illustrates this point in his treatment of the 1829 North Carolina case, State v. Mann: Mann, hired a slave woman by the name of Lydia who subsequently resisted demands impose we’ll by running off. And this attempt at resistance, Lydia was shot and wounded by man. Mann was indicted and convicted for assault and battery by a lower court. The [Thomas] Ruffin court overturned the lower-court’s efforts and creative and innovative racist common-law dictum by holding that “the established habits and uniform practice of the country in this respect is [are] the best evidence of the portion of power deemed by the whole community requisite to the preservation of the masters dominion.” Ruffin further emphasized that the entire purpose of slavery was for the “profit of the master, his security and the public safety.” (Black Marxism and American Constitutionalism [Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 2010], 58) 9. Malik Simba, Black Marxism and American Constitutionalism: An Interpretive History from Colonial Background to the Great Depression (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2010), 52–55, 95; Mary Frances Berry, Black Resistance/White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in America (New York: Penguin Press, 1994); Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History (New York, Collier Books, 1962); Bernard R. Boxill, “The Fight with Covey,” in Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy, ed. Lewis R. Gordon (New York: Routledge, 1997), 273–90; Henry Box Brown and Charles Stearns, Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery, Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide: Written from a Statement of Facts Made by Himself: With Remarks upon the Remedy for Slavery (Boston: Brown and Stearns, 1849); Cornelius Wilson Larison and Jared Lobdell, Silvia Dubois: A Biografy of the Slav Who Whipt Her Mistres and Gand Her Fredom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). 10. Jesse McDade, “The Ethicality of Revolution,” Social Praxis 1 (1973): 291–98; Shannon King, “‘Ready to Shoot and Do Shoot’: Black Working-Class Self-Defense and Community Politics in Harlem, New York during the 1920s,” Journal of Urban History 37, no. 5 (September 2011): 757–74. 11. Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (New York: Henry Holt, 2011); William M. Tuttle Jr., Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (New York: Atheneum, 1996); Elliot Rudwick, Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964). 12. Richard Wormser, “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Red Summer (1919),” PBS.com. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_red.html. 13. Quoted in Malik Simba, Black Marxism and American Constitutionalism, 55. See also “Dred Scott v. Sandford, United States Supreme Court, 1857,” Blackpast.org. http://www.blackpast.org/?q=primary/dred-scott-decision (text has been edited; original decision is over two hundred pages long); Paul Finkleman, Dred Scott v. Sanford: A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 1997); Lea Vandervelde, Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). 14. Charles W. Mills, “Non-Cartesian Sums,” in Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 7.

Indignity and Death


15. John H. McClendon III, “Richard B. Moore, Radical Politics, and the AfroAmerican History Movement: The Formation of a Revolutionary Tradition and African American Intellectual Culture,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 30, no. 2 (July 2006), 7–45; Theodore Kornweibel, Seeing Red: Federal Campaigns against Black Militancy, 1919–1925 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998); Barbara Foley, Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the Making of the New Negro (Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003); William Preston, Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903–1933 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994); W. E. B. Du Bois, “Close Ranks,” Crisis (July 1918); Hubert Harrison, “The Descent of Dr. Du Bois,” The Voice (July 25, 1918); Mark Ellis, “‘Closing Ranks’ and ‘Seeking Honors’: W. E. B. Du Bois and World War I” Journal of American History 79 (June 1992); Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Lake View Press, 1978), 82; Roscoe Dunjee, “The New Negro,” Oklahoma City Blacks Dispatch, October 10, 1919, in Theodore Vincent, Voices of a Black Nation: Political Journalism in the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Theodore G. Vincent (Lawrenceville, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc., 1973); Marcus Garvey, “Negroes Should Prepare—Black Men All Over the World Should Prepare to Protect Themselves—Negroes Should Match Fire with Hell Fire,” Negro World (October 11, 1919). 16. See Malcolm X, Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: One World/Ballantine Books, 1992), 1–23. 17. Rayford W. Logan, “The New Haiti,” Opportunity 5 (April 1927), 101–3. 18. William Saunders Scarborough, “The Ethics of the Hawaiian Question,” Christian Recorder (March 15, 1894). For more information on Balzac, see Juan Torruella, The Supreme Court and Puerto Rico: The Doctrine of Separate and Unequal (San Juan: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1988). 19. Civil Rights Congress, We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government against the Negro People (New York: Civil Rights Congress, 1951). 20. The citation is taken from “We Charge Genocide (1951),” blackpast.org. http:// www.blackpast.org/?q=we-charge-genocide-historic-petition-united-nations-reliefcrime-united-states-government-against 21. See Ben Green, Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr (New York: The Free Press, 1999). 22. Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1988); Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars against Domestic Dissent (Boston: South End Press, 1990); Kenneth O’Reilly, Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960–1972 (New York: Free Press, 1989). 23. Michael Wilson, “Judge Acquits Detectives in 50-Shot Killing of Bell,” New York Times, April 26, 2006. 24. The New York Police Department’s (NYPD) policy of racial profiling—otherwise known as the “stop and frisk” program—resulted in almost 800,000 people being stopped by the police in 2010, the overwhelming majority of them African American and Latino men. See “Stop-and-Frisk Campaign: About the Issue,” New York Civil Liberties Union. http://www.nyclu.org/issues/racial-justice/stop-and-frisk-practices (Retrieved June 7, 2012). 25. George Jackson, Blood in My Eye (Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1990), 7. 26. Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization and Development with Particular Reference to the African Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 78. 27. Laurence Thomas, Living Morally: A Psychology of Moral Character. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989; Bernard R. Boxill, Blacks and Social Justice (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1984); Tommie Shelby, We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).


Stephen C. Ferguson II and John H. McClendon III

28. Laurence Thomas, “Self-Respect: Theory and Practice” in Philosophy Born of Struggle, ed. Leonard Harris (Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1983), 175–76. 29. Jesse McDade, “The Ethicality of Revolution,” Social Praxis 1 (1973): 291–98. 30. William R. Jones, “Liberation Strategies in Black Theology: Mao, Martin, or Malcolm?,” in Philosophy Born of Struggle, ed. Leonard Harris (Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1983), 230. 31. Malcolm X Speaks, ed. George Breitman (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1989), 112–13. 32. See William W. Sales Jr., From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (Boston: South End Press, 1994). 33. Interview with Les Crane, December 2, 1964. For a similar argument, see Frederick Douglass, “Is It Right and Wise to Kill a Kidnapper?” in Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1999), 277–80. 34. Malcolm X Speaks, 134–35.

FOUR No Bigots Required What the Science of Racial Bias Reveals in the Wake of Trayvon Martin Phillip Abita Goff and L. Song Richardson

The tragic killing of Trayvon Martin forced the United States, again, to face our deadly history of race and violence. However, perhaps because Martin’s death is so eerily similar to the deaths of so many young black males in our distant—and recent—past, the discussion surrounding it has seemed stuck in history. That is, media coverage and social network engagement around the issue devolved quickly into traditional debates on racism. The conversations were about character: Was George Zimmerman a bigot at heart or was he a concerned citizen? Was Trayvon Martin a blameless innocent or was he a thug in training? These questions aim to reveal whether the incident fits the archetype of old-fashioned racism (i.e., the bigoted murderer kills the defenseless victim). But, by focusing attention on these issues of character, we ignore the mechanisms of contemporary bias—and hobble our efforts at racial progress. This chapter is intended as a partial remedy to this collective distraction—both in the case of Trayvon Martin and with regard to racial conflicts more generally. Specifically, we discuss how racial “suspicion cascades” may create instances of racialized suspicion even absent bigots or thugs. Moreover, we suggest that engaging with the social psychology of contemporary bias—the science behind our theory of “suspicion cascades”—is a necessary step in our nation’s journey toward racial progress and elevated dialogue regarding racial inequality. To that end, the present chapter reviews the social psychology behind racial disparities in 59


Phillip Abita Goff and L. Song Richardson

perceptions of suspicion and its consequences. We also briefly discuss how the basic human propensity for racially biased perceptual errors should influence the law of self-defense. Finally, we make specific recommendations for media and legislative action in the face of the emerging mind science on this topic. SUSPICION CASCADES The term “suspicion cascades” is meant to reference the multiple “waves” of decision-making errors that can warp perceptions and lead to racial biases. Importantly, these decision-making errors do not require that someone hold explicitly racist beliefs. In fact, research has long demonstrated that even individuals who hold explicitly egalitarian beliefs are subject to basic human processes that provoke errors in perception and judgment. 1 Consequently, racial discrimination can exist even absent racial bigotry—racism without racists, as it were. 2 In this sense, suspicion cascades are a kind of psychological “racial trap” that we fall into 3 under some circumstances. This can occur because our minds tend to make automatic associations between two concepts in order to save time. Since the world is full of information overload (and has been since before the Internet), it simply saves our brains time to have the word “doctor” call to mind the word “hospital.” We often encounter the two together, and, consequently, our brains are designed to call to mind one when we think of the other. Unfortunately, our brains also make these kinds of associations with stereotypical information, such as with “black” and “crime.” When we are not focused on inhibiting this association—and sometimes even when we are—these stereotypes can spring to mind influencing our perceptions and behavior. These errors can also occur due to self-threats, such as the concern that someone might see us in light of a negative stereotype—for instance, as a criminal. In these instances, concerns with being evaluated in terms of a negative stereotype can often inspire the very behaviors that one seeks to avoid. Importantly, this is not the case only for one group, but, again, is a basic psychological process for blacks, whites, men, women, and people of all stripes. Taken together, this framework of suspicion cascades provides a lens through which to understand how race can color our perceptions and actions even absent the old-fashioned bigotry we tend to seek in popular discussions of racially charged issues. This is not to say that racist attitudes are never the problem. They are and should not be dismissed simply because, in the aggregate, racial attitudes have gentled over the past half-century. Rather, the term suspicion cascades provides a language for talking about racist outcomes even absent any evidence of bigotry—a

No Bigots Required


necessary innovation in an era when prejudice has both become socially taboo and genuinely declined. REASONABLE SUSPICION? The term “reasonable suspicion” is among the most contentious in criminal justice, and adding considerations of racial bias makes the term all the more fraught. Despite the fact that the mind sciences (e.g., psychology and neuroscience) have uncovered many of the factors that make us believe someone’s behavior is suspicious, this research has not been of much aid to law enforcement. 4 This is primarily due to the ease with which people confuse behaviors that signal deception with honesty, 5 and the volume of innocuous reasons for “suspicious” behavior. 6 Consequently, trained law enforcement specialists are often only marginally better than someone guessing at random when predicting who is lying or telling the truth—who is suspicious and who is blameless. 7 If using trained professionals to spot suspicious intentions is only marginally better than flipping a coin, then it is likely that laypeople would do well just to use the coin. Still, it is worth noting that deception, or engaging in “suspicious” activities, is cognitively taxing for most people, resulting in depleted cognitive resources and a greater need to regulate one’s own emotions and behaviors. 8 This increased cognitive load and need for self-regulation often produces certain physical and affective signals of wrong-doing such as gaze aversion, 9 fidgeting (either too much or too little), 10 nonDuchenne (or “fake”) smiling, 11 not blinking, 12 and appearing defensive 13 or anxious. 14 Again, each of these signals results from one’s attempts at self-regulation—itself motivated by one’s own guilt-inducing behaviors. This need for self-regulation among deceivers is what motivates professionals and laypersons alike to imagine that we can spot the liar and separate truth from deception. However, there are numerous factors that can lead one to appear suspicious even when guiltless of any moral or legal sin. 15 Additionally, there are widely held biases that can lead to someone suspecting an innocent person or exonerating a guilty person. 16 Given all of this inaccuracy in gauging suspicion in general, what reason do we have to suspect that police suspicion is distributed unevenly across race? In the following sections, we review psychological research on implicit stereotyping and stereotype threat that can influence suspects and perceivers, resulting in racial disparate treatment.


Phillip Abita Goff and L. Song Richardson

CRIMINAL STEREOTYPES It is widely understood that group stereotypes can influence an individual’s expectations of, perceptions of, attributions about, and behaviors toward members of that group even beneath conscious awareness. 17 This is particularly true when one is cognitively depleted—lacking the resources necessary to overcome our “gut” biases with more considered evaluations. 18 Importantly, though it is common to imagine that stereotypes are generalizations about a group that only old-fashioned bigots espouse, stereotypes are widely known within a culture. This means that, though it may be the rare bigot who espouses them, a preponderance of individuals will have knowledge of a stereotype even if they do not endorse it. Again, this is important because stereotypes often influence interactions beneath conscious awareness, so that one need not endorse a stereotype to have one’s behaviors influenced by it. We tend to expect the worst of individuals we stereotype. 19 Our attentions 20 and perceptions are also guided by these stereotypes (e.g., remembering them as more racially stereotypical.) 21 We also tend to remember stereotype-consistent information better than stereotype inconsistent information. 22 We make stereotype-consistent attributions for individuals’ behaviors, 23 and, in turn, we may treat them in stereotypeconsistent ways (i.e., as if they are stupid or criminal.) 24 Worse, even deliberately attempting to push the stereotype out of one’s mind is likely to backfire. 25 Much like trying not to think about white bears tends to produce images of the very white bears we want to forget, 26 trying to suppress stereotypes often makes them more accessible. 27 Each of these processes may be particularly influential on our behavior in domains where the stereotype is strong, such as with blacks, Latinos, and/or police in criminal justice contexts. 28 In other words, group stereotypes can fundamentally shape one’s experience of crossgroup interactions regardless of one’s best intentions—especially in the context of criminal justice. Stereotypes of blacks and Latinos as poorly educated, lazy, violent, aggressive, and criminal, and stereotypes of blacks as drug addicts and dealers are widely available to the general population. 29 Because encounters with “potential criminals” provokes feelings of life-threatening dangers, it is also reasonable to assume that individuals may feel under exceptional cognitive load when determining whether or not someone is criminally suspicious. 30 Consequently, situations in which criminality is salient are ripe for the unconscious application of stereotypes. This is likely to lead perceivers to expect a more negative interaction with non-whites than with whites, to interpret ambiguous cues as more threatening, and to behave in assertive ways to reduce the danger of those threats. 31 A stereotype that someone is a dangerous liar, of course, is likely to produce expectations, percep-

No Bigots Required


tions, and attributions consistent with those stereotypes, and behaviors that can even provoke them. For instance, research by Vrij demonstrated that law enforcement’s stereotypes of blacks as untruthful lead police to push black suspects harder for confessions and to adopt more accusatory interrogation techniques, 32 both of which are known to produce more anxious behaviors in suspects which, in turn, produce perceptions of guilt. 33 Stereotypes about suspects can also guide behavior beneath awareness. Research by Eberhardt and colleagues demonstrated that merely thinking of crime can cause individuals to pay more attention to black faces than white faces, and can cause police officers to misremember black faces as more racially stereotypical. 34 Similarly, racial stereotypes are implicated in the work of several researchers who demonstrate that black suspects are more likely to be mistakenly shot than are whites in simulated “shooter” tasks and to misidentify innocuous items as weapons under time pressure. 35 This stream of research takes for its inspiration the example of Amadou Diallo, who was shot at forty-one times and hit with nineteen bullets by four NYPD officers who swore that they saw him holding a gun—but found he was only holding his wallet. With both perceptions and behaviors, the role of stereotyping need not rise to the level of explicit prejudice. Rather, merely being aware of stereotypes can infiltrate one’s experience of the world and influence one’s actions in it, possibly with negative and racially disparate outcomes. STEREOTYPE THREAT Our second aggravating factor is stereotype threat: the concern with confirming or being evaluated in terms of a negative stereotype about one’s group. 36 This phenomenon explains why individuals sometimes underperform in contexts where their group is negatively stereotyped—the threat of being stereotyped can cause excessive self-regulatory demands that impair one’s performance. 37 Importantly, this is not a kind of selffulfilling prophecy, in that one need not endorse negative stereotypes about one’s group in order to be affected by them. While this phenomenon is most frequently used to explain racial and gender differences in academic performance, 38 it has more recently been applied to a broader set of domains including athletic performance 39 and interracial interactions. 40 For those concerned with appearing criminal, it is reasonable that the self-regulatory consequences of stereotype threat would cause one to appear anxious—or suspicious, depending on the audience. This would be particularly true of blacks, 41 though there is evidence that other groups are also concerned with this stereotype. 42 This means that in criminal


Phillip Abita Goff and L. Song Richardson

justice settings, it is reasonable to suspect that non-whites are concerned that their race will cause others to see them as suspicious regardless of whether or not they have done anything illegal. 43 The result of this psychological stress is that non-whites who are already depleted due to the inherent stress of certain encounters and their procedural justice concerns must also contend with stereotype threat. Each of these factors, alone, would be enough to cause cognitive depletion. However, the compounded self-regulatory energies provoked by each of these factors is likely to create the perfect storm of cognitive depletion, causing even the most easy-going individual to appear to be an anxious and guilt-ridden criminal. RACING TO DEFEND OURSELVES The theory of suspicion cascades can inform our thinking about the law of self-defense. The typical self-defense statute allows individuals to use deadly force to protect themselves from the imminent use of deadly force by another. 44 As a result of racial stereotypes of criminality, it is more likely that individuals will evaluate the ambiguous actions of non-whites as more threatening and suspicious than identical actions performed by whites. Furthermore, stereotype threat can cause non-whites to behave in ways that confirm the observer’s perception of threat. Thus, suspicion cascades reveal that non-whites face a greater risk of death or serious bodily injury at the hands of those who honestly, but mistakenly, fear them. These erroneous judgments about the need to act in self-defense can occur regardless of the actor’s conscious racial attitudes. All that is required to trigger the cascade is knowledge of stereotypes. Consider, as an example, the tragic shooting death of Yoshihiro Hattori. Hattori was a sixteen-year-old Japanese exchange student living with a family in Louisiana. 45 One night in October, he and Webb Haymaker, a member of his host family, were on their way to a Halloween party. Hattori was dressed as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, wearing a white tuxedo jacket and carrying a small black camera. Haymaker was dressed as a car accident victim. Haymaker probably looked scarier. The two got lost and mistook the home of Rodney and Bonnie Peairs as the location of the party. They rang the doorbell, but when no one answered, they walked around to the carport. At that moment, Mrs. Peairs opened the door. She saw Haymaker first, but when Hattori rounded the corner, she screamed, slammed the door shut, and yelled out to her husband to “get the gun.” The boys began to walk away, still in search of the Halloween party. They were on the sidewalk, approximately ten yards away from the home, when Mr. Peairs ran outside with his laser-scoped .44 magnum Smith and Wesson. Hattori, who spoke broken English, turned around

No Bigots Required


and began to walk back toward Mr. Peairs, saying that they were there for the party. Mr. Peairs yelled, “Freeze!” but Hattori didn’t understand what that word meant. When Hattori continued to approach, Mr. Peairs fired one shot, killing Hattori. The entire event, from the time Mr. Peairs opened his door, lasted about three seconds. A jury found Mr. Peairs’s belief that he was in imminent danger reasonable. People can speculate about whether Mr. Peairs had a bigoted heart and whether racism played a role in Hattori’s tragic and needless death. But while it is tempting to fixate on the spectacle of Mr. Peairs’s potentially racist intentions, the theory of suspicion cascades suggests that using race as a proxy for suspicion is not the exception, but the rule. And using race as a proxy can happen both consciously and nonconsciously. Even if Mr. Peairs was a well-intentioned man, under time pressure, suspicion cascades could cause him to perceive Hattori’s camera as a gun and to interpret Hattori’s failure to stop as evidence of aggression. Had Mr. Peairs had more time to think, perhaps System 2 mental processes would have given him reason to doubt his initial intuitions. However, because of his perceived need to respond quickly to an immediate threat, System 1 was in the driver’s seat. Importantly, System 1 errors and implicit biases can also influence perceptions and behaviors even when an individual seemingly has significantly more time to think. Because these errors and biases occur nearly simultaneously with perceiving an individual, individuals often do not perceive that they have made an error or that they are influenced by biases. 46 Consequently, an individual who is involved in a pursuit, as was the case with George Zimmerman, might not realize that his mind has made a deadly miscalculation. Importantly, time pressure, anxiety, and cognitive load—having other things on your mind—are all likely to increase reliance on our biases and reduce our ability to “catch” those biases. In other words, an individual who fears they are stalking a criminal is highly susceptible to the kinds of automatic associations that produce racially disparate outcomes. Suspicion cascades place non-whites at greater risk of being killed in the self-defense context as a result of mistaken judgments of criminality. While we are not suggesting that jurisdictions abolish the law of selfdefense, some thought must be given to resolving this serious problem. We suggest that imposing a mandatory duty to retreat before using deadly force may be the answer. A MODEST PROPOSAL Under the English common law, a person attacked in a public place was required to make every attempt to retreat to a place of safety before using deadly force, unless he or she was attacked in his or her own home. 47


Phillip Abita Goff and L. Song Richardson

Today, however, many American jurisdictions have abandoned the retreat requirement. 48 For instance, Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law provides that a person attacked “in any other place where he or she has a right to be” has no duty to retreat before killing in selfdefense. 49 Many states have passed similar statutes. 50 Perhaps the time has come to make the duty to retreat a mandatory requirement within the law of self-defense. A robust duty to retreat could serve an important debiasing function. The retreat requirement would force individuals to take a time-out before acting on their intuitions. Withdrawing to a place of safety might release some anxiety and give people time to engage in more deliberate, conscious, and effortful thinking. The duty would allow individuals an opportunity to consider alternatives rather than jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited and poor-quality information. In other words, retreat may help to overcome the effects of suspicion cascades. The Model Penal Code 51 and some states 52 impose such a duty. Additionally, law enforcement—in Florida and elsewhere—have suggested that removing the duty to retreat will likely result not only in increased vigilantism, but also in racial disparities in civilian homicides. 53 When the science and law enforcement experts agree, it is a modest proposal to suggest that we all listen. While giving serious consideration to this idea is beyond the scope of this chapter, it is important to begin this conversation. Had the duty to retreat been a nondiscretionary component of selfdefense doctrine, it may well have saved the lives of Yoshihiro Hattori, Trayvon Martin, and many others. Nearly as important, fixating on whether or not individuals (e.g., Mr. Peairs or Mr. Zimmerman) harbor bigoted beliefs can make it difficult to see a larger context in which the sociopolitical construction of race shapes our very perceptions and behaviors beneath awareness. Though bigotry continues to plague American hearts and minds, the path toward racial justice requires a broader lens than one that telescopes intentions to the exclusion of other factors. We believe that those who have lost their lives in the shadow of racially suspect behaviors deserve better than a legacy of distraction and inquisitions about character. In other words, we believe that, in addition to combatting the individual overt bigotry that inhabits our hearts and minds, it is time for us to take equally seriously the shared unconscious biases that lurk beneath the surface. Because, if we are concerned with the targets of racism—and not just racist actors— then we must acknowledge that bigotry is not a necessary condition of racism.

No Bigots Required


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Portions of this chapter are adapted from a forthcoming essay in volume 98 of the Iowa Law Review titled “Self-Defense and the Suspicion Heuristic.” NOTES 1. Patricia G. Devine, “Automatic and Controlled Processes in Prejudice: The Role of Stereotypes and Personal Beliefs,” in Attitude Structure and Function, edited by Anthony R. Pratkanis, Steven J. Breckler, and Anthony G. Greenwald (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1989); John F. Dovidio, “On the Nature of Contemporary Prejudice: The Third Wave,” Journal of Social Issues 57, no. 4 (2001); Phillip Abita Goff, Claude M. Steele, and Paul G. Davies, “The Space between Us: Stereotype Threat and Distance in Interracial Contexts,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94, no. 1 (2008); Anthony G. Greenwald, Debbie E. McGhee, and Jordan L. K. Schwartz, “Measuring Individual Differences in Implicit Cognition: The Implicit Association Test,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74, no. 6 (1998). 2. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); Goff, Steele, and Davies, “The Space between Us.” 3. Phillip Abita Goff, “Identity Traps: The Shape of Contemporary Discrimination through the Lens of Law Enforcement,” W. K. Kellogg Foundation America Healing Conference (presentation, New Orleans, LA, April 24–27, 2012); Phillip Abita Goff and L. Song Richardson, “Running from Race in Our Minds,” The Huffington Post (March 24, 2012), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phillip-atiba-goff/trayvon-martin-race_b_ 1376621.html. 4. Cynthia Najdowski, “Stereotype Threat in Criminal Interrogations: Why Innocent Black Suspects Are at Risk for Confessing Falsely,” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 17, no. 4 (2011). 5. Bella M. DePaulo, “Nonverbal Behavior and Self-Presentation,” Psychological Bulletin 111, no. 2 (1992); James L. Hilton and John M. Darley, “Constructing Other Persons: A Limit on the Effect,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 21, no. 1 (1985); Samantha Mann and Aldert Vrij, “Police Officers’ Judgements of Veracity, Tenseness, Cognitive Load and Attempted Behavioural Control in Real-Life Police Interviews,” Psychology, Crime & Law 12, no. 3 (2006); Carol T. Miller and Anna M. Myers, “Compensating for Prejudice: How Heavyweight People (and Others) Control Outcomes Despite Prejudice,” in Prejudice: The Target’s Perspective, edited by Janet K. Swim and Charles Stangor (San Diego: Academic Press, 1998); Dylan M. Smith et al., “Target Complicity in the Confirmation and Disconfirmation of Erroneous Perceiver Expectations: Immediate and Longer Term Implications,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73, no. 5 (1997). 6. G. Doherty-Sneddon and F. G. Phelps, “Gaze Aversion: A Response to Cognitive or Social Difficulty?” Memory & Cognition 33, no. 4 (2005); Paul Ekman, Wallace V. Friesen, and Phoebe Ellsworth, Emotion in the Human Face: Guidelines for Research and an Integration of Findings (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1972); Paul Ekman, “Deception, Lying, and Demeanor,” in States of Mind: American and Post-Soviet Perspectives on Contemporary Issues in Psychology, edited by Diane F. Halpern and Aleksandr Voĭskunskiĭ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Daniel Hrubes and Robert S. Feldman, “Nonverbal Displays as Indicants of Task Difficulty,” Contemporary Educational Psychology 26, no. 2 (2001); Najdowski, “Stereotype Threat”; Joseph W. Rand, “ The Demeanor Gap: Race, Lie Detection, and the Jury,” Connecticut Law Review 33 (2000); Aldert Vrij and Frans W. Winkel, “Characteristics of the Built Environment and Fear


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of Crime: A Research Note on Interventions in Unsafe Locations,” Deviant Behavior 12, no. 2 (1991). 7. Mann and Vrij, “Police Officers’ Judgements”; Samantha Mann, Aldert Vrij, and Ray Bull, “Suspects, Lies, and Videotape: An Analysis of Authentic High-Stake Liars,” Law and Human Behavior 26, no. 3 (2002); Samantha Mann, Aldert Vrij, and Ray Bull, “Detecting True Lies: Police Officers’ Ability to Detect Suspects’ Lies,” Journal of Applied Psychology 89, no. 1 (2004); Aldert Vrij et al., “A Cognitive Load Approach to Lie Detection,” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 5, nos. 1–2 (2008). 8. Bella M. DePaulo, C. Wetzel, et al., “Verbal and Nonverbal Dynamics of Privacy, Secrecy, and Deceit,” Journal of Social Issues 9, no. 2 (2003); Bella DePaulo, and Susan E. Kirkendol, “The Motivational Impairment Effect in the Communication of Deception,” in Credibility Assessment, edited by John C. Yuille (New York: Kluwer Academic, 1989); Aldert Vrij, Detecting Lies and Deceit: Pitfalls and Opportunities (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2008); Aldert Vrij, E. Ennis, et al., “People’s Perceptions of Their Truthful and Deceptive Interactions in Daily Life,” Open Access Journal of Forensic Psychology 2 (2010), http://www.forensicpsychologyunbound.ws/; Aldert Vrij et al., “Lie Detection: Pitfalls and Opportunities,” in Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations, edited by G. Daniel Lassiter and Christian Meissner (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010). 9. DePaulo, Lindsay, et al., “Cues to Deception,” Psychological Bulletin 129, no. 1 (2003); Doherty-Sneddon and Phelps, “Gaze Aversion”; Ekman et al., Emotion in the Human Face; Ekman, “Expression or Communication about Emotion,” in Uniting Psychology and Biology, edited by Nancy L. Segal, Glenn E. Weisfeld, and Carol C. Weisfeld (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1997). 10. Ekman et al., Emotion in the Human Face and Ekman, “Expression or Communication.” 11. Harold G. Wallbott and Klaus R. Scherer, “Stress Specificities: Differential Effects of Coping Style, Gender, and Type of Stressor on Autonomic Arousal, Facial Expression, and Subjective Feeling,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61, no. 1 (1991). 12. Sharon Leal et al., “The Time of the Crime: Cognitively Induced Tonic Arousal Suppression When Lying in a Free Recall Context,” Acta Psychologica 129, no. 1 (2008); Wallbott and Scherer, “Stress Specificities.” 13. Andrew E. Taslitz, “Wrongly Accused: Is Race a Factor in Convicting the Innocent?” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 121 (2006). 14. DePaulo, “Nonverbal Behavior”; DePaulo, Wetzel, et al., “Verbal and Nonverbal Dynamics”; DePaulo, Kirkendol, et al., “Motivational Impairment”; DePaulo, Lindsay, et al., “Cues to Deception”; Vrij, Ennis, et al., “People’s Perceptions”; Miron Zuckerman et al., “Nonverbal Strategies for Decoding Deception,” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 6, no. 3 (1982). 15. Marianne LaFrance and Clara Mayo, “Racial Differences in Gaze Behavior during Conversations: Two Systematic Observational Studies,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 33, no. 5 (1976); Brenda Major and Laurie T. O’Brien, “The Social Psychology of Stigma,” Annual Review of Psychology 56 (2005); Najdowski, “Stereotype Threat”; Vrij and Winkel, “Characteristics of the Built Environment”; Zuckerman et al., “Nonverbal Strategies”; Amy G. Halberstadt, “Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Nonverbal Behavior,” in Multichannel Integrations of Nonverbal Behavior, edited by Aron W. Siegman and Stanley Feldstein (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1985). 16. Karl Ask and Pär A. Granhag, “Motivational Sources of Confirmation Bias in Criminal Investigations: The Need for Cognitive Closure,” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 2, no. 1 (2005); Joshua Correll, Bernadette Park, Charles M. Judd, Bernd Wittenbrink, “The Police Officer’s Dilemma: Using Ethnicity to Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83, no. 6 (2002); Joshua Correll, Bernadette Park, Charles M. Judd, Bernd Wittenbrink, et al., “Across the Thin Blue Line: Police Officers and Racial Bias in the

No Bigots Required


Decision to Shoot,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92, no. 6 (2007); Jennifer L. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87, no. 6 (2004); Eugenio Garrido, Jaume Masip, and Carmen Herrero, “Police Officers’ Credibility Judgments: Accuracy and Estimated Ability,” International Journal of Psychology 39, no. 4 (2004); Thomas Gilovich, How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993); Richard A. Leo, “Doing Justice to the Complexities of Interrogations: Police Interrogation and American Justice,” Applied Cognitive Psychology 23, no. 2 (2008); Christian A. Meissner and Saul M. Kassin, “‘He’s guilty!’: Investigator Bias in Judgments of Truth and Deception,” Law and Human Behavior 26, no. 5 (2002); Raymond S. Nickerson, “Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises,” Review of General Psychology 2, no. 2 (1998); Richard E. Nisbett and Lee Ross, Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment (Englewood Cliffs: PrenticeHall, 1980); Mark Snyder and Arthur A. Stukas, “Interpersonal Processes: The Interplay of Cognitive, Motivational, and Behavioral Activities in Social Interaction,” Annual Review of Psychology 50 (1999); Yaacov Trope and Akiva Liberman, “Social Hypothesis Testing: Cognitive and Motivational Mechanisms,” in Social Psychology: Handbook of Basic Principles, edited by Edward T. Higgins and Arie W. Kruglanski (New York: Guilford, 1996); Vrij, Detecting Lies and Deceit. 17. Devine, “Automatic and Controlled Processes”; Greenwald, McGhee, and Schwartz, “Measuring Individual Differences.” 18. Devine, “Automatic and Controlled Processes.” 19. Marilynn Brewer and Roderick M. Kramer, “The Psychology of Intergroup Attitudes and Behavior,” Annual Review of Psychology 36 (1985); N. L. Gage and Lee Cronbach, “Conceptual and Methodological Problems in Interpersonal Perception,” Psychological Review 62, no. 6 (1955); Lee Jussim, Jaquelynn Eccles, and Stephanie Madon, “Social Perception, Social Stereotypes, and Teacher Expectations: Accuracy and the Quest for the Powerful Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 28 (1996); Jacquie D. Vorauer, Kelley J. Main, and Gordon B. O’Connell, “How Do Individuals Expect to Be Viewed by Members of Lower Status Groups? Content and Implications of Meta-Stereotypes,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75, no. 4 (1998); Edward E. Jones, “Interpreting Interpersonal Behavior: The Effects of Expectancies,” Science 234, no. 4772 (1986); Edward E. Jones, Interpersonal Perception (New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., 1990); Mark Snyder, “When Belief Creates Reality,” in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 18, edited by Leonard Berkowitz (New York: Academic Press, 1984). 20. Jennifer R. Crosby, Benoît Monin, and Daniel Richardson, “Where Do We Look during Potentially Offensive Behavior?” Psychological Science 19, no. 3 (2008). 21. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black.” 22. Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman, “An Analysis of Rumor,” Public Opinion Quarterly 10, no. 4 (1946); Charles G. Lord, Lee Ross, and Mark R. Lepper, “Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37, no. 11 (1979). 23. Irwin Katz, “Gordon Allport’s ‘The Nature of Prejudice,’” Political Psychology 12, no. 1 (1991); Birt L. Duncan, “Differential Social Perception and Attribution of Intergroup Violence: Testing the Lower Limits of Stereotyping of Blacks,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34, no. 4 (1976); David L. Hamilton, “A Cognitive-Attributional Analysis of Stereotyping,” in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 12, edited by Leonard Berkowitz (New York: Academic Press, 1979); Miles Hewstone and Colleen Ward, “Ethnocentrism and Causal Attribution in Southeast Asia,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48, no. 3 (1985); Laurie T. O’Brien, Zoe Kinias, and Brenda Major, “How Status and Stereotypes Impact Attributions to Discrimination: The Stereotype-Asymmetry Hypothesis,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44, no. 2 (2008); Thomas F. Pettigrew, “The Ultimate Attribution Error: Extending Allport’s Cognitive Analysis of Prejudice,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 5, no. 4 (1979); Donald M. Taylor and Vaishna Jaggi, “Ethnocentrism and Causal Attribution


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in a South Indian Context,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 5, no. 2 (1974); Vincent Y. Yzerbyt, Anouk Rogier, and Susan T. Fiske, “Group Entitativity and Social Attribution: On Translating Situational Constraints into Stereotypes,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 24, no. 10 (1998). 24. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black”; Phillip Abita Goff et al., “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94, no. 2 (2008); Herbert Harari and John W. McDavid, “Name Stereotypes and Teachers’ Expectations,” Journal of Educational Psychology 65, no. 2 (1973). 25. Neil C. Macrae et al., “Out of Mind but Back in Sight: Stereotypes on the Rebound,”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67, no. 5 (1994). 26. Daniel M. Wegner et al., “Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53, no. 1 (1987). 27. Macrae et al., “Out of Mind.” 28. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black”; Jon Hurwitz and Mark Peffley, “Public Perceptions of Race and Crime: The Role of Racial Stereotypes,” American Journal of Political Science 41, no. 2 (1997). 29. Joshua Correll, Bernadette Park, Charles M. Judd, and Bernd Wittenbrink, “Police Officer’s Dilemma”; Joshua Correll, Bernadette Park, Charles M. Judd, and Bernd Wittenbrink, “The Influence of Stereotypes on Decisions to Shoot,” European Journal of Social Psychology 37 (2007); Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black”; Michael S. Wald et al., “Interrogations in New Haven: The Impact of Miranda,” Yale Law Review 76 (1967). 30. Geoffrey P. Alpert, Roger G. Dunham, and John M. MacDonald, “Interactive Police-Citizen Encounters That Result in Force,” Police Quarterly 7, no. 4 (2004). 31. Ibid. 32. Vrij, Detecting Lies and Deceit. 33. Steven A. Drizin and Richard A. Leo, “The Problem of False Confessions in the Post-DNA World.” North Carolina Law Review 82 (2004), http://www.williams.edu/ Psychology/Faculty/Kassin/files/drizenl.leo.04.pdf; Gisli H. Gudjonsson, The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2003); Saul M. Kassin, Christine C. Goldstein, and Kenneth Savitsky, “Behavioral Confirmation in the Interrogation Room: On the Dangers of Presuming Guilt,” Law and Human Behavior 27, no. 2 (2003), www.clas.ufl.edu/users/llevett/1.pdf; Saul Kassin and Lawrence S. Wrightsman, “Confession Evidence,” in The Psychology of Evidence and Trial Procedure, edited by Saul Kassin and Lawrence S. Wrightsman (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1985); Richard J. Ofshe and Richard A. Leo, “The Social Psychology of Police Interrogation: The Theory and Classification of True and False Confessions,” Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 16 (1997), https://www.reid.com/pdfs/ doj2301_2399.pdf. A. Plant and B. M. Peruche, “The Consequences of Race for Police Officers’ Responses to Criminal Suspects,” Psychological Science 16, no. 3 (2005). 34. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black.” 35. Joshua, Correll, Bernadette Park, Charles M. Judd, and Bernd Wittenbrink, “Police Officer’s Dilemma” and “Influence of Stereotypes”; Keith B. Payne, “Prejudice and Perception: The Role of Automatic and Controlled Processes in Misperceiving a Weapon,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81, no. 2 (2001); B. M. Peruche and E. A. Plant, “The Correlates of Law Enforcement Officers’ Automatic and Controlled RaceBased Responses to Criminal Suspects,” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 28, no. 2 (2006); A. Plant and B. M. Peruche, “The Consequences of Race for Police Officers’ Responses to Criminal Suspects,” Psychological Science 16, no. 3 (2005); E. A. Plant, B. M. Peruche, and David A. Butz, “Eliminating Automatic Racial Bias: Making Race Non-Diagnostic for Responses to Criminal Suspects,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41, no. 2 (2005). 36. Claude M. Steele, “A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance,” American Psychologist 52, no. 6 (1997); Claude M. Steele and Joshua Aronson, “Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69, no. 5 (1995).

No Bigots Required


37. Sian L. Beilock et al., “On the Causal Mechanisms of Stereotype Threat: Can Skills That Don’t Rely Heavily on Working Memory Still Be Threatened?” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32, no. 8 (2006); Jim Blascovich et al. “African Americans and High Blood Pressure: The Role of Stereotype Threat,” Psychological Science 12, no. 3 (2001); Brenda Major and Laurie O’Brien, “Social Psychology of Stigma,” Annual Review of Psychology 56, no. 1 (2005); Wendy B. Mendes, Jim Blascovich, et al., “Challenge and Threat during Social Interactions with White and Black Men,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28, no. 7 (2002); Wendy B. Mendes, Brenda Major et al., “How Attributional Ambiguity Shapes Physiological and Emotional Responses to Social Rejection and Acceptance,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94, no. 2 (2008); Toni Schmader, Michael Johns, and Chad Forbes, “An Integrated Process Model of Stereotype Threat Effects on Performance,” Psychological Review 115, no. 2 (2008); Toni Schmader and Michael Johns, “Converging Evidence That Stereotype Threat Reduces Working Memory Capacity,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85, no. 3 (2003). 38. Steele and Aronson, “Stereotype Threat”; Steven J. Spencer, Claude M. Steele, and Diane M. Quinn, “Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 35 (1999). 39. Jeff Stone et al., “Stereotype Threat Effects on Black and White Athletic Performance,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77, no. 6 (1999). 40. Goff, Steele, and Davies, “Space between Us.” 41. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black.” 42. Liana M. Epstein and Phillip Abita Goff, “Safety or Liberty?: The Bogus TradeOff of Cross-Deputization Policy,” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 11, no. 1 (2011). 43. Cynthia Najdowski, Bette Bottoms, and Phillip Abita Goff, “Minorities’ Experiences of Police Encounters: Effects of Racial/Ethnic Identity on Stereotype Threat and Anxiety,” John Jay College’s 10th Biennial International Conference: Global Perspectives on Justice, Security and Human Rights (Presentation, New York, June 6–9, 2012). 44. People v. Cunningham, 376 Ill. App. 3d 298, 303 (2007). 45. Cynthia Lee, Murder and the Reasonable Man (New York: NYU Press, 2003). 46. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2011), 54. 47. Jeannie Suk, “The True Woman: Scenes from the Law of Self-Defense,” Harvard Journal of Law & Gender 31 (2008), http://ssrn.com/abstract=1132603. 48. Garrett Epps, “Any Which Way but Loose: Interpretive Strategies and Attitudes toward Violence in the Evolution of the Anglo-American ‘Retreat Rule,’” Law and Contemporary Problems 55, no. 1 (1992). 49. Justifiable Use of Force: Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm. Florida Statutes Title 46, § 776.013(3); Anthony J. Sebok, “Florida’s New ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law: Why It’s More Extreme than Other States’ Self-Defense Measures, And How It Got That Way.” FindLaw (May 2, 2005), http://writ.news.findlaw.com/sebok/20050502.html; Alabama (Ala. Code § ALA. CODE § 13A-3-23 (2012)); Arizona (ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 13-411 (2011)); Georgia (GA. CODE ANN. § 16-3-23.1 (2007)); Indiana (IND. CODE ANN. § 35-41-3-2 (2012)); Kansas (KANS. STAT. ANN. §§ 21-5230 (2011)); Kentucky (KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 503.055(3) (2006)); Louisiana (LA. REV. STAT. ANN. § 14:20 (2012)); Michigan (MICH. COMP. LAWS § 780.972 (2006)); Mississippi (MISS. CODE ANN. § 97-3-15 (2006)); Missouri (MO ANN. STAT. §§ 563.031(3), 563.074 (West 2007)); Montana (MONT. CODE ANN. § 45-3-110 (2011)); Nevada (NEV. REV. STAT. ANN. § 200.120 (2011)); New Hampshire (N.H. REV. STAT. ANN. § 627:4 (2011)); North Carolina (N.C. GEN. STAT. ANN. § 14-51.3 (2011)); Oklahoma (OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 21, § 1289.25 (2011)); Pennslyvania (18 P.A. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 505 (2011)); South Carolina (S.C. CODE ANN. § 16-11-440 (West 2001 & Supp. 2007)); South Dakota (S.D. CODIFIED LAWS § 22-18-4 (2006)); Tennessee (TENN. CODE ANN. § 39-11-611 (2012)); Texas TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 9.32 (2007)); Utah (UTAH CODE ANN. § 76-2-402


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(2010)); Washington (WASH. REV. CODE ANN. § 9A.16.050 (2011)); West Virginia (W. VA. CODE ANN. § 55-7-22 (2008)). 50. Alabama (Ala. Code § ALA. CODE § 13A-3-23 (2012)); Arizona (ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 13-411 (2011)); Georgia (GA. CODE ANN. § 16-3-23.1 (2007)); Indiana (IND. CODE ANN. § 35-41-3-2 (2012)); Kansas (KANS. STAT. ANN. §§ 21-5230 (2011)); Kentucky (KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 503.055(3) (2006)); Louisiana (LA. REV. STAT. ANN. § 14:20 (2012)); Michigan (MICH. COMP. LAWS § 780.972 (2006)); Mississippi (MISS. CODE ANN. § 97-3-15 (2006)); Missouri (MO ANN. STAT. §§ 563.031(3), 563.074 (West 2007)); Montana (MONT. CODE ANN. § 45-3-110 (2011)); Nevada (NEV. REV. STAT. ANN. § 200.120 (2011)); New Hampshire (N.H. REV. STAT. ANN. § 627:4 (2011)); North Carolina (N.C. GEN. STAT. ANN. § 14-51.3 (2011)); Oklahoma (OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 21, § 1289.25 (2011)); Pennslyvania (18 P.A. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 505 (2011)); South Carolina (S.C. CODE ANN. § 16-11-440 (West 2001 & Supp. 2007)); South Dakota (S.D. CODIFIED LAWS § 22-18-4 (2006)); Tennessee (TENN. CODE ANN. § 39-11-611 (2012)); Texas TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 9.32 (2007)); Utah (UTAH CODE ANN. § 76-2-402 (2010)); Washington (WASH. REV. CODE ANN. § 9A.16.050 (2011)); West Virginia (W. VA. CODE ANN. § 55-7-22 (2008)). 51. The MPC provides that “[t]he use of deadly force is not justifiable . . . if . . . the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating,” MPC §3.04(2)(b)(ii). 52. See, for example, N.Y. PENAL LAW § 35.15 (McKinney 2004). 53. Ben Montgomery and Colleen Jenkins, “Five Years Since Florida Enacted ‘Stand-Your-Ground’ Law, Justifiable Homicides Are Up,” Tampa Bay Times, October 17, 2010, http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article1128317.ece.

FIVE Two Forms of Transcendence Justice and the Problem of Knowledge Timothy Joseph Golden

God rises to his supreme and ultimate presence as correlative to the justice rendered unto men. The direct comprehension of God is impossible for a look directed upon him, not because our intelligence is limited, but because the relation with infinity respects the total Transcendence of the other. . . . It goes further, for precisely it thus goes into infinity. —Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity 1 Knowing God means being on the side of the oppressed, becoming one with them, and participating in the goal of liberation. —James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation 2 Then shall he [the Son of man] answer them, saying, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” —Holy Bible 3

INTRODUCTION Rene Descartes—good Catholic that he was—considered the notion of infinity to be God in an other-worldly sense. In contrast, Emmanuel Levinas appropriates the notion of infinity and applies it to the face of “the Other” in the here and now. According to Levinas, God is not a “concept.” To the contrary, on Levinas’s account of God, God is embodied in the face of “the Other”; that is, the face of the other person. For Levinas 73


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then, transcendence undergoes a sort of alchemy: the base metal of an onto-theological other-worldliness rooted in the autonomy and self-assurance of rationality is transformed into the precious gold of an absolute ethical obligation to the Other in the present rooted in the self’s heteronomous experience of the Other’s ethical demands. Levinas thus develops the notion of an ethics as first philosophy, attempting to supplant what he takes to be both the violence of epistemology found in the transcendental ego (Husserl) and the violence of ontology found in Dasein (Heidegger). According to Levinas, the Other loses its alterity and its strangeness as it conforms to the epistemological and ontological horizons of the self within which it must appear. Scholars have suggested that Levinas interrogates Western philosophy as he does because he sees its tragedies like the holocaust as being rooted in theoretical foundations aimed at “totalizing” reality. 4 The aim of this chapter is to interrogate the epistemological orientation of Western philosophy—on a much smaller scale than Levinas—but with similar motivations. Even as Levinas criticized what he termed the “totalizing” aspects of epistemology and ontology in response to the horrors of the Holocaust, this chapter offers a critique of the totalizing aspects of a certain sort of epistemology, ontology, and semiotics in response to the Trayvon Martin tragedy. In the next section, I show that George Zimmerman’s self-appointed neighborhood watch patrol tactics occur within a larger epistemic, ontological—and thoroughly racist—semiotic field in which the black male is criminalized before his appearing. Employing Augustine’s notions of signa and res as a framework, and drawing from Frederick Douglass’s 1845 autobiographical narrative, I argue that epistemic conclusions about black males—like the conclusions that Zimmerman drew about Trayvon Martin—result from pernicious semiotic formations which have branded the black body as a signifier that points to a transcendent signified: the black criminal who is “up to no good,” and thus is always already “suspicious.” Knowledge in this sense is problematic because black males do not present themselves on their own terms (kath-auto) in their alterity (as something “other” than or independent from how others see them), but rather only appear in modes of visibility constructed by the racist imaginary. Indeed, this is a form of transcendence, but not of the Levinasian variety; for instead of the heteronomous demand of the Other putting the subjectivity of the ego and its economy of enjoyment in crisis, the autonomy of the self secures and maintains the ego, rendering it the indispensable condition of all lawfulness, and authorizing it to make demands on those who would be “lawbreakers,” at the threat of death. In section three, I discuss how Levinas’s brand of a subjectivity in crisis is due to how the heteronomous ethical demand of the Other problematizes the comfort of the racist ego and its economy of enjoyment as Trayvon Martin demands not to be killed. I also argue how Zimmerman’s response, on a Levinasian account, is one that would render assistance to Trayvon

Two Forms of Transcendence


Martin rather than perpetrate violence against him; a response that would be compelled by the overflowing infinity of Trayvon Martin as an “Other.” I conclude in section four. UNETHICAL TRANSCENDENCE Augustinian semiotics is a guide to understanding the development of the epistemological and ontological framework that determines the black male as a “criminal” prior to his appearing. In De Magistro—his dialogue with his son, Adeodatus—Augustine attempts to show that words are immanent signifiers which point to a transcendent signified. For Augustine, then, transcendence assumes a dualistic form: the immanent points beyond itself to the transcendent. So, for example, if one utters the word “table,” the word does not refer to the word “table,” but rather refers to that which is beyond itself: an actual table. Throughout this dialogue, Augustine develops an account of sin as flawed in that it takes the signifier (e.g., “table”) to be the signified (an actual table); the immanent to be the transcendent; the creature for the creator. Taking the immanent to be the transcendent severely compromises the structural integrity of the sign, which, for Augustine, includes a transcendent referent (the signified). Augustine develops what some have called a “phenomenology of idolatry,” condemning the pagans, who, according to the Bible, are “without excuse” as it relates to the one true God (Romans 1:20). 5 Now, the example of the difference between the signifier of the word “table” and an actual table is not the only way in which signifiers point beyond themselves. I will try to show that if we use the Augustinian semiotic framework as a guide, one may understand that the racist imaginary employs a semiotic structure, which, in order to be effective, first structures the black body as a signifier that points to the signified concept of “criminal” and the concept of “up to no good.” Upon appearing, the black body is brought under these concepts and becomes the instantiation of “criminal” and “up to no good.” It is in this way that the structural integrity of signa (sign) and res (thing) is maintained. By structural integrity I mean maintaining the dualism of signifier and signified such that the signifier does not become one with the signified, but rather the signifier always points to that which is beyond itself (the signified). The point here is that Trayvon Martin is a “criminal” before he even appears because his black body falls under the concept “criminal.” But precisely how does one move from Augustine to the Trayvon Martin tragedy? The answer to this question is “slowly and consistently,” through centuries of the racist white imaginary constructing black male bodies as “sinister,” “criminal,” and “up to no good.” The encounter between Mr. Gore and the slave named Demby from Douglass’s 1845 narrative is helpful here; for it shows that Demby’s black body was a sign that pointed not only to


Timothy Joseph Golden

his status as property, but also to the concept “outlaw” of which his body was an instantiation. As such, he was to be “disciplined”; he was a “criminal,” because his black body fell under the concept “criminal,” and, thereby, was to be brought “under control” or “taught a lesson.” Thus Mr. Gore was justified in shooting Demby. And Trayvon Martin’s body is treated the same way: the epidermal marker of his dark skin and the material marker of his clothing—a hoodie—point beyond Trayvon Martin to his status as an outlaw in need of discipline who needs to be brought “under control” and “taught a lesson.” In the more than one hundred years between the shooting of Demby and the shooting of Trayvon Martin, there have been countless other black bodies—both male and female—which have been signs that have pointed beyond themselves to nefariously formed social and cultural signifieds which construct black bodies that dangerously transcend themselves. The encounter between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin occurs in this historical, social, and cultural context. It is in this way that Augustinian semiotics as applied to the shooting of Demby in Douglass’s narrative will help us understand the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Since the inception of chattel slavery, the black male body has been marked as the sight of evil and villainy. One need look no further than American chattel slavery to understand the origins of how the black male body has been scripted and thus conceived of in this fashion. Many scholars, especially George Yancy, 6 have provided far more extensive discussions of this subject than I can possibly do here, but there is a rather compelling account from Frederick Douglass’s 1845 narrative that is instructive. Paradoxically, black men—and women—were seen as mere chattel, but also were “punished,” and thus had a minimal amount of rationality attributed to them; for the notion of punishment presupposes the ability to engage in rational deliberation, and thus be blameworthy for one’s conduct as a responsible moral agent. When I speak of punishment here, I mean the kind of disciplinary action where a person’s life cannot be taken from him/her—as it was taken from Demby—unless he/ she has the requisite mens rea (culpable mental state) at the time that he/ she commits the crime. An example of this would be the death penalty. Gore presupposed that Demby intentionally and knowingly violated his command, which indicates that he believes Demby is capable of possessing culpable mental states. Possessing culpable mental states is a uniquely human ability. If this is the case, and Demby is his chattel slave, then Gore must believe that Demby is at once both chattel and human. Consider the way that the moral agency of slaves ran counter to the dehumanizing effects of chattel slavery in the story of the runaway slave, Demby, in Frederick Douglass’s autobiographical narrative. Demby ran away into a creek to avoid the overseer’s flogging, and stayed in the creek “at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out.” 7 Mr. Gore, the overseer, demanded that Demby respond to his call by the count of three

Two Forms of Transcendence


or else he would be shot. And at the count of three, because Demby did not respond, he was shot and his “mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.” 8 What is perhaps even more disturbing than Mr. Gore’s act of violence was that he completely escaped responsibility for his pre-meditated murder of Demby because the only witnesses to the murder were slaves, who, under the law, were mere chattel, and thus could not testify against a white man. In Mr. Gore’s murder of Demby, we thus see a movement from chattel to rational agent and then back to chattel: Demby is chattel when he is being whipped, Demby then becomes rational when he is given the last command and warning, and finally, after the shooting, he is transformed into chattel as his blood, brains, and lifeless black body float in the creek. All of the witnesses to the shooting of Demby are also chattel insofar as their testimony against Mr. Gore had no effect under the law. Applying what is perhaps the most crude form of legal positivism (legal validity resulting solely from a command of the sovereign backed by force), slaves were mere chattel. So it was that black men during chattel slavery were chattel on one hand, and moral agents on the other—a philosophically significant moral problem in the background of the social, political, and cultural problem of chattel slavery. Demby and so many other black slaves like him were thus branded as “outlaws,” and as such, were fixed, determinate entities that could justifiably be killed at the hands of whites in the name of the “law.” Demby died as an “outlaw,” and that is, of course, what all black men become in the institution of chattel slavery and beyond: “criminals” who are always “suspicious” and thus must quickly respond to the demands of the white ego lest they soon face the peril of death. Demby’s black body is the signa that points to the res of “criminal,” “suspicious,” and “up to no good,” whereas Mr. Gore’s whiteness is the signa that points to the res of “law,” “authority,” and “legitimacy.” In sum, using an Augustinian semiotic framework, we can see that the antiblack racism of American chattel slavery reflects an epistemologically founded ontological and semiotic field of signifier and signified, with the signified of “criminal” and “outlaw” transcending the signifier, which is the black body. Trayvon Martin is “known” to Zimmerman; his being is laid open to Zimmerman as criminal because his physical body falls under the pre-existing signified concept of “criminal.” The interaction between Demby and Gore from Douglass’s 1845 narrative is but one instance of this ontological and semiotic field, in which Demby’s black body is scripted and marked as an “outlaw” who must respond to the demands of whiteness, which is scripted and marked as “lawful” and “authoritative.” Undoubtedly, many slaves other than Demby suffered this same fate within the epistemological, ontological, and semiotic framework of white oppression. The application of the Demby scenario to Trayvon Martin is significant. In virtue of the structurally complete yet wholly unethical transcen-


Timothy Joseph Golden

dence of an epistemologically grounded ontological field and semiotic framework saturated with anti-black racism, Zimmerman “knows” that Trayvon Martin is a “criminal.” Zimmerman can, totally oblivious to Trayvon Martin’s ethical demand upon him—which I shall take up in the next section—like Mr. Gore, purport to identify himself with the law, and by no means other than his own self-declaration, supported by a larger white systemic culture, impose demands on Trayvon Martin, who, because of his dark skin falls under the transcendent, signified (res) of “criminal.” Through centuries of this kind of violent ontology and semiotic formation which are too numerous to mention here, Trayvon Martin’s phenotype leads Zimmerman to this conclusion, even as Mr. Gore was led to conclude that Demby was an “outlaw.” Now Demby was considered chattel under the law, and Trayvon Martin was not. Although this difference cannot be ignored, it strengthens my argument; for the outward transformation of the positive law over the course of one hundred plus years such that black people are no longer considered property has been unaccompanied by a corresponding social and cultural change in the view of the black male body. So it is that although Trayvon Martin is not property under the laws of the state, in the socially and culturally racially informed gaze of Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin is treated the same as Demby. Aggravating this problem is the possibility that like Mr. Gore, who completely avoided legal responsibility for shooting Demby, Zimmerman may eventually avoid legal responsibility for shooting Trayvon Martin. Indeed, this may not be as speculative as one might think; for one might be able to argue that but for the enormous public pressure that was put on the Sanford, Florida Police Department, Zimmerman may never have even been arrested. The delay between the shooting of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman’s arrest was, according to police, attributable to Florida’s now famous “Stand Your Ground” law. According to this law, one need not retreat when under attack from another; instead, one may use deadly force to protect oneself. Sanford, Florida, police justified not arresting Zimmerman and charging him with murder on this basis. But it seems that the “Stand Your Ground” law ought not to protect aggressors, which, according to non-emergency dispatch audio recordings, Zimmerman appears to be; for Zimmerman was admittedly following Trayvon Martin at the time of the dispatch call. After all, the dispatch operator indicated, “Okay. We don’t need you to do that.” Although the law presumes Zimmerman to be innocent until proven guilty, the lingering question that must be answered in a court of law is this: Does the “Stand Your Ground” law protect Zimmerman—who, at least from the dispatch audio recording, appears to be the aggressor? Or, does the “Stand Your Ground” law protect Trayvon Martin, and justify his use of force—the force of an unarmed teenager who possessed Skittles and a bottle of iced tea—against Zimmerman? Interestingly, in Douglass’s narrative, he

Two Forms of Transcendence


writes that Demby “stood his ground” in his defiance of Mr. Gore’s demands, which were legitimized by his status as overseer and Demby’s status as a slave. But although Trayvon Martin and Demby both “stood” their “ground,” neither has the protection of the law. Demby had neither the protection of the positive law nor the social and cultural practices of his day. And although the positive law has changed, Trayvon Martin is in a situation that is worse than Demby’s: the positive law affirms his humanity, but the social and cultural context does not. So one might conclude that Trayvon Martin “stood his ground” in response to Zimmerman’s demands as Demby did vis-à-vis Mr. Gore’s, and tragically, Trayvon Martin’s defiance, like Demby’s, resulted in his death. 9 And, in a twist of the cruelest irony, the law designed to protect Trayvon Martin offers him no protection against the racist imaginary that determines him as criminal prior to his appearing. TRANSCENDENCE OF THE OTHER Levinas’s critique of Western philosophy can be summed up in his pithy statement that “Philosophy is an egology.” Philosophy, is, for Levinas, an attempt for the ego to make itself the ultimate horizon, the ultimate condition for the appearance of the Other. Levinas thus interprets the Western philosophical tradition as a manifestation of an epistemological and ontological desire to render all of being intelligible and conceptual. Although Husserl is Levinas’s primary epistemological target, and Heidegger is his primary ontological target, for Levinas, the problems with the epistemic desire of the transcendental ego and the ontological nature of Dasein begin much earlier than Husserl and Heidegger. The problems begin with the pre-Socratics, and are likewise manifested in Socrates. Two examples are in order here. First, as it relates to the pre-Socratics, Levinas points out that their declarations “that all is this or that all is that: water, fire or earth” betray their intention to totalize reality. 10 Levinas argues that Anaximander, whose argument that each of the four elements was limited by the others—the hotness and dryness of fire limiting the coldness and wetness of water—“manifested” “the impossibility of totalization.” 11 He also points to Plato and his doctrine of Good beyond being as another instance of limitation on totality. Levinas wants to limit the totalizing ambitions of Western philosophy by demanding a heteronomous ethical relation to the Other that will destabilize the totality with its alterity. Therefore, Levinas will draw from these thinkers—especially Plato’s doctrine of the epekeina tes ousias (“beyond being”)—throughout his philosophical work. Levinas also believes that the totalizing tendencies of Western philosophy are exemplified in an immanence that one finds in Socratic thought. Levinas writes that “Western philosophy has most often been an ontolo-


Timothy Joseph Golden

gy: a reduction of the other to the same by interposition of a middle and neutral term that ensures the comprehension of being.” 12 According to Levinas, this tendency is found in “Socrates’s teaching.” 13 For Socrates, writes Levinas, receives “nothing of the Other but what is in me, as though from all eternity I was in possession of what comes to me from the outside—to receive nothing, or to be free.” 14 On the Socratic doctrine of recollection, the truth already exists within the individual and cannot come into being because it is already immanent within the individual. Levinas’s critique of Socratic recollection tries to show that the self is put in crisis by a radical heteronomous experience of the Other which is totally other than oneself. Levinas has in mind the ontological preoccupations of the Heideggerian Dasein and the epistemological preoccupations of the Husserlian ego, which he wants to problematize by showing that neither the being of Dasein nor the knowing of the transcendental ego can serve as the ultimate horizon for the appearing of the Other. The Other comes to me, Levinas would argue, independent of ontological and epistemological conditions; it is absolutely other; there is a heteronomous encounter with the Other that destabilizes subjectivity and puts it in crisis. It is the attempt to either ontologize or to know the Other in his/her totality that compromises the ethical relation, which is the basis for Levinas’s critical engagement with Heidegger and Husserl. On the Socratic view, because of recollection, the subject is at home with itself and is, according to Levinas, operating as the ultimate horizon because of an immanence that makes the subject grounded, firm, secure and centered. As some have argued, Levinas wants this self to be de-centered. 15 As applied to Trayvon Martin’s encounter with Zimmerman, Zimmerman is functioning as a subject who is grounded, firm, secure, and centered. I want to show how a Levinasian approach will cause Zimmerman to be much less comfortable with himself, and much more concerned about Trayvon Martin. Levinas was, in large measure, I think, responding to the demand for an ethics as a first philosophy in response to the horrors of the Jewish holocaust. I employ Levinas’s ethical framework here to respond to the horror of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Recall from the previous section that the nefarious sort of transcendence of signa and res emerges from a certain kind of subjectivity: a racist subjectivity whose economy of enjoyment remains uninterrupted and is thus capable of forming a violent ontological and semiotic field that conceptualizes Trayvon Martin’s black body as that which is “criminal,” and “up to no good.” But Levinas’s account of transcendence provides us with a very different kind of subjectivity, and thereby a different, counterfactual result than the death of Trayvon Martin. For Levinas, autonomy is not the fundamental characteristic of subjectivity. To the contrary, subjectivity is always in a crisis of needing to respond to the ethical demands that come to me from the face

Two Forms of Transcendence


of the other person. The relationship between the ego and the Other is, for Levinas, utterly asymmetrical and non-reciprocal. Unlike the problematic transcendence that emanates from the autonomy of the self, which simultaneously justifies Mr. Gore and Zimmerman, and criminalizes Demby and Trayvon Martin, and which results in Demby and Trayvon Martin being compelled to respond to Gore’s and Zimmerman’s demands, the transcendence that emanates from the heteronomy of the Other results in Gore and Zimmerman being compelled to respond to Demby’s and Trayvon Martin’s demands, which are simple: do not kill me! There is thus an inverse relationship between transcendence and subjectivity as it relates to the philosophical background of the Trayvon Martin tragedy: the stronger the subjectivity, the weaker the transcendence, and the weaker the subjectivity, the stronger the transcendence. Now, to be sure, the self-generated, epistemologically driven, unethical transcendence from the previous section is socially and culturally “strong” insofar as the relationship between the signifiers of the epidermal and material markers (dark skin and a hoodie) and the signifieds of “criminal,” “suspicious,” and “up to no good,” are sedimented by centuries of this oppressive ontological and semiotic framework. But morally speaking, this kind of transcendence is weak insofar as it disregards the infinity of the Other; in particular, the infinity of Trayvon Martin. On the other hand, Levinas’s brand of transcendence, where one’s subjectivity is held hostage to the demands of the Other, is, morally speaking, much stronger, whereas the subjectivity is much weaker; for the infinity of the Other is fundamentally respected as integral to an asymmetrical and nonreciprocal, heteronomous encounter. One might say of Levinas that the hand that reaches out to grasp and know, which is the hand implied in the Greek verb oregontai, in the first sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, 16 is transformed, on Levinas’s account of ethics as first philosophy into the hand of the self in crisis always already reaching out to meet the ethical demands of the Other. Viewed in this way, Zimmerman, instead of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, may either leave him alone in his infinity, or render assistance to him; but he certainly does not kill him; he respects Trayvon Martin’s status as another person, and instead of assuming that Trayvon Martin is a criminal, Trayvon Martin’s humanity, and thus his status as son, friend, boyfriend, cousin, neighbor, etcetera, is thoroughly regarded. CONCLUSION Two forms of transcendence provide a philosophical backdrop for the Trayvon Martin tragedy: a form of transcendence analogous to Augustinian semiotics, where epistemology drives the autonomy of the self to injustice with impunity, and a form of transcendence where the heterono-


Timothy Joseph Golden

my of the Other puts the self in crisis demanding justice. As to the first form of transcendence, its violent ontological dualism creates a situation where the phenotypical presentation of blackness is deemed “criminal” even before the particular black male body appears in its instantiation. Thus, determinate and fixed, the black male body—indeed, Demby’s and Trayvon Martin’s black male bodies—are always already dangerously ahead of themselves; guilty although innocent, dangerous yet unarmed— save a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea—and present although absent. It is in this highly racialized and profoundly racist context of the white imaginary that Zimmerman is justified in “protecting” the “community” from a young, black, male “criminal” who is “up to no good.” Knowledge is problematized on this account of transcendence because the racist imaginary manufactures a fixed determinate thing that does not present itself kath-auto as infinity, but rather is determined before it appears, resulting in the injustice of convicting an innocent young man and executing him entirely outside of the judicial process—yet somehow in the name of the law—and then nearly escaping any legal accountability whatsoever. It is inductively reasonable to think that since Mr. Gore and Zimmerman operate within the same racially saturated—and racist—epistemologically driven, violent, ontological and semiotic field, Zimmerman’s conduct will yield the same result as Mr. Gore’s: injustice to the Other with impunity. By contrast, the second account of transcendence begins with a subjectivity that is put in crisis by the overflowing infinity of the face of the Other. Unable to remain within the secure confines of the autonomous self, the infinity of the other disrupts the continuity of the self, and instead of the self making demands upon the Other that the Other disregards at the peril of death, the overwhelming transcendence of the Other makes the demand on the self not to be harmed. The human “desire to know,” articulated in the first sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and represented by a human hand reaching out into the distance to seize, grasp, and appropriate for the sake of intelligibility, is transformed into a human hand attached to a self in crisis that is trembling with great awe in its attempt to help the Other. Both Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are better off on this account of transcendence; Zimmerman is better off because he will recognize Trayvon Martin’s infinity; for Trayvon Martin is not simply an epistemologically constructed, ontologized, and signified criminal. To the contrary, he was a high school student, son, relative, and friend. But Zimmerman never knew any of this. Instead, he convinced himself that he knew otherwise, and we are all the worse due to this kind of “knowledge.” And Trayvon Martin will be better off because, on this account of transcendence, he would still be alive today.

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NOTES 1. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alfonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne, 1969), 78. 2. James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis, 1970), 65. 3. Holy Bible, Matthew 25:45. 4. For example, see Hilary Putnam, “Levinas and Judaism” in The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, eds. Simon Critchley and Robert Bernasconi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 33. 5. James K. A. Smith, “Between Predication and Silence: Augustine on How Not to Speak of God.” Heythrop Journal: A Bi-Monthly Review of Philosophy and Theology 41, no. 1 (2000): 72–78. I choose Augustine as a heuristic because I want to emphasize how the structural integrity of signs can be preserved not only for the worship of God, but also for injustice to be done to others. What is intended for good can thus be used for evil; such is the two-edged sword of transcendence. 6. See George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), and his more recent authored book, Look, a White! Philosophical Essays on Whiteness (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012), especially chapter one. 7. Frederick Douglass, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (New York: Simon and Brown, 2012), 19. 8. Ibid., 19. 9. Douglass, in his narrative, actually uses the phrase “stood his ground” as it relates to Demby’s defiance of Mr. Gore’s demands. He writes, “Demby made no response [to Mr. Gore] but stood his ground” (my emphasis). See p. 19. 10. Emmanuel Levinas, “Totality and Totalization,” in Alterity and Transcendence, trans. Michael B. Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 50. 11. Ibid. 12. Totality and Infinity, 43. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. See Merold Westphal, “The Trauma of Transcendence as Heteronomous Intersubjectivity” in Levinas and Kierkegaard in Dialogue (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), 75–93. 16. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980a.

SIX The Irreplaceability of Continued Struggle Lewis R. Gordon

The devaluing of life begins with forgetting that none of us is replaceable. The paradox of this admission, however, is that it is ironically linked to what enables us to introduce replaceability into the world. For it is the human capacity to render things symbolic and anonymous, where one thing could stand in for another, that enables us to reject or, better, refuse such acts of replacement. Nature, after all, as the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer reflected in The World as Will and Representation nearly two centuries ago, has no reason to care otherwise. So, it is up to us to bring such concern into the world, and in so doing, we offer, at least, an ethical face to an otherwise apathetic, amoral, or, at worse, cruel universe. Among the moments that create a rupture in the movement of such blind will are life’s primordial markers of birth, love, and death. With birth, there is the twin love, the moment in which possibility shines in the universe and makes us forget, through looking into the bewildered eyes of the just born next generation, the foreboding nothingness with the resisting, anti-nihilistic force of hope. Such, no doubt, was the experience of Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, and Tracy Martin, his father. The so-called “they” who “always get away,” they who are supposedly always up to no good, they whom George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, presumed him to be was, at the end of the day, their son. Their irreplaceable son. I doubt any reader of this chapter is a stranger to callous attitudes toward loss. The United States lost much more than three thousand peo85


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ple under its jurisdiction on September 11, 2001. It also lost a sense of invulnerability, a sense of preordained rights of survivorship. This, unfortunately, meant unleashing its wrath on West Asia without concern for a more methodical culling of the culprits, the result of which is the death of hundreds of thousands of people for whom mourning the irreplaceable is now the course of the rest of their lives. The message? Survival mentality requires, as Elias Canetti showed in Crowds and Power, those who do not survive—indeed, those who must not—which leads to the inevitability of those who must be sacrificed for the affirmation of the powerful’s supposed right to continued existence. This is old stuff. It’s a major component of all racist societies. Those who are superior must live, as Adolph Hitler argued in Mein Kampf, and those who are inferior must not. The logic is cold and brutal, patently circular, which means, ironically, airtight and formally valid, though fallacious and ethically wrong: being treated as inferior proves inferiority; being able to push down those who are supposedly inferior proves superiority. It’s a bold relativism of stacked decks. Thus, there has been an avalanche of racist rationalizations of so-called superior and inferior people, from the times of Thomas Jefferson to the doctrine of white supremacy and social Darwinism to recent eugenicists and neoconservative proponents of so-called cultures of poverty and pathology, as though either could exist outside of a social system that offers them meaning. So, George Zimmerman inherits what the historian David Roediger calls the wage of American membership. Although his mother, Gladys Zimmerman, is of Peruvian descent (maiden name Mesa) and his father Robert Zimmerman, although of German descent, simply has that prized American title of being “white,” he has managed ritualistically to affirm his national status through an age-old way of its investment and reinvestment: lynchings and humiliation of blacks, after all, were effective ways not only of keeping black people in line but also of determining which groups are poised for mobility in American membership. As we know, reality always fell sway to the symbolic with this phenomenon, since all blacks were, and as incarceration demographics reveal, continue to be presumed guilty. Since so many apparently did not “get away,” Zimmerman’s logic suggests that those who are not behind bars must have eluded justice. To be black means, at least in the eyes of the antiblack racism on which this reasoning is premised, to be always “up to something,” or, worse, to have already done something wrong. Being up to something is, of course, a function of crossed boundaries. To be where one is “not supposed to be” is already a violation. In some instances, that involves simply appearing, since black appearance, especially as belonging, as having a right to exist, is, within a racist framework, illicit. I repeat the word “racist” here precisely because of the anxieties and nearly bullying presence of its rejection as an appellation in recent times.

The Irreplaceability of Continued Struggle


To call someone racist is treated as so illegitimate that we live in a world of supposedly racism without racists, as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva astutely observes in his book bearing that phrase as its title. This is, however, a function of national narcissism, for the nation to see itself in a preferred image, in what could be formulated as a pleasing falsehood instead of the shame of a displeasing truth, or, more succinctly, bad faith. So, the racism of a racist society, which doesn’t mean that every individual is racist but that there is enough of an everyday infrastructure to make racist decisions appear as the most rational ones, means, then, that Trayvon Martin is a victim of what W. E. B. Du Bois has called the criminalization of a race. That, as it turns out, there are many black and brown people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, and, also, that there are many whites who, even when caught, do not go through the criminal justice system for crimes they have committed, means nothing to most people who sleep well at night with knowledge of so many behind bars— the largest proportion of citizens and residents behind bars than in any other country—is a testament to the normalization of injustice. Lost lives, irreplaceable pasts, occasion little remorse in a world so accustomed, as Michelle Alexander has shown in The New Jim Crow, Douglas Blackmon in Slavery by Another Name, and Michael Tillotson in Invisible Jim Crow, to such affliction in black. Yes, this is nothing new. W. E. B. Du Bois portended it all in 1903 in The Souls of Black Folk when he wrote about the sociology of the American South as metonymic of U.S. race relations, which, in effect, is an effort at non-relations: Its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination. For, as I have said, the police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes, not simply of criminals; and when the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of re-enslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man’s conviction on almost any charge. Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims.

The State’s Attorney’s Office in Sanford, Florida, and George Zimmerman seem to have counted on Du Bois’s lamentation: “Its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police.” Zimmerman’s testimony seems to have functioned as ipso facto credible, although Chris Serino, the lead police investigator in the case, had articulated a surprising voice


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of reason that should have happily proven Du Bois wrong; as reported in The Kansas Star, May 21, 2012, Serino, after all, petitioned for the arrest of Zimmerman for what was obvious: “the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin,” wrote Serino, “was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and waited [for] the arrival of law enforcement or conversely if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialog in an effort to dispel each party’s concern. . . . There is no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter.” What was Trayvon Martin supposed to have done under the circumstances? As his phone conversation with his girlfriend, only known at this point as “Dee-Dee,” revealed, he was concerned about being followed by a suspicious-looking man on a rainy night. We see the unfolding scenario. If he ran, he would have been presumed guilty. But if he continued to walk, he was doing so under Zimmerman’s presumption of his being guilty. And if he protected himself? Although he would have been doing so because of Zimmerman’s suspicious behavior, the absurdity of the situation now comes to the fore. For him simply to stand in submission to an anonymous, white-looking man or at least a non-black man, is reminiscent of laws of days presumed long gone, of, in other words, an expectation for any black individual to be under the yoke of an antiblack social order. Would the deceased young man’s critics prefer a system of his having a passbook to demonstrate having permission to walk through that neighborhood as in the days of the South African Apartheid state and the old Jim Crow vagrancy laws? Let us go further and imagine what any parent would realistically recommend to her or his child. Could any parent, of any racial persuasion, recommend the child, even where the child is a black male more than six feet tall and seventeen years of age, to stop at the command of any stranger? I recall a story my mother once told me, which is no doubt a variation of many unfortunate versions across the country, and perhaps the globe, of a black adolescent football player who was accosted by some white men while walking home. Producing a gun, they brought him into a van and sexually molested him. My mother was one of the clerks who processed him after he was brought to the emergency room. Since I was seventeen at the time, what might my mother have told me to do if an apparent white man followed me after I had picked up a soda and candy in a convenience store? One of the disconcerting elements of this story, and there are many, is that the only person whom anyone save antiblack racists and megalomaniacs would have told to have acted differently is George Zimmerman, as Serino argued. Had he acted differently, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s son would probably be alive. But he did not act differently. He acted according to a conception of reason, a very unreasonable conception of

The Irreplaceability of Continued Struggle


reason, in which he could lay claim to not being racist after snorting under his breath, “Fucking coons!” and clearly saying, “These assholes always get away.” I listened to the non-emergency dispatch telephone call, over and over, and find odd the reports of his making an “alleged” racist remark. We also hear, oddly enough, another absurd effort on Zimmerman’s part, or at least his father’s, namely, that George Zimmerman’s being Latino somehow makes him not racist. During the period of high Jim Crow, it was possible to ride among whites through simply claiming to be Latin American. There were those, such as Eugenio María de Hostosm, José Martí, and Arturo Schomburg, who placed their solidarity against an antiblack system. But there were others, ironically some blacks “passing” among them, who opted for the system of racist membership. This process is not unique to Latin Americans and Latinos, as James Weldon Johnson recounted in essays and brought to literary form in Diary of an Ex-Colored Man. It has been a feature of American racism through processes of articulated and foughtfor distances through which to enter national membership. Thus, once insufficiently white, Europeans became white through historic conflicts, often in the form of mob violence, against blacks. In many cases, it was not necessarily whiteness they sought so much as a clearly defined distance from blackness. A similar phenomenon emerged with some Asian immigrant communities. But there are limits. Some Caribbean and African immigrants attempted this strange game of racial membership only to encounter the contradictions that rest beneath this portrait of fluid racial membership: some non-blacks could never be sufficiently distanced from blackness, as the authors show in Yoku Shaw-Taylor and Steven Tuch’s The Other African Americans: Contemporary African and Caribbean Families in the United States and in Anani Dzidzienyo and Suzanne Oboler’s Neither Enemies nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos. And there we have it: The elimination of white supremacy is not identical with antiblack racism; one could consistently be an antiblack racist who is against white supremacy. Thus, Asians, Latinos, and white ethnics needn’t want to be white in order to support American racism. They simply need to hate black people. The hatred of black people isn’t exclusive to the United States, although some critics of American racism might make one think so. There is sufficient practice of antiblack racism in Asia, Australia, Europe, Central America, and South America, as evidenced by the often-black antiracist organizations formed in those continents and regions, to make taking on the trappings of American racism more a matter of brand than style. This means that the antiracist efforts in those continents face similar battles as those in North America, although for varieties of reasons not in the exact same ways. At this point, there are different histories not because of the forms of racism but because of the histories of antiracist struggles in


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these places. The racism, in other words, sets the context, but it is the commitment to antiracism that questions the future. Such is the struggle waged and continued, as we are reminded by this tragedy—such, because no one could have or would have told Trayvon to have done otherwise, to have not fought for his life, since we don’t know what Zimmerman ultimately would have done with his 9mm revolver even if Trayvon were, as the absurd “stand your ground” law of Florida demands, passive.

SEVEN Dead Black Man, Just Walking William David Hart

This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about. —George Zimmerman’s 911 call 1

INTRODUCTION Trayvon Martin was dead before his deadly encounter with George Zimmerman. His execution (I use this loaded word intentionally) was a postmortem event; a ratification after the fact of the facts of black male beingin-America. Though I write about the existential conditions of black male life, I should note that the lives of black Americans of all genders have always been priced cheaply, though the cost they are made to pay is dear. The existential chasm between the price of taking a black man’s life and the cost borne by the one who loses that life (the sum of the loss, always being greater than one) are vast. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, but he was dead before the bullet traveled a lethal path through his body. To be a black man is to be marked for death. How do these marks appear? How is it that the black male body “presents itself” as an object to be killed? According to what semiotic is the black male body marked for death? In this chapter, I trace a backward looking genealogy of the marks and the signs of Trayvon Martin’s “untimely” death. Before proceeding, a cautionary note: the facts of the case continue to develop; our information is incomplete. Subsequent developments may require a revision of our conclusions. Of course, this is not unique to this particular inquiry. All inquiry regarding nontrivial matters is condi91


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tioned by incomplete information. What is settled today might be unsettled tomorrow. All knowledge is subject to criticism and revision. There is every reason to believe that what we currently know regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin will be revised in light of further inquiry. Some claims will be augmented, others moderated or abandoned, and new claims will be made. That is the nature of healthy inquiry. As Hegel remarks, the owl of Minerva flies at dusk: wisdom, if it comes at all, arrives late; we know best and most reliably when we rethink and revise what we know. However, the claims that I make in this chapter do not depend on Zimmerman’s legal innocence or guilt. THE SHADOW OF DEATH No one has explored the concept of social death more thoroughly than Orlando Patterson. It is a concept that is central to his comparative, historical, and sociological analysis of slavery. 2 According to Patterson, the slave is a subject of dishonor. Natally alienated, she has been forcibly cut off from ties of birth to “both ascending and descending generations,” from ancestors and descendants. Deracinated, she has loss her country, her status as a native. Making matters worse, her condition is permanent and inheritable. Insofar as enslavement is a substitute for death, she lives only because her master suffers it to be so. Violently uprooted, desocialized, depersonalized, and dishonored (despised and devalued), the slave is “a stranger in a strange land.” Subject to chronic violence, she is marked for death. She (the prototypical slave is female) is a “dead woman walking.” Given these realities, most slaveholding societies “define the slave as a socially dead person.” Socially dead but biologically alive, the slave, according to the ancient Egyptians, is a member of the “living dead,” 3 an in-between thing, a tertium quid. Though black Americans are no longer subject to the social death of slavery, a large minority is subject to civic death. As a result of this legacy and contemporary reality, all black people, especially black males, are subject to a virtual probation. The presumption is that black people are disposed to criminality; they are guilty until proven innocent. George Zimmerman did not have to harbor conscious racial animus against black people to conclude that Trayvon Martin was a criminal or otherwise dangerous. Martin’s body—black and male—did all the signifying work. As the Martin case shows, signs can kill, can lead interpreters to conclude that they must kill. There will be those who will try to decontextualize and dehistoricize the killing of Trayvon Martin. Social death, they might argue, is history. Though it may tell us much about the past, it tells us nothing about the present and the specificity of the Martin case. Those who subscribe to this view may claim that white supremacy and racism—defined as political and economic structures, social practices, and cultural ideas that system-

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atically advantage white people 4—are vestigial. They might assert that the United States is a postracial society, that disparities between white people and nonwhite people, especially black Americans, have little or nothing to do with white supremacy, racial ideology, and the practices of racism. To clinch their argument, they might point to the election of Barack Obama as president. Following Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s analysis, I regard this view as “colorblind racism.” As the dominant expression of racism in post-civil rights America, colorblindness underwrites the contemporary phenomenon of “racism without racists.” Though racial disparities are frankly acknowledged in this postracial regime, they are attributed to causes other than white supremacy, such as the cultural pathology of those groups at the bottom of a “nonracist racial hierarchy.” If there are “faces at the bottom of the well,” their bad habits put them there. 5 Colorblind racism obscures the legacy of social death, the ongoing crisis of civil death, and the virtual probation that shadows the lives of black Americans. Civil death refers to “the legal status of a person who is alive but who has been deprived of the rights and privileges of a citizen or a member of society; the legal status of one sentenced to life imprisonment.” 6 Such a person has been deprived of their civil rights—especially the right to vote. The first clause of the Thirteenth Amendment reads as follows: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The amendment simultaneously abolished slavery and codified a penal exception: slavery is a constitutionally sanctioned punishment for crime. In one of the great ironies of American history, the same amendment that freed Africans from chattel slavery legitimates the penal enslavement of their African American descendants. Symbolic of penal servitude, women give birth while shackled and chained. While others are also subject to penal enslavement, black Americans suffer this fate disproportionately and massively. As slaves of the state (behind prison walls or on a chain gang), they are often denied the right to vote. According to Alex C. Ewald, the disenfranchisement of ex-felons is “akin to the medieval condition of ‘civil death’” 7 under which a person was deprived of all civil rights. Post-Reconstruction Southern states “re-wrote their criminal disenfranchisement provisions with the express intent of excluding blacks from the suffrage.” 8 Some white officials spoke openly of eliminating the “darkey as a political factor” and ensuring “complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.” Crimes that were regarded as peculiarly “black” such as bigamy and vagrancy, which were common as a result of the dislocating effects of slavery and emancipation, were added to one state’s list of disenfranchisable offenses. 9 Black life was criminalized.


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Though outside prison walls “proper,” segregation is a form of confinement, a way of restricting mobility, rendering a population captive, making their labor easier to exploit. Slavery and neo-slavery (peonage, debt-tenant farming, and the convict-lease system) have been the major regimes for exploiting black labor. Confining black people to the agricultural and domestic sectors was a way of restricting economic competition and mobility. Confinement behind the veil of segregation through a strict code of racial etiquette was a way of managing social relations and political mobility. Segregation is among other things a spatial relation between black and white bodies, even if and especially if, the distance is a matter of affect and attitude; the “pathos of distance,” rather than the distance of Newtonian space. Constraining black mobility (fundamentally, the freedom to be, the freedom to move) is a consistent thread in American history. Unless they are marked as servile or as exceptions, blacks in social space are regarded as an invasive species that needs to be carefully monitored, controlled, and possibly uprooted. Slaves were subject to chronic violence and dishonor. These conditions characterize black life in America during successive and overlapping eras of chattel slavery (1619–1865), neoslavery (1877–1940), segregation (1876–1969), and mass incarceration/colorblindness (1967–present). From slave codes to black codes to segregation laws to the codes of colorblind racism, black people have been constructed by an incarcerating-andcarceral gaze. 10 Black people are induced to normalize the gaze of white supremacy, to internalize the surveillance, to discipline and punish themselves. In concert with the criminal justice system, the dynamics of carceral subject formation conspires to imprison them. Within the white American imagination, black Americans are regarded with animosity, contempt, and suspicion. Even small groups are regarded as insurrectionary or riotous. 11 Drawing on Orlando Patterson’s analysis of dishonor and social death and Erving Goffman’s analysis of stigma, Glenn Loury argues that black people are the subjects of a “spoiled collective identity.” 12 Distinguishing racial stereotyping from racial stigma, Loury notes that whereas the former “concerns an observer’s anticipation of acts that are thought to be associated with, but are not necessarily coextensive with, the subject, stigma invokes the observer’s (perhaps not consciously acknowledged) perception of qualities thought to be essential to the make-up of the subject.” 13 Racial stigma is enigmatic, going beyond “rational” but mistaken acts of generalization characteristic of stereotyping. Supported by subterranean fantasies that construe black people as primordial and existential threats to white people, which inverts and perverts the historical relations between black and white, stigma—the construction of black Americans as dangerous and defective—feeds America’s bizarre racial reality. This reality is so bizarre that it renders many Americans colorblind—unable to see the obvious: the reality of white supremacy and racial stigma.

Dead Black Man, Just Walking


The black man moves. Where he moves is secondary if not irrelevant to the fact that he moves. His moves are perceived through the kind of body he has, through the way his body is marked, through the body’s status as flesh. Phenomenologically speaking, the basic expression of animal freedom, human or otherwise, is the ability to be, to occupy space and move. Self-directed movement is how the most rudimentary freedom appears to us. From the very beginning of their enslavement by Europeans in the fifteenth century to the age of Obama, there has been a desire to confine black people. The fugitive slave is the primordial criminal in the American imagination. From the moment the first slave attempted to escape, black people have been constructed as criminals. Michelle Alexander gets many things right in her provocative study The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. However, one might quibble with her use of Jim Crow as a metaphor for the mass imprisonment of black people. More questionable, is her use of caste as a synonym for Jim Crow. The cultural logics of the two are very different. “Caste” distorts the nature of white supremacy and racial ideology. I also think that Alexander errs when she claims that black people are constructed as criminals at the point of arrest. 14 Long before they encounter the police, black people are suspect. Criminalization precedes arrest and detention. Black Americans have long been suspect, illegitimate, the subjects of a “spoiled collective identity” that is rooted in their enslavement. Over time, this suspicion has assumed different forms and has become granular in its capacity to allow for exceptions. (Of course, these exceptions are not always exceptional as Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates discovered when he fell under suspicion and was arrested by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police for the crime of entering his own home.) These exceptions to the pervasive suspicion of blackness enable those who do not wish to see to remain blind. Black people are the prototypical “usual suspects,” always already under suspicion. Free from his master’s supervision, the escaped slave was out of place. Just walking around, adorned in the clothes of a slave or not, near the antebellum equivalent of a gated community or not, he appears suspicious to the white observer. Something is not right. “He looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” With these comments to the police dispatcher, George Zimmerman channeled the history of antiblack perception. VIRTUAL PROBATION Black people are objects of a criminogenic gaze. They are constructed as criminals. Regardless of the race and gender of the perceivers, black people, especially black males, are perceived as criminal. The virtual unanimity of this perception (a transracial consensus) is an artifact of white


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supremacy. To paraphrase Marx, the perceptions of the dominant race are the dominant perceptions. 15 They govern a common perceptual economy. Thus everyone “knows” that black people are disposed to criminality. The fear of slave insurrections (think: the Haitian Revolution) and the construction of black males as brutes underwrite the perception. Black people were subjected to the historical crimes of slavery, neoslavery, and segregation. But white supremacy and racial ideology construe black people as prototypically criminal. (This is an irony of American history that the Christian ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr does not address.) If resisting slavery is the paradigmatic crime, then resisting segregation and constraints on their ability to move and occupy social space, exemplified by the ordinary activity of “walking around” (walking while black), replicates that paradigmatic act. These facts should capture the attention of psychologists and psychoanalysts. Indeed, these facts are constitutive components of America’s racialized common sense. This perception is counterfactual. Black people are perceived as always already guilty of crime (or of being predisposed) in the absence of evidence, even in the presence of contrary evidence. Black criminality is ontological. If you think that this claim is exaggerated, then consider the remarks of former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Speaking of the relations between race and crime, he remarks: “But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose— abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.” 16 Ignoring history and context, and with a rhetorical flourish that might reveal an unconscious desire, Bennett, recipient of a PhD in philosophy, ontologizes black criminality. He “knows” what everyone knows. And when George Zimmerman encountered Trayvon Martin on the evening of February 26, 2012, he “knew.” To be the object of this kind of “knowledge,” to be known as Zimmerman knows you, is to be a subject of virtual probation. Part of the disagreeable if not unfair part of being on probation is that you become one of the “usual suspects.” When crimes occur in the local area, the police come looking for you. They treat you disrespectfully, pressure you to confess to crimes, provide information they presume you have, and threaten to arrest you. With impunity if not immunity, they make your life miserable. They rough you up and beat you down. You have little recourse. Who would believe you if you complained? The police have presumptive moral and epistemic credibility, you do not. You are trapped by your status as a convict. Civically speaking, you are virtually dead. As with the juridical subjects of actual probation, the subjects of virtual probation are always under suspicion, subject to question, to being stopped and frisked, in danger of being deprived of their liberty, if not their life. Because everyone knows that they are dangerous and dis-

Dead Black Man, Just Walking


posed to criminality, “reasonable people” take proper precautions. Behavior regarded as normal, ordinary, and innocuous when performed by white people can reasonably be regarded as threatening when the actor is black. Simple movements such as holding one’s wallet or searching for one’s keys are construed as deadly threats. Revelers at a black bachelor party are construed by police officers who encounter them as existential threats. Clothing worn by young people across racial lines such as “hoodies” is viewed as a marker of criminal danger when worn by black people. It should go without saying that the problem is not the hoodie but the body in the hoodie. It is the body that marks the hoodie and makes the ordinary behavior of just walking a suspicious act. There is a bit of art in my use of the term criminogenic. I do not claim that the gaze of white supremacy causes black people to commit crime. My point is about the subjects of the gaze rather than the objects. It is about the effects of the gaze on those who perceive black people. The subject position of “white observer” can be occupied by members of any race. To put it crudely, black people see black people through white eyes. The perceptions of the dominant race are the dominant perceptions. This dominance is part of what makes the subject-constructing gaze of white supremacy structural, material, and discursive rather than merely subjective. The fact that these criminogenic perceptions are dominant does not mean that they are not contested. People do resist; black people resist. But that contestation occurs within a discursive context of white dominance that positions both the observing subject who is normatively white and the observed subject who is prototypically black. Normative whiteness (panoptic whiteness) seeds the ground and scripts the nature of perception. Glenn Loury describes a feedback loop between white subjects and black objects of the gaze. Black people realize that they are being perceived negatively and react in ways that reinforce the initial perception. Their body tenses. They become visibly irritated by the fact that they are negatively perceived. They realize that however they react, their actions are likely to be read negatively. Subject to the gaze of panoptic whiteness, some attempt to manage the situation by “whistling Vivaldi”—exaggerating their safe, nonthreatening quality. 17 Others act out the negative perception as a way, paradoxically, of freeing themselves from its tyranny, as if to say: “you can think that is who I am if you wish but I refuse to exaggerate my innocence, to manage my affect and behavior to make you comfortable; I refuse to become a prisoner of your biased perception.” Accompanied by an angry glare or sardonic smile, this refusal to make the observer comfortable confirms the initial perception. Such is the racial pathology of everyday life. The relational space between black people and white people, between black bodies and those who perceive them across race and gender is fraught. Where black female flesh signals impurity (dirty sex), black male flesh signifies danger (including violent sex).


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Loury remarks, “When the meanings connoted by race-symbols undermine an observing agent’s ability to see their bearer as a person possessing a common humanity with the observer—‘as someone not unlike the rest of us’—then I will say that this person is ‘racially stigmatized,’ and that the group to which he belongs suffers a ‘spoiled collective identity.’” 18 Trayvon Martin was the victim of such spoilage. This conclusion does not require the assumption that Zimmerman had racist feelings toward Martin. It is perfectly consistent with the third-party claim that he did not. It might even be consistent with the claim that Zimmerman, far from being Afrophobic, is an Afrophile. Zimmerman might truthfully say that some of his best friends are black. As Michelle Alexander remarks, “The fact that you may honestly believe that you are not biased against African Americans, and that you may even have black friends or relatives, does not mean that you are free from unconscious bias. Implicit bias tests may still show that you hold negative attitudes and stereotypes about blacks, even though you do not believe you do and do not want to.” 19 (These same tests show that black Americans share this implicit antiblack bias.) These racial complexities should be common knowledge. Bias is compatible with interracial intimacy. After all, white masters fathered children with black slaves; arch segregationist Strom Thurmond fathered a black daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, with Carrie Butler, a sixteen-year-old household servant. Afrophobia does not preclude a love of black culture, even if it appears as caricature and ridicule. Thus minstrel shows were the dominant form of entertainment in the nineteenth century, and their radio and televised descendants persisted through the twentieth century. Nothing illustrates the impoverished quality of racial knowledge (the power of resistance and denial) more than the notion that in the absence of racial epitaphs racism is absent; that racism is reducible to animusbearing words. We see the quest to discover whether Zimmerman said nigger or similar words (the holy grail of journalistic accounts of racism), as if the presence or absence of specific words settles the question of whether the killing of Martin was racially motivated. Concomitant with this unholy quest to document specific utterances—a kind of linguistic atomism that ignores weighty matters of context and history—are discussions of whether the killing was a hate crime, as if white supremacy can be reduced to hate. (Did Strom Thurmond hate Carrie Butler when he had sex with her? Did Jefferson hate Sally Hemings?) Colorblindness is remarkable. It is remarkable how often the denial of animus toward black Americans doubles as a denial of racial ideology structured by white supremacy. 20 The issue here is not about feelings, attitudes, animus; it’s about information: how information-hungry agents process observational data regarding human bodies when some are racially marked and the associated identity is stigmatized. 21 What cries for analysis is why Martin’s behavior (just walking in the rain) struck Zimmerman as criminally

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suspicious rather than merely curious or unremarkable. It was Martin’s marked body that made the unremarkable behavior of just walking remarkable. Whether they intended to do so or not, Zimmerman and the police dispatcher collaborated in imposing a “virtual identity” 22 on Trayvon Martin. A criminal doppelganger, this virtual identity had nothing to do with his real identity. The real Martin was victimized by the virtual Martin that racial stigma has made and that positioned Zimmerman as observing subject. Perceiving a correspondence between physical marks (black skin, male gender) and disposition, Zimmerman and the police dispatcher regard Martin as trouble, probably a criminal. Together they re-created the signifying power of white supremacy and racial ideology. Working backward from the dispatcher to Zimmerman, we learn that Martin is black, that he is walking in the rain, that he appears to be on drugs or some other mind-altering substance, and that he appears to be up to no good. THE WHITOPIAN IMAGINATION Glenn Loury criticizes advocates of colorblindness who claim that race is a “figment of the pigment.” On the contrary, he argues, race is the “enigma of the stigma.” 23 Figments and stigma can kill. Martin’s virtual probation was revoked with lethal force when Zimmerman decided that he did not belong in the neighborhood. He died as the victim of a virtual identity. Martin was a guest in the home of his father’s girlfriend who lived in a racially-mixed gated community where Zimmerman also resided. According to the journalist Rich Benjamin, “Mr. Martin’s ‘suspicious’ profile amounted to more than his black skin. He was profiled as young, loitering, non-property-owning and poor. Based on their actions, police officers clearly assumed Mr. Zimmerman was the private property owner and Mr. Martin the dangerous interloper.” What else could have prompted the police to treat Mr. Martin like a criminal, instead of Mr. Zimmerman, to drug and alcohol-test a black corpse, but not a living perpetrator? 24 These are good questions. Benjamin associates the Martin tragedy with the proliferation of White Meccas and Wonderlands, Caucasian Arcadias, Blanched Bunker Communities, and White Archipelagos. His preferred term for this phenomenon is Whitopia. “A Whitopia (pronounced why● toh ● pee ● uh) is whiter than the nation, its respective region, and its state. It has posted at least 6 percent population growth since 2000. The majority of that growth (often upward of 90 percent) is from white migrants. And a Whitopia has a je ne sais quoi—an ineffable social charisma, a pleasant look and feel.” 25 Whitopias are attractive places, and their residents associate their charm with racial homogeneity. They regard Latino immigration as a time bomb and associate Latinos with crime and tax-supported social services.


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“Whitopia is more hostile to immigration, legal and illegal, than the nation at large.” 26 But black people are the other against which these communities primarily define themselves. 27 Whitopia is what white flight looks like today. Benjamin identifies three kinds of whitopian communities: small towns, boom towns, and dream towns; modest-income, blue-collar communities, high-income, professional-oriented communities; and the enclaves of the super wealthy. 28 Benjamin notes that Whitopia is produced by both push and pull factors. Migrants to Whitopia, including a few nonwhites, seek to escape stagnant job markets, expensive housing markets, deteriorating public infrastructure and services, traffic congestion, child-hostile neighborhoods, and social problems (especially crime) they associate with blackness. In contrast, they are lured to Whitopia by virtues—“higher property values, friendliness, orderliness, hospitality, cleanliness, safety, and comfort”—they associate with whiteness. 29 In a New York Times op-ed on the Trayvon Martin killing, Benjamin calls this ensemble of black/white, negative and positive associations the “gated community mentality.” 30 Bodies signify. The semiotics of the black body has much to do with its particular location. Like “matter out of place,” 31 black bodies out of place are threatening. They threaten to pollute the space they inhabit through various kinds of contagion (especially crime). Whether black people live there or not, black bodies do not belong in whitopian spaces. 32 As desire and often as matters of fact, gated communities are whitopian spaces. The presence of black bodies spoils the whitopian dream: an imaginary (utopian) space devoid of black people. The dream of being rid of black people is as old as the republic: Jefferson had it, de’ Tocqueville wrote about it, and Lincoln shared it. Though he was just walking around, Martin’s very presence disturbed the ineffable qualities, the je ne sais quoi of the gated community. In that whitopian space, Martin was perceived as an illegal alien. One hears an ominous echo from the past, “Nigger, don’t let the sun go down on you in this town.” 33 NOTES 1. http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/326700-full-transcript-zimmerman .html 2. Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982). 3. Patterson, 7, 9, 38, 42. 4. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 9. 5. Bonilla-Silva, 2–4. 6. http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/civil%20death 7. Alex C. Ewald, “‘Civil Death’: “The Ideological Paradox of Criminal Disenfranchisement Law in the United States.” Wisconsin Law Review 5 (January 2012): 1045–132. 8. Ewald, 1063–64.

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9. Ewald, 1087–88, 1089. 10. For a thorough account of “The Carceral,” see the last section of Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). 11. During my tenure at Duke University, a white colleague approached me and two other black faculty members and joked about our plans to riot. This kind of joke is fairly common. 12. Glenn C. Loury, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 67. 13. Loury, 161. 14. “So long as large numbers of African Americans continue to be arrested and labeled drug criminals, they will continue to be relegated to a permanent second-class status upon their release, no matter how much (or how little) time they spend behind bars. The system of mass incarceration is based on the prison label, not prison time” (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [New York: The New Press, 2012], 14). 15. See Bonilla-Silva, 9. Bonilla-Silva is playing on Marx’s famous claim that the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas. 16. On May 7, 2012, Mark Zuckerberg the Facebook wunderkind and CEO showed up at a meeting with potential Wall Street investors dressed in a hoodie. While some were annoyed with his attire, there was no suggestion of danger or criminality. His hoodie may have marked him as disrespectful of Wall Street’s sartorial norms but did mark him as criminal. See http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/09/tech/social-media/zuckerberg-hoodie-wall-street/index.html?hpt=hp_t2. 17. Loury, 23, 27–28, 50. 18. Loury, 67. 19. Alexander, 107. 20. See Stuart Hall, “Race, Articulation and Societies Structured in Dominance,” in Sociological Theories: Race and Colonialism (New York: UNESCO, 1980). 21. Loury, 66–67. 22. For a discussion of the concept, see Loury, 60–61. 23. Loury, 141–46. 24. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/opinion/the-gated-community-mentality .html. 25. Rich Benjamin, Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America (New York: Hyperion), 5. 26. Benjamin, 76–77, 80, 82. 27. Benjamin, 118 28. Benjamin, 12–13. 29. Benjamin, 8. 30. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/opinion/the-gated-community-mentality .html. 31. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concept of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge, 1984/1966), 44. 32. One might argue that Florida’s “stand your ground” law codifies “racially constructed” notions of reasonable suspicion and fear. It reinscribes the prevailing perception of black people as criminals, as guilty until proven innocent. Black people cannot reasonably expect to have any grounds on which to stand. They are groundless. Their perceptions are groundless. Their fear (as Trayvon Martin feared) of a “crazy creepy” man pursuing them in the night, questioning their right to occupy space, to stand their ground, is groundless. 33. James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: Touchstone Books, 2005), 25, 41.

EIGHT Distorted Vision and Deadly Speech Enabling Racial Violence through Paradox and Script Jennifer Harvey

Paradox and script. The coexistence of explanations, perspectives, or claims that appear to be contradictory serves the interests of white supremacy very well. Paradox enables white supremacy’s hydra-headed character. It allows it to be malleable—resistant to deconstruction and destruction. Push on one nodule and, rather than crumbling, supremacist logic gives way to another that replaces the first. A gap in one line of discursive reasoning is filled by another line—it matters not if the second stands in contradiction to the first. Meanwhile, scripts provide us with the whole story ahead of time. They appear in acute moments of racial atrocity, presenting the roles we are to perform and the lines we are to recite. As we enact their narrations, descriptions, and diversions, what we are actually seeing becomes mystified and distorted. Paradoxes and scripts haunt the murder scene in Florida. They manifested in particularly powerful ways during the six and a half weeks in which Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, went without arrest. My interest in highlighting them comes from witnessing their power in enabling systemic police violence against men of color in New York City to go unchecked. In case after case in the 1990s unarmed black and Latino men died at the hands of the New York Police Department (NYPD). In case after case the officers involved were acquitted. One of the most notorious of these cases was the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant who died in a hail of forty-one bullets fired by four police officers while he stood in front of his apartment 103


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building in the Bronx. Not a shred of evidence was ever provided to explain why officers targeted Diallo or murdered him so brutally. Yet the officers were declared not guilty of all charges. Institutionalized white supremacy was unquestionably the cause of Diallo’s death. But a pre-existing script enabled murders such as this to transpire and result in exoneration of the perpetrators. 1 A comparison of cases involving men of color and the NYPD in the 1990s reveals predictable, repeating storylines that were told and systemic patterns of institutional activity that transpired in each case—all of which constituted what I mean here by a “script.” My concern about scripts pertains to the interpretive role they play in regard to situations of racial violence as they provide predetermined narratives that “explain” such situations. Meanwhile predictable patterns of institutional response to such violence— examples of which will be given below—enable the same outcome in virtually every case (namely, exoneration no matter how obviously egregious the situation, how many witnesses contradict police testimony, or how much evidence suggests that the situation was unprovoked by the person ultimately killed). 2 By recognizing the ways in which systemic white supremacist violence is responded to by such pre-existing scripts, it becomes more possible to deconstruct their mystifying and distorting power. In the cases of police violence in New York, first, rhetoric is inserted into public discourse claiming the victim had a gun, appeared to have a gun, made an abrupt move, was high on drugs, or had a preexisting medical condition that caused him to die while in police custody. Factual evidence to the contrary holds no sway against these narratives. Scene two, a grand jury in which 90 percent of cases result in a failure to indict. Members of the police department turn out en masse to show support for their scrutinized colleagues (who often have prior records of brutality complaints). Turning reason on its head, they insist through their presence and their chants of “not guilty” whenever the accused move through the courtroom that police, not the victim and his family, are the aggrieved parties. Claims that a victim “caused his own death” are inevitably inserted into defense arguments. 3 In the 10 percent of cases that actually go to trial, irregularities regularly surface—from errors by the district attorney to judicial dismissals, from the “failure” of investigating officers to interview witnesses with competing accounts, to moving the trial outside city limits (to a racial demographic more closely resembling the accused officers). The climax? In virtually 100 percent of cases the end of the tale is predictable. 4 No one, other than perhaps the victim, is responsible for deadly police violence against black and Latino men in the city of New York. Paradoxical absurdities abound in these scripts. Claims in the trial about the (mis)perception of a gun are invoked alongside public relations assertions that this was an unfortunate accident and everyone involved is

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a victim. Passionate insistence that race is irrelevant in the case exists alongside calculated moves to highlight the involvement of any officer who happens to not be white. Righteous indignation that (mostly white) police officers sacrifice their lives to keep the peace in a (predominantly not white) dangerous city is stoked while these same officers—very much alive and well—stand over the lifeless bodies of unarmed (black and Latino) citizens. It is notable that despite the prevalence of predictable patterns of rhetoric and actions that inevitably lead to police exoneration, news reporting on these cases consistently describes the regular irregularities that emerge in a given case as “an unusual turn of events,” or use descriptions such as “an unprecedented move.” Such characterizations mask the patterns and serve a mystifying role. They render the systemic nature of the white supremacist violence that brutalizes black and Latino men into unfortunate, non-racial accidents and pronounces their perpetrators innocent. This power is also the reason identifying the paradoxes and scripts is so important. Trayvon Martin was not murdered by police officers. But police involvement in this racial atrocity renders the institutional moves that have already been made and undoubtedly will be made by the Sanford Police Department and the judicial system worthy of scrutiny. My deeper interest here, however, is in the way in which—like brutality cases in New York—a script emerged in the wake of Martin’s death, one that contains paradoxical twists that successfully distort and mystify what it is we actually see in this case. While many communities were in an appropriate uproar across the nation as the weeks passed without an arrest, there were and remain concerted rhetorical efforts to enable ostensibly non-racial readings of Martin’s murder and to encourage passivity in the face of Zimmerman’s freedom. In what follows, I first draw on the work of Anthea Butler and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva to articulate larger ideological paradoxes that both constitute U.S.-American racial life and that function (in the form of a pre-existing script) to mystify white U.S.-American perceptions and interpretations of such. Then, I identify the ways in which these are present in some of the more “common sense” responses that were made in reference to the controversy that erupted over Martin’s murder and Zimmerman’s freedom. 5 My goal is to demonstrate how this commonsense script is rooted in a pervasive unwillingness to take white supremacy seriously, as well as a deep devaluation of African American life in the United States. As such, this script is appropriately described as deadly speech.


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AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM: SETTING THE SCENE One of the most powerful bearers of paradox in this case may be that identified by religious studies scholar Anthea Butler. Butler publicly denounced the role of American Exceptionalism in Martin’s murder and Zimmerman’s nearly seven weeks of freedom. 6 Exceptionalist ideology has permeated U.S.-American self-understanding since before the nationstate formally came into being. Amid its diverse permutations it is fundamentally constituted by the idea that this nation (or the imperialist project that was its predecessor) is uniquely endowed with divine providence. From the systematically articulated beliefs of European imperialists coming to this land base, 7 to the violent expansionism of Manifest Destiny, U.S.-America and white U.S.-Americans in particular inhabit a symbolic world in which we are righteous, superior, destined, and great—ontologically so. Exceptionalism so deeply pervades our core sense of U.S.-Americanness that actions one might otherwise expect to be taken as good reason to call into question the presence of virtue (murderous violence, for example) fail to destabilize it at all. 8 Butler depicts an American Exceptionalism that was and remains white supremacist. Inaugurated in the so-called era of discovery, the divine providence that saw fit to “give” this land base to the European imperialists—who eventually became white U.S.-Americans—sanctioned the genocide on which such “giving” depended. It “justified” the traffic in dark-skinned bodies that was “needed” to make the imperialist project here viable. In the intervening centuries, exceptionalism has served simultaneously as progenitor of atrocity and justificatory explanation for its successful realization both domestically and internationally. The blood-soaked violence on which it is based was/is all part of God’s plan. In terms of U.S.-American identity, the full implications of exceptionalist logic is to render only those of us who are white as “real” U.S.Americans. Everyone else—all the “Others”—has always been and remains expendable. 9 Butler’s analysis makes overt the point at which paradox enters. The same ontology of virtue that depends on genocidal violence against people of African descent and indigenous people, simultaneously reads the perpetrators of such violence as righteous and morally upright. The racial violence that constitutes the social and political life of this nation-state is therefore not aberrational to an otherwise virtuous civic body. It is not evidence of a failure to live up to our divine mandate. Racial violence is part and parcel of such exceptionality; the enactment of such racial violence lies at the heart of white supremacist virtue. Such violence is the very stuff out of which American Exceptionalism is built. Butler’s analysis is compelling for a number of reasons, two of which are particularly relevant here. First, she insists that we recognize that

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American Exceptionalism has both constituted the (white) civic body and defined the civic body as white in ways that continue to justify the obliteration of all Others who are always rendered as outsiders to the civic body. Thus, while Butler does not use these terms, the murder of Trayvon Martin and the failure to arrest George Zimmerman are the products of the deadly paradox that lies at the heart of the (white supremacist) national soul. Second, exceptionalist assumptions of ontological virtue so saturate (white) U.S.-American self-understanding that it is possible for those who ascribe to this ideology to insist on the incidental and accidental nature of racial atrocities—which are almost inevitably read in an ostensibly non-racial manner. Exceptionalism thus distorts our vision and understanding in profound ways. We literally become unable to see what we actually see. Of course the most profound paradox here is that the United States of America is exceptional: as Butler puts it, exceptionally racist and exceptionally violent. But the reality of the actual nature of our exceptionality cannot gain traction in terms of the convoluted rhetorical terrain that exceptionalist ideology has crafted. And, it is this convoluted terrain on which we encounter Trayvon Martin’s murder. “LOOSE AND FLEXIBLE”: (NON)RACIAL SCRIPTS Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva highlights the power of scripts for sustaining white supremacy. Interested in understanding the phenomenon he calls “colorblind racism” (yet another paradox), Bonilla-Silva asks how we can explain the concrete existence of massive racial inequality in a nation-state in which most white people declare race irrelevant. 10 To answer this question, Bonilla-Silva conducted hundreds of qualitative interviews with white subjects. Repeatedly, these subjects enact rhetorical performances in which they passionately invoke their commitment to equality, assert their own “colorblindness,” and then proceed to offer racist explanations for the failings of people of color. (These subjects also insist that their explanations are non-racial.) 11 Like the paradoxical relationship between racial violence and ontological virtue, the invocation of “abstract liberalism” in the face of profound racial inequity actually enables racism. Like violence and virtue, so-called colorblindness juxtaposed with racist explanations functions to mystify: it insulates the white subject from being accused of racism (his/her non-racial status has already been staked out). Two aspects of Bonilla-Silva’s findings are particularly important here. First is the way in which the paradoxical invocations just noted create an ideology that is loose and flexible. 12 Such flexibility makes it possible for white supremacist interpretations to conform and adapt


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when confronted with evidence that might expose the falsehoods on which they are based. The inherent contradictions that enable such flexibility also make it possible for white subjects to faithfully and earnestly articulate positions that are in reality incoherent. Perhaps the starkest example of this phenomenon is the white subject who passionately (and as evidence of his/her commitment to an abstract liberalism) asserts his or her colorblindness. Only moments later this same subject offers a clear explanation as to why he/she would almost certainly never date or marry outside of his/her racial group. When pressed, these subjects attempt to maintain the position that their desire to date or marry within their racial group is a non-racial one—it is simply “natural.” 13 As incoherent as such a position may appear here, these subjects inevitably fail to see it (or themselves) as such. What is important here is Bonilla-Silva’s argument that the inherent contradictions of these assertions do not undermine the subject’s interpretative framework on race and racism. Rather, the contradictions actually enable his/her disclosure of a preference of racial solidarity to be presented as benign and non-racial. It is the paradoxical nature of so-called colorblind racism that makes it so powerful and more resistant to disruption. Second is the identification of the existence of repeating patterns— what Bonilla-Silva calls “central frames.” A surprisingly small number of frames “provide the intellectual road map used by rulers to navigate the always rocky road of domination.” 14 Over and over again on their way to offering ostensibly nonracial explanations for racial inequity, these subjects tell the interviewers the same things. Repeatedly interviewers hear about the existence of a close “black friend” (when pressed, subjects ultimately reveal this person to be a mere acquaintance or co-worker, often someone with whom they are no longer in touch), the trauma of being victimized by affirmative action (eventually emerging as mere hearsay about a friend of a friend who heard about an incident). The frames are recurrent. Their preexistence in the terrain of public discourse on race makes available storylines and narratives that enable subjects to explain racial inequality away without having to ever contend with racism and white privilege. Bonilla-Silva argues that they enable a kind of “cul-desac” phenomenon: a set path for interpreting information that never really goes anywhere other than where it began—other than, of course, onto the next line in the script. 15 REVEALING THE SCRIPTS, EXPOSING THE PARADOX In the remainder of this chapter, I want to draw on the collective insights of Butler and Bonilla-Silva, as well as my own work on police brutality, to highlight the presence of paradox in the pre-existing scripts through which responses to Martin’s murder have been articulated. The rhetorical

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invocations raised here are not so much exact quotes given by any one person, but rhetorical utterances that were repeated in public discourse in the weeks following Martin’s death. I heard versions of them on the news and in my classrooms. It is my expectation that they will sound familiar to any U.S.-based reader of this chapter. By focusing on these utterances, I do not wish to downplay the significant public outcry that did take place in the weeks following Martin’s murder. The extent to which such rhetoric permeated the social landscape, however, is noteworthy given the actual nature of the events that transpired in Florida. Thus, I want to highlight the ways in which some deep-seated sense of (white) virtue and innocence impedes a serious argument regarding the concrete, factual realities that were/are known about this case. I want to point to the way in which a deep-seated devaluation of and hatred for one perceived as Other in this civic body permeates the rhetoric following this atrocity. I want to gesture toward paradoxical gaps and fissures that emerge among and between claims made about this situation that reveal an agenda at work. The utterances I have chosen are those that strike me as most suspicious in terms of the way they serve to mystify. It is my position that responses to Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s freedom were not only predicated on an insistent denial of the existence of legacies of white supremacist violence in this nation, but were/are (intentionally or unintentionally) leveraged to cloak, mystify, and distort a social vision that would enable us to see Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s freedom—and, very possibly, what comes next now that Zimmerman has been arrested and may face a trial—as nothing less than predictable outcomes of a systemic white supremacist violence that remains persistent and normative at the heart of this nation. “We Don’t Know Both Sides Yet.” Utterance one belies the concrete reality that one person had a gun. The other did not. After indicating to a 911 dispatcher that he was following the other, the first person was told, “We don’t need you to do that.” This person pursued anyway and left the scene alive. 16 The young man did not. We know what happened. This utterance presents itself as reasonable and fair. Yet, this rhetoric can only be “reasonable” if we assume that the lifeless body of an unarmed young man is somehow not the most salient thing we know about this case. The utterance seems to imply that if there were some sort of fight, or verbal exchange, there might somehow be justifiable cause for homicide. Besides the fact that such an implication is horrifying in its own right, we also know that whatever verbal exchange or fight may have ensued (testimony by a variety of witnesses, including Martin’s girlfriend, and evidence regarding Zimmerman’s injuries at the time of the initial arrest continue to emerge) that these transpired because the


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armed man stalked and provoked the unarmed man. Again, most saliently, we know that an unarmed young man is dead. Given what we do know, the viability of this utterance depends on a thorough devaluation of the life of that young person; a devaluation that depends on the overwhelming extent to which African American lives, bodies, and being are treated as abject in U.S.-American life. Butler’s indictment could not be more present. In addition, given the known circumstances and outcomes of Martin and Zimmerman’s encounter, asserting that there are “two sides to every story” replicates the logic that police officers who are interrogated and prosecuted for killing unarmed black and Latino men are somehow victimized in a manner on par with those they murder. While we should certainly insist on due process for anyone accused of a crime, the assertion that a known killer of an unarmed man is being somehow unfairly treated when we respond with outrage and suspicion to the reality that he has not been arrested is neither neutral, nor evidence of caution being exercised in the interest of fairness. It is an endorsement of white supremacy. “This All Seems Pretty Paranoid—Something Else Must Be Going On Here.” Like utterance one, this second utterance presents itself as appropriately cautious and reasonable. It is, however, constituted by denial, at best, and, at worst, by insinuations that other truths most certainly exist as the real reason that this tragedy took place. Invoking the specter of other reasons why this murder took place—given what we do know— can only point back to the possibility that Martin must have been up to something, or that the Sanford Police Department knows something the rest of us do not. While there were and certainly remain facts to emerge about this case that have yet to be publicly disseminated, this utterance and its insinuations belie their agenda by speculating far into the unknown—or, better, into that for which there is no evidence. Such speculations willfully ignore readily available and far more reasonable hypotheses about both Zimmerman’s motives (based on his known history) and the police department’s racialized incompetence (based on well-documented data on the treatment of communities of color and crimes against them by predominantly white police departments). Like the first utterance, given the evidence it dismisses, this statement is saturated with assumptions about the victim who becomes, after all is said and done, really just an Other after all. It also assumes the ontological virtue of the institutions responding to this murder. This utterance sits in paradoxical relationship to the first utterance. The first utterance asserts we don’t know what happened, whereas the second utterance implies that we know that something more happened.

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Much like the cohesive ideological work that inherently contradictory frames perform in Bonilla-Silva’s research, these contradictory statements argue against the same thing: a so-called rush to judgment about the systemic white supremacist nature of this event. They therefore are working for the same end, even though they are in tension with one another. Another of Bonilla-Silva’s observations seems pertinent here. He notes that the supple and flexible relationships among the “central frames” of color-blind racism make it possible to indirectly blame the victim in a “now you see it now you don’t kind of way.” 17 This phenomenon might be described as a more subtle version of the NYPD’s defense teams’ overt claim that their victims “caused their own death.” As the first utterance introduces the notion that fairness means we should wait to hear more, the second introduces suspicion. Such slippage here performs critical ideological work for reifying a racist non-racial reading of Trayvon Martin’s murder. “I Can Understand a Black Male in a Hoodie Might Make a Neighborhood Watchman Nervous.” The most notorious example of this statement was, of course, uttered by Geraldo Rivera in the weeks following Martin’s death. But, it was uttered in many other places as well. After being careful to first insist he would never justify murder, a young white male in one of my classes wondered aloud whether Zimmerman might have had negative experiences with “black gangs” and thus might be somewhat forgiven for his response. At its most basic level this utterance perpetuates the baseless speculation that Martin must have been up to no good, asserting racist stereotypes to do so. At its most nefarious level it runs headlong into the first two statements as they attempt to stave off a so-called rush to judgment. This utterance unabashedly rushes to endorse white supremacist violence as justifiable. No slippage is even needed here to directly blame Martin for his own death. The spoken and unspoken ideologies on which this statement is based hardly need to be rehearsed. Most evident is the hatred of the Other out of which (white) U.S.-American Exceptionalism is constituted and which justifies the obliteration of those who are not actually part of the civic body. (It goes without saying that the endless historical and contemporary experiences of violence toward communities of color at the hands of white people is never invoked as reason for forgiveness if/when whites are victimized—as in, “Well, he/she shouldn’t have been so white.”) Without statistical data to back up my claim, I am nonetheless willing to assert my belief that, while most U.S.-Americans might be more reticent to articulate this view as publicly as did Rivera, many hold views like his and some—like my student—might be willing to make such statements in more private contexts. Like the frames that shift to allow


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whites to see themselves as non-racist, while articulating racist views, this rhetoric thus hovers in public and private discourse, strengthening the more overtly and oft-repeated assertion that we should slow down before jumping to conclusions about what happened. Persons who might agree with Rivera and my student, while never uttering such explicitly racist views aloud, do not have to. The context of our racialized social order does it for them. “Zimmerman Can’t Be Racist. He’s Latino and Has Black Friends.” We know that Zimmerman said “These assholes they always get away.” There are reasonable interpretations of the 911 call that conclude he uttered “f-----g coon.” We know he pursued Martin after telling the dispatcher Martin was running away and being told in response that following Martin was not needed. Like utterance one, this statement requires that we literally refuse to see what we see, hear what we hear. This distortion of reality is not at all uncommon in our social landscape in which racist actions are somehow never evidence of actual racism. (Even Michael Richards’s repeated enraged screams of “n----r” while gesticulating toward black audience members in 2006 were deemed not evidence of racism—merely anger.) In part, this phenomenon is rooted in a perception that racism is how one thinks about people of a different race. And, you can never know with certainty what someone thinks. Nothing short of a direct admission that one is racist seems to be evidence enough of racism’s existence. The focus on “intent” in our judicial proceedings when matters of racial discrimination come before the courts creates the official legal precedent for this cul-de-sac rationale about the existence of racism. In even larger part, this phenomenon emerges out of the ideological function that the twists and turns of paradoxical rhetoric perform. An assertion of being colorblind, having black friends, and here being oneself presumedly “of color,” serve as cover for the atrocity committed to be, thereby, nonracial. 18 This utterance would be much less powerful on its own terms were it not present in relation to a legion of others that cover disparate dimensions of this atrocity in different, but mutually reinforcing ways. Finally, to return to Butler, this utterance also reveals the supremacist logic and racial violence of American Exceptionalism at its most encompassing. Actions that in the face of all reasonability should call into question the presence of virtue—murderous violence that walks free for nearly seven weeks with the full knowledge and sanction of an institutional body whose mission is “to serve and protect”—cannot unseat the saturating (white supremacist) ontology of virtue that resides within the (white) civic body.

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“Trayvon Martin Wasn’t So Innocent.” This utterance is the most direct, degrading, and rhetorically violent of the more overtly racist speculations about Martin’s known or unknown behavior (utterances two and three). It emerged later with revelations that Martin had been suspended from school for ten days, reproductions of photos of Martin smiling for a camera with gold caps on his teeth, obsessions about tattoos on his body, and autopsy reports that there were low traces of marijuana in Martin’s system (it matters not that marijuana is not known for inducing violence, that it is widely used among teens and adults of every racial group, nor that inroads against its illegality are being made increasingly across the nation). This utterance releases the barrage of tropes, fears, and perceptions of monstrosity that pre-exist in the white U.S.-American mind and turns a seventeen-yearold young adult into a dangerous creature. This storyline is all too familiar in the deaths of men of color in the United States. Images of dangerous streets teeming with “barely human” black and Latino bodies in New York exist before officers are interrogated about the death of a civilian. Such images are called up in every case. Such images are merely the contemporary manifestation of the predatory black male who was justifiably lynched by white mobs for more than a hundred years of this nation’s history. It seems all but inevitable that Martin too would be transformed in this manner. The facts of his life and the facts of his death are irrelevant. He was black. CONCLUSION From the most purportedly neutral of these non-neutral statements to the most obviously egregious, every utterance in response to this case that begins somewhere other than outrage at yet another innocent murdered while civic institutions stand by, both ensure and produce a fundamental inability and a refusal to identify with Trayvon Martin as a human being, a young man, a son, a grandson, a citizen, a student, a person who enjoyed watching basketball. The speech acts that have surrounded this case are deadly. As they are enacted, our vision becomes profoundly distorted and our ability to see what has actually happened here utterly mystified. This is a devastating moment in the civic body in which, yet again, the deep-seated and willful myopia that allows these racial atrocities to occur, to go unpunished, and to almost certainly occur again has resurfaced. There are many different kinds of work needed to continue to struggle against the legacies of racial violence that constitute U.S.American Exceptionalism. Engaging in the difficult work of shifting the scripts that surround such deadly violence is just a piece of this. But, it is a piece in which we all can be daily involved.


Jennifer Harvey

NOTES 1. The analysis of NYPD violence and subsequent judicial outcomes contained herein comes from compiling data from hundreds of articles published from 1991 to 1999 in the New York Times, New York Law Journal, Newsday, and Daily News. All articles were accessed through Lexis Nexis. A complete citation is included in the publication from which this summary is drawn “A Murder by the Police” by the New York New Abolitionists. This self-published document focuses on the cases of Frederico Pereira (killed in 1991), Anthony Baez (killed in 1994), and Amadou Diallo (killed in 1999), though countless other cases were included in the research for the document. 2. In the murder of Diallo, forty-one shots of an unarmed man standing in the doorway of his own apartment building. In the murder of Frederico Pereira (1991), overwhelming testimony by witnesses (and the medical examiner) that Pereira was choked to death, while police maintained that he died of banging his head on the pavement, cardiac arrest, or cocaine overdose. In the murder of Anthony Baez (1994), another death by asphyxiation after a football that Baez and members of his family were playing with inadvertently struck a police car (a case in which the officer who choked Baez had an especially significant prior record of brutality complaints). 3. In the case of Diallo, see for example, Alex Cukan, “Defense Blames Weaponry in 41-Bullet Slaying,” APBNews.com, February 2, 2000. 4. One exception in the 1990s took place in the case of Anthony Baez in which— after three trials—Officer Frank X. Livoti was finally convicted of violating Baez’s civil rights by choking him to death. 5. I have in mind Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s notion of the “common sense” of race here. Omi and Winant argue that the acceptability of commonsense perceptions of race, for example, does ideological work even while it appears relatively neutral on its face. See Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, 2nd ed.(New York: Routledge, 1994). 6. Anthea Butler, “Trayvon Martin and American Exceptionalism,” Religion Dispatches, March 22, 2012, http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/antheabutler /5820/trayvon_martin_and_american_exceptionalism/ (accessed May 12, 2012). 7. When Puritan lawyer John Winthrop was still on the boat coming to this land base. he drafted the legal justification for dispossession. He wrote that Native peoples might have a natural right to the land, but they did not have a civic right to it. The reasons? They had not “subdued,” “possessed,” or “improved” it. Winthrop, quoted in David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 235. 8. It so deeply defines our collective U.S.-American identity that, like patriotism, it can be used as shorthand to call into question one’s basic loyalty to and fitness for participation in the civic body (as Mitt Romney did recently in questioning whether President Obama “believed” in American Exceptionalism). 9. It is also no coincidence that it is President Obama whose commitment to American Exceptionalism was called into question. Being black renders one implicitly suspect. As Butler notes, had he been walking through Sanford in a hoodie, even the current president of the United States would not be immune from the violence that inheres in U.S.-American notions of who does and does not existentially belong within the divine covenant. It also seems likely to me that this is why rumors continue to abound about Obama’s nation of origin, and why his religious identity has been so contended—it’s not his name that renders him religiously suspect, it is his race. 10. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 2. 11. See chapter 2. 12. Bonilla-Silva, 11. 13. Bonilla-Silva, 47, 48. 14. Bonilla-Silva, 25.

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15. Bonilla-Silva, 25. 16. There are a number of sources that provide the details of the 911 call. See for example, CNN’s “Timeline of Events in Trayvon Martin Case” accessible at http:// articles.cnn.com/2012-04-23/justice/justice_florida-zimmerman-timeline_1_gated-community-gunshot-martin-punches?_s=PM:JUSTICE (accessed May 12, 2012). 17. Bonilla-Silva, 25. 18. Zimmerman’s racial identity and what it does and does not signify in relation to systemic white supremacy and how this case has unfolded deserves its own entire essay.

NINE “Seeing Black” through Michel Foucault’s Eyes “Stand Your Ground” Laws as an Anchorage Point for State-Sponsored Racism Devonya N. Havis

Racism is the indispensable precondition that allows someone to be killed, that allows others to be killed. Once the state functions in the biopower mode, racism alone can justify the murderous function of the State. —Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended

INTRODUCTION: A TALE OF TWO FLORIDA SHOOTINGS In September 2010, Trevor Dooley shot and killed David James during an argument on a basketball court in Valrico, Florida. Dooley is sixty-nine years old and black. James, like 90 percent of Valrico residents, was white. He was also much larger and younger than Dooley. Dooley lives near the basketball court, and the incident began when Dooley insisted that a teenager should stop skateboarding on the court. James was playing basketball, and the two men argued about whether skateboarding was banned. According to witnesses, James appeared to be “defensive, loud, upset, and agitated.” 1 Dooley tried to walk away, but James quickly followed and said, “I’m not done with you.” Dooley then pulled a pistol from his waistband. The 117


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two men struggled and fell to the ground, and during the struggle Dooley shot James. Some witnesses claim Dooley appeared to be angry, and that he raised his shirt and “flashed” the pistol at James before he turned to walk away. Dooley denies both points and says he felt that his life was threatened. Seventeen months later, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman shot a black teenager named Trayvon Martin. Martin had just purchased Skittles and iced tea and was walking to the home of his father’s fiancée. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer and self-described “white Hispanic,” followed Martin. He called 911 to complain about a “real suspicious guy.” In his words: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around.” 2 When Zimmerman said he was following Martin, the dispatcher replied: “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman persisted, and what happened next is unclear. During a neighbor’s 911 call, an unknown voice is heard yelling for help fourteen times. Zimmerman claims he shot Martin after Martin knocked him down and went for Zimmerman’s gun. The only other eyewitness is dead. These cases provide an opportunity to take up Michel Foucault’s discussion of state racisms, and to demonstrate how Foucault’s theories help make sense of recent changes in the law of self-defense—the adoption of “stand your ground” laws. In Foucault’s view, modern states operate through structural mechanisms that manage individual human bodies and designated populations. Race thus becomes both an anchorage point for the operation of state power, and a focal point for understanding how state power works at the individual and macro levels. As this chapter will demonstrate, “stand your ground” laws function as an anchorage point for state racisms, even though they seem to be race neutral. The second part of this chapter summarizes Florida law on the “justifiable” use of deadly force in public spaces, details efforts by conservative activists to promote similar laws, and outlines the public justification for such laws. The third part discusses psychological research on the association between blackness and crime. The fourth part explores Foucault’s thesis that the modern state requires racism as a means of exercising power, and demonstrates how Foucault’s theories help us understand how seemingly “race neutral” laws can be deeply infused with racisms. The chapter concludes by retelling the story of the Dooley and Zimmerman cases with the racial roles reversed. SELF-DEFENSE IN PUBLIC PLACES UNDER FLORIDA LAW The duty to retreat from a violent confrontation is deeply rooted in Anglo-American law. In the thirteenth century, British courts held that a person attacked in public could not use deadly force unless they had no

“Seeing Black” through Michel Foucault’s Eyes


opportunity to retreat. 3 Later cases held that a person was not required to retreat if they were defending their home—their “castle”—against an intruder. 4 This so-called “Castle Doctrine” was grounded in the belief that unlawful entry of a home “placed the intruder beyond the protection of the law and suspended the state monopoly on violence.” 5 For more than a century, U.S. courts recognized both the duty to retreat and this so-called “Castle Doctrine.” 6 But in 2005, Florida and other states began to revise their self-defense laws. Known variously as “stand your ground” or “shoot first,” 7 the changes to Florida law abrogated the duty to retreat before using deadly force in public. 8 Florida law now permits a person to use deadly force if s/he “reasonably believes” such force is necessary to defend him/herself or another from an “imminent” threat of death or great bodily harm, or to prevent “the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” including a property crime. An “imminent” threat is not required if the person who uses deadly force is not acting unlawfully and is attacked in a public place “where he or she has a right to be.” The defense is generally not available to an aggressor, but an aggressor can resort to deadly force if the aggressor first makes a “good faith” effort to withdraw from a confrontation. 9 Under prior Florida law, courts focused on whether a defendant could have avoided the confrontation. But now, whether deadly force was justified hinges on what the person “reasonably believe[d].” As a result, Florida residents have broad license to use deadly force in public. If a person is in a place where they have a right to be, is not acting illegally, and has not provoked violence, they can shoot without fear of the consequences so long as they “reasonably believe” they are threatened. Under a final provision, a person who claims their use of force was justified is immune from criminal prosecution and cannot be convicted unless prosecutors prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant’s fears were unreasonable. 10 The impact of the new law is remarkable. Between 2000 and 2006, Florida averaged thirty-four claims of justified homicide a year. But from 2007 to 2009, such claims tripled. 11 Most of those who invoke “stand your ground” to avoid prosecution have been successful: nearly 70 percent have gone free. And early data suggest that race plays some role in the law’s application. In a June 2012 analysis, the Tampa Bay Times found that defendants who claim self-defense under the “stand your ground” statute are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty, compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white person. 12 Nonetheless, the data are likely incomplete: because the immunity provision has a “chilling effect” on prosecutors, the data probably do not reflect some cases in which prosecutors declined to file charges because they could not meet their burden of proof. 13


Devonya N. Havis

On their face, Florida’s “stand your ground” statutes appear to be racially neutral. They do not make an overt reference to race or use “code” words that are understood to be racial references. The same is true of the public justification for similar laws, even as they spread rapidly throughout the United States. Since 2005, more than thirty states have expanded the right of selfdefense under a campaign run by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative advocacy group founded in 1973. 14 ALEC has developed more than eight hundred model bills on behalf of corporate and institutional funders, including Koch Industries. Working through ALEC, Charles and David Koch have modified laws in every state, in areas ranging from consumer rights to public schools and environmental protection. 15 ALEC is also responsible for Florida’s “stand your ground” statute and similar laws in other states. The group’s core strategy is remarkably effective. Model bills are developed in closed-door meetings with state legislators, corporate funders, and conservative activists. The bills are then introduced by ALEC’s legislative members, with no information about ALEC’s role or the interests they represent. The cover narrative used to justify “stand your ground” laws has focused heavily on certain themes, none of which are overtly linked to race. The NRA has promoted the laws by claiming they are “putting the law on the side of the victim, not the criminal.” 16 Supporters of “stand your ground” also claim that courts have weakened the right of selfdefense, and that overzealous prosecutors have wrongly prosecuted innocent victims who were attempting to defend themselves against crime. 17 “SEEING BLACK:” THE BIDIRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION BETWEEN BLACKS AND CRIME If neither “stand your ground” laws nor the public justification for those laws make explicit references to race, how is it possible that race can be deeply implicated in those laws? The answer lies with psychological research on the bidirectional association between blackness and crime. The research shows that images of blacks—even when subliminal—trigger thoughts of crime. And in a racist culture obsessed with security, thinking about crime can lead people “to conjure up images of Black Americans . . . and selectively attend to Black people” in their immediate surroundings. 18 As Eberhardt and her colleagues explain, this association between blackness and crime functions as a “visual tuning device—directing people’s eyes, their focus, and their interpretations of the stimuli” that confront them. 19 In other words, the association helps people “deter-

“Seeing Black” through Michel Foucault’s Eyes


mine which information is important and worthy of attention and which is not.” 20 In practice, such “visual tuning” means that black faces automatically garner more attention than white faces when one is scanning the environment for possible threats. The stereotype of black men as violent and criminal has been heavily documented. In one study that used a video game simulation, subjects shot at armed black targets more quickly than at armed white targets, failed to shoot unarmed whites, and shot more unarmed blacks than unarmed whites. Other research has shown that racial stereotypes affect people’s assessment of whether ambiguous behaviors were “aggressive.” 21 And in their 2004 research, Eberhardt et al. demonstrated that the association between race and crime is “bidirectional,” that the concept of crime evokes images of black faces, while images of black faces evoke thoughts of crime. Eberhardt et al. found that subliminally exposing white subjects to black faces caused subjects to recognize a “degraded” visual image of a gun or knife (a “crime-related object”) more quickly than when subjects were exposed to white faces. In addition, they found that subjects exposed to images of guns and knives focused their attention more quickly on black faces than white faces. They also demonstrated that these associations are automatic and operate independently of a person’s “explicit racial attitudes” or any negative bias toward blacks. This “visual tuning device” also affected the responses of police officers. When “primed” to think about crime, officers focused more readily on black male faces and remembered the faces as being more stereotypically black than they actually were. 22 In addition, the more stereotypically black a face appeared, the more likely officers were to report that the face looked “criminal.” Eberhardt et al. emphasize that the association between blacks and crime is not simply bidirectional: it is also self-perpetuating. A person’s visual processing patterns, and the ways that person focuses his or her attention, may “rehearse, strengthen, and supplement” racial stereotypes. 23 As a result, over time the association between blacks and crime “is not simply triggered, but magnified.” “STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS AS AN ANCHORAGE POINT FOR STATE RACISMS Michel Foucault, in lecture eleven of “Society Must Be Defended,” argues that the exercise of power in modern states depends on mechanisms that are not patently obvious. In doing so, he links the everyday operations of the modern state to racism. Foucault’s analysis exposes how such themes become embedded in the mechanisms of state power, even when those themes are not explicit. As he notes, “the theme of race does not disappear, it . . . become[s] part of something very different, namely state


Devonya N. Havis

racism.” 24 Foucault thus exposes the complex mechanisms that condition what we take as given or “reasonable,” mechanisms that make it difficult for most of us to see how race operates when it is not explicitly present. As he demonstrates, seemingly race-neutral laws can function as anchorage points for state racisms. Since my goal here is to show how Foucault’s analysis can be used to expose the hidden racialized discourse underlying “stand your ground” laws, my treatment of ideas from his 1976 lecture will be cursory. Conventional notions describe racism as a matter of personal hatred or preference. Such notions limit our ability to understand how race is implicated in the exercise of state power, and minimize our ability to connect racialized thinking to institutional practices and laws. Foucault makes it evident that racism is a key feature of the modern state, one that invokes the simultaneous operation of two forms of power: disciplinary power, which is focused on managing individual bodies; and biopower, which is concerned with regulating populations. Disciplinary power creates norms for individual behavior and transforms individuals into docile bodies who operate according to those norms. 25 The mechanisms by which we train school children to be “good” pupils and “good” citizens illustrate how disciplinary power functions through processes of normalization. Disciplinary power is aimed at managing individual bodies. It is not simply a matter of punishment, but also entails rewards for desired behavior. And when children do not meet the norms, the remedy is not simply punishment, but more training and more discipline. Biopower, on the other hand, concerns itself with populations. In Foucault’s words, biopower is “addressed to a multitude of men, not to the extent that they are nothing more than their individual bodies, but to the extent that they form . . . a global mass that is affected by overall processes, characteristic of birth, death, production, illness and so on.” 26 Under biopower, populations are identified through collective statistics that concern birth, death, health, and so on. Each individual is seen, not as an individual, but as a member of a population with certain traits and characteristics that are based on the population’s collective data. According to Foucault, modern states have a system of population management based on a hierarchy of “human species.” Under the framework of biopower, some human “subspecies” 27 are identified as more valuable than others, based on positive traits that regularly occur within the population. Meanwhile, other human subspecies regularly exhibit undesirable traits. In Foucault’s words, populations thus become a “political problem”: there is a direct relationship between the flourishing of populations with desirable traits and the withering of populations with undesirable traits. 28 To address that problem, modern states take control over life by “making live and letting die”: they make desirable populations live and let undesirable populations die. 29 It is only through the

“Seeing Black” through Michel Foucault’s Eyes


death of undesirables that desired elements—and the state itself—can flourish. Hence, “making live and letting die” are not simply business as usual. They involve the deliberate cultivation of life for one subspecies, while simultaneously creating the processes by which other subspecies die. And in some cases, this may involve actively bringing about the death of members of an undesirable subspecies. This is a form of public hygiene, aimed at reducing elements that “sap a population’s strength,” those that “waste energy and cost money.” 30 Public hygiene halts the threat of creeping degeneration from lower subspecies, such as criminals, and it promotes the flourishing of the dominant subspecies, the group with desirable characteristics. Even though biopower operates at a different level than disciplinary power, it infiltrates and embeds itself in existing disciplinary mechanisms. These two types of power—disciplinary power and biopower—jointly produce state-sponsored racisms. Foucault argues that in all modern states, racism is inscribed “as the basic mechanism” of state power. Since states create conditions that determine who to “make live and let die,” racisms must be understood as complex power relations that move beyond conventional racial categories. 31 Racism is “a way of introducing a break into the domain of life . . . between what must live and what must die.” 32 The break is direct and explicit: “Racism makes it possible to establish a relationship between my life and the death of the other that is not a . . . warlike relationship of confrontation, but a biological-type relationship . . . the death of the other, the bad race, the inferior race, (the degenerate or the abnormal) is something that will make life healthier or purer.” 33 At base, the survival of the dominant racial group is linked to the death of other races. It is crucial to recognize that these mechanisms need not, and often do not, operate through conscious choice. State actors often claim to be unbiased, and they may be unaware of the ways in which their actions are infused with racial bias. In the United States, this is possible because of the automatic association between blacks and crime. Using Foucault, I argue that a person’s relationship to and perception of blacks is not merely a matter of personal choice, but part of a larger structure in which blackness is made visible as a form of degeneracy. Under biopower, bodies that appear to be “black” constitute a population that is read as “degenerate,” not because there is anything inherently degenerate in blackness, but because of how blackness, as a feature of populations, comes to be viewed both individually and collectively. The psychological research on “Seeing Black” underscores these points and allows us to see how “stand your ground” laws can be infused with race while seeming to be race-neutral. Even when individuals do not have a preference for or animosity toward specific racial groups, they have automatic racialized responses. Black men are seen as violent, aggressive, and criminal even if they have not personally acted that way.


Devonya N. Havis

This association between blacks and crime is not due to a general negative bias, but is rather an automatic and subliminal response, a self-perpetuating link that “is not simply triggered, but magnified.” 34 What is significant about these responses is that intangible, seemingly race-neutral concepts like crime and danger have become strongly associated with blacks, and the association is bidirectional. At the same time, whiteness suppresses an association with crime, in such a way that even if a white person is in possession of a knife or gun, that person is not seen as a criminal. In the context of Foucault’s analysis, we view blacks as a population that tends towards degeneracy, one that saps strength, “wastes energy, and costs money.” 35 Whiteness, on the other hand, is clean and hygienic. If we presume—as biopower requires—that the flourishing of one race depends on the withering of another, then it is necessary to “police the borders” between populations. And if we understand the modern state’s dependence on biopower, Foucault’s analysis explains how groups like ALEC and the NRA use the concept of “security” as a means of racial policing. Even while the statutes they promote appear to be race neutral, such laws become anchorage points for state-sponsored racism. Because many conservatives believe the state is not effectively using its power to, in Foucault’s words, “make live and let die,” they seek to effectively deputize individuals with the power to manage “degenerate” populations. When the NRA declares it is “standing with the victims” of crime against criminals, many whites subconsciously hear them to say they are standing with white victims against black criminals. More pernicious is the fact that we—and perhaps even the proponents of “stand your ground” laws themselves—do not view the laws as racialized. The Castle Doctrine itself is ultimately as much about property as human life. 36 The doctrine classifies populations who own property as more valuable to the state than others, and codifies that value in law. By contrast, the “stand your ground” laws are concerned with the public sphere, with perceived threats to life and safety, and thus they invest individuals with the state-sanctioned power to “make live and let die.” In Foucault’s analysis, the flourishing of the dominant subspecies depends on the withering of degenerate populations—populations that are overtly called “criminal” and subliminally known as “black.” By promoting “stand your ground” laws, what ALEC and the NRA are doing— even if subconsciously—is codifying whiteness as worthy of living and flourishing, which consequently means that blackness must whither and die. This is typically a relationship of war, but the relationship becomes codified in state law without an explicit invocation of war between whites and blacks. Instead, the public justification for “stand your ground” laws comes in the midst of growing fear about the state’s ability to protect white individuals. And it is that public “justification” that

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relies on, and is bolstered by, our post-911 fears of terrorism, the widespread dispersal of images that link blackness with criminality (including images from the aftermath of hurricane Katrina), and a fear that the rights of criminals have trumped the rights of victims. In a post-911 world, whites fear that the state cannot effectively police public places. “Stand your ground” laws are thus a racially-charged way of using security to weed out degeneracy. The laws themselves give individuals the right to exercise surveillance in public places, a power previously limited to the state. Whites are conditioned to fear blacks because they are a population composed of what Foucault would call dangerous (and degenerate) individuals. The problem with such persons is that we do not know when actual danger may arise. Thus, efforts to protect preferred populations from danger must be grounded in what we believe blacks to be, without regard to individual behavior. This fear of uncertain danger underlies the public justification for “stand your ground” laws. For the state and for dominant populations, the question becomes this: How do we protect ourselves from dangerous individuals, when we do not know when danger will actually arise? By granting individuals the right to use deadly force in public places whenever they “reasonably believe” they are threatened, the state attempts to manage and regulate public exposure to this dormant danger. While “stand your ground” laws appear to be racially-neutral, they, in fact, function as an anchorage point for state-sponsored racisms. In a society that associates crime with blackness, such laws are racially charged. As written, Florida’s “stand your ground” law permits individuals to use deadly force when they “reasonably” believe they are threatened. But when are such beliefs “reasonable,” and who will decide? In a mixed-race encounter, the answer depends heavily on the race of the participants. As the “Seeing Black” research suggests, a white person who encounters a black person may perceive the black to be threatening, even when no threat exists. White witnesses to an encounter between a white man and a black man are likely to perceive the black man as “criminal,” while simultaneously discounting the possibility that a white man was the aggressor. And when white judges and white jurors must consider whether a defendant “reasonably” believed his life was threatened, they are more likely to side with the defendant when he is white and the person he shot was black. All of this is embedded so deeply in mechanisms of state power—and our individual psyches—that it can function automatically and subconsciously. But even so, this exercise of state-sponsored racism is essential to the operation of modern states. And so we return to the quote from Foucault with which I began: “Racism is the indispensable precondition that allows someone to be killed, that allows others to be killed. Once the state functions in the biopower mode, racism alone can justify the murderous function of the State.” 37 At the crux of racism in the modern state


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is the power to “make live and let die,” a power that Florida’s “stand your ground” law now grants to individual citizens. CONCLUSION: RETELLING THE TALE OF TWO SHOOTINGS To underscore the extent to which “stand your ground” statutes are anchorage points for state racisms, I will briefly retell the stories that began this chapter, and reverse the racial roles. In the first story, an elderly white man comes out of his house to object to a skateboarder on a basketball court. A younger, much larger, and visibly irate black man tries to argue that skateboarding is not banned. The white man turns and attempts to walk away. After screaming “I’m not done with you,” the black man rapidly approaches the white man. They struggle, and the black man is shot. Given that scenario, it seems unlikely that a white judge or jury would doubt the elderly white man’s assertion that he had a reasonable fear for his safety. And yet, in May 2012, a Florida judge ruled that Trevor Dooley—a black man who shot a white man in those circumstances—did not have a “reasonable” fear. In the second story, a white teenager is walking to the home of his father’s fiancée. A black man, acting as a neighborhood watch volunteer, spots the teenager. He calls a non-emergency dispatch operator to complain about a “suspicious guy” who “looks like he’s up to no good” and “on drugs or something.” Neighbors hear arguing, and the black man shoots the white teenager. Would a white jury believe the black man’s claim that a white teenager carrying Skittles and iced tea had attacked him? And if the dead white teenager could speak, would anyone doubt his claim that the black man was the aggressor? NOTES 1. State of Florida v. Trevor Dooley (Circut Court for Hillsborough County, Florida 2012). 2. Greg Botelho, “What Happened the Night Trayvon Martin Died,” CNN, n.d., http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/18/justice/florida-teen-shooting-details/index.html. 3. Benjamin Levin, “A Defensible Defense?: Reexamining Castle Doctrine Statutes,” Harvard Journal on Legislation 47 (Summer 2010): 528. 4. Christine Catalfamo, “Stand Your Ground: Florida’s Castle Doctrine for the Twenty-First Century,” Rutgers Journal of Law & Public Policy 4 (Fall 2007): 504. 5. Jeannie Suk, At Home in the Law: How the Domestic Violence Revolution Is Transforming Privacy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 59. Of course, black people have historically always been beyond the protection of the law. 6. Catalfamo, “Stand Your Ground: Florida’s Castle Doctrine for the Twenty-First Century,” 506. 7. Ibid.

“Seeing Black” through Michel Foucault’s Eyes


8. Steven Jansen and M. Elaine Nugent-Borakove, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine: Implications for Policy and Practice” (National District Attorneys Association, n.d.), http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/Castle%20Doctrine.pdf; Zachary Weaver, “Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law: The Actual Effects and the Need for Clarification,” University of Miami Law Review 63 (October 2008): 395–430; Catalfamo, “Stand Your Ground: Florida’s Castle Doctrine for the Twenty-First Century.” 9. Justifiable Use of Force, Florida Criminal Code, 2005, http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0776/0776ContentsInd ex.html. 10. Jansen and Nugent-Borakove, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine: Implications for Policy and Practice.” 11. “Stand Your Ground Laws Coincide with Jump in Justifiable-Homicide Cases,” The Washington Post, n.d., http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/stand-yourground-laws-coincide-with-jump-in-justifiable-homicide-cases/2012/04/07/gIQAS2v51 S_print.html. 12. Susan Taylor Martin and Kris Hundley, “Race Plays Complex Role in Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law - Tampa Bay Times,” Tampa Bay Times, June 4, 2012, http:// www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/race-plays-complex-role-in-floridas-standyour-ground-law/1233152. 13. Jansen and Nugent-Borakove, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine: Implications for Policy and Practice.” 14. P. Luevonda Ross, “The Transmogrification of Self-defense by National Rifle Association-Inspired Statutes: From the Doctrine of Retreat to the Right to Stand Your Ground,” Southern University Law Review 35 (Fall 2007): 1–46. 15. Lisa Graves, “ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection,” The Nation, July 12, 2011, http://www.thenation.com/article/161973/koch-connection. 16. Ross, “The Transmogrification of Self-defense by National Rifle AssociationInspired Statutes: From the Doctrine of Retreat to the Right to Stand Your Ground,” 26; Weaver, “Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law: The Actual Effects and the Need for Clarification,” 396–97. 17. Weaver, “Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law: The Actual Effects and the Need for Clarification,” 396; Jansen and Nugent-Borakove, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine: Implications for Policy and Practice.” 18. Jennifer L. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87, no. 6 (December 2004): 877. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. 21. Ibid., 876. 22. Ibid., 887–88. 23. Ibid., 891. 24. Michel Foucault et al., Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1975–76 (Macmillan, 2003), 239. 25. Ibid., 242–46. 26. Ibid., 243. 27. The term “subspecies” arose within the nineteenth-century taxonomy of biological classification. Foucault uses the term as a way to mark the historical progression of racialized discourse. It marks the way in which the human species was divided into a mixture of races or “subspecies” as a way of marking heritable differences. In this account, all races can be equated with various subspecies of the human race. 28. Foucault et al., Society Must Be Defended, 245. 29. Ibid., 247. 30. Ibid., 244–49. 31. Ibid., 240–41. 32. Ibid., 254. 33. Ibid., 255. 34. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black,” 891.


Devonya N. Havis

35. Foucault et al., Society Must Be Defended, 244. 36. Levin, “A Defensible Defense?: Reexamining Castle Doctrine Statutes,” 200. 37. Foucault et al., Society Must Be Defended, 256.

TEN Should Black Kids Avoid Wearing Hoodies? Chike Jeffers

I believe George Zimmerman, the overzealous neighborhood watch captain, should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law and, if he is criminally liable, he should be prosecuted. But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters, particularly, to not let their children go out wearing hoodies! I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. —Geraldo Rivera

Geraldo Rivera’s claim about who and what was responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin stands out for most, I think, as a particularly memorable moment in the controversy that erupted over the shooting. 1 The negative response was swift and loud, with Rivera’s own son letting him know that he was “ashamed” of his father’s position, and Rivera eventually apologized. 2 He had good reason to do so: putting Martin’s choice of clothing on a par with George Zimmerman and his gun in explaining why Martin was shot and killed seems like a clear-cut case of victim-blaming. Nevertheless, if we remove this element of blaming the victim from Rivera’s position, keeping only the warning to parents about regulating their children’s clothing, then it is not so clear that we should scorn the message. If, as Rivera claimed, this is a message that may save lives, then it would seem we ought to seriously consider it: should black kids, and other young people of color, avoid wearing hoodies? This, I believe, is just one example of the range of philosophical issues raised by Martin’s tragic death and the controversy surrounding it, for what we have here is an ethical challenge—a question, that is, about what 129


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we ought or ought not to do and about how we ought to live our lives. Part of this challenge is prudential, as the question is partly concerned with how we might be prudent in avoiding unnecessary harm. If we had reason to believe wearing a hoodie made it almost certain that one would be subjected to potentially fatal violence, then the question would be wholly prudential: it would be beyond obvious that it is imprudent to wear a hoodie and no further deliberation would be necessary. Since we do not have reason to think the danger is so inescapable, though, considerations of prudence must be weighed against other considerations, like the concern we might have for the ability of young people to express themselves freely. In this chapter, I want to take up the ethical question that Rivera has led us to confront, but I wish to combine it with an investigation into some important and unresolved theoretical and practical issues in the philosophy of race. The issues I have in mind concern the relationship between racial and cultural difference and the relevance of cultural difference to fighting racism. I will proceed by considering a few different ways to think about what hoodies might mean, explaining my take on the role of culture in fighting racism, and then arriving at a conclusion about hoodies by taking a detour through the heated debate over sagging pants. I will close with some thoughts on the popular protest of wearing hoodies for Trayvon. ARE HOODIES MEANINGLESS? A useful way to think about what is involved in saying that we do the wrong thing when we choose to wear this or that item of clothing is to think of our clothing choices as forms of communication. If I attend an event promoting the equality of women wearing a t-shirt with an image of a scantily clad woman in what could be considered an objectifying pose, it can be argued that I am communicating a heinous message of disregard for the event’s theme. So what does a young black person communicate when he or she wears a hoodie? One plausible answer is “nothing.” What some have tried to point out in response to Rivera’s comments and Zimmerman’s non-emergency dispatch call (in which he spoke of Martin’s hoodie while reporting him as looking suspicious) is that hooded sweatshirts are among the most ordinary, common, and banal forms of casual wear available. Some have compiled photos of public figures sporting hoodies, including actor Brad Pitt, singer Justin Bieber, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, right-wing icon Sarah Palin, and—sitting together at a baseball game—Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Rivera himself! 3 As these photos feature hoodies but do not seem sinister in the slightest, the implication is put forth that it is utter nonsense to suggest that the hoodie itself is scary and threaten-

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ing. 4 One is led to conclude that the hoodie is not plausibly interpreted as communicating any particular message. 5 What put Martin at risk is not what he was wearing but the fact that he was a young black male, and no change in his choice of clothing could have changed that fact. On the basis of this point, one might be led to answer the question of whether black kids should avoid hoodies by saying: “No, to ask black kids to avoid hooded sweatshirts is to seek a false sense of security and give into the distraction of focusing on what is ultimately a very nondescript form of clothing.” The claim being made here might be that the hoodie really is completely irrelevant to how dangerous black kids are perceived as being and thus it really makes no difference whether it is worn or not. More modestly, and more plausibly, the claim might be that a hoodie on a young black person is admittedly more associated with danger than some other items of clothing at present, but given how irrational this association is and how little it has to do with the nature of the hoodie itself, we have no reason to think a simple shift toward other forms of clothing would do anything but give rise to equally irrational associations. 6 Especially in its more plausible version, I suspect there is something right in the above argument. Nevertheless, I wish to pursue the question of what we ought to say if we decide that hoodies are not meaningless. What if we accept that, although both Sarah Palin and Trayvon Martin have worn hoodies, it meant something different when Martin wore one? What if, when Martin wore a hoodie, it communicated something about what is cool among black kids? Rivera suggests that the hoodie, when worn by black and Latino kids, communicates a message of this type but that what is being taken to be cool is a dangerous persona: “If you dress like a wannabe gangster, some knucklehead is gonna take you at your word.” 7 If this is an accurate depiction of what the hoodie communicates, then Rivera is right: black kids should avoid wearing hoodies. CHARLES MILLS AND BLACK YOUTH CULTURE At this point, I want to bring up a way of supporting the conclusion that hoodies are to be avoided from an angle very different from Rivera’s. In his 2007 essay, “Multiculturalism as/and/or Anti-Racism?,” philosopher Charles Mills evaluates the extent to which the multiculturalist project of encouraging the acceptance and valuing of cultural diversity can be treated as the same as, as a form of, or as opposed to the project of overcoming racism. He admits that multiculturalism usefully challenges the racist treatment of European culture as superior, but he argues that to think multiculturalism can address racism in its totality is to misunderstand racism’s depth and scope: “The defining feature of racism . . . is not just the failure to recognize the equal worth of the culture of the racialized


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group but, more ominously, the failure to recognize their very humanity.” 8 Thus multiculturalism is, at best, only one component in the broader fight to end and undo the effects of the systematic mistreatment of people of color. Black youth culture comes up for Mills in the context of his discussion of cases in which he suspects multiculturalism may not even count as a useful component of anti-racism. He suggests that some of the ways in which African Americans can be perceived as culturally distinct, for example, do not call for the kind of protection and preservation we associate with multiculturalism but rather for an analysis and critique of how these differences came into being: [T]he ghetto culture which—given the global success of hip hop—is sometimes seen as authentically black (while, of course, being enthusiastically imitated by millions of suburban white kids) may require less an uncritical multiculturalist “respect” than an understanding of its sources in systemic social oppression. . . . Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton point out that as a result of the hyper-segregation of innercity blacks . . . many African-American youth live in what is virtually a world of their own and have created an “oppositional culture” . . . “a culture of segregation,” . . . “defined in opposition to the basic ideals and values of American society.” 9

Mills does not mean to denigrate this oppositional culture, as he believes it has served as a means for black youth to “affirm their humanity.” 10 Nevertheless, he argues, “it would clearly be absurd to fetishize all aspects of this underclass “culture” instead of seeing it as a desperate reaction to terrible circumstances that themselves need to be changed.” 11 The connection between this criticism of multiculturalism and our discussion of the Trayvon Martin case becomes especially clear when Mills quotes a New York Times opinion piece describing the black and Arab youth who took part in the 2005 riots in the impoverished suburbs of France: “[T]he young men wear the same hooded sweatshirts, listen to similar music and use slang in the same way as their counterparts in Los Angeles or Washington.” 12 A Millsian position on the question of whether hoodies should be avoided thus emerges: insofar as what hoodies communicate when worn by some black kids is a message of opposition in response to the alienation of being black and economically marginalized in a racist society, we should strive to undo the conditions under which black kids wear hoodies in this way. Unlike Rivera’s original statement, there is no victim-blaming here. The Millsian position does not even lead us to spend time telling black kids (or Latino kids or Arab kids) what to do. 13 Nevertheless, it does, like Rivera’s position, suggest that hoodies are to be avoided, because it holds that the conditions under which they are worn as they are worn today ought to be avoided. 14

Should Black Kids Avoid Wearing Hoodies?


THE ROLE OF CULTURE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM What Mills confronts in his essay is the question of what culture has to do with problems of race. He suggests that there is some connection because part of the history of racism is the history of whiteness being associated with cultural superiority, but he also suggests that it is important to avoid seeing racism as “a matter of mere cultural misunderstanding and deprecation.” 15 Among the simplest and most significant reasons to avoid seeing racism this way is the fact that racial designations and cultural identities are two different things: there is no “essentialist one-to-one correspondence” between the two. 16 This point is important not only to Mills but to Tommie Shelby, whose 2005 book We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity supports group solidarity among black people (specifically in the United States) but only when this is understood as a political form of unity based on the shared experience of oppression and directed at the goal of ending anti-black racism. Shelby rejects black solidarity based on the notion of a shared cultural identity. Like Mills, he emphasizes the fact that “not all persons designated as racially black self-identify as culturally black,” and he notes this while arguing against the view that “a commitment to black cultural autonomy” is a necessary component of an emancipatory black solidarity. 17 Shelby believes that the cultural nationalist demand for black people to cultivate a strong cultural identity is neither necessary nor even helpful for the purpose of banding together to fight racism. I think Shelby is wrong to try to push aside the cultural dimension of black resistance to racism and, while I agree with Mills that multiculturalism cannot be the solution to racism in all its forms, I think he, like Shelby, is too quick to dismiss the importance of affirming cultural difference. It is not that I think Mills and Shelby are wrong to say that race and culture are two different things, as I think this cannot be denied. Pointing out the fact that they are not the same, however, should not lead us to neglect the important ways in which they are intertwined. The problem is that racism operates in two seemingly contradictory ways. On the one hand, racism creates difference where there ought to be none. Humans who deserve to be treated as equals are, through racism, divided into different groups such that some wield more power and have greater access to resources and opportunities. On the other hand, racism also stigmatizes difference where it ought to be allowed to flourish. Nonwhite people are made to feel that any distinctive ways in which they think, talk, look, and behave are inferior to ways in which white people reason, act, and express themselves. If we follow Shelby in dismissing the need for a cultural component to black solidarity, I believe we fail to address racism of the latter sort—that is, the racist stigmatization of black cultural difference.


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I therefore maintain that the celebration and defense of black cultural difference is essential to the fight against anti-black racism. To hold this, it is not necessary to believe that black people committed to fighting racism are required to come up with and adhere to some uniform conception of what it means to be culturally black. Black culture is, of course, incredibly diverse, encompassing a continent and a diaspora full of different languages, religions, art forms, etc., and agreement on what is and what is not part of black culture is hard to achieve. But to share a general commitment to valuing the cultural productions and habits of people of African descent does not require uniformity in what we value, why we value it, etc. What is required is, first of all, a belief that, despite the ways in which being black has meant a position of disadvantage in the modern world, the strength and creativity of people of African descent have also made black identity a source of valuable cultural contributions. Secondly, building upon this belief, resistance to Eurocentrism through valuing black culture requires seeking some level of familiarity with its breadth and cultivating with others a shared sense of investment in and appreciation of it. These two requirements are compatible with a huge amount of variation in one’s personal construction of identity and pursuit of particular interests, and thus I believe worries about how a focus on culture constrains individuality are overblown. It is important to recognize, however, that appreciation of culture must always be critical appreciation, if one is to avoid irrationality and immorality. The fact that a certain practice is traditional cannot serve as a justification for it if it turns out to make no sense at all or to be clearly morally wrong. It is often thought that cultural nationalism is untenable precisely because it commits one to extreme conservatism of this type. And yet, there is nothing strange in black cultural nationalists opposing the continuation of a deeply-entrenched practice: think, for example, of their side of the debate over hair-straightening practices among black women. Willingness to criticize practices which are common among black people but which one takes to be harmful to their advancement is thus already implicit within black cultural resistance. If the position of critically appreciating black culture that I have advocated is accepted, then we find ourselves confronted once more by the question of what to say about black youth culture. Perhaps, given what I have said, we can accuse Mills of not being sensitive enough to the need to defend the cultural creativity of inner-city black youth against outside pressure to assimilate. Alternatively, we might take Mills to be rightly pointing out that at least some aspects of black youth culture deserve to be seen in a more critical light, a light which will reveal them as dependent upon forms of marginalization that we should be trying to eradicate. In the following section, I will attempt to offer some guidance concerning how we might evaluate these two alternatives. But, since we encountered before the position that hooded sweatshirts are actually a rather unre-

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markable form of clothing, I will turn to focus in what follows on a style popular among black kids that is undoubtedly, unmistakably controversial: sagging pants. THE SAGGING PANTS DEBATE The habit many black youth have of letting their pants sag below their waist is so controversial that, in a number of places within the United States, there are official bans on the practice and, in many more, there have been attempts to ban it. 18 It is possible to believe that these bans constitute entirely inappropriate attempts by authorities to control young people’s choices while also believing that the practice itself is contrary to the best interests of black people and ought to be given up. 19 For this reason, I will not pursue the question of the justifiability of the bans and will instead endeavor, firstly, to show that positions both for and against the general acceptance of sagging are compatible with the commitment to black cultural autonomy I have recommended and, secondly, to offer some support to the pro-sagging position. Many black people, adults and elders especially, are vociferous in their opposition to the practice, but this in itself should not be taken as evidence that opposition to the practice has no connection to anti-black racism. When opposing a practice commonly associated with black people, it is imperative that one begin by honestly reflecting upon the possibility that the impulse to conform to a Eurocentric model is part of what is behind one’s discomfort. If, for example, one’s primary complaint about sagging is that this will hurt a young person’s chances in a job interview, one has not yet articulated a reason for the style to be avoided in general (e.g., outside work settings). Imagine a workplace that requires formal dress and does not accept, as a type of formal dress, wearing traditional African outfits. 20 Even if we decide that it is unnecessary to protest this close-mindedness, we should be aware that a decision to avoid traditional African clothing in this circumstance is best seen as a strategic decision to comply with rules that have no bearing whatsoever on the value of wearing such clothing in other circumstances. I do not doubt, however, that one can oppose sagging in any and all circumstances without being influenced by a Eurocentric attitude toward black culture. One might have worries, for example, about the origin of the style: if, as many people believe, it began as an imitation of prison culture (as belts are generally not permitted in prison), then one might justifiably reject the practice on the grounds that glorifying incarceration is clearly at odds with black advancement. 21 But one need not look to this origin story for reasons to oppose sagging. One might see the practice as communicating in a more immediate way a basic message of disregard for oneself and others: sagging makes it easier to trip and harder to walk,


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it displays or risks the display of one’s underwear to the world, and, in these ways and others, it can be seen as symbolizing a fundamental lack of seriousness about life. Such a message is clearly one to be avoided if black kids are to avoid reproducing the old stereotype of black people as constitutionally lazy. It is thus reasonable, from the perspective of black cultural resistance, to criticize and to encourage the avoidance of sagging. What might be harder for many black adults and elders to see is why it might be reasonable, from such a perspective, to defend the practice and encourage its acceptance. Note, first of all, that even if the prison origin story is true, that does not mean kids sagging their pants today are communicating a desire to be in prison. Sagging is much more clearly associated with a musical culture—hip hop—than with incarceration. Secondly, while the interpretation of sagging as communicating laziness may be reasonable, this does not rule out the possibility of an alternative interpretation: for example, one according to which sagging communicates an unruly sense of freedom and the refusal of black cool to be kept tightly bound. Such a message is not so much self-denigrating as it is pointedly anti-assimilationist. Now, for sagging to productively communicate a message of this type, it must be the case that its potential to do so is not counteracted by problematic forms of discourse and behavior. An opponent of the style might rightly point out that it would be unreasonable to pretend that its current association with hip hop means that it communicates nothing but positive values. The portrayal and often outright glorification of criminality has long been one part, among others, of hip hop culture, and while we can talk about this appreciatively by talking about the virtue of reflecting reality in art, such a move leads us back to the Millsian position that we should also be constantly working toward undoing the conditions under which hip hop culture is lived as it is today. Perhaps this means that sagging too can be seen as expressing what Mills calls the “spiritual resilience” of oppositional culture while being at the same time something we should be happy to see fade away as we make progress toward overcoming racial and class inequality. 22 There are some forms of cultural creativity among inner-city black youth for which I think the Millsian position is very clearly appropriate: for example, uses of color and/or asymmetry to symbolize gang affiliation may be creative but should clearly, given their direct connection to gang violence, be avoided (both immediately and through the long-term project of bettering life for young people of color so that gang activity loses its appeal). It is not clear to me, however, that letting one’s pants sag belongs in the same category. Nothing in the practice unequivocally points to violence or criminal activity. Given this, I think it is important to recognize the anti-assimilationist potential in denying the need to avoid the style. This potential is best appreciated, I believe, if we imagine a

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young person—say, for example, a young man Trayvon Martin’s age— who is exemplary in just about every respect: he excels in school; he is active in his community through volunteering and mentoring younger kids; he is respectful of women, of his elders, and of people in general; and he strives always to honor the legacy of his people. Now, imagine that, in non-formal settings, he often dresses as many of his peers do, which includes sagging his pants. My intuition is that the message communicated by this young man’s style of dress involves the valuing of black youth creativity without any endorsement of the negativity often tied to the style through racist stereotypes or the effects of social disadvantage. To the extent that this young man might be seen as a rare case, that only increases the power of the model he presents: the avid pursuit of excellence not premised on conforming to authoritative (white) images of success. WEARING HOODIES FOR TRAYVON What I have said for sagging pants, I say for hoodies: aside from contextrelative strategic choices—whether in the workplace or in some context where it is known that wearing a hoodie is extremely likely to make one a target of violence—we should accept the wearing of hoodies as part of black youth culture and even applaud those who express themselves this way while exploding stereotypes through their pursuit of excellence. 23 Against both Rivera and the Millsian position, then, I argue that black kids wearing hoodies is not something we need to avoid. I want to close by considering a way in which the kind of defense of hoodies I have just offered may be seen as capturing at least one aspect of the response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. As the story of the shooting gained increasing attention and as outrage grew over the fact that Zimmerman had not been arrested, one notable form of protest that emerged was the simple act of wearing a hoodie. In widely circulated photos of everyday people and celebrities, in large numbers at the “Million Hoodies for Trayvon March” in New York City, and in a number of other contexts, people of various ages and backgrounds put on hoodies as a show of solidarity and as a demand for justice. Perhaps the most memorable incident involved Congressman Bobby Rush, who wore a hoodie on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and was escorted off the floor for breaking the House’s rules concerning the wearing of hats. The image of Rush, former Black Panther and now distinguished sixty-five-year-old politician, putting on his hood in the legislature is undeniably powerful, but it can be read in different ways. We might take Rush and others to be expressing the first way of thinking about the hoodie that we considered, that is, the view that the hoodie is something raceless


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and meaningless that has been invested with meaning only by racist misperceptions. This may very well have been many people’s intentions. Especially in cases like that of Rush, however, and other black adults and elders who wore hoodies for Trayvon, we might also see here a sort of poignant embrace of black youth culture at a critical moment where it seems to have been targeted as representative of the badness of blackness generally. Hoodies are not to be avoided, and this is because our youth and their ways of expressing themselves are not to be avoided—they are to be engaged with critically, no doubt, but they are also to be respected, sympathetically understood, and, when necessary, defended against white supremacist demonization and devaluation. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank Mark Harris, Luvell Anderson, Vanessa Wills, Tommy Curry, and Aja Bonner for reading drafts of this chapter and giving me useful feedback. I would also like to thank Francis Jeffers, Isaac Saney, and Tina Roberts-Jeffers for conversations that helped me flesh out the chapter’s ideas. Finally, I am grateful to Janine Jones and George Yancy for including me in this project and for their helpful editorial work. NOTES 1. Geraldo Rivera made the quoted comment on the Fox News Channel’s morning show Fox & Friends on March 23, 2012. See http://www.politico.com/news/stories/ 0312/74392.html. 2. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/geraldo-rivera-apology-trayvon-martin-hoodie_n_1382814.html. A couple of months later, however, Rivera effectively resurrected his controversial stance. Appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor on May 18, he reacted to released surveillance camera footage showing Martin in a 7-Eleven on the night he was killed by referring to him as “dressed in thug wear” (and Rivera said this in the context of offering his opinion that Zimmerman will likely not be convicted of second degree murder). See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/ 05/20/geraldo-rivera-trayvon-martin-thug-wear_n_1530811.html. 3. For Pitt, Bieber, and Zuckerberg, see http://www.buzzfeed.com/thefalafel/10more-suspicious-people-wearing-hoodies-4x8q. For Palin, O’Reilly, and Rivera, see http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/24/1077403/-These-People-Look-Suspicious-. Bieber, Zuckerberg, O’Reilly, and Rivera can also be found here: http:// www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/03/some-other-people-who-geraldos-standar ds-are-asking-be-shot/50261/. 4. It may be asked whether what is important to the hoodie being scary or not is the question of whether the hood is worn up or not. Rivera and O’Reilly, for example, do not have their hoods on in the photo referenced in the previous note. Some of the other photos, though, including the first of the two photos of Bieber, are photos in which the hood is worn up. 5. I would count views according to which the hoodie is purely utilitarian as making the hoodie meaningless in this sense as well. Lest we forget, it was raining when Martin was shot, and so it is reasonable to think that, at least in certain circum-

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stances, the hoodie is best interpreted as communicating nothing other than the desire not to be wet. 6. It can be argued that the latter, more modest claim makes it futile to encourage black kids as a group to give up hoodies but it does make it rational for any particular black kid at present to avoid wearing a hoodie in order to avoid any current negative associations. While this is true, it should be noted that this is quite different from the conclusion Rivera has endorsed. As mentioned in a previous note, he describes the hoodie as “thug wear” and thus as a form of clothing that effectively communicates a bad message (rather than something that is merely invested with negative content by the irrational racist), and he encourages black and Latino populations as a group to prevent their young people from communicating this bad message. 7. This appearance on The O’Reilly Factor was on March 23, the same day as his appearance on Fox & Friends. See http://mediamatters.org/blog/201203230018. 8. Charles W. Mills, “Multiculturalism as/and/or Anti-Racism?” in Multiculturalism and Political Theory, eds. Anthony Simon Laden and David Owen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 94. Emphasis mine. 9. Ibid., 99–100. 10. Ibid., 100. 11. Ibid. 12. Quoted in ibid. Emphasis mine. 13. This is partly because the Millsian position shows some respect for the selfexpression of marginalized youth, but it should be noted that it also avoids focusing on telling young people what to do because it does not, as Rivera’s position does, imply that they can successfully evade danger and stigmatization just by avoiding hoodies. 14. It may be wondered whether the wearing of hoodies by middle- or upper-class black kids becomes irrelevant under this interpretation of what it means to say that hoodies should be avoided. Insofar as these kids find hoodies to be cool because they are attracted to and wish to participate in communicating the aforementioned oppositional message, the point remains the same. 15. Mills, 94. 16. Ibid., 100. 17. Tommie Shelby, We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 167, 161. 18. Some discussion of the various places where there are bans or where there have been attempts at bans can be found here: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-0823/news/ct-met-saggy-pants-20110823_1_saggy-pants-lynwood-mayor-eugene-willia ms-bans. In at least one case, such a ban has been found by a judge to be unconstitutional. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26759466/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/ judge-rules-saggy-pants-law-unconstitutional/. 19. This seems to be the position of President Obama, who said in a 2008 interview on MTV (while still a candidate for president): “I think passing a law about people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time. . . . Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants.” See http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1598462/barack-obama-weighson-sagging-pants-ordinances.jhtml. 20. This is not a far-fetched scenario. One might easily think here of cases like those in 1987 in which black female hotel employees filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being reprimanded and having their jobs threatened for wearing cornrows, or the case in 2007 of a white editor of Glamour magazine doing a workshop on fashion dos and don’ts in which she reportedly told a room of female attorneys, concerning Afros and dreadlocks, that those “political hairstyles really have to go.” See Alison Dundes Renteln, The Cultural Defense (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 140–46; and Tania Padgett, “Straight Talk: Ethnic Hair Remains Sensitive Issue in Corporate America,” The Seattle Times, December 16, 2007, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2004067966_ethnichair16.html.


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21. For a discussion of the claim that sagging pants not only derive from prison culture but originally communicate sexual availability in that context, see http:// www.snopes.com/risque/homosex/sagging.asp. The author seeks to debunk the sexual availability claim but not the prison origin story as a whole. 22. Mills, 100. 23. For some parents, the extreme likelihood of physical harm will seem too high a threshold, and any likelihood at all will seem more appropriate. Such an approach to the dangers of the world can lead to immobilizing forms of paranoia (e.g., not letting one’s child spend any time outside the home except when at school) and, though every parent or set of parents must decide for themselves what counts as necessary protection versus going too far, it strikes me as doing the child a disservice.

ELEVEN Can We Imagine This Happening to a White Boy? Janine Jones

Understood at its simplest, value is an arbiter among disparate entities—however, an arbiter seeking to naturalize its very processes of arbitration. —Lindon Barrett, Value and Blackness 1

INTRODUCTION In U.S. society, as it is actually configured, can we imagine an armed Black man pursuing a young White boy, killing him because, allegedly, he felt threatened by the White boy, who was running away from him, and subsequently, on his testimony alone, being given a pass by the State’s Attorney’s Office to walk free, allegedly because there was not enough evidence to make an arrest? In “What Are You Doing around Here?”: Trayvon Martin and the Logic of Black Guilt” (in this volume), Vanessa Wills recounts how she asked her students just such a question. Her classroom rippled with laughter. Wills interpreted that laughter to convey the students’ recognition of the impossibility of the scenario. 2 In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander raises a similar question— initially posed by economist Glenn Loury in The Anatomy of Racial Inequality—about what we can imagine. Alexander’s query does not, however, pertain to imaginings about individual Black males and individual White males. Rather, it is about Black men and White men in general. In fact, the grounding for the question about individuals lies in the general question. Alexander asked the following: 141


Janine Jones Can we envision a system that would enforce drug laws almost exclusively among young White men and largely ignore drug crime among Black men? Can we imagine young White men being rounded up for minor drug offenses, placed under the control of the criminal justice system, and then subjected to a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion? Can we imagine this happening while [imagining] most Black men landed decent jobs or trotted off to college?” 3

Alexander responded categorically: “No, we cannot.” 4 On the heels of her assertion she pointedly raises the following question: “Whom do we care about?” 5 Arguably, that which is positively valued is not treated as dispensable and as worthy of no more than a lifetime of scorn, an early death, or, short of that, a long, drawn-out social or civic death. By contrast, that which is negatively valued or devalued should look to such treatment as its due. In this chapter, I seek to provide a plausible interpretation of how Alexander arrived at the conclusion, “No, we cannot.” I will argue that Alexander is invoking a view of conceivability according to which what is conceivable of a subject is constrained by and reflective of what is possible for that subject, where the possibilities in question depend on and are circumscribed by what the subject is. In the case at hand, the subjects are White men and Black men, although they could be White people and Black people in general. 6 The kind of possibilities that organize White male horizons and regulate Black male limitations reflect and constrain what we can conceive about White males and Black males because the values that shape American White supremacist conceptions of who or what White males and Black males are comprise the stuff such possibilities are generated from. My interpretation of Alexander’s claim would then be that what is conceivable of White men and Black men is constrained by and reflective of what is possible for White men and Black men, where the possibilities for each depend on who/what they are, and where who/what they are is normatively constituted and governed by the value attributed them. Lucius Outlaw tells us in “Africana Philosophy” that African and African-descended people have been compelled to engage philosophical questions. As Outlaw wrote: The survival and endurance of conditions of racialized and gendered colonization, enslavement, and oppression—not conditions of leisured freedom—compelled more than a few African and African-descended persons to philosophize. Almost daily, even on what seemed the most mundane of occasions, oppressed Black people were compelled to consider the most fundamental existential questions: . . . Die at one’s own initiation? Or, capitulate to dehumanization? Or, struggle to find and sustain faith and hope for a better life, on earth as well as in the afterlife, through creativity and beauty in speech, dance, and song while at work and rest; in thought and artistry; in finding and making truth and

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right; in seeking and doing justice; in forging and sustaining relations of family and community when such relations were largely prohibited. . . ? 7

Can we imagine this happening to a White boy? Can we imagine this happening to White men? Can we imagine this happening to a White woman? Such are the type of questions we hear Black people compelled to philosophize about in their communities and in the press, whether they’re talking about Trayvon Martin, Kenneth Chamberlain, Jasmine Thar, Ramarley Graham, Marissa Alexander, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, 8 and so forth. Unfortunately, the list goes on, extending into the past, and we have every reason to believe, at present, into the unforeseeable future. Such philosophical questions lead us away from our incessant and often misguided focus on the intentions of individual White people. Their significance lies in their capacity to reveal to us, first, what kind of coherent stories or scenarios (incoherent stories/scenarios being impossible ones) can be told about White people, as opposed to Black people; and second, what may be some impossibilities for White people, as opposed to Black people, in the world as it actually is versus impossibilities for White people in a scenario or a story. In this chapter I address the issue of the conceivability of scenarios only. That being said, on some views of conceivability, conceivability of a scenario entails possibility (though not necessarily a possibility realized in the actual world), with the converse holding true as well. Of course, which stories about White people are incoherent and which happenings in the actual world are impossible for them are things most of us would know more about if it were not for the ongoing construction of ignorance about race in the United States. Thus, the continual posing of such philosophical questions aids in keeping epistemologies of ignorance about race at bay. Finally, investigation of such questions indicates to us whom as a society we value. Looking at possibilities that are constrained by and reflective of value tells us precisely and explicitly whom we care about—and then we can deny it if we dare. 9 CONCEIVING AS OPPOSED TO IMAGINING The reader may have noticed that I replaced Alexander’s claim about imagining with a claim about conceiving. I have done so because on some well known and influential philosophical traditions (Humean, for example) imagining, as opposed to conceiving, has been thought to allow us to imagine anything we like, as long as what we imagine does not lead to a formal contradiction (i.e., of the form P and not P) or to a priori contradictions amongst concepts (e.g., some bachelors are married). On a Humean conception of imagining I can, for example, imagine that cats are robots, even if they in fact are not and it is impossible for them to be so. Similar-


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ly, I can imagine White men, not in a system, as Alexander states—that would be beside the point—but in our system as it is actually structured, being treated in ways Alexander claims that we cannot imagine White men being treated. No formal contradiction would arise in imagining such a thing. Moreover, unless one thinks there are necessary conceptual connections between the concept of a certain kind of treatment and the concept of being a White man or a Black man (and some may think there are!), no conceptual contradictions would arise either. 10 For these reasons, imagining, or what many philosophers working in Western traditions of philosophy understand as imagining, should not be what Alexander (or Loury, or Wills, or I) have in mind. What we may have in mind is a conception of conceiving, according to which acts of conceiving are constrained by what is possible for a subject. This conception is strongly associated with Descartes. On Descartes’s view we cannot conceive that mind is identical with body because what we can conceive is constrained by what is possible for mind and what is possible for body. On some interpretations of Descartes, such possibilities are constrained by what mind and body are, namely, mind and body, where what they are or the kind of things they are is articulated by their natures or essences. So, for example (not one that Descartes would have given), what I am (the kind of thing I am) is a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens. Some would argue that this—my whatness, we might call it—is articulated by an essence; for example, by my DNA. 11 Descartes believed that mind possesses a nature or an essence. Its nature is constituted wholly by its being a thinking thing. On Descartes’s view, mind is necessarily not extended because being extended is inconsistent with mind’s nature—that is, being a thinking thing. 12 Mind is necessarily a thinking thing. But more than that, being a thinking thing articulates what mind is rather than simply how it is. It articulates the kind of thing mind is. By contrast, being unified with body in human beings (at least before death) may articulate how mind is necessarily. The important point to note is that the property of being unified with body does not articulate what mind is but rather how it is, whether mind possesses this property necessarily or not. 13 Also important to Descartes’s view of conceiving (and going hand in hand with the idea of whatness explained above) is the idea of a complete subject. In order to conceive something about a subject, we must have the whole subject in the conception. We fail to conceive something about mind if we fail to latch on to the subject of our act of conceiving. Can we conceive of a right triangle without conceiving of it as abiding by the Pythagorean Theorem? (Hereafter I will speak of the Pythagorean property.) If we try to do so, will we not fail to introduce a complete subject— a right triangle—as the subject of our act of conceiving? We might claim that possessing the Pythagorean property articulates only how a right triangle is necessarily, and argue that because it does not articulate what a

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right triangle is, we can successfully conceive of a right triangle without conceiving of it as possessing the Pythagorean property. Space will not allow us to pursue the myriad ways Descartes may have dealt with the problem of supplying a complete subject in acts of conceiving. Nonetheless, I want to maintain that in this case, what’s good for Descartes’s goose is good for our gander. That is, if we are to conceive something about White men and Black men, they must figure in our acts of conceiving, not some simulacra of them we conjure up by not attending, in our act of conceiving, to that which makes them normatively what they are in the actual world. In order to conceive White and Black men, that which articulates what they are (or what they are thought to be normatively) must figure in our act of conceiving. Therefore, it will be very important to concern ourselves with what White men and Black men are thought to be normatively. This can be ascertained through understanding how normatively projected values constitute and govern who/what they are. Unlike Descartes, we need not seek an a priori understanding of their normative value, a method that, I believe, ultimately fails Descartes in his enquiry into the nature of mind and body. Rather, we can look at patterns of treatment that attach to White men and Black men, which correlate with and reflect the value attributed them in the United States. 14 Finally, an important part of Descartes’s view is that the nature or essence of mind and body (which we can allegedly grasp through acts of conceiving) are mind-independent features of the world. That is to say, it is not our conception or Descartes’s conception of mind and body that make mind and body what they are. What they are is given by the world, as it were, and/or by God. We cannot change what mind and body are, and we cannot conceive them to be what they are not—for example, we cannot conceive that mind is extended. Our acts of conceiving are thus constrained by the nature of things, which are given by the world rather than being projections from our conceptions onto things in the world. But since the nature of a thing articulates what it is, the thing’s whatness also constrains what we can conceive about it. Moreover, since we cannot, on Descartes’s view, conceive something about a thing—for example, mind or body—without what that thing is figuring in our act of conceiving, our acts of conceiving will reflect the whatness of the thing in addition to being constrained by the thing’s nature, which articulates its whatness. Now we—Alexander, Loury, Wills, myself, and others—must be extremely careful with terms such as “nature.” If we’re willing to take Cartesian footsteps as regards latching on to complete subjects, we must nonetheless avoid certain Cartesian pitfalls, for we do not subscribe, at least where race is concerned, to the view that races have essences or natures given by the world and/or God. 15 Races may have whatness (there is a kind of thing that a particular race is), but their whatness is not articulated—not given—by a nature or an essence. In the context of


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White, anti-Black supremacy in the United States, the whatness of races is articulated, in great part, by value, which is projected onto different groupings of people from a White supremacist perspective. 16 Moreover, projected anti-Black, pro-White components of the whatness of races is discoverable by observing patterns of treatment (or mistreatment) correlated with and reflecting the ways different races are valued. These patterns communicate positive or negative value, which, in turn, conveys, from the perspective of the White imaginary (an imaginary not restricted to White people) what appears as essential to a particular race. This point underscores an important reason for changing Alexander’s claim that we cannot conceive a system in which such and such would happen to White men to the claim that we cannot conceive of our system as it is actually configured being such that in it such and such would happen to White men. A conceived system in which 1) the link was severed between the concept of White people and the concept of superiority and its concomitant ideas governing the treatment of White superior beings, and 2) the connection was abandoned between the concept of Black people and the concept of inferiority along with its corollary ideas governing the treatment of racialized inferiors may very well allow us to conceive of White men being treated in the ways Alexander describes. We are not here concerned with such systems. Giving Alexander the benefit of the doubt, her claim should not be interpreted as telling us what we could conceive about White men in any type of scenario, given any type of system. The notion of impossibility she invokes is not that strong. The world that provides the backdrop and the framework for the scenarios she has in mind (or should have in mind) is the United States as it actually is, where the scope of actuality includes the historical past, present, and future. It is also important to note that we—Alexander, Loury, Wills, and I— differ from traditional White American, anti-Black supremacists, who believe that races do have natures or essences; that is, who would believe that Black people and White people possess whatness articulated by essences in pretty much the same way that Descartes viewed mind and body as possessing essences that articulate what mind and body are. In White American supremacist anti-Black views of race, the nature (or essence) of White people has pertained to their superiority, with an emphasis placed on White peoples’ superior intellectual and cultural capacities, and superior aesthetic qualities, and where superiority derives from their biology. The nature of Black people has pertained to their inferiority along the same dimensions, and stems from their biology. 17 While most philosophers today may not subscribe to a theory of race according to which races possess natures that articulate what they are, interestingly this does not matter here. For the White supremacist antiBlack norms existing in the United States operate as though races were world- and/or God-given by natures articulating what kind of thing each

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race is. In order to subvert this covert naturalizing operation, we must observe the patterns of treatment that have been meted out to Black people in contrast to the patterns of treatment that have been reserved for White people. For how beings are treated (or mistreated) is a strong indicator of the value (or devalue) they are attributed. But beings’ normative projected value, when cast as categorical binary opposites, as in the case of Black and White people in the United States, reveals a normative understanding about what Black and White people are, not just how they are. Are some beings a superior kind of being? Are others an inferior kind of being? Are some beings the kind of beings to be protected and cherished, while others are the kind of beings to expose, to attack, and to forsake? As Lindon Barrett states, “Value is an arbiter of disparate [“disparate” meaning distinct in kind or essentially different] entities.” Projecting the appearance of the essentiality of White superiority over and against the appearance of the essentiality of Black inferiority, the arbiter that is value seeks “to naturalize [and hence hide] its very process of arbitration.” Hide it may. We have only to seek. THE TELLTALE HEART OF VALUE: EMPIRICAL FACTS Let’s now apprise ourselves of some empirical facts comprising patterns of treatment, which should allow us to understand who is cherished and who is forsaken, who is valued and who is devalued. Notwithstanding the fact that there have always been some free Black people in the United States, Black people, for the most part, were brought to this country to be chattel slaves and were conceived of as such. Poor White indentured servants were not chattel slaves, and were not so-conceived. The mere attempt at escape was sufficient to make a Black person, legally, a criminal. But this means that insofar as any Black slave was thought to be someone who might possibly escape (or perhaps even possibly desire to escape), any Black slave was conceivably criminal before s/ he made a move to escape—simply because s/he might make a move. The mere possibility of uncensored, unregulated movement has been sufficient, historically, for rendering Black people as criminal in the United States. Understood in this light, Trayvon Martin is not only the young man who looks like the son Obama could have had or could have, 18 he is the spitting image of the ancestors of whom we are told if we call their names daily they shall live forever. 19 Now if we look at the period during which the Black Codes reigned supreme—laws restricting Black people to abject legal situations and social spaces—we understand that Black people were not only a people apart but a people to be kept apart in conditions inferior to that of White people, whenever possible. Black people were supposed to be segregated


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even from poor White people. The two White women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, who accused nine Black men/boys, who came to be known as the Scottsboro Nine, of raping them were poor White girls found in the same space with Black boys and men. Now, had two Black girls been found in a space with White boys and men, can we conceive that there should have been the necessity for a legal intervention—whether they had been raped or not—not to mention a subsequent arrest and imprisonment of these White boys and men? “No we cannot.” Jim Crow laws and their enactment (i.e., the treatment that stemmed from them) deepened an already existing conception of the value of Black people as beings whose lives are worth no more than the economic gain they afford White people, with such value conveying who/what Black people are in relation to who/what White people are. What can be so disturbing about some of the speeches given by our political leaders is how they obfuscate these empirically observable facts, thereby obscuring realities about whom we value and whom we devalue. Such obfuscation is created when public officials such as Hillary Clinton assert, “We know that it is a fundamental belief of American life that individuals’ racial, ethnic, or religious background should not prohibit them seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 20 Politicians find ways of cloaking the way things were, the way things are. Consequently, many citizens are led to believe that they know they can conceive the (Cartesian) inconceivable. That is, they assert that they can conceive things about White and Black people, where clearly, White and Black people as they have existed in the United States cannot be the subjects of their acts of conceiving. Let’s consider a case in point. In his now famous speech on race, President Obama unveiled and veiled race in a way that, I dare say, left many White Americans pleasantly anesthetized and mystified about race. Unveiling racial problems in the United States, Obama spoke about the anger and resentment Black people feel because of how they have been treated historically. He then proceeded to veil what he had unveiled by placing White people’s anger and resentment on a par with that felt by Black people. Obama stated: In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the White community. Most working- and middle-class White Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience—as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job

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or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time. 21

So let me perform a reunveiling through the words of Jamelle Bouie, who in his piece “Violence and Economic Mobility in Jim Crow South,” did a bit of unveiling of his own. Bouie wrote: [L]ynching [was] used against Blacks who emerged as economic competitors to local Whites, and overall, the lynching rate was correlated with regional economic performance. When competition for jobs was low, lynching declined, and when competition for jobs rose—particularly during economic downturns—lynching increased . . . not only could you be killed for transgressing the nebulous and arbitrary social requirements of the Jim Crow, but you could also be killed for starting a business, accumulating wealth and otherwise trying to improve your situation. . . . You had—until the middle of the twentieth century—a country where the government worked to prevent Black economic advancement, with an assist from widespread violence from private actors. With few exceptions, this predicament was unique to African Americans. . . . Unfortunately, this is one of those things that doesn’t have a place in the public conversation, in part because most Americans either can’t or won’t imagine an America where—if you were the wrong color—pulling yourself up by your bootstraps was punishable by death. 22

Mystification and anesthetization over!—not to mention their attendant feelings of relief and cheerfulness. Poor, working-class and middle-class White Americans may feel their anger as intensely as Black people feel theirs. Their feelings may be as sharp and biting. Their anger may lead to resentment they feel grinding against their bones, churning in their bellies. But the existential grounds for their anger, the very objective-world structuring of their anger is not similar to that of African Americans. Structurally, it is not on a par with that of Black Americans, as Obama’s presidential speech may have suggested to the delight and appeasement of some. For while economic class systems operated in ways to keep poor White and working-class people down, as surely they did and do, those systems did not punish White people for trying to improve their lot in life. Or let me put it this way, which is more to the point. Economic and legal systems did not seek to destroy someone who tried to improve his situation in life because he was White. 23 White people—even poor White people—were ostentatiously valued above and over Black people. But the famous race-speech is nothing if not an act of offering an alleged coherent conceiving—the telling of an alleged possible scenario—in which White people and Black people have or could have been actually treated in the same ways. However, as soon as we use value to mark out who/what the subjects of this scenario are,


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we should see that the subjects could not be Black and White people in the United States under the White-supremacist anti-Black system that has been in operation. If Obama is talking about the United States and the world as it actually is, then neither Black nor White people figure in his story in which they’ve been placed on a par in terms of treatment, but rather some imagined beings: beings Obama has imagined in, perhaps, the Humean sense. Many poor White people have been devalued, but their devaluation marks out how they are, not who/what they are. By contrast, the superiority that attaches to them, in spite of their devalued positionings and precarious lived situations, marks out who/what they are—namely, White people. Even with the negative treatment poor White people received they were treated as being of more value than Black people. Indeed, poor White people were encouraged to mistreat Black people in the name of Whiteness being superior to Blackness. In exchange, they conceded a position of economic inferiority to elite Whites. 24 Again, note what Bouie tells us. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps was punishable if you were Black. Now, in a country that prides itself on being the land of opportunity—one of those American hallmarks and trademarks that is supposed to signal its essentially American exceptionalism—this only makes sense if Black people were not the kind of beings in the first place who were supposed to avail themselves of opportunity; the kind of beings who were not, after all, Americans: the kind of beings who were not human. This story is coherent because Black people were thought to be the kind of beings who were allowed to accrue value only in the limited sense that any value they added was to be their loss and a White person’s gain. This is a coherent story about Black people and White people in the United States. Obama’s is not. Obama’s race story is incoherent as a scenario about White and Black people in the United States because either it fails to have Black and White people as its subjects (i.e., it fails to get them in the story together and in relation to each other via their whatness as articulated by their value) or because somehow managing to get Black and White people to figure in the imagined scenario—for example, by implicit stipulation—the things said or implied about Black and White people together, in relation to each other, are inconsistent with their whatness as articulated by the value projected onto them by a White, anti-Black, supremacist nation. Now, given that some may consider Jim Crow ancient history and the tragedy of Trayvon Martin an unfortunate accident that could happen to any human being, let’s consider some empirical evidence offered by Alexander supporting the view that today, in the United States, Black men are devalued in relation to White men. Alexander writes:

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Drunk drivers, [who] are predominantly White and male . . . comprised 78 percent of the arrests for this offense in 1990 when new mandatory minimums governing drunk driving were being adopted. They are generally charged with misdemeanors and typically receive sentences involving fines, license suspension, and community service. Although drunk driving carries a far greater risk of violent death than the use or sale of illegal drugs, the societal response to drunk drivers has generally emphasized keeping the person functional and in society, while attempting to respond to the dangerous behavior through treatment and counseling. People charged with drug offenses, though, are disproportionately poor people of color. They are typically charged with felonies and sentenced to prison. 25

The statistics Alexander provides point to how White men are actually treated. That is, as non-disposable persons, whose lives hold meaning and positive value. This is who they are; this is what they are. Alexander provides further evidence that corroborates the view that in the United States White men and Black men are distinct kinds of beings situated at polar ends of a spectrum of value: Yale historian David Musto and other scholars have documented a disturbing, though unsurprising pattern: punishment becomes more severe when drug use is associated with people of color but softens when it is associated with Whites. The history of marijuana policy is a good example. In the early 1900s, marijuana was perceived—rightly or wrongly—as a drug used by Blacks and Mexican Americans, leading to the Boggs Act of the 1950s, penalizing first-time possession of marijuana with a sentence of two to five years in prison. In the 1960s, though, when marijuana became associated with the White middle class and college kids, commissions were promptly created to study whether marijuana was really as harmful as once thought. By 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act differentiated marijuana from other narcotics and lowered federal penalties. The same drug that had been considered fearsome twenty years earlier, when associated with African Americans and Latinos, was refashioned as a relatively harmless drug when associated with Whites.” 26

Can we conceive what happened to Trayvon Martin (including the moments where Trayvon is observed walking by Zimmerman and subsequently reported to the police by Zimmerman as looking as though he were up to no good, as being on drugs or something; then pursued and killed by Zimmerman, and tagged as a John Doe by the police, who checked his body for illegal substances) happening to a White boy in the United States? No we cannot, for we cannot conceive that on a White boy’s body a hoody could be refashioned so as to appear to the eye as guilty by association. Association with what? Association with a Black male body = criminal = devalued = everywhere (including his own home) is where a Black male should not be. 27 No we cannot, because “The eyes


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see, sometimes, what they are meant to see,” 28 as did Zimmerman’s. But had a Black man seen a White boy in ways not prescribed or intended by White supremacist anti-Black projections and pursued him armed with a weapon to boot, guilty by presumption even before he would have made a move, that Black man would be under the prison right now with no more than a hope of being proven innocent. And there would be no audacity in that. NOTES 1. Lindon Barrett, Value and Blackness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 2. By the impossibility of the scenario, Wills may mean the impossibility of giving a coherent story of this kind or the impossibility in some possible world (e.g., the actual one) of such a scenario/story being realized; or she may mean both. 3. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 200. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. They could be Black people and White people because, as we constantly need reminding, not all the Black people are men and not all of the women are White. 7. Lucius Outlaw, “Africana Philosophy,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/africana/. 8. Jasmine Thar and Marissa Alexander are less well known than the others included on the list above. For a few facts about Kenneth Chamberline and Ramarley Graham see footnote 27. Jasmine Thar was killed outside a home in Chadbourn, North Carolina, on December 23, 2011. A twenty-three-year-old White man, James Blackwell, held the gun that killed her. Blackwell told the Chadbourn police that his Remington Model 500 rifle just went off without his having pulled the trigger. It’s possible, I suppose. But no arrest was made, although the SBI and the FBI are now investigating the case. Be that as it may, can we conceive of a Black man walking around free after killing a White girl under such circumstances? (http://www.wwaytv3.com/2012/04/18/ fbi-steps-to-investigate-chadbourn-shooting-death-neighbor-relives-tragic-day; accessed June 24, 2012). Marissa Alexander is a thirty-one-year old Black woman and mother of a toddler and eleven-year-old twins, who allegedly fired a warning shot in 2010 in her Jacksonville, Florida, home, to ward off her husband, whom she felt was threatening her. Stand Your Ground Laws did not seem applicable to her in the eyes of the all White jury who tried her case. No one dead and she got twenty years. (http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/19/marissa-alexander-gets-20_n_1530035.html, accessed June 23, 2010). Actually, I believe we could conceive this happening to a White woman with her White husband or boyfriend. How about a White woman with her Black husband? 9. I have no doubt that many of us will dare, in spite of the revelations of conceivability arguments or anything else. 10. Arguably, such conceptual connections actually (as opposed to necessarily) exist. 11. I am indebted, for my understanding of Descartes’s idea of whatness as constraining possibility; indeed, to my use of the term “whatness,” to Joseph Almog’s What Am I? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.) 12. The property of being extended is, roughly speaking, the property of taking up space. Descartes’s claim is that mind necessarily does not possess this property. 13. Similarly, body possesses an essence or a nature on Descartes’s view. Its essence is constituted wholly by its being an extended thing. The property of being a thinking thing is inconsistent with body’s nature. Constituting body, the property of being

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extended articulates what body is and does not pertain to how body is, necessarily or otherwise. By contrast, having a velocity that remains constant unless acted upon by an external force may be a property pertaining to how body is necessarily. 14. In this chapter, I do not attempt to say all that would be required to latch onto Black people and White people (Black men and White men) as complete subjects. My more modest task is to state an essential, and therefore necessary, ingredient articulating their whatness, without which we do not latch on to them as subjects of our acts of conceivings. 15. Moreover, I do not think we (myself or the people mentioned) would argue that what something is can be grasped in an a priori manner, as did Descartes. Of course, I could here be wrong about Loury’s, Wills’s, and Alexander’s philosophical views on the a priori. 16. As Lewis Gordon points out in his article, “The Irreplaceability of Continued Value” (this volume) anti-Black racism is consistent with opposing White supremacy. Hence, it is very important to qualify that I’m not talking about a White supremacist imagination only. I’m talking about one that is also anti-Black. 17. The idea that superiority and inferiority stem from biology is consistent with their being determined by God. 18. President Obama said, in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin, “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.” 19. “Call an ancestor’s name daily and s/he shall live forever” (anonymous). 20. First lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton presented Sand Dunes at Sunset, painted by the African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, with the words stated above in the text. In Marcus Bruce’s Henry Ossawa Tanner: A Spiritual Biography (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002), emphasis added. 21. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/18/obama-race-speech-read-th_n_9207 7.html. I don’t believe it can be determined, at least not from a third-person point of view (and perhaps not even from a first-person point of view), whether Obama believes his story about race in the United States or whether he felt compelled to tell that story because he was seeking the office of the presidency. Obama’s indeterminable beliefs aside, given White supremacy and its workings—including its effects on White people of good will and other people who do not consider themselves to be racists— this is the kind of story he should have told if he wanted to garner some White support and appease a few White souls. What George Yancy calls the gift of doubleconsciousness in Look A White (a gift because as Yancy stated, in electronic communications, “White double consciousness, as the internalization of the Black gaze, has the potential for liberation”) may well be a gift. A gift Obama could well not afford. And one must ask the question, When can a Black person ever afford to offer such a gift to White people? Will doing so ultimately be such a person’s undoing? See George Yancy’s, Look, a White! (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.) 22. Jamelle Bouie, “Violence and Economic Mobility in the Jim Crow South.” http:// thenation.com/blo/162446/violence-and-economic-mobility-jim-crow-south (accessed March 3, 2012). 23. I use “he” to signify a male. 24. For a discussion of this version of race trumping class see Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream (New York: Norton, 1961.) 25. Michelle Alexander, 201. 26. Ibid., 202, emphasis added. 27. Ramarley Graham, unarmed, was gunned down in the Bronx by a member of the NYPD in the bathroom of his own home on February 2, 2012, a date now referred to by his loved ones and supporters as his sunset day. Kenneth Chamberlain, a former U.S. Marine, was killed by a member of the White Plains police force in White Plains, New York, in his own home on November 19, 2011. The police came to check on his health after his life aid medical alert pendant went off accidentally. They killed him instead.


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28. Agatha Christie, The Hollow (Agatha Christie Limited, 1946; HarperCollins ebooks, EPub Edition, 2011), location 2977, Kindle edition.

TWELVE A Mother’s Pain The Toxicity of the Systemic Disease of Devaluation Transferred from the Black Mother to the Black Male Child Tracey McCants Lewis

The death of Trayvon Martin highlights some critical differences between blacks and whites in America and more specifically, between black and white mothers whose children are involved in tragic incidents. This chapter will examine the devaluation of black mothers from slavery to the present and discuss how these historic misconceptions have had deleterious effects on the value of black children. On a rainy evening on February 26, 2012, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was returning to his father’s girlfriend’s home (in a gated community in Sanford, Florida) from a nearby convenience store where he had purchased a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea. While walking through the gated community, Trayvon had the hood of his jacket pulled up to protect himself from the rain while talking on the phone with his girlfriend. As he walked and talked, George Zimmerman, the twentyeight-year-old white Hispanic, self-appointed neighborhood crime watch captain spotted him. Zimmerman was apparently suspicious of Trayvon because black males had committed recent burglaries in the neighborhood. Zimmerman called the non-emergency dispatch number to report Trayvon’s presence in the neighborhood as suspicious. 1 He was told by the dispatch operator to stand-down and not to follow the person. 2 Zimmerman ignored the directive of the dispatch operator and pursued Trayvon. He continued to follow Trayvon, and an altercation ensued. 3 George 155


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Zimmerman pulled his gun and fired a fatal shot at Trayvon Martin in what he described as an act of self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law. 4 Trayvon Martin collapsed to the ground, a mere seven yards from the backdoor of his destination—home. 5 NATIONAL MEDIA RESPONSE TO TRAYVON’S DEATH Trayvon Martin was killed on February 26, 2012. National mass media coverage of his death, however, did not begin until March 8, 2012; a tenday lag. 6 Trayvon’s death was initially ignored by the news media and criminal justice system. 7 His death was not given immediate national or international media attention like that involving murdered or missing white children such as JonBenet Ramsey and Natalee Holloway. 8 Trayvon was not just a child; he was a black male child, which made him nearly invisible to some members of the press. Unlike the media storm that normally follows when a white person is reported as being kidnapped, missing, or murdered, the death of black children is often ignored—what Professor Sherri Parks terms “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” 9 The syndrome is characterized as a simple equation: Missing/ Dead + Attractive + White = Viewers versus Missing/Dead + Unattractive/ Overweight + Black/Latino/Asian = No Viewers. 10 The media’s reporting is driven by what the public wants to see and issues that they deem newsworthy. 11 The media is the primary source in terms of which Americans’ opinions and views about public issues take shape. 12 Trayvon’s murder was obscured from general public knowledge for approximately ten days, which was likely because it was not deemed newsworthy. 13 Ben Crump, attorney for Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon’s parents), established a strategy to garner media attention and force the public officials to investigate and arrest George Zimmerman. 14 This initial media strategy relied on reaching out to minority journalists and sympathetic members of the public via social media and to minority journalists. 15 Many black journalists reporting the story relayed the personal pain and fear that they experience related to the safety of their own children outside the security of their homes. 16 The eventual flood of media attention created the opportunity for all Americans to learn about “The Talk” that black parents have with their children, specifically their sons. 17 Professor William Cross Jr. of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, leading scholar in black psychology, noted, “There is still a tendency to see you first as ‘here comes a black man,’ so we teach our black children how to handle other people’s problems.” 18 There were several stories and opinion pieces in the media detailing the specific guidelines parents impart to their children regarding appropriate and necessary behavior to ensure their safety when in public alone. 19 “The Talk” can vary

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from one family to another, but the standard themes conveyed in the discussions were detailed by Washington Post columnist, Jonathan Capehart: 1. Never Leave a Store without a Shopping Bag—No matter how small the item purchased always ask for a bag and receipt. This may ward off any accusations that the item actually purchased was stolen. 2. Never Loiter Outside, Anywhere—When police are looking for a suspect they will often go where young black men are known to congregate. Often times a person can “fit the description of a suspect,” 20 simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 3. Never Go Anywhere Alone—A black child walking alone in a racially mixed neighborhood could be found to be suspicious. Another reason provided for this rule was related to the possibility of being kidnapped by a pedophile and the fear that the police would not make the case of a missing black child a priority. 4. Never Talk Back to Police . . . And Never, Ever Reach into Your Pocket— Parents worry that a sarcastic tone or quick tongue will result in their child being arrested or killed. Guidelines are also given to never reach into your pocket to remove anything, even your identification. Children are directed to let the police retrieve the item from the pocket or announce what they are removing from their pocket. 5. Never Doubt Trouble May Strike Anytime, Anywhere—Always Be Prepared. 21 6. Don’t Run in Public—Someone may think you’re suspicious. 7. Don’t Run While Carrying Anything—Someone may think you stole something. 22 Perhaps the eighth guideline presented in “The Talk” could be: 1. Be Cautious of What You Wear—Geraldo Rivera cautioned black and Latino parents that a hoodie is not appropriate apparel for your black or Latino child because it can be interpreted as “thug clothing” and thereby making them appear suspicious to certain people. 23 Jonathan Capehart’s first sentence in The Washington Post opinion piece summed up the pain and discomfort black mothers feel for their sons: “One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions.” 24 There is a pain that a mother feels when she knows that her child is being subjected to unfair judgment, criticism, bias, or ostracization based upon race. 25 For a black mother it is painful to know that some white people may see your black teenage son, but not as an individual. 26 They see a threat and a thug, not the intelligent, loving, kind, funny, strong,


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and understanding child you know him to be. 27 Some people see a young black man and think he’s a criminal or has likely engaged in criminal or illegal activity. A colleague recently shared that when he sees a young black man employed at a minimum wage job or in a service industry job he is really impressed and respects that young man because he knows he could be making a lot more money selling drugs. As a mother of a sixteen-year-old son, I was outraged, silently wondering what he thinks when he sees my son. As a mother I’ve had “The Talk” again and again with my son, but we’ve also had “The Other Talk.” The Other Talk is one that encourages my son to pursue his dreams and ambitions and that imbues him with his worth and his value. 28 Black mothers spend significant energy shifting emotionally and psychologically, constantly anticipating and coping with the assaults that their children encounter. They buffer, filter, deflect, defend, bolster, fortify, and embrace—even as they wrestle with their own sadness, fear, and anger about what their children must endure as Black people in this society. 29

Why are black children and white children valued so differently, in part because their mothers have been valued differently? THE HISTORIC DEVALUATION OF THE BLACK MOTHER AND HER CHILDREN Historically, African American mothers were valued only for the economic benefit that could be realized from their work as slaves and from their ability to produce offspring as future slaves. The value of the African American mother was not in her ability to nurture her offspring, but in her ability to labor and produce workers. 30 She was required to labor in the field or in the master’s house, and give birth to children who would serve as the next generation of workers for the white slave owner. This pernicious system of slavery devalued her position as a mother and ignored her natural and visceral maternal instincts and sensibilities for her own children. 31 Children of slaves were customarily stolen, sold, punished, and removed from their mother’s care. 32 “The threat of having her son or daughter sold at auction or having them taken from her was ever-present for a mother.” 33 Furthermore, there were high incidents of infant mortality due to the physical strain placed on pregnant mothers as they labored in strenuous working conditions. Some women lost their babies due to injuries resultant from physical punishment delivered by the white overseer or master. 34 Slave children and their parents were not regarded as a family unit, let alone people, but rather were held out as valuable property or chattel to be sold, bought, and traded for their owner’s monetary benefit. 35 There

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was no respect for the life of an enslaved black person except as the owner’s chattel. Many states established laws to create and maintain a subordinate system of rules applicable only to slaves. Although these bodies of laws and statutes varied from state to state, they were collectively known as “The Slave Codes.” 36 The legal reasoning provided in many state court cases was supported by the laws of the Slave Codes to find that the taking or killing of another’s slave was not kidnapping or murder but rather was a mere property crime since slaves were considered to be property. 37 It was a rare occurrence for a court to find a defendant guilty of murder related to the killing of a slave. 38 In addition to whites exploiting blacks economically through slavery, they were further manipulated by a paternalistic ideology that focused on white male dominance. 39 HISTORIC USE OF ROMANTIC PATERNALISM AGAINST BLACK WOMEN Romantic paternalism is the romanticized notion that women were the weaker or gentler sex and required protection and should be granted extra measures of protection. Women were expected to perform specific functions, mainly domestic chores such as raising the children, cooking, or cleaning and to be “sheltered against the harshness of life” by “being inside the house.” 40 Romantic paternalism was used to create a society in which white women were protected by and dependent upon white men for their economic and physical well-being. 41 This system was obviously not provided as a protection to enslaved black women, but instead was used as a tool to perpetrate the oppressive system of slavery. Specifically, black women were used to protect white women from the harsh and grueling labor tasks associated with the operation of the plantation. They were also used to shield these women from the labor associated with child rearing and maintaining a home in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. White women were afforded these protections based upon their status as wives and mothers. 42 The status of female slaves as wives and mothers was of no consequence to slave owners or the state. Slave women were required to be absent from their homes and families as they worked. They were not permitted to stay at home and nurture and rear their own children. 43 They were not even permitted in some instances to create the traditional notion of a family, husband, wife, and children because they were not white. 44 Some slave owners did not permit their slaves to marry and female slaves had no autonomy over their own reproduction and choice of mate. 45 In some instances they were forced into scheduled breeding cycles with slave men to achieve the goal of increasing the plantation workforce. 46 Some owners even forced themselves on slave women to


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satisfy their own sexual desires that could not be fulfilled with their wives, unless they violated their “white purity.” 47 Slave women engaged in back-breaking manual labor; the ugly and dirty work on the plantation that would have never been done by the white woman of the house. 48 In addition to laboring in the fields, some black enslaved females were required to take care of the slave owner’s children and home. The slave woman labored as the nanny, cook, and maid while the white woman of the house was rewarded with pampering, rest, and relaxation. Black enslaved mothers served as the “other mothers” to their owners’ children. 49 Specifically, many slave women were forced to serve their master’s children as wet nurses, “a nurse who suckles another women’s baby; or one who pampers another.” 50 Wet nursing took away the slave mother’s natural ability to function as a mother for her own children. The responsibility to nurse the white children often took precedence over the nursing of her own children, meaning that the slave child often went without their own mother’s natural sustenance. Black mothers promoted the health and well-being of white children over their own. This diabolical system perfected the misconception that slavery needed to create: that black mothers were neither good mothers, nor natural mothers. 51 How could they be good mothers when they did not “mother” their own children? They did not (through no fault of their own) nurture their own children. This presumption was maintained to keep the wheels of slavery moving for the benefit of economic prosperity for the white slave owners. NO PATERNALISTIC PROTECTION FOR BLACK WOMEN For generations, this romantic paternalism continued and most negatively affected black women. Unlike their white counterparts, black mothers had little protection offered through the structure of family. 52 Black mothers had no place on a pedestal of privilege and protection. Rather, they were the necessary laborers to ensure white women did not have to engage in labor. The system perpetuated the belief that the ideal position for a woman was to be at home with her children and to be dependent upon her husband. This position was never an option for the enslaved mother or for the generations of black mothers after slavery. 53 Consequently, a black mother was never viewed as an “ideal” woman or mother. 54 Working outside of the home and away from one’s children was contrary to the “ideal” woman presented. “The very fact that they [black women] performed public labor outside of their homes dictated that they were not ‘women’ or ‘ladies’ to be protected by the romantic paternalistic ideal.” 55

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THE PRESENT DAY DEVALUATION OF BLACK MOTHERS In our contemporary moment, the romantic paternalistic system is still utilized to present an image of black mothers as being unfit. A specific example is the criticism directed toward working mothers. These criticisms are present in popular culture and in the legal system. “The law makes it clear that a working mother is less than ideal.” 56 Even after emancipation, black women continued to work in greater numbers than their white counterparts due to depressed wages for black men. 57 During the Great Migration, many “black women exchanged from southern to northern domestic servitude, with some increase in wages and some personal mobility.” 58 The continued role of black women working in subservient positions for white women and their families maintained this model of white superiority. 59 The ideal mother was defined as a woman who is able to stay at home with her children, and nurture them and was clearly that of a white woman. 60 “Society particularly devalues Black mothers’ work in the home because it sees these mothers as inherently unfit and their children as inherently useless.” 61 Statistically, black mothers believe that mothers should work full-time. 62 There is a common guilt among some black women that they must work to counter the negative stereotypes that label them lazy, opportunistic takers of government benefits and resources. 63 Julianne Malveaux recently presented a brief history regarding the economic necessity of employment by black mothers after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen mentioned that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life.” 64 Malveaux explains that Rosen should have stated that Ann Romney, unlike many black women, never had to work in the paid labor market because it was not a necessity for her situation. 65 “Patriarchal tradition kept white women home, while white men were paid a “family wage” that was, by definition, enough to support a whole family. Such a patriarchal tradition was not economically present in the African American community. Few African American men were paid a family wage, but instead something like a subsistence wage. African American women needed to work to help keep the family together.” 66 The black woman who works outside of the home has been viewed as a “bad mother” because she is not devoting her time and attention to the rearing of her children and tending to her home as a stay-at-home mother. However, those black mothers who do not work outside of their home and must rely on government assistance are viewed as lazy, opportunistic, welfare queens. 67 Michelle Obama’s position as our first lady has not insulated her from racial attacks, labeling her as a stereotypical black woman: “angry, sassy, unpatriotic, and uppity.” 68 The role of the first lady is one that historically, based upon intersectionality of race and gender, expects a white woman to fill the role. 69 Mrs. Obama’s decision to embrace her role as a strong


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mother and supportive wife is a direct contradiction to the traditional notions of black mothers being unfit. 70 Unfortunately, the image of the single black mother has not benefited from a transformation like that of the first lady. Society believes that the single black mother is a welfare queen who is living off of government assistance. 71 There is a belief that the black mother receiving welfare can simply change her condition and position in life by obtaining some type of employment, even if she has young children within her household. The same allowance afforded to white women to stay at home with their children is not afforded to single black mothers. “Society particularly devalues Black mothers’ work in the home because it sees these mothers as inherently unfit and their children as inherently useless.” 72 Even more devastating is society’s belief that the instability of the black family is the result of the black mothers’ inability to rear moral and upright children as presented by Patrick Moynihan, who was, in 1965, U.S assistant secretary of labor and director of public planning and research for the Johnson administration (“The Negro Family: The Case for National Action”). 73 This belief currently shapes the views directed at and treatment received by black mothers and their children. PARALLEL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WHITE AND BLACK CHILD VICTIMS There are parallel differences in a number of ways that white and black children of tragedies are treated and portrayed by the media and society. Media Coverage The media has played a significant role in reinforcing the notion of white supremacy and black inferiority. In the unfortunate instances of tragedies involving minors, the “Missing White Woman Syndrome” has been utilized to provide newsworthy coverage desired by the public. 74 In the case of Trayvon Martin, the story of his death was not initially determined to be newsworthy. 75 Originally, Trayvon’s death was not instantly or consistently covered in the media, unlike the story of Natalee Holloway. 76 Blame the Victim Media outlets and individuals investigated Trayvon’s background to find answers to some of the following questions: How were Trayvon’s grades in school? Why was Trayvon suspended from school? Why was

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he in Sanford, Florida, with his father? Did he use drugs? Was he in a gang? Trayvon was a teenager, not an angel. In his last year at his high school in north Miami-Dade County, he had received three suspensions—for tardiness, for graffiti and, most recently, for having a baggie with a trace of marijuana in his backpack. 77

Trayvon was analyzed and criticized about what he posted on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, the partial gold grill on his teeth, his two tattoos (one bearing his mother’s name), his height, and his choice of clothing (namely his hoodie). 78 Although Natalee Holloway was criticized on some online posts for allegedly drinking the night of her disappearance, the differences in criticism and scrutiny are stark. It appears that some are looking to blame Trayvon’s height, age, tattoos, social media postings, past drug use, and clothing for his death. He has not been given the benefit to just be the victim. Economic Exploitation On Mother’s Day it was widely reported that an unidentified person was selling gun range targets that resemble Trayvon Martin. 79 Although the targets do not display Trayvon’s face, the likeness presented is unmistakably Trayvon. The target presented an image of a black hoodie jacket with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea near the pocket, with a crosshair target across the chest. 80 The targets were available for sale on a firearms auction website with the following product description: Everyone knows the story of Zimmerman and Martin. Obviously we support Zimmerman and believe that he shot a thug. Each target is printed on thick, high quality poster paper with matte finish! The dimensions are 12”x18” (The same as the Darkotic Zombie Targets). This is a Ten Pack of Targets. 81

The unidentified seller of the targets told an Orlando news reporter that his main motivation in selling the product was to make a profit from the death of Trayvon Martin. 82 It appears that the seller achieved his or her goal—the entire stock of targets sold out in a mere two days. 83 This example of devaluation evidences the lack of societal protection for Trayvon. 84 PARALLEL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TREATMENT RECEIVED BY WHITE MOTHERS AND BY BLACK MOTHERS OF CHILD VICTIMS After the death of her son, Sybrina Fulton spoke out about seeking justice for her son and calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman. She also


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denounced gun violence and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law 85 and prepared a Mother’s Day public service announcement video lobbying for support of stricter gun control laws. 86 Sybrina’s actions have been no different from the actions of other mothers and fathers whose children have been the victims of crime. John Walsh, activist and television host noted, “Some parents are motivated to take action by the sheer agony and pain and torture of losing a child.” 87 Other examples of parents who advocated after the death or victimization of their own children include the following: • The parents of Elizabeth Smart, abducted in Utah in 2002 at age fourteen, lobbied for the National Amber Alert, part of the child protection law passed in 2003. • Beth Holloway became a recognizable figure after her eighteenyear-old daughter disappeared while vacationing in Aruba. Holloway was an outspoken critic of the investigation and made numerous appearances on television. In 2011, she became the host of a cable television series “Vanished with Beth Holloway” that examines unsolved disappearances. • John Walsh, father of Adam Walsh, the six-year-old boy abducted and murdered in Florida in 1981, pushed for stronger child protection laws, including legislation that funded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, co-founded by Walsh. John Walsh is probably best known as the host of “America’s Most Wanted” crime-stopping television show. 88 Although Sybrina Fulton’s actions are akin to the examples presented above, she has been harshly criticized in the press and on numerous websites. When Sybrina Fulton filed two trademark applications for the following phrases, “Justice for Trayvon” and “I am Trayvon Martin,” she was harshly criticized and questioned for her motivation. 89 There were accusations that she was attempting to profit from the name and image of her son. 90 Family attorney Daryl Parks explained that Sybrina took this action to “protect her son’s image from exploitation.” 91 In an effort to defuse the allegations of desires for financial gain from Trayvon’s death, the family released the following statement: The family is not attempting to profit from Trayvon Martin’s death. A trademark registration is necessary to issue cease and desist letters for those exploiting Trayvon Martin’s name. The family is grateful for the outpouring of support and attention drawn to this injustice. A trademark filing is the first step in weeding out those using Trayvon’s name in bad faith. The family is also setting up a foundation that will assist other families in their fight for justice. 92

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Examples of the types of expected exploitation she was trying to avoid include the gun range targets 93 and numerous “fundraising” events hosted by persons not associated with the family such as the “Hoodies and Heels: Justice for Trayvon Martin” party/fundraiser widely publicized on Twitter. 94 Sybrina has also been attacked on numerous website comment sections and private social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter of being a bad mother and a welfare recipient who is trying to exploit her son’s death for monetary gain. The barrage of racial epithets and slurs presented on numerous websites are too revolting to repeat or cite, but they present the ugly truth about some people who hate just because of the color of another’s skin. The concern with protecting their sons from the cruel world of discrimination may be one explanation for why the African American mother “loves” her son—at least to the extent that love is centered around “protection.” 95

The pain felt by Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, must be heart wrenching, and I dare not try to explain or define her personal sense of pain. But I will say I know this pain sits deep within her and will likely remain there for a very long time, if not forever. NOTES 1. Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or on drugs or something.” “These assholes they always get away” (911 call audio, ABC News, http:// abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/trayvon-martins-alleged-killer-911-calls-15957343); “Many if not most whites seem to think that the majority of the poor, the homeless, drug users, and drug dealers are black Americans” (Joe R. Feagin, Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations [New York: Routledge, 2001], 116). 2. 911 Dispatcher: “Are you following him?” / Zimmerman: “Yes” / 911 Dispatcher: “Ok we don’t need you to do that” (911 call audio, ABC News). 3. 911 Caller: “[T]hey are wrestling on the back of my porch. . . . [T]here’s someone screaming outside. . .” (Ibid.). 4. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is an expansion of the common law rule of law known as the Castle Doctrine (John Cloud, “The Law Heard Round the World,” Time Magazine [April 9, 2012]: 36–39). The castle doctrine is defined as “the criminallaw doctrine that functions as an exception to the retreat rule by allowing a person to use deadly force to protect his or her house and its inhabitants from attack, esp. from a trespasser who intends to commit a felony or inflict serious bodily harm” (Black Law Dictionary 85 [Pocket ed. 1996]). The “Stand Your Ground” laws permit individuals to use deadly force to protect themselves from commission of a felony or serious bodily injury, outside of one’s home to “any other place where he or she has a right to be” (John Cloud, “The Law Heard Round the World,” Time Magazine, [April 9, 2012]: 36). 5. ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/trayvon-martins-alleged-killer911-calls-15957343. 6. Akilah Bolden-Monifa, “Trayvon Martin Dominates Media Coverage, But Some Wish It Didn’t,” The Huffington Post Blog (April 13, 2012), http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/akilah-boldenmonifa/trayvon-martin-media_b_1407642 .html


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7. Brian Stelter. “In Slain Teenager’s Case, a Long Route to National Attention,” New York Times (March 25, 2012), accessed May 15, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/ 2012/03/26/business/media/for-martins-case-a-long-route-to-national-attention.html? pagewanted=all. 8. According to the FBI National Crime Information Center 2010 data, 40 percent of missing people are people of color (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ncic/ncic-missing-person-and-unidentified-person-statistics-for-2010). The Black & Missing Foundation was established to bring awareness and attention to the countless missing persons of color, provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends, and to educate the minority community on personal safety (http://www.blackand missinginc.com/cdad/index.cfm). 9. Tom Foreman, “Diagnosing Missing White Woman Syndrome,” Anderson Cooper 360◦ Blog (March 14, 2006), http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2006/03/diagnosing-missing-white-woman.html. 10. Ibid. 11. “I’ve seen plenty of stories fall by the wayside, pushed down and out of the show, because a consensus develops that says, ‘You know, I don’t think our viewers are very interested in this case’” (Ibid.). 12. Frank D. Gilliam Jr., “The ‘Welfare Queen’ Experiment: How Viewers React to Images of African-American Mothers on Welfare,” The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University 53, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 1. 13. Daniel Trotta, “Trayvon Martin: Before the World Heard the Cries,” Reuters.com (April 3, 2012), accessed April 17, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/03/ususa-florida-shooting-trayvon-idUSBRE8320UK20120403; Akilah Bolden-Monifa, “Trayvon Martin Dominates Media Coverage, But Some Wish It Didn’t,” The Huffington Post, Blog (April 13, 2012), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/akilah-boldenmonifa/ trayvon-martin-media_b_1407642.html. 14. Daniel Trotta, “Trayvon Martin: Before the World Heard Cries,” Reuters.com (April 3, 2012), accessed April 17, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/03/ususa-florida-shooting-trayvon-idUSBRE8320UK20120403; Robin L. Barton, “The Missing White Woman Syndrome,” The Crime Report (August 22, 2011), http:// www.thecrimereport.org/archive/2011-08-the-missing-white-woman-syndrome. 15. Brian Stelter, “In Slain Teenager’s Case, a Long Route to National Attention,” New York Times (March 25, 2012), accessed May 15, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/ 2012/03/26/business/media/for-martins-case-a-long-route-to-national-attention.html?pagewanted=all; Anne Coulter, conservative author, criticized the media coverage of Trayvon Martin and noted that the public is trying George Zimmerman in the court of public opinion, similar to tactics of KKK lynch mobs. “Ann Coulter Compares Zimmerman Critics to ‘Lynch Mob’ and KKK,” The Grio (April 2, 2012), accessed May 28, 2012, http://thegrio.com/2012/04/02/ann-coulter-compares-zimmerman-critics-to-lynchmob-and-kkk-audio/#. 16. Brian Stelter, “In Slain Teenager’s Case, a Long Route to National Attention.” 17. Corey Dade, “Florida Teen’s Killing: A Parent’s Greatest Fear,” National Public Radio (March 21, 2012), http://www.npr.org/2012/03/21/149060167/florida-teens-killing-a-parents-greatest-fear. 18. Jonathan Capeheart, “Under ‘Suspicion’: The Killing of Trayvon Martin,” Washington Post (March 18, 2012), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/ post/under-suspicion-the-killing-of-trayvon-martin/2011/03/04/gIQAz4F4KS_blog .html. 19. Ibid. 20. Young black men are sometimes stopped by police when there is no likelihood that they are the suspect who just committed a criminal act, and there is no probable cause to stop them. They may not have on the same clothing as the alleged suspect, or they may be driving a different colored vehicle from what has been reported, but what makes them fit the description of the suspect is the fact that they are a black male. Michael Powell, “Profiles of Men Who ‘Fit the Description,’” Washington Post (Decem-

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ber 14, 2006), http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/13/ AR2006121302238_2.html. 21. Dade, “Florida Teen’s Killing: A Parent’s Greatest Fear,” 2–3. 22. Capeheart, “Under ‘Suspicion’: The Killing of Trayvon Martin.” 23. On the March 23, 2012 episode of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Geraldo Rivera stated, “But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta, you’re going to be a gangsta-wannabe, well people are going to perceive you as a menace” (James Eng, “Geraldo Rivera Blames Hoodie for Trayvon's Death; Critics Tell Him to Zip It Up,” NBC News [March 23, 2012], http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/23/10830530-geraldo-riverablames-hoodie-for-trayvons-death-critics-tell-him-to-zip-it-up?lite). 24. Ibid. 25. My son and his cousin (both fifteen-years-old) were recently denied admittance into a private teen dance club, allegedly based upon my son wearing a “white tee.” The “white tee” or white t-shirt is now a popular piece of clothing in the black teen male wardrobe. It is typically worn in an abnormally large, baggy size. The white tshirt is now associated with drug activity and has been banned by a number of schools, restaurants, and clubs. This unwarranted association is primarily related to the rap anthem by the group Dem Franchize Boyz, “White Tee.” The song does admittedly have some references to drugs, but for the majority of people wearing the white–tee, it has no connotation to drug or gang activity. Some young men wear the white t-shirt out of economic necessity. A package of five t-shirts costs approximately $15 and provides the teen with a clean shirt for five days versus $30 for one shirt (Moustafa Ayad, “White T-Shirt Is a Fashion Necessity with a Bad Rap,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, [August 7, 2006], http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/ white-t-shirt-is-fashion-necessity-with-a-bad-rep-445195/). In the situation involving my son he was prohibited from entering the establishment by security because he was wearing a white-tee. His white-tee did not meet the description of prohibited clothing detailed on their posted dress code: “Oversized plain white, black, red, or blue tshirts.” (Andy Mulkerin, “Club Zoo Heads to the ‘Burbs,” Pittsburgh City Paper [January 5, 2012], http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/FFW/archives/2012/01/05/club-zooheads-to-the-burbs ). My son’s white shirt was not oversized, it was a plain fitted white shirt, yet he was denied admittance. As my son’s hopes for an evening of dancing and socializing were dashed, he, his cousin, and their adult chaperone (my cousin’s husband) observed another male entering the establishment wearing an oversized and baggy white shirt. When they questioned the security about his ability to enter the club in a white t-shirt obviously prohibited according to their posted dress code, they received conflicting explanations from “he works here” to “he is the boyfriend of the owner’s daughter.” The security guard then became enraged and said the too familiar words: “I’m tired of you people accusing us of being prejudiced.” No allegations of discrimination had been uttered until he raised the issue. The other male who entered the club in the oversized white t-shirt was a white male. The security guard then went on to insult the intelligence of my son and his cousin. Their adult chaperone intervened and told the young men they were leaving. As they were returning to the car, they encountered a black mother who asked, “Why are our kids repeatedly turned away from this place?” As the adults and teens briefly stood in the parking lot and quietly pontificated about what they believed to be discriminatory bias directed at the teens, one of the security guards left his post to pursue my son, his cousin, and his father. The security guard quickly approached the adult chaperone and began yelling in his face and threatening to use his pepper spray. He specifically asked if they wanted to be sprayed with pepper spray before the police were called. The adult chaperone attempted to proceed to his car while turning his back to the security guard, but the guard continued his pursuit. My son and his cousin eventually called the police. When the police arrived and interviewed all of the parties involved,


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it was determined that since it was a private club, the security guards had the discretion to deny the boys admittance based upon the dress code or for any non-discriminatory reason. This was the first experience that my son and his cousin had with vile hostility directed at them because of their race. My heart broke as I experienced an overwhelming sense of pain related to the realization that this would not be the last time my son would experience this type of discrimination. 26. In the poem “Look at Me,” Francine R. McCants describes how her parents’ nurturing and cultivation encouraged her to embrace all that life had to offer in terms of education, the arts, and recreation. The closing lines of the poem oblige the reader to see Francine for all she is and not just the color of her skin (Francine R. McCants, “Look at Me,” Nuances, La Roche Literary Magazine 6 [1988]: 12). So the next time that you look at [me] And the color black is ALL that you see, YOU ARE REALLY NOT LOOKING AT ME! 27. Black children are not afforded the presumption of childhood innocence, instead they are “born guilty” (Dorothy Roberts, “The Value of Black Mothers’ Work,” Connecticut Law Review 26 [1994]: 871, 877). “They are potential menaces—criminals, crackheads, and welfare mothers waiting to happen” (Ibid., 877). 28. “Mothering in the form of nurturing others, provides individuals with the intellectual backbone to survive the ‘isms’ that permeate our society. Nurturing creates a backbone in others by increasing self-esteem and instilling positive attitudes in others who they are and how they are connected to a specific culture” (Adrien Katherine Wing and Laura Weselmann, “Transcending Traditional Notions of Mothering: The Need for Critical Race Feminist Praxis,” Journal of Gender, Race & Justice 3, no. 1 [Fall 1999]: 257, 278). 29. Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America (New York: HarperCollins, 2003). 30. Slave women were valued for their participation in the labor market. Their value in the home as a wife and mother to their own children was secondary to their economic value as a laborer (Pamela J. Smith, “Part II-Romantic Paternalism-The Ties That Bind: Hierarchies of Economic Oppression That Reveal Judicial Dissatisfaction for Black Women and Men,” Journal of Gender, Race & Justice 3 no. 1 [Fall 1999]: 181, 195). 31. The paradoxical reasoning created by slavery posited that slave mothers were not “good” mothers yet they were the primary caregivers and wet nurses for the slave owner’s children (Adrian Katherine Wing and Laura Weselmann, “Transcending Traditional Notions of Mothering: The Need for Critical Race Feminist Praxis,” 257–73). 32. Marie C. E. Burns, “The Unspoken Spoken: Toni Morrison’s Beloved Analyzed in the Context of the African American Experience of Slavery, and Slave Narratives,” Literature-Study-Online (December 2008), http://www.literature-study-online.com/ essays/morrison-slavery.html; “The forced separation of Black mothers from their children began during slavery, when Black family members faced being auctioned off to different masters” (Dorothy E. Roberts, “The Value of Black Mothers’ Work, Connecticut Law Review 26 [1994]: 871, 874). 33. Marie C. E. Burns, “The Unspoken Spoken: Toni Morrison’s Beloved Analyzed in the Context of the African American Experience of Slavery, and Slave Narratives.” 34. A former slave, Lizzie Williams recounts the beating of a pregnant slave in Mississippi. She said, “I[‘]s seen nigger women dat was fixin’ to be confined do somethin’ de white folks didn’t like. Dey [the white folks] would dig a hole in de ground just big ‘nuff fo’ her stomach, make her lie face down an whip her on de back to keep from hurtin’ de child” (Caroline Elizabeth Neely, “‘Dat’s One Chile of Mine You Ain’t Never Gonna Sell’: Gynecological Resistance within the Plantation Community.” MA thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 2000). 35. In the case of Lee v. Mathews, the Alabama Supreme Court held that a slave owner had an automatic property right to the offspring of female slaves since they

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were his property (10 Ala. 682, 689 [1846]). Patricia Williams describes the system of distorted imagery that was used by slave owners to suppress any valid presentments of blacks as capable and able of being members of the owner’s white family or having their own family units (Patricia J. Williams, “Alchemical Notes: Reconstructing Ideals from Deconstructed Rights,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 22 [1987]: 401, 428.) 36. “Slave Life and Slave Codes,” U.S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium (http://www.ushistory.org/us/27b.asp). 37. Nicholas J. Johnson, “Self-Defense?,” Journal of Law, Economics & Policy 2 (Fall 2006) 187, 208; Paul Finkelman, “The Ten Commandments on the Courthouse Lawn and Elsewhere,” Fordham Law Review 73 (March 2005): 1477, 1506; R. A. Lenhardt, “Understanding the Mark: Race, Stigma, and Equality in Context,” New York University Law Review 79 (June 2004): 803, 862n300. By 1787 slave codes were common-place regulations in the culture of the United States Southern region (“Developments in the Law—Race and the Criminal Process II. The Limits of Racial Equality: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Criminal Justice System,” Harvard Law Review 101 [May 1988]: 1479, 1481). 38. In the case of J. M. Kirkwood et al. the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the killing of a slave mistakenly thought to be involved in an insurrection was not considered homicide and the actor would be liable only for the value of the slave to the owner (J.M. Kirkwood et al. v. George Miller, 37 [Tenn.] 455 [Tenn.] 1858). 39. Barbara Omolade describes paternalism as “a system which requires control of a woman’s fertility and sexuality in monogamous or polygamous marriages and is based upon the sexual division of labor regulated by male chauvinism” (Barbara Omolade, “The Unbroken Circle: A Historical and Contemporary Study of Black Single Mothers and Their Families,” Wisconsin Women’s Law Journal 3 [1987]: 239, 242). Patriarchy is a dominant ideology present in our legal, political, and popular culture (Martha L. Fineman, “Images of Mothers in Poverty Discourses,” Duke Law Journal [1991]: 274, 290–91). 40. Joan Liu, “The History of Feminism.” Helium.com (October 5, 2007), http:// www.helium.com/items/630708-the-history-of-feminism. 41. Pamela J. Smith, “Part II—Romantic Paternalism—The Ties That Bind: Hierarchies of Economic Oppression That Reveal Judicial Disaffinity for Black Women and Men,” Journal Gender, Race & Justice 3, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 181, 185–86. Patriarchy sexually exploited both white and black women by compulsory reproduction. White women were required to produce heirs while black women were required to produce slave workers (Dorothy E. Roberts, “Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood,” American University Journal of Gender & Law 1 [1993]: 1, 8). 42. Dorothy E. Roberts, “Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood,” 8–9). 43. “Patriarchy denied Black mothers the authority and joy of mothering which it allowed White mothers” (Ibid., 13). 44. White slave owners did not acknowledge the desires of black men and women to marry and create their own families (Omolade, “The Unbroken Circle: A Historical and Contemporary Study of Black Single Mothers and Their Families,” 239). “In general, everything the imagined traditional family ideal is thought to be, AfricanAmerican families are not” (Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment [London: Routledge, 2000], 64). 45. Roberts, “Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood,” 7. “Black women are deemed not even worthy of the dignity of childbearing. Discouraging Black procreation is also a means of subordinating the entire race; under patriarchy, it is accomplished through the regulation of Black women’s fertility” (Ibid., 11). 46. Black women produced children who were deemed the legal property of the slave owner and used to replenish the slave workforce (Ibid., 8). 47. Patricia Williams presents the story of her maternal great-great-grandmother Sophie, a slave who was purchased by a white lawyer around 1849 when she was


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eleven years old. The lawyer, Austin Miller, immediately impregnated Sophie the child slave. She notes that he did not intend to start a family with Sophie but merely wanted to practice his sexual prowess in preparation for his upcoming marriage to a wealthy white widow (Patricia J. Williams, “Alchemical Notes,” 419; Patricia J. Williams, “On Being the Object of Property,” Signs 14, no. 1 [Autumn 1988], 5–6). The March 18, 1861, diary entry of Mary Chestnut reveals the inner thoughts of many white slave owner wives about their husbands’ secret visits to the slave quarters. Like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines and the mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children-and every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds, or pretends to think. (Julia A. Stem, Mary Chestnut’s Civil War Epic [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010], 56) 48. “[E]very part of the slave woman was used. Her services as a laborer were never ending. Working in the homes of the white family did not bring an end to her labor, nor did working in the field. The slave woman often completed her labor to the slavemaster only after every part of her was used, including her sexual being” (Pamela J. Smith, “We Are Not Sisters: African-American Women and the Freedom to Associate and Disassociate,” Tulane Law Review 66 [May 1992]: 1467, 1481). 49. “Other mothering” has been a destined occupation of Black women who have served as the nannies and nursemaids to white children (Wing and Weselmann, “Transcending Traditional Notions of Mothering: The Need for Critical Race Feminist Praxis,” 262). 50. New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus (1992), 1119. 51. During slavery black mothers were deemed not to be good or fit mothers since those who served in the plantation house devoted all their time to nurture the master’s children, wife, and home and not their own children (Shani King, “The Family Law Canon in a (Post?) Racial Era,” Ohio State Law Journal, no. 72 [2011]: 575, 625). 52. Romantic paternalism was used to protect and restrict the white women from engaging in labor, educational endeavors, or political activity (Pamela J. Smith, “Part II—Romantic Paternalism—The Ties That Bind: Hierarchies of Economic Oppression That Reveal Judicial Disaffinity for Black Women and Men,” 185). 53. Lucy A. Williams, “Race, Rat Bites and Unfit Mothers: How Media Discourse Informs Welfare Legislation Debate,” Fordham Urban Law Journal 22, no. 4 (1994): 1159, 1176. 54. If a female labored in the fields side-by-side with men, she was not considered a woman even if she was a mother. Smith, “Part II-Romantic Paternalism-The Ties That Bind: Hierarchies of Economic Oppression that Reveal Judicial Dissatisfaction for Black Woman and Men,” 189 55. Ibid., 190. 56. Wing and Weselmann, “Transcending Traditional Notions of Mothering: The Need for Critical Race Feminist Praxis,” 266. 57. Roberts, “Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood,” 18. 58. Omolade, “The Unbroken Circle: A Historical and Contemporary Study of Black Single Mothers and Their Families,” 253. 59. “The demands of Black women’s labor within White homes undermined their own roles as mothers and homemakers” (Roberts, “Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood,” 19). 60. Pamela J. Smith,” Part II—Romantic Paternalism—The Ties That Bind: Hierarchies of Economic Oppression That Reveal Judicial Disaffinity for Black Women and Men.” 61. Roberts, “The Value of Black Mothers’ Work,” 871. 62. E. J. Graff, “Should Mothers Work Fulltime?” The Nation (July 18, 2007), http:// www.thenation.com/blog/should-mothers-work-fulltime.

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63. Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., “The ‘Welfare Queen’ Experiment: How Viewers React to Images of African-American Mothers on Welfare” (Report) (Boston: Niewman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, 1999). 64. Julianne Malveaux, “Black Women Don’t Have the Luxury of Staying at Home,” The New Pittsburgh Courier (April 25, 2012), http://www.newpittsburghcourieronline .com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7031:black-women-dont-have -the-luxury-of-staying-home&catid=40:opinion&Itemid=54 65. Ibid. 66. Ibid. 67. Gilliam, “The ‘Welfare Queen’ Experiment: How Viewers React to Images of African-American Mothers on Welfare.” 68. Verna L. Williams, “The First (Black) Lady,” Denver University Law Review 86 (2009): 833, 834. 69. Ibid., 839. 70. Ibid. 71. Gilliam, “The ‘Welfare Queen’ Experiment: How Viewers React to Images of African-American Mothers on Welfare.” 72. Roberts, “The Value of Black Mothers’ Work,” 873. 73. Omolade, “The Unbroken Circle: A Historical and Contemporary Study of Black Single Mothers and Their Families,” 256. 74. Ibid., 10–13. 75. Ibid., 15, 17–18. 76. “Trayvon Martin: Why Do Americans Often Ignore Black Shooting Victims?” The Week (March 30, 2012), http://theweek.com/article/index/226273/trayvon-martinwhy-do-americans-often-ignore-black-shooting-victims#. 77. Dan Barry, Serge F. Kovaleski, Campbell Robertson, and Lizette Alvarez, “Race, Tragedy and Outrage Collide after a Shot in Florida,” New York Times (April 1, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-prompts-a-reviewof-ideals.html?pagewanted=all (emphasis added). 78. Ibid. 79. Katherine Cooney, “Man Sells Out of Trayvon Martin Gun Range Targets,” Time.com (May 14, 2012), http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/05/14/man-sells-out-of-trayvon-martin-gun-range-targets/. 80. Ibid. 81. Ibid. 82. Ibid. 83. Ibid. 84. Paternalism is defined as a system under which an authority undertakes to supply needs or regulate conduct of those under its control in matters affecting them as individuals as well as in their relations to authority and to each other (MerriamWebster Dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paternalism). 85. The “Stand Your Ground” Laws allow individuals to use deadly force to protect themselves from the commission of a crime outside of their home (John Cloud, “The Law Heard Round the World,” Time Magazine, [April 9, 2012]: 36). 86. A Message from Trayvon Martin’s Mother Sybrina Fulton for Mother’s Day, May 11, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KaOw4cQEHs. 87. Corey Dade, “Will a Movement Emerge from Florida Teen’s Death?” NPR (March 31, 2012), http://www.npr.org/2012/03/31/149706044/will-a-movementemerge-from-florida-teens-death. 88. Ibid. 89. United States Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Electronic Search System, Serial number 85575974, “I Am Trayvon” and Serial number 85575890 “Justice for Trayvon.” http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=toc&state=4009%3Atf4cuu.1.1&p_se arch=searchss&p_L=50&BackReference=&p_plural=yes&p_s_PARA1=&p_tagrepl~%3 A=PARA1%24LD&expr=PARA1+AND+PARA2&p_s_PARA2=Sybrina+Fulton&p_tag repl~%3A=PARA2%24OW&p_op_ALL=AND&a_default=search&a_search=Submit+


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Query&a_search=Submit+Query. 90. The Decider, “Not For Profit! Trayvon Martin’s Parents Fight Off Trademark Accusations (DETAILS)” The Global Grind (March 27, 2012), http://globalgrind.com/ news/trayvon-martins-parents-fight-trademark-accusations-details; “Why is Trayvon Martin’s mother trademarking his name?” The Week (March 28, 2012), http://theweek.com/article/index/226172/why-is-trayvon-martins-mother-trademarking-hisname. 91. Corey Dade, “Will a Movement Emerge From Florida Teen’s Death?” NPR, (March 31, 2012), http://www.npr.org/2012/03/31/149706044/will-a-movementemerge-from-florida-teens-death; Kimra Major-Morris is the attorney who filed those trademark applications. She noted that the family is not interested in a profit, and supports use of the phrases on t-shirts or hoodies and in efforts that will further their cause (Athena Jones and Eric Marrapodi, “Sybrina Fulton Seeks to Trademark Trayvon Rallying Cries” CNN Justice (March 28, 2012), http://articles.cnn.com/2012-03-28/ justice/justice_florida-teen-shooting-trademarks_1_trademark-office-trademark-issue -trademark-applications?_s=PM:JUSTICE. 92. Ibid. 93. Ibid., 78. 94. Ibid., 85. 95. James M. Telesford and Carolyn B. Murray, “Love a Son, Raise a Daughter: A Cross-Sectional Examination of African American Mothers’ Parenting Styles,” University of California (Riverside) Undergraduate Research Journal: 53–59.

THIRTEEN Social Presence, Visibility, and the Eye of the Beholder A Phenomenology of Social Embodiment David Polizzi

Racial segregation, like all other forms of cruelty and tyranny, debases all human beings—those who are its victims, those who victimize, and in quite subtle ways those who are merely accessories. —Clark, 1964, p. 63 I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects. —Fanon, 1967, p. 109 Blacks are the repository of the American fear of crime. Ask anyone, of any race, to picture a criminal, and the image will have a black face. 1 —Rome, 2004, p. 4

INTRODUCTION In its most general sense, the social presencing of the body refers to the way in which the body becomes viewed and constructed from a variety of social interactions and social contexts. At its most mundane, the body of the individual or the embodied subject retains what Merleau-Ponty has called an intervolvement with world that is experienced as a fluid and open shared possibility for embodied existence. 2 However, in the absence of such openness, the possibility for embodied subjectivity is denied and 173


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the body is reduced to that of a shadow, or pathological artifact of social visibility. The recent killing of Trayvon Martin provides yet another tragic reminder as to how the black body continues to be constructed as the manifestation of social threat and danger. As such, the contours of these constructed fears are not only present within the visibility of the physical body, but also come to represent a type of geographical demarcation or territorialization whereby the black body may be “legitimately” presenced as a problematic body. Such a dynamic evokes the “invisible wall” described by Kenneth Clark: that cultural line of demarcation that separates the racially marginalized from those who wield social power. 3 Trayvon Martin’s killing represents not only the way in which his killer constructed the meaning of his presence, but the way in which the social context of that presencing was employed by him to further “justify” the legitimacy of this construction. In this chapter I explore the phenomenology of the social presencing of the black body through the work of Merleau-Ponty and his notion of embodied subjectivity. I also include a description of Drew Leder’s notion of the absent body relative to the way in which these theoretical constructs may help to better understand the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin. I will begin with a brief description of embodied subjectivity outlined by Merleau-Ponty in his classic text, Phenomenology of Perception. THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE BODY AND ANTI-BLACK RACISM Merleau-Ponty and Embodied Subjectivity In the Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty formulates his theory of the body or what he describes as embodied subjectivity. From this vantage point, embodied subjectivity becomes a theory of human perception, and I would argue a theory of ethics as well, which encounters the world from a specific perspectival point of view, thereby allowing for a particular profile of an object or other embodied subjects to appear. 4 Unlike empiricism (Behaviorism), which understands the body as an object among other objects, or intellectualism (Idealism), which recognizes the body as an extension of consciousness, here the body is taken up as a lived-body, as incarnate-subjectivity, which is inseparable from the world. Shabot describes this process as follows: In perception, thus a deep ambiguity takes place regarding the relationship of subject-object: no apparent distance separates the subject from the object in perception, and the object is recognized only as the sum of multiple subject perspectives of it, from his/her concrete position. 5

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By theorizing body and world in this manner, both become “intervolved” within a system of meaning that can never be viewed in isolation. Ultimately, then, this relationship between individual and world reveals the situated nature of our existence which both acts and is acted upon by the world. “The body is the vehicle of being in the world, and having a body means being united with a definite milieu, merging with certain projects, and being perpetually engaged therein.” 6 Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the body becomes the description by which human existence is situated and its specific meanings experienced and lived. It becomes the point from which we take up the projects of our lived-experience. The intervolvement with world, according to MerleauPonty, becomes the ground from which existence rises up to embrace a world and by so doing gives birth to a contextualized constellation of meaning. These meanings are not independent of me, they inhabit me and I them. The context, in which I find myself, is one that also extends beyond me, taking in a world shared by others, and it is through this shared relationship with the world that the other becomes recognizable to me. But how does this recognition of the other come about? For Merleau-Ponty, the recognition of the other becomes predicated upon the experience of co-existence. What this implies is that there exists a common world that situates both embodied subject and embodied other in such a way that communication is possible. The other is not merely an object within my experience or a completely enclosed consciousness whose world I can never know. The other becomes an opening onto the world, similar to my own, and thereby familiar to me, but not the same as me. As I engage the other, I recognize the possibilities that this other embodied subject provides and whose style confronts me. It is through this collision of these respective worlds where self and other becomes intertwined, demanding an open recognition of both; however, this recognition is never automatic or guaranteed. The experience of co-existence demands reciprocity of a shared meaning of the world whereby the world of the one does not overwhelm the world of the other. 7 The tragic chain of events that ultimately claimed Trayvon Martin’s life evokes this loss of reciprocity insofar as co-existence is denied and the meaning or visibility of the social body becomes conflated with the presencing of an exclusively “dangerous criminal” other. 8 In describing the social body, Merleau-Ponty states, “The very first cultural object, and the one by which they all exist, is the other’s body as the bearer of behavior.” 9 However, it is important to note that the context from which this behavior emerges will greatly determine the specific social meaning afforded this “cultural object.” Racially saturated social contexts will likely construct the body within a very limited range of social meanings. When viewed from the perspective of anti-black racism, the body represents an ontology of threat that is no longer contingent upon any specific action or behavior. Within this context, the pos-


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sibility for coexistence is covered over and rejected by the way in which Zimmerman perceives the simple presence of Trayvon Martin on the night of his murder as a problem. 10 The bearer of this behavior comes to mean only one thing for his pursuer: “Look, a criminal!” However, in the Martin case there was no criminal act; no action performed by Martin that Zimmerman could legitimately construct as criminal. Zimmerman, however, didn’t have to! Martin’s mere presence was “evidence” enough to establish the validity of his claim. The rationale which Zimmerman provided to the non-emergency dispatcher lists a number of “facts” that are used to justify his pursuit: prior burglaries in the neighborhood, this “suspicious looking guy,” the fact that he is wearing a hoodie, and the fact that he is black. All of these “facts” are allowed to coalesce, leading to one conclusion: Trayvon must be a criminal. Such an encounter denies the possibility of co-existence to which Merleau-Ponty eludes and becomes defined by a lack or rejection of reciprocity. “Without reciprocity there is no alter Ego, since one person’s world would thereby envelop the other’s, and since one would feel alienated to the benefit of the other.” 11 Martin’s presence is indeed enveloped by Zimmerman’s perception of him and held captive by what Butler has called a “racially saturated field of visibility.” 12 When seen from this vantage point, every movement by Martin is viewed as a “problem,” every gesture or behavior “proof” of his “criminal intent.” Reciprocity or co-existence becomes impossible here; there is no world to share, no possibility for this “experience” to be equally lived by both individuals. There is only the objectifying perspective of anti-black racism that denies reciprocity and by so doing continues to contribute to the alienation of Trayvon’s presence What becomes most troubling when examining the chain of events that ultimately led to the murder of Trayvon Martin is that this confrontation was almost unavoidable. In short, unavoidable insofar as the real crime had nothing to do with anything Martin actually did to justify this pursuit, unless of course walking in a neighborhood while talking on a cell phone to one’s girlfriend with a hoodie over one’s head is evidence of criminal intent. Yet, given what I have argued thus far, this was obviously Martin’s “crime” at least as it was perceived by Zimmerman and perhaps countless others who have had the opportunity to view the events of this case. How could this tragedy have been otherwise averted? By Martin not walking on the sidewalk in the neighborhood where his father lived or by him not being black? The answer to that question is of course, equally as obvious as well. What is at issue then is not the criminality of Trayvon Martin, but the various ways in which blackness or the black body continues to be presenced as a danger or a threat within U.S. society, particularly where this presencing is unexpected or unwelcome. This returns us to Du Bois’s reflection concerning what it is like to be viewed as a problem; a problem

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which seeks to confront the ontological presencing of the black body itself. 13 To better explore this issue concerning the visibility of the body, I turn to Drew Leder’s work, especially given his phenomenological account of what he calls the absent body. The Social Body in Dysappearance In his text The Absent Body, Leder makes the following observation: “My own body may feel away from me, something problematic and foreign, even at moments of its most intimate disclosure. The ‘absence’ of the body, in a primordial sense infects its presence from the very start.” 14 The absence Leder describes is the bodily absence that is evoked by the experience of alienation. Bodily alienation, which may be articulated through any number of social manifestations of the body, has at its foundation an experience of embodied existence that has broken-down, or becomes as Leder describes, as a body, which “is experienced as a being away.” 15 The breakdown of this bodily possibility becomes thematized through the experience of disease or pain, but is often articulated through the socially constructed characteristics of race, gender, or various other modes of social behavior. The sudden experience of pain or the biting implications of racist sentiment transform my relationship to both world and body, making thematic that which was formerly ground, formally absent. My forgotten muscles, now aching, demand my attention and disrupt my desire to continue my run; my ethnic origin, skin tone, gender or legal status now become the excuse for hatred, marginalization, and violence. Leder states, “It is the characteristic of the body itself to presence in times of breakdown or problematic performance.” 16 The presencing of the body in these moments is what Leder has described as the body in dysappearance. The dys-appearing body, then, is the body of dysfunction, of an overdetermined form of hyper-visibility that is now constructed or signed as problematic or pathological. The body in dysappearance disrupts a general engagement with the world through the process of thematizing that which was formerly absent. In normal experience, the body disappears as the ready-to-hand foundation of lived possibility, which “provides the background that supports and enables the point of corporeal focus.” 17 However, when this background emerges as thematic, no longer in its normal mode of disappearing, the focus of the body is shifted back to itself, and away from the world of mundane social presence. Taken from this perspective, the racially constructed body of antiblack racism 18 or the presence of Trayvon Martin walking in a quiet suburban neighborhood in the early evening becomes the black body in a mode of dys-appearance, the body formulated as a problem: bodily presence as a mode of permanent breakdown. Whether this formulation is


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evoked by the process of race, whereby the very presence of blackness becomes synonymous with the “criminal other” or through any variety of specific processes located within the system of signs constructed by culture generally, the body is reduced to that of a static and potentially threatening social object. Here, the surface body, or what Fanon has described as the racial epidermal schema, 19 becomes thematized as a reoccurring manifestation of negative cultural meaning, which in turn provides these specific bodily profiles their overdetermined social visibility. The recessive profiles of this surface body, now removed from its normal mode of disappearing, becomes disembodied, shadow to this process of bodily devaluation. In his text, the Body’s Recollection of Being: Phenomenological Psychology and the Deconstruction of Nihilism, Levin states, “The body is shaped by its society, shaped in conformity with a specific image of the political. Once it has been shaped in that image, the body carries within its frame an implicit schema of comportments.” 20 When bodily dys-appearance emerges as a consequence of social relating, bodily potential is sacrificed, becoming contingent upon the social ground that shadows the body’s visibility. Unlike the experience of the body in illness or disease, an experience which emerges from the body’s internalized depth, social dysappearing is an externalized dynamic manifested from the internalized depth of the social body, the body politic, which seeks to appropriate the body’s ability to create its own meaning and freedom. Within this context, social dys-appearing becomes the profile of the social body as dis-eased, as being away from itself, as that “obstinate force interfering with our projects.” 21 If I suddenly find myself ill, the world as possibility is immediately transformed by the problematic appearing of this now symptomatic presence; metaphorically, the symptomatic dys-appearing of the dis-eased social body, represented in the image of the black body, also results in its breakdown. Much like the experience of illness or disease, the body is transformed, no longer capable of taking up the world as it once did prior to the outset of the illness. THE DYSAPPEARING BODY OF TRAYVON MARTIN Prior to his encounter with George Zimmerman, Martin was enjoying a private moment talking with his girlfriend on his cell phone as he walked the quiet streets in his father’s girlfriend’s neighborhood. Within this context, the physical body recedes, is absent and disappears into the background of this experience. However, as Zimmerman begins his pursuit, Martin’s focus is re-directed to this potential threat now confronting him. Though few words seemed to have been exchanged prior to the physical altercation that ultimately resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin, it seems clear that Zimmerman’s pursuit is motivated by his unques-

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tioned belief that Martin does not belong in this neighborhood and must therefore be viewed as a criminal threat. What the sudden confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin reveals is the way in which the presencing of the social body is quickly transformed. During the experience of sudden pain or sudden illness, the physical body announces itself and becomes thematic as a mode of bodily dysappearance. For example, if I am running on the treadmill or lifting weights, the sudden experience of pain in the middle of my chest or the sudden presence of pain in my arm or shoulder, quickly refocuses my attention, placing my current projects or perhaps, even my life, into question. The body, formerly recessive, shatters my current focus and demands my consideration. A similar type of dynamic was present within the chain of events that claimed Trayvon Martin’s life. As Martin walks down the street chatting to his girlfriend, a sudden transformation or presencing of the physical body occurs. However, unlike the experience of physical pain, which emerges from the depths of the physical body, this disruption of bodily potentiality relates to the pathological presencing of the social body constructed by anti-black racism. 22 As such, Martin’s presence now becomes viewed through the gaze of racism, which equates blackness with criminality. From this perspective, Martin’s presence is denied any possibility for normal appearing, and is thereby reduced to that of an exclusive social danger or threat. Every action performed by Martin prior to the actual physical confrontation with Zimmerman, regardless how benign, is filtered through this “racially saturated field of visibility.” 23 Even in the aftermath of his death, this process continued. Unbelievably (or perhaps not), it is Martin’s dead body that is tested for the presence of drugs by the Sanford Police and not Zimmerman’s very much alive body. However, even if the result came back positive, which, as we now know there were low levels of THC found in his body, how would that fact (or how does that fact) change the series of events that led to Martin’s death? His actions prior to his altercation with Zimmerman were not bizarre, or erratic, violent or in any way threating until he was aggressively approached by the person who would eventually take his life. Would a positive test for an illegal substance have justified Martin’s killing and if so, how? A similar type of logic has been deployed by those who have shamelessly attempted to challenge Martin’s reputation after his death by claiming his involvement in prior criminal activity. However, if these unfounded accusations are later proven to be true, would this fact justify Trayvon’s killing and if so, how? The answer to either of these questions must be no, for the simple reason that they contribute nothing to the events that actually occurred on the night that George Zimmerman took the life of Trayvon Martin. The real purpose of such accusations is to reinforce the belief that blackness is synonymous with criminal behavior. If it can be established


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that Martin at some time in his life took drugs or had been involved in criminal activity, then Zimmerman’s rationale for pursuing and ultimately killing Martin could, according to this faulty logic, be “justified.” It is important to keep in mind that a similar rationale was in play in the Rodney King case. It will be recalled that jurors seemed to justify the actions of the white police officers based on what they believed King was about to do. “According to this racist episteme, he [King] is hit in exchange for the blows he never delivered, but which he is, by virtue of his blackness, always about to deliver.” 24 Trayvon Martin was ultimately victimized by a similar manifestation of this paranoid logic. CONCLUSION The death of Trayvon Martin represents for us simply one more example of the tragedy of American anti-black racism. Martin, like Rodney King and countless others, becomes another causality of a process of cultural objectification that continues to reduce the most mundane manifestation of social presence into that of a never ending threat. What is perhaps most telling about this event is the way in which Zimmerman pursued Martin with an almost unquestioned certainty that his appraisal of the situation is correct and the actions that he will ultimately take will be viewed as legitimate and justified. But where does this leave us and what remains? In discussing Agamben’s concept of the remnant, de la Durantaye makes the following observation: The remnant is a concept that can apply not only to an entire people, but also to its individual members, and for this reason Agamben can claim that “the subject is a sort of remnant. . . . It is something that is left over—it represents a difference. It is the impossibility for a subject to completely coincide with itself; there always remains a remnant.” 25

Such an impossibility is evoked by the body in social dysappearance and what struggles to remain is the remnant of the human. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and becomes a remnant of what no longer can be seen. NOTES 1. D. Rome, Black Demons: The Media’s Depiction of the African American Male Criminal Stereotype (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004). 2. M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. D. Landes (New York: Routledge, 1945/2012). 3. Kenneth Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965). 4. See R. Kearney and K. Semonovitch, “At the Threshold: Foreigners, Strangers, Others,” in Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality, eds. R.

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Kearney and K. Semonovitch (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), 3–29; Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception. 5. C. S. Shabot, “The grotesque and Merleau-Ponty ‘On Fleshing’ Out the Subject,” Philosophy Today 50, no. 3, 2006: 284–95, quote on 287. 6. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 84. 7. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception. 8. See L. Alcoff, “Towards a Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment,” Radical Philosophy 95 (1999): 15–26; H. A. Baker, “Scene . . . Not Heard,” in Reading Rodney King/ Reading Urban Uprising, ed. R. Gooding-Williams (New York: Routledge, 1993), 38–48; J. Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” in Reading Rodney King: Reading Urban Uprising, ed. R. Gooding-Williams (New York: Routledge, 1993), 15–22; J. Covington, Crime and Racial Constructions: Cultural Misinformation about African Americans in Media and Academia (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010); F. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1967); D. Polizzi, The Experience of Antiblack Racism: A Phenomenological Hermenuetic of the Autobiography of Malcolm X (Available from UMI Dissertation Services—UMI No. 3069293, 2003); D. Polizzi, “The Social Construction of Race and Crime: The Image of the Black Offender,” International Journal of Restorative Justice, 3, no. 1 (2007): 1–20. 9. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 364. 10. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Vantage Books, 1990). 11. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 373. 12. Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” 1993, 15. 13. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. 14. D. Leder, The Absent Body (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1990), 70. 15. Ibid., 70. 16. Ibid., 82. 17. Ibid., 24. 18. L. Gordon, Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1995). 19. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 1967. 20. D. M. Levin, The Body’s Recollection of Being: Phenomenological Psychology and the Deconstruction of Nihilism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1990), 255. 21. Leder, The Absent Body, 84. 22. See Gordon, Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism; D. Polizzi and M. Lanier, “Crime as Dis-ease: Toward an Epidemiological Criminology of the Social Body,” Critical Criminology & Justice Studies Conference, February 16th, 2012, Irvine, CA. 23. Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” 15. 24. Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” 19. 25. L. De la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamden: A Critical Introduction (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 301.

FOURTEEN Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Dilemma of the African American Parent E. Renée Sanders-Lawson and Bill E. Lawson

Every time I see an indigent white male, I say to myself: “There is a waste of white.” —Annie J. Lawson

Raising their own children has always been problematic for African Americans. During slavery the selling of children away from their parents was common. The bond between black parents and their children was complicated by the slavery experience. Slavery framed what it meant to be black in the United States. On the one hand, how do you ensure the humanity of your child and reconcile the real possibility that he or she will die a slave? 1 On the other hand, free blacks, during this period, were not spared the problem of raising children in a racist society. These parents had to constantly fight for equal opportunities and respect for their children. 2 These parents also had to be concerned with the reality that their children could be kidnapped into slavery. Importantly, race and racism framed what it meant to raise a black child in the United States. After slavery, these parents had to negotiate the problems of raising children in a racist society where their citizenship rights were barely respected or protected? Freed slaves and those freeborn black parents realized that their children had to be encouraged to succeed, while acknowledging the manner in which racism could and often did prevent them from succeeding. Raising children in a racist society that professes the idea of respecting the individual was a problem for black parents. These 183


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parents wanted their children to have the best possible life they could have. Accordingly, they knew that children must be taught to believe that they can succeed in their chosen life plan if they developed their abilities. And yet, they knew that their children must be aware that race and racism can impact their life-chances. Nearly one hundred and fifty years after slavery, black parents must still teach their children to believe in their own abilities, but at the same time must acknowledge that, in the United States, ability often is not enough. The specter of racism in the lived experience of black children still presents problems for black parents. This is and has always been the dilemma of black parenting. The history of raising black children in the United States has always presented black parents with a moral dilemma. “We say somewhat loosely that a person is in a dilemma when the person must choose between two alternatives, both of which are bad or unpleasant.” More picturesquely, such a person is described as being “impaled on the horns of a dilemma.” 3 Claude Steele writes about the dilemma of minority parents: “Do they stress to their children the threat of discrimination, and risk making them too vigilant and worried to be comfortable in important places like school, or do they diminish this threat and risk leaving them too vulnerable to the fracturing experience of discrimination, should it happen?” 4 Steele here is not talking about the discrimination that could get one’s child killed, but the killing of Trayvon Martin shows that the threat of death is real. A review of black American history attests to the issues of raising black children in a society that does not give full regard and respect to a segment of its population. Given this history, black parents have always faced a dilemma. Indeed, raising a child in a racist society gives rise to a number of dilemmas regarding race. Regretfully, the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman brings to light at least three dilemmas regarding race that seem to “impale black parents.” The first dilemma is the “race and success dilemma.” This is the issue cited by Steele. How should the black parent deal with the issues of racism and its possible impact on the lives of their children? This dilemma is made more acute with the election of President Obama. Many persons across the racial stratum have heralded his election as a signal that race relations have improved to the point where we now live in a color-blind United States. 5 Character and abilities matter more than race. Most black parents realize, however, that as important as President Obama’s election has been, there is still a great deal of societal racism that can impact the life-chances of their children. As Steele noted, they must walk the fine line between being overly enthusiastic about their child’s ability to succeed and not undermining their child’s faith in his or her ability to succeed. The second dilemma is the “fear of violent crime and black on black crime dilemma.” The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zim-

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merman on February 26, 2012, brought to light a fear many black parents have in the United States—the violent death of one’s child. 6 These parents realize that their children can be murdered or harmed by being the victim of a violent crime. It is often the case, as in the case of Trayvon, that the victims of these types of crimes are young black men. It did not or does not matter what the race of the killer happens to be. The parents’ fear of their child being killed for being black has always been real. No matter the race of the culprit, burying your child is always emotionally difficult and traumatic. Thus, this knowledge of the possibility of death, even if it is not in the forefront of one’s thinking makes rearing a black child, female or male, very problematic. 7 While it is true that most black youth are not violent criminals, the knowledge that your child can be the victim of a black-on-black crime haunts the black parent. 8 How should the parent deal with the issue of black-on-black crime? The parent does not want his or her child to fear young black people and yet wants him or her to have a cautious attitude regarding what they do and where they are. 9 If parents encourage the child to avoid other young black people, what does it say about black youth in general? More importantly, what message does it give the child about how society views him or her? We want to note here that by focusing on black-on-black crime that we do not wish to shift the discussion away from white racism or the death of black youth at the hands of non-blacks, more generally. The third dilemma is “the race and social mobility dilemma.” As parents we want our children to be safe and secure in any social environment. We want to know that our children can go anywhere, or almost anywhere, and be safe. As noted in the above dilemma, parents know this is not often the case. Yet, we hope that in the “safe” places, our neighborhoods, schools, and recreational settings, we can be assured that our children will be safe. But we also know that beyond the spectrum of “black-on-black crime” is the crime that is caused, if not by racial animosity, then by the stereotyping of our children as a certain type of black youth. Parents know that this can be a problem for the safety of their children. Non-African Americans often “construe” from the dress style of our children a stereotyped image of a “thuggish” black youth. We realize that it does not take much to trigger the stereotype. An African American youth wearing a hoodie is an example of just how little it takes to trigger the stereotyping that can result in very negative effects for the youth. Parents want their children to grow into their own, by becoming mature and independent men and women. 10 However, they must also acknowledge that youth culture, particularly black youth culture, is seen in a negative light. If parents choose the “wrong horn” of the dilemma, it could mean death for their child. Black parents know that race and racism play an important role in the formation of all of these dilemmas. What is the responsibility of the black parent in a racist society? The


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existence of these dilemmas gives rise to questions of black parental responsibility. How should we understand parental responsibility? What is the role of the family in raising a healthy and safe child? 11 Is there a different understanding of what it means to be a good parent for a black parent compared to what it means for white parents? 12 There is not enough time or space to answer these questions in this chapter, but we ask them, and they must be asked, in light of the killing of Trayvon. We, nonetheless, think that most will agree that parents must provide a safe environment for the child to develop. The child’s basic needs must be met. The parents should work to provide the child with a good self-image. They should instill in the child values that will make it possible for the child to negotiate the roads of life. But how does the parent in a racist society develop a positive self-image in the child? What values should be stressed? What does the parent tell the child about race and racism? As Harriette McAdoo notes, “Most parents are aware of their responsibility to teach their children about race. Racial socialization is the process by which the parents shape their children’s attitudes about race and show the children how they fit into the context of race in their society. Historically, African Americans have understood the importance of training their children in the race-appropriate manner of confronting a white person. There are many approaches to imparting attitudes toward race and the appropriate actions to take, or not to take. 13 This last point is an important aspect of black parenting. We remember having the race-talk with our son when he began driving. We wanted him to know how to interact with white police officers, if he happened to get stopped while driving for whatever reason. Warnings of not ending up like Emmitt Till still reverberated in our memory. It was our parents’ way of teaching us about race relations in the United States. 14 We also wonder about what black parents tell their daughters about police stops when these young girls begin to drive. On the one hand, if they act too brazenly, they could end up in the back seat. On the other hand, if they act too coy they could end up in the back seat. The dilemma continues and it matters not the race of the cop. 15 Clearly race-talk or talk about race is one way to prepare your child for racist acts. Accordingly, McAdoo also cites a number of approaches that black parents use to introduce the problem of race and racism to their children. One of the first ways is not to discuss race at all. In this regard, children are not given any overt messages about how to deal with whites. 16 These children learn about race from overhearing their parent’s conversations and watching how their parents interact with persons of other races. Additionally, they receive race messages from their peers at school. On the other hand, “some parents have a lower sense of closeness with the African American community. They feel that people must work hard and be good citizens.” 17 Other parents feel that to talk about race reinforces

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the notions of black inferiority. Of course, we know that there are other parents who have accepted many of the negative stereotypes about blacks, and while they do not discuss race with their children, they still impart messages about race and racism. 18 It is unclear if not talking about race and racism makes the child more able to deal with racism when it comes up. We do want to note that it may be possible given this approach not to view racist acts as instances of racism. The problems that arise in schools, jobs, or in society in general can be attributed to some bad whites and bad blacks. As noted above, there are some parents who talk about race and want to make race consciousness a part of their child’s psychological makeup. Their goal is not to place the weight of racism on their children’s shoulders. But they do not want to pretend that racism does not exist. Moreover, these parents do not want to minimize the possible impact of racism on the life-chances of their children. They support the belief that race does matter (perhaps it should not, but it does) and it is not all about character. Of course, the question here is: How to discuss the manner in which race and racism have impacted the lives of blacks and not make it so oppressive that the child feels hopeless? This, of course, brings parents back to the first dilemma. Some people think that one way to avoid the dilemma is to live away from black people. It is unclear to us how this removes conversations about race and racism, but it is a common approach. Wealthier black parents try to shield their children from obvious racial discrimination and higher crime-rates by moving them into neighborhoods with fewer black people. Moving is seen as one way to provide a safe environment for your child in a racist society. Relocating often means moving into white neighborhoods. Sometimes the moves are work related, and predominantly white neighborhoods are the only option. Nevertheless, these moves often do not have a positive impact on black children. It has been shown that these moves have not had the positive impact that many of these parents thought they would have. 19 Trayvon’s death shows us that even living in a “gated community” does not provide a safe space for our children. Even if the racial encounter does not cause death, these children often still find that race comes into play in ways we do not often anticipate. For example, black parents understand the pressure of their child being the only person of color in his or her class and sometimes in their school. These parents often dread the day that they will have to have the race talk. Even if parents try to prepare the child for the day he or she will hit the racial wall, children are impacted in ways we never anticipate. Race and racism can impact our children in ways we do not anticipate. Consider the following story about President Obama’s campaign and how it was also problematic for some young black children given the history of anti-black racism in the United States. In a kindergarten class


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with only one black student, the teacher decided to hold a mock presidential election for president of the United States between Obama and McCain. This is not an unusual teaching practice around presidential elections in the United States. Kindergarten classes often have mock elections, and the excitement of the Obama campaign made the election much more educationally, politically, and socially important. A black man was running for the presidency of the United States. The mother of the lone black child noticed that her son’s excitement about Obama’s election campaign was not as high as she thought it should be. When asked what was wrong, he said that he hated the election and Obama. When the mother consulted the teacher about the election, it turns out that there was only one vote against Obama. In further conversations with her son she found out that he had not voted for Obama. This disturbed his mother, and she pushed further to understand her son’s concern. He replied that, since the beginning of the election campaign, people were telling him that he could now be president of the United States. He said wistfully that until this moment he had always thought he could. This event happened even when the parent took the time to introduce the issues of race and racism to her young son. 20 Parents often cannot prepare their children for all of the ways in which issues of race and racial history can impact on their child. It may be difficult for many parents both black and white to understand how children can be negatively impacted by an event as socially important as the campaign and election of a black man to the office of president of the United States. In a society in which race and racism have played such a major role in shaping social relationships, even events that seem to have positive social meaning can cause problems for black parents when discussing race. How racially constricted were the life chances of black children and black people before the election of President Obama? What role did/does race play in the lives of black children, both pre- and post-election of President Obama? The dilemma continues. 21 Is it possible to resolve a dilemma? There are, it is thought, ways to resolve a dilemma. The first way to solve a dilemma is to take hold of one of the horns. One can either stress the race and racism over character, the left horn, or one can stress character over race and racism, the right horn. One could try to go between the horns. That is, one could deny that there are only two choices. This would mean coming up with a third option or perhaps combining the claims of the left and right horn. Finally, one could deny that there are really moral dilemmas. One need only show that some moral principle should be given the greater weight and then claim, for example, that either race always trumps character or conversely that character always trumps race. No matter how one attempts to solve the dilemma, the decision has normative import for how we raise our children and the type of society we want to create or reshape. We want to state emphatically that none of what we say in this chapter places

Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Dilemma of the African American Parent


any blame on Trayvon’s parents. The only thing that separates many of our own children from the fate of Trayvon was their absence at the fatal moment. As important for our discussion, it is unclear what role the election of President Obama has on the resolving or enhancing of the dilemma of black parenting. This, we think, is an issue worthy of further research. In sum, it may be objected that we have only discussed the dilemma of parental responsibility in regards to black parents. We fully understand that the issue of bringing the concerns of race and racism to the mind-set of our children is not the sole responsibility of black parents. Nevertheless, at this moment in U.S. history, it is, or so it seems to be, the responsibility of parents, with black children or children that can be thought of as black, to provide the necessary social skills needed for their children to negotiate the racial barriers they must still endure and overcome. These dilemmas also exist for white parents who have adopted black children or where one parent is, say, white, and the other parent is, black with bi-racial children. We also realize that there are white parents who are concerned with issues of social justice and want to make their children sensitive to issues concerning race and racism. A white colleague who is very concerned with issues of social justice was dismayed when her young son came home from school making disparaging remarks about African Americans. As good parents, she and her husband thought this was the time to have the “race talk.” After giving a brief history of the black struggle for equality in the United States, she asked her son what he learned from this talk. He looked at her and straightforwardly said: “It is better to be white.” There are dilemmas for white parents who have good intentions regarding the teaching of race and racism, but that also is the topic of another paper. It may also be objected that we did not discuss the actual killing of Trayvon Martin in enough detail. It may also be objected that we neither discussed the possible guilt of Zimmerman and the possible causes of his (Zimmerman’s) action, nor how the law enforcement authorities are handling the case. Lastly, it might be objected that we did not discuss how institutional racism impacts the lives of both children and adults. We admit that these are important issues, but we only want to note that at moments like this we need to take time to reflect on the black experience in the United States. The killing of Trayvon provides a space in time to see how far the country has come in regard to race relations. In this light, the killing of Trayvon Martin brings us full circle back to the dilemma of parenting for both free and enslaved blacks. Parenting of black children has always presented dilemmas for black parents nonetheless. While the dilemmas of parenting before 1865 are not the same dilemmas parents now face, they are parenting dilemmas nonetheless. These are parenting dilemmas for black parents and these dilemmas have a common heritage,


E. Renée Sanders-Lawson and Bill E. Lawson

and the concerns though different share certain commonalities. The primary commonality is the problem of trying to raise a healthy and safe child in a racist and sexist society. So, after nearly four hundred years on this continent, nearly one hundred and fifty years after the ending of chattel slavery, and after all of the seeming progress around the issues of race and racism, the dilemma of the black parent remains. Clearly none of these remarks will satisfy those who think there is no difference between raising black children and white children in the United States. 22 Thus, the question remains and we must ask: What is the responsibility of black parents in a racist society? ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We want to acknowledge the assistance of Charles Lowrie, William Lance Lawson, Zeblum Rushing, and Corey Barnes in the writing of this chapter. NOTES 1. Heather Andrea Williams, “How Slavery Affected African American Families.” Freedom’s Story, Teacher Serve©. National Humanities Center, accessed May 19, 2012, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1609-1865/essays/aafamilies.htm. 2. Benjamin Quarles, “Abolition’s Different Drummer Frederick Douglass,” in The Antislavery Vanguard: New Essays on the Abolitionists, ed. M. Duberman (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965), 132. 3. Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic, 11th ed. (New York: Dark Alley, 2001), 311. 4. Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 164 . 5. Bill E. Lawson, “Of President Barack H. Obama and Others: Public Policy, Racetalk, and Pragmatism,” European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 3, no. 2 (2011): 113–36. 6. For a provocative overview of children and teenagers killed by guns, see “Protect Children, Not Guns 2012,” Children’s Defense Fund, accessed May 27, 2012, http:/ /www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/protect-childrennot-guns-2012.html. 7. Bill E. Lawson and Renee Sanders-Lawson, “Violent Crime, Race and Black Children: Parenting and the Social Contract,” in Black Children: Social, Educational, and Parental Environments, 2nd ed. (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 2001). 8. For a depressing read, see the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Expanded Homicide” table at FBI.gov or the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Homicide Trends” table at Census.gov. 9. Erika Harrell, “Black Victims of Violent Crime, Special Report,” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007. 10. While the killing of a young black male was the impetus for this chapter, we want to strongly acknowledge the dilemmas of raising young black girls in a society that is both racist and sexist. 11. Bill E. Lawson, “Conceptual Frameworks, the Black Family, and Public Policy,” The Centennial Review 42, no. 2 (1998).

Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Dilemma of the African American Parent


12. Linda Villarosa, Anne Beal, and Allison Abner, The Black Parenting Book: Caring for Our Children in the First Years (London: Vermilion, 2003). 13. Harriette Pipes McAdoo, “The Village Talks: Racial Socialization of Our Children,” in Black Children: Social, Educational, and Parental Environments, 2nd ed. (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 2001), 50. 14. The epigraph at the beginning of this chapter is from Bill’s mother who often made this comment when she saw what she took to be white men failing to take advantage of the edge that race gave them in the United States. 15. We want to thank Avril Fuller for reminding us of this important aspect of black parenting. 16. McAdoo, “The Village Talks: Racial Socialization of Our Children,” 51. 17. Ibid., 50. 18. Ibid., 51. 19. Steele, Whistling Vivaldi. 20. We want to thank Professor Dionne Bensonsmith for allowing us to retell her experience with her son. 21. Bill E. Lawson, “Conceptual Frameworks, the Black Family, and Public Policy,” The Centennial Review 42, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 233–42. 22. Kristie Dotson, “Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing,” Hypatia 26, no. 2 (2011): 236–57.

FIFTEEN Refusing Blackness-as-Victimization Trayvon Martin and the Black Cyborgs João Costa Vargas and Joy A. James

Black Revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions, shaped by our oppression. —Assata Shakur Henceforward, the interests of one will be the interests of all, for in concrete fact everyone will be discovered by the troops, everyone will be massacred—or everyone will be saved. —Frantz Fanon

BLACKNESS IN DEMOCRACY’S GRAVEYARD What happens when, instead of becoming enraged and shocked every time a black person is killed in the United States, we recognize black death as a predictable and constitutive aspect of this democracy? What will happen then if instead of demanding justice we recognize (or at least consider) that the very notion of justice—indeed the gamut of political and cognitive elements that constitute formal, multiracial democratic practices and institutions—produces or requires black exclusion and death as normative? To think about Trayvon Martin’s death not merely as a tragedy or media controversy but as a political marker of possibilities permits one to come to terms with several foundational and foretold stories, particularly if we understand that death or killing to be prefigured by mass or collective loss of social standing and life. One story is of impossible redemption 193


João Costa Vargas and Joy A. James

in the impossible polis. It departs from, and depends on, the position of the hegemonic, anti-black—which is not exclusively white but is exclusively non-black—subject and the political and cognitive schemes that guarantee her ontology and genealogy. Depending on the theology, redemption requires deliverance from sin, and/or deliverance from slavery. 1 Redemption is a precondition of integration into the white-dominated social universe. 2 Integration thus requires that the black become a non-slave, and that the black become a non-sinner. The paradox or impossibility is that if blackness is both sin and sign of enslavement, the mark of “Ham,” then despite the legal abolition of juridical enslavement or chattel slavery or the end of the formal colony, the sinner and enslaved endure; and virtue requires the eradication of both. If we theorize from the standpoint say of Frantz Fanon, through the lens of the fiftieth anniversary of the English publication The Wretched of the Earth (or Ida B. Wells’s Southern Horrors, Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, Frank Wilderson’s Incognegro, etc.), we can follow a clear heuristic formulation: from the perspective of the dominant, white-inflected gaze and predisposition, blacks can be redeemed neither from sin nor from slavery. 3 For a black person to be integrated, s/he must either become non-black, or display superhuman and/or infrahuman qualities. (In Fanonian terms she would become an aggrandized slave or enfranchised slave—that is, one who owns property still nonetheless remains in servitude or colonized.) The imagination, mechanics, and reproduction of the ordinary polis rely on the exclusion of ordinary blacks and their availability for violent aggression and/ or premature death or disappearance (historically through lynching and the convict prison lease system, today through “benign neglect” and mass incarceration). The ordinary black person can therefore never be integrated. The “ordinary negro” is never without sin. Thus, to be sinless or angelic in order to be recognized as citizenry has been the charge for postbellum blackness. Throughout the twentieth century, movements to free blacks from what followed in the wake of the abolition of chattel slavery ushered in the postbellum black cyborg: the call for a “Talented Tenth” issued by white missionaries and echoed by a young W. E. B. Du Bois, Bayard Rustin’s imploring a young Martin Luther King Jr. to become “angelic” in his advocacy of civil rights and to remove the men with shotguns from his front porch despite the bombings and death threats against King, his wife Coretta, and their young children. The angelic negro/negress is not representative, and his or her status as an acceptable marker for U.S. democracy is predicated upon their usefulness for the transformation of whiteness into a loftier, more ennobled formation. This performance or service of the angelic black would be resurrected in the reconstruction of Trayvon Martin as a youth worthy of the right to life, the right of refusal to wear blackness as victimization; the right to fight back. That is, the

Refusing Blackness-as-Victimization


right to the life of the polis; so much of black life, particularly for the average fellah, is mired in close proximity to the graveyard, hemmed in by the materiality of social margins and decay, exclusion and violence. A cursory look at transgenerational transmission of occupational status and wealth suggests that, relative to whites, blacks a) remain disproportionately trapped in lower-status occupations, b) move out of such positions with greater difficulty, and c) once upwardly mobile, fall back into lower-status occupations at greater and faster rates. Cases of random violence, police brutality, AIDS/HIV infection, and death by preventable disease reaffirm the impossible integration. They also suggest mechanics of social reproduction that regenerate non-black life while producing black death. In 1951 the Civil Rights Congress petitioned the United Nations in their book-length document, “We Charge Genocide,” 4 to respond to the fact that the United States not only failed to protect black people from the violent impact of racial violence in civil society but also enacted and enabled racist violence. In other proto-empires of the black diaspora, allegedly where anti-blackness is not as blatant as in the United States, mothers mobilize against the continued victimizations of their sons by the state and its deputized actors. For example, in Brazil, the list of Trayvons is extensive and increasing. 5 The globe shares with the United States a phobic response to blackness, intensified by the added “threat” of the predatory young. Black children, including the preborn and the deceased, have no vulnerability which the polis or police need to respect. In his 2005 syndicated talk show, Reagan administration Secretary of Education William Bennett stated that to prevent or diminish crime in the United States would require aborting all black babies (Bennett referred to no other racial demographic and did add, likely recognizing a proximity to the Fuhrer, that this would be unethical and impractical). 6 The text of blackness as evil destined for eradication is written and read by teachers of sorts to children of all kinds. The public discussion or debate about Trayvon’s photographs, the “accuracy” of their depictions of the youth, tells another story of impossible redemption. The initial photographs of Trayvon used by the news media show him smiling, in football uniform, in ski gear, holding a child (supposedly nine days before his was killed), and wearing a hoodie, 7 which was used widely on protest banners. 8 Other images widely circulated on the Internet were from Trayvon’s 2011 and 2012 Twitter account. They depict him tattooed, bruised on his shoulder, and showing his middle finger; in another picture, he is smiling, gold-toothed. 9 These latter photographs accompanied news pieces about Trayvon’s alleged troubles in school and with law enforcement, although he had never been arrested. With these photographs came the assumption that, because they were taken more recently, they therefore provided a more accurate description of the Trayvon that died on February 26, 2012. Trayvon had been suspended from school three times during his last school


João Costa Vargas and Joy A. James

year. As thousands of people gathered throughout the United States to demand Zimmerman’s arrest, reports surfaced that, in October 2012, a school police investigator had spotted Trayvon defacing lockers with the “W.T.F.” The next day, the officer searched his book bag, finding jewelry, a screwdriver (which the officer described as a “burglary tool”); and a baggie with traces of marijuana. 10 Contrasting the “younger” and “older” Trayvons brings us to a space of impossible redemption. Trayvon can only be unmistakably innocent if he is angelic. To be angelical is to be supernatural or infantile; to not grow up, to not have autonomous agency, to not reach puberty, to never rebel against authority (which by definition is restrictive even if it is for one’s “own good”). When inflected by blackness, the gendered aspects of Trayvon’s alleged “later,” and therefore “truer,” pictures, make it impossible for him not be threatening. The lethal violence George Zimmerman inflicted on Trayvon Martin—the symbolic and material violence routinized to black bodies—is a preemptive measure against what is assumed the black would do if not repressed. 11 The discourse legitimizing this violence proliferated with the appearance of the “free black” following the civil war. Echoing postbellum discourse, Zimmerman’s father recounts the struggle preceding the shooting, when George and Trayvon were wrestling on the ground: “George believes Trayvon saw [George’s] pistol, was going to get it, and said, ‘You are going to die tonight.’ Shortly after that, George drew the pistol and shot him.” 12 Trayvon was shot to prevent him from shooting George. 13 These stories are part of the lore and common sense of the nation. On the west coast, police testify that Rodney King was brutalized so that King would not brutalize the police officers. 14 In the south, apartheid exonerates fourteen-year-old Emmett Till’s abduction, torture, and murder so as to kill the black imagining of desire or mocking of desire for sexual intimacy with a white female, the only unforgivable sin. In Trayvon’s foretold tragedy, even though a case could be made that the “truer” photos appeared after the “older” innocence-inspiring photos, the “older” photos are ultimately the default references, the always, already overdetermining symbolic parameter. It is against the menacing images that even the “innocent-looking” Trayvon attains symbolic valence. The image of the black child is always already framed by the image of the menacing black. “Look, a Negro [Negress]!” scrambles time as it defines a field of vision where the black subject is the permanent object of preemptive, supposedly cleansing, regenerative violence. 15 That Fanon notes that this is the white child’s cry to its parental, protective figure in the face of Frantz Fanon’s appearance as and only as a black, not a man, not a human, suggests that whites are infantilized in the presence of blackness and require the protection of the state or its depu-

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tized citizenry, who are understood to legitimately safeguard themselves with excessive force. Everyone seems to agree upon this “strategy” for redemption. That Trayvon’s supporters attempt to portray him as an innocent victim suggests how compelling narratives of integration and colorblindness are. Such narratives fail to acknowledge, and ultimately reproduce, intrinsic anti-blackness. Anti-blackness depends on an impossible time that has no beginning because it has no end. Age in Trayvon’s ordeal is as immaterial as it was in the 1958 North Carolina “kissing case,” when seven-year-old David Simpson and nine-year-old James Hanover Thompson were arrested after a white girl allegedly kissed Thompson on the cheek. 16 It is immaterial in Bennett’s call, as a conservative who opposes abortion, for genocidal violence against all black wombs. It is terrifying to hear the clock ticking as your black child grows up. So, many might mute the sounds. The sounds become increasingly unbearable if one recognizes that the parent hears not a countdown (to puberty and maturation) but to interment. This is the heightened perceived threat and the impossible time, and therefore impossible space, of blackness in an anti-black world. Like all black children, Trayvon lived on borrowed, impossible time. The time is borrowed because as soon as the presumed innocence is over, their time as a sin-free, threat-free person ends. (One should also consider, as the editors of this volume argue, that this “presumed innocence” functions as a probation period: “Think Bennett”—even the toddler, infant, preborn are criminalized.) This is impossible because this time is not linear, it is not chronological; it is ontological. The Fanonian self-interrogation prescribed for the native or colonized intellectual mutates into parental torture when one considers child vulnerability to colonizing and enslaving violence. When, you ask, will your black child be brutalized? It is a rhetorical query. Recall other stories of violation: When she or he complain that her teacher or daycare person does not like her, or does not touch her? When your six-year-old is accused of sexually molesting the white girl in the opposing basketball team? When your four-year-old comes back home saying that she’s been called a “black monkey”? It was, is now, and will always be so under white supremacy. In the past, present, future, blackness as evil in a white democracy can’t be “victimized”; it is only vanquished. Trayvon’s death is foretold; it is constitutive of the black child’s impossible experience of growing up as a fully legitimate, entitled, protected, member of the polis. To experience one’s child’s death, by increments, while she lives, is to be confronted with the terror-laden unique condition of blackness, a condition that negates the expected genealogical time. So, Trayvon’s death, accidental killing, murder, or lynching, as a media spectacle and opportunity for civil rights mobilization functions as distraction.


João Costa Vargas and Joy A. James

MAPPING THE BOUNDARIES OF PROGRESSIVISM Many stories of redemption from white racism or colonization announce a black cyborg: a modified, improved human whose increased ethical, spiritual, and physical capabilities generate unusual strength, omniscience, and boundless love. In this narrative, the black cyborg is a “creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important social construction, a world-changing fiction.” 17 The artist and activist James Baldwin offers an illustration. Writing to his nephew James (interchangeable with Trayvon, Emmett, Juan 18) on the one hundredth anniversary of the emancipation, James Baldwin describes U.S. antiblack logic of social relations in spatial arrangements and life chances: This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black, and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. 19

This collective experience is a fact as much as it is a product of the foundational fiction from which antiblackness springs. An immanently political being, compelled into a force field that negates his and her existence, the black cyborg is able to overcome the brutality of imposed limits—the conditions of social and physical death. How so? The black cyborg refuses victimization by narrating a political desire, offered in an unproblematic fashion: the necessity and possibility of integration. 20 The cyborg’s erotic 21 impulses happen as if projects of black autonomy never surfaced. 22 In this regard, Baldwin’s storyline relies on a reduced black political field which, therefore, is fictive. 23 Baldwin’s cyborg breathes this engineered atmosphere. In this rarefied and terrible war theater, Baldwin instructs James, using the model of the civil rights cyborg as the prototype for progress. In order to salvage integration, it is necessary that we [blacks], with love, shall force our [white] brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is our home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. 24

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Baldwin’s language is one of redemption through love and struggle. Who redeems, who loves, who rescues the country from its perverse appropriation? The black cyborg or moral agent, endowed with dignity without analog, redeems whites whose symbolic and social universe depends on the anti-person, the black. While there are instructive parallels between Baldwin’s and Fanon’s mapping of the white ontological field, 25 such parallels do not produce analog scenarios of resolution. 26 Fanon wants to start anew by having the native or fellah replace the colonialist: “The last will be first” is the mandate. Fanon seeks the end of the colony, and it will be a violent one, enabling the birth of the nation. Baldwin though wants to recuperate a project, vision, idea: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” 27 Baldwin’s country is salvageable because he loves it. Fanon’s is not, and it is hate that leads to transformation, not love, in The Wretched of the Earth. Baldwin’s civil rights actor is not Fanon’s rebel, nor is the young man who tells a puzzled Martin Luther King Jr. as he walks through a charred Watts in 1965: “We won because we made them pay attention to us.” 28 These words appear to echo the stance of the black three-year-old fighting her white Latina “principal” who was attempting to shame her. It may seem infantile until one considers that youth understand the dynamics of power and power relations. They can momentarily derail the machinery of their/our incarceration. Baldwin’s country is salvageable if the machine proceeds and the new product is the redeemed white and black. Both cleansed from the stains of racial supremacy. For the street rebels, and the disciplined revolutionaries, to throw a wrench into the machinery, to be recognized with any form of agency, is a form of morality and ethics. Civil Rights progressivism is problematic because it cannot adapt or adjust to the realities of structural antiblack brutality and the tactics used against it by non-Angelic black cyborgs. Anti-black terror is to be rendered visible, unacceptable, and thus neutralized by blacks’ embracing of whites, as Baldwin reminds us: “You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” 29 The burden of acceptance, as that of reason, communicative initiative, and ethical commitment—the burden of integration—is squarely on blacks: black intellect, psyche, body, imagination. Baldwin’s vision configures and requires a black cyborg as victim, as without rage; a superhuman with unnatural capacities to suffer and love. Part of the broad appeal, and ultimate ineffectiveness, of organizing around cases of lethal violence against blacks in the United States (and in the black diaspora) is the seemingly ever-renewed will to believe in a social organization, its institutions and people, as if they were not intrinsically anti-black, possessed no racial logic that held its own in consisten-


João Costa Vargas and Joy A. James

cy despite actions that are affirmative or laws that are civil rights oriented or blacks that are police chiefs, mayors, CEOs, governors, or presidents. A genocidal logic cannot be altered or remedied without the erasure of both parties, the colonizer and the colonized. Without the disappearance of blackness as “evil” or “sin” and whiteness as “value” or “virtue” there is no fundamental change. Without the supernatural ability of non-blacks to love back, to love black, the utopian black cyborg, the one with a decades old or centuries old love affair with a white mistress/master cannot refuse victimization, she can only redefine it. The construction of black cyborgs—those who believe, endure, wait, and forgive against all odds and historical evidence—is appealing but ultimately ineffective. 30 On April 23, 2012, Zimmerman was released on a $150,000 bail. 31 Public protests have mostly stopped. In May 2012, George Zimmerman was charged by a special prosecutor with second-degree murder, which carries the possible sentence of life in prison. 32 The current wait is pregnant with redemption. It’s either a difficult birth, that requires Baldwin’s civil rights cyborg to forgive, believe, and love; or an impossible birth, another killing unaccounted for, unaccountable, that reproduces the nation by leaving intact the premises and the conditions of black death—the very premises and conditions Baldwin describes to this young nephew. REDEMPTION AND THE BLACK CYBORGS Blacks do not easily, publicly embrace the concept of self-defense. Perhaps this embrace makes them feel more vulnerable to violence and censorship. Perhaps it challenges the constitution of the all-loving black cyborg who demonstrates “superiority” by their capacity to love haters? 33 Self-defense does not refuse victimization by assisting the oppressor into a fuller humanity; rather it garners the resources to diminish the impact of oppression on black life, independent of whether or not the colonialist or enslaver wants to be emotionally embraced by the black and recognized as kin rather than as superior. Baldwin’s civil rights cyborg is only one manifestation of a black cyborg. There are black revolutionaries as cyborgs who have little hope for Western democracy’s ability to embrace black life. Their reflections from prison, exile, the grave reveal a rebel who relinquishes the unachievable goal: striving for a socially recognized “humanity” that is constructed on the antithesis resting on her hip. For European wealth and Western democracy’s leisured consumerism were enabled by colonization and slavery, birthed through the black body. The democracy that Baldwin seeks to heroically rescue cannot be resuscitated as anything other than a site in which black death and the vulnerability of black children to emotional, psychological, physical trau-

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ma continue to exist. At times rather than manifested as a direct assault one sees racist oppression as a by-product: in Fanon’s language, what the “nigger” within and among us inflicts on other blacks, raging against captivity and humiliation but feeling powerless to attack the true assailant. Part divine, part mechanical, part biological, black rebel cyborgs demand not democracy but freedom. They do not view the emergence of the nation-state from the ash of the colony (ghetto) burning down as the consummate victory. On a trajectory beyond Baldwin, and Fanon, they exist outside of humanity that fabricates time and measures freedom and enslavement by teaspoons or Tazers. Black cyborgs who relinquish claims to the nation-state become, like the namesake of Toni Morrison’s The Song of Solomon, capable of movements that inspire flight. Not all black cyborgs are created equal nor do they all desire the same objectives. Some endowed with the superhuman powers of governmental or corporate entities reproduce existing structures with modifications. Some demand not to be ensnared or in complicity with an empire based on genocide. Cyborgs who reject the definition of democracy as freedom will struggle against the polis and those blacks who insist that no real social or political life exists outside the polis. This “battle of the black cyborgs” reveals a diversity of opponents influenced by civil rights liberalism or revolutionary nationalism. Such battles might be dismissed as a distracting sideshow, a cheesy entertainment spectacle of fixed wrestling replete with commercial breaks. Yet the gravity of Trayvon Martin’s last wrestle with his opponent, the “mortal combat” against an enemy backed by white supremacy’s judicial, police, and media machineries, is a compelling story, one about a youth who refused blackness-as-victimization, without any guarantee of redemption. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Thank you to Stephen Marshall for bringing James Baldwin into this conversation. NOTES 1. In some forms of Buddhism, redemption is the release from worldly desires. The discussion of the black cyborg as anti-materialist but not anti-nature will require another article. 2. Integration as codified in the civil rights movement’s political and legal discourse relies on specific convergence of interests. Richard Delgado, Derrick Bell, and other critical race theorists have analyzed the lack of substantive convergence of interests between the victims of white supremacy and the beneficiaries. Black nationalist projects as liberatory interventions have been contained or crowded out by the civil rights legacy.


João Costa Vargas and Joy A. James

3. Studies in social psychology have demonstrated the implicit knowledge that links images of blacks to images of apes, and vice versa; and posit that on a cognitive level, a structural connection has been forged between blackness and the state of nature or animality. See works by Phillip Abita Goff, who contributes a chapter to this volume. Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth notes how the colonialist has linked colonized peoples with the bestiary, in order to justify European imperialism. Only humans, not animals, can atone for sin and transcend natural inclinations, worthy of civic participation. 4. William Patterson et al., “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People,” petition presented to the United Nations, 1951. 5. Luciane Rocha and Jaime Alves have critiqued campaigns, committees, events, and government-supported initiatives that target the genocide of Brazilian black youth. The Black Women’s Institute Geledés’ position articulates the shared understanding among mobilized blacks: “The Genocide of Black Youth: Dictatorship Doctrine and Racism continue strong in public safety”: http://www.geledes.org.br/areasde-atuacao/questao-racial/violencia-racial/11495-genocidio-da-juventude-negra-doutrina-da-ditadura-e-racismo-continua-firme-e-forte-nas-forcas-de-seguranca, accessed on May 17, 2012. 6. Similarly, Rio de Janeiro state governor Sergio Cabral recently said that favela women’s birth rates must be lowered as they are “factories producing criminals.” 7. Trayvon Martin’s death was not predicated on behavior or attire. Mark Zuckerberg offended investors by wearing a hoodie to his meeting to discuss taking Facebook public, but the offense was not sinful nor was it evil; his whiteness and wealth permit him personality and temperament if they are read as “difficult” or “boorish.” 8. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/03/on-the-age-and-innocence -of-trayvon-martin/255293/, accessed May 17, 2012. 9. http://dailycaller.com/2012/03/29/second-trayvon-martin-twitter-feed-identified, accessed May 17, 2012. 10. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-prompts-a-review-of-ideals.html?_r=3&hp=&pagewanted=all, accessed May 17, 2012; http:// www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/26/2714778/thousands-expected-at-trayvon.html, accessed May 17, 2012. 11. See Robert Gooding-Williams, Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising (New York: Routledge, 1993). 12. “Race, Tragedy and Outrage Collide after a Shot in Florida,” http:// www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-prompts-a-review-of-idea ls.html?_r=1&pagewanted=6&ref=media, accessed May 18, 2012. 13. When he pursued, struggled with, and killed Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was a “neighborhood captain.” The curious-sounding occupation and military terminology resonates with “capitão do mato,” or “bush captain.” In Brazil, the bush captain was in charge of recapturing runaway enslaved blacks. In similar fashion, Zimmerman was deputized and empowered. 14. Judith Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” in Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising, ed. Robert Gooding-Williams (New York: Routledge, 1993), 15–22. 15. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, chapter 5. 16. See Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). 17. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century,” in The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments, eds. J. Weiss et al. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006), 117–58. 18. See the case of eleven-year-old Juan Morales, a black child killed by police in Rio in June 2011, http://g1.globo.com/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2011/09/mp-rj-denuncia-pmssuspeitos-no-caso-juan-por-dois-homicidios.html, accessed May 18, 2012.

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19. James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation,” in James Baldwin: Collected Essays, ed. Toni Morrison (New York: Library of America, 1998), 293. 20. Of the endeavors of the cyborg and the demarcation lines, Donna Haraway writes: “This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion” (Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” 117). 21. Erotic is understood as a constellation of desires that engage the political, affective, creative. Audre Lorde distinguishes the erotic from the pornographic defined as domination-based and destructive of intimacy (Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider [1984]). 22. Black nationalist projects were ultimately defeated by integrationist/middleclass/legalist fronts. See Derrick Bell, “Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interest in School Desegregation Litigation,” in Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, eds. Kimberlé Crenshaw et al. (New York: The New Press, 1995), 5–19. 23. For useful typologies of black political thought, see Joy James, Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics (New York: Palgrave, 1999); and Michael Dawson, Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). 24. James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook,” James Baldwin: Collected Essays, 294. 25. Regarding the symbolic dependence that whites have on blacks, and what happens when blacks, by negating their imposed inferiority, endanger white’s identity, Baldwin states: “Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations” (294). 26. Although Frantz Fanon does state that “today I believe in love,” his political views do not consider integration as a viable goal or even strategy. See Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, a text with marked differences from The Wretched of the Earth, which was a response to a guerilla war of independence between Algeria and France. 27. James Baldwin, “Autobiographical Notes,” James Baldwin: Collected Essays, 9. 28. Lance Hill, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 235. 29. James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook,” James Baldwin: Collected Essays, 293–94. 30. The time elapsed between Rodney King’s videotaped brutalization on March 3, 1991, and the beginning of the April 29, 1992, Los Angeles uprising following the notguilty verdicts given to the police officers involved in the beating suggests a period of hope when justice is given another chance. (That the rioters against state and property included whites and Latinos as well as blacks suggests the possibility of kinship with black rebels.) The wait allows for redemption through the hope that police misconduct will be addressed and punished through the courts. The disappointment following that wait was massive. As South Central Los Angeles fires burned, Rodney King asked “Why can’t we all just get along?” His televised address for tolerance targeted those “making it horrible for the older people and the kids.” Unsurprisingly, this appeal converged with the dominant new media’s misrepresentation of the rebellion that suggested black youths were the principal actors. It was carried out exclusively by black youth; whites and Latinos had only chosen to take matters in their own hands, employing violence as an implement. 31. Matt Flegenheimer, “George Zimmerman Released after Posting Bail,” New York Times (April 23, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/24/us/george-zimmerman-released-after-posting-bail-in-trayvon-martin-case.html, accessed May 18, 2012. 32. Lizette Alvarez and Michael Cooper, “Prosecutor Files Charges of 2nd-Degree Murder in Shooting of Martin,” New York Times (April 11, 2012), http:// www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/us/zimmerman-to-be-charged-in-trayvon-martin-shoot ing.html?pagewanted=all, accessed May 18, 2012.


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33. In Black Marxism, Cedric Robinson suggests that enslaved blacks successful in overthrowing whites seldom used the brutal terror that whites employed on them. This narrative, though not identical to Baldwin’s black cyborg, feeds the imagination of the unusually endowed black subject of monumental psychic, ethical, and physical qualities.

SIXTEEN Politics, Moral Identity, and the Limits of White Silence Samantha Vice

What should white people say about an instance of racial injustice and tragedy in which they are implicated? Once aware of white supremacy, whites realize that we should distrust our perspective on the world, that whether we intend it or not, it reveals a world created in our own parochial image. I want to explore how a white person should respond to a tragic case like the death of young Trayvon Martin, when her voice has been too much heard and too much heeded, when her very self is implicated in the world in which it is possible for a teenager to be killed while walking home. The case exposes two tensions that beset whites’ attempts to respond decently: the first is a tension between the demands of moral identity and racial identity; the second is a tension between privacy and individuality, on the one hand, and the public, political realm on the other. This tension affects anyone’s attempts to respond appropriately, although it arises most acutely for whites. I will argue that it is part of the moral tragedy of Martin’s death that moral identity might need to cede to racial identity, and that the private realm might be rightly politicized. INTRODUCTION I have argued elsewhere that in certain contexts, whites ought to cultivate a quieter, more humble and inconspicuous presence, particularly in the political domain. 1 In a country like mine—post-Apartheid South Africa— where whites still have de facto socioeconomic power despite being less than 10 percent of the population, being quiet and unobtrusive in public 205


Samantha Vice

political affairs would demonstrate a desire to atone for a damaging history that had its most infamous expression in Apartheid. While the details of my recommendation in that essay were limited to South Africa, the general point seems true—that whites need to counter the arrogance, complaisance, and desire for control that characterizes their “whitely” 2 ways with a quieter and more tentative manner of engagement with a multi-racial world. This general point, however, raises a question about the limits of this kind of virtuous silence and humility. For of course our identities are various, with different and sometimes conflicting commitments—we are not only black or white, but men or women, straight or gay, activists in many areas, or intensely private and non-political. Importantly, we are also moral agents with the impulse and responsibility to respond to each other as equal members of a universal moral community. 3 Considerations that might make white silence and discretion virtuous in one context can be outweighed in others. Is Trayvon Martin’s death, and the intense debate and anger it has generated, such a case? If we have learned anything from whiteness studies, it is that even whites with the best intentions can be, in George Yancy’s effective phrase, “ambushed” by their whiteliness. 4 I want nonetheless to risk being ambushed, and furthermore, to risk the seductions and comforts of theory, 5 to reflect very carefully on this case, as a white woman and an outsider to the United States. There are certainly dangers here: Using Martin’s death as an occasion to reflect on whiteness risks centering whiteness all over again, and it risks seeking a comforting solution for whites that is not available. However, part of my point will be that there is no morally comfortable position for whites to rest in, and I see this exploration not as an attempt to find one, but to understand our awkward position more clearly. I can say nothing about the legal status of the Martin case, nor analyse the socioeconomic facts of American life. I take the case as it comes, already laden with meaning, embedded in a particular history of hopes and disappointments, progress and continuing injustice, that in this particular context, I experience only secondhand. I assume that whatever the verdict regarding the case, this young man’s death can be appropriately read as one instance in a history of general racial injustice, which takes on a particular local form in the United States. The fact that the case can take on meaning beyond its geographical boundaries already says much for its iconic status. The discomfort I feel in entering this debate at all is partly a matter of the very tensions I want to explore in this brief chapter, which arise at the dense intersections of the private and the public, the moral and the political. I can offer no comforting solution, hoping only for a clearer view of a complex moral landscape.

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MORAL IDENTITY, RACIAL IDENTITY While collective deliberation and action from whites is possible and important, I concentrate in this chapter on individual white efforts to respond appropriately. What, then, are the relevant features of a situation that would make it appropriate for a white person to remain quiet and refrain from becoming publicly involved, in response to an apparent instance of racial injustice? Relevant features include the following: 1. If they are implicated in the unjust situation, qua members of a racially privileged or oppressor group; 6 2. If their speaking out would not be welcomed by those suffering from or identifying with the injustice; and 3. If their speaking out would demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to their morally and politically troubling position as members of a historically racially advantaged group;

I want to set these features against those that might, in contrast, make speaking out and public participation appropriate. These would include: 4. If whites intended their speaking out as an act of solidarity with the group or individuals suffering the injustice, and if it was taken and welcomed in that spirit; 5. If whites intended to speak out as a way of undermining or distancing themselves from a white supremacist world; and 6. If the event were such as to require a response from all decent people, qua moral agents, independently of their group affiliation. 7

These features are related and here I have in mind a situation in which they occur together. That is, whites are (considering) how to respond both as moral agents and as whites discontented with whiteness, as a gesture of solidarity and in the name of a shared moral identity. However, I will concentrate on (4) and (6) for two reasons: they bring out most clearly the tensions that concern me, and they focus our attention away from whites’ self-referential struggles with their own world, and toward the more appropriate target of those their whiteness has damaged. In that way, perhaps, we can avoid some of the problems to which theorizing whiteness is prone. The tension that concerns me here, is, then, between whites’ implication in the racial injustice which is the backdrop to Martin’s death, on the one hand, and, on the other, the need for all decent people, as moral agents, to protest an event that, while an instance of political injustice, is also crucially a moral tragedy that arouses their sorrow and sympathy. Trayvon Martin’s death has assumed enormous political importance as a symbol of ongoing systemic racial injustice, but it is also, and fundamentally, a moral tragedy, calling for recognition from anyone qua moral


Samantha Vice

agent, black or white. So it is easy—and true—to say that every person qua moral agent ought to be at least troubled and saddened, perhaps outraged, by his death. Whether this response should be publicized, politicized, and racialized as a (well-intentioned, solidarity-inspired) white response is, however, a different issue. First, being outraged and saddened qua moral agent does not entitle us to appropriate an event as one that “belongs” to us all, as an event within our possible life-repertoire and with which we can empathize and make our own. This kind of event cannot happen to white people (or only rarely); we can be the victims of violence, but not violence that is a reaction to our mere white embodiment. Janine Jones has argued that the profound difference in the situations of blacks and whites can undermine the possibility of empathy toward blacks even from those she calls “goodwill” whites. 8 A full recognition of this divergence, however, could also have a more salutary effect: it could incline whites to be cautious, to consider carefully whether we can say anything in good faith and with any authority, moral or personal. Second, while whites might hope to be united with blacks by a universal, colorless moral identity, the circumstances of Martin’s death make a purely moral, non-politicized response difficult to justify, if it is possible at all. Whites’ expressions of solidarity with a black community that sees in Martin’s death an instance of the egregious injustice that is the backdrop to their lives and, moreover, alien to most whites, could be received as hollow or insulting. Even granting an impartial, neutral moral point of view that transcends particularity, it remains the case that blacks’ and whites’ experiences of the moral, but nonetheless racially-saturated world, can diverge fundamentally, and it is then disingenuous at best to ignore this in the name of a shared, ideal community of race-less moral agents. Furthermore, how the responses of whites are received is not a matter for whites to determine or predict; their gestures of solidarity may not be taken in the spirit in which they were intended, for understandable reasons, and if they suspect this might be the case, they have a reason to refrain or at least to proceed with caution. How, then, do we weigh the moral responses appropriate to any moral agent, with the need to be sensitive to the political and racial realities? I do not know how to answer this question and can only offer a suggestion I admit to be less than conclusive. Perhaps we should ask blacks what they want from us, or wait for an invitation to participate publicly, as whites, in their struggles for justice. If the worry is that white participation might be taken as insulting, we should ask those to whom it could be insulting. This suggestion raises familiar worries about essentializing racial groups and assuming that whites and blacks speak with one, unified and identifiable voice. Who, precisely, would whites ask for permission, we might wonder? However, setting this worry aside, the suggestion is plausible. It would demonstrate some humility; it would take the decision out of whites’ all-too-controlling hands; it would express aware-

Politics, Moral Identity, and the Limits of White Silence


ness of their problematic identity. Well-intentioned whites would not of course be asking permission to feel sorrow or outrage; they would be asking permission, or awaiting an invitation, to express this publicly, as moral agents who are also white, in solidarity with blacks to whom, in asking, they admit their harmful presence. They would be asking permission to prioritize their moral identity over their political identity—or, rather, the moral aspects of themselves over the politically-inflected aspects of themselves. Given that whites have all too often assumed that their view on the world is the universal, moral view, this would be an important step in undermining the ways of whiteliness. On the other hand, however, this suggestion risks placing a moral burden on blacks— making them responsible for whether whites can feel accepted, understood, forgiven, and so perhaps unfairly expecting some supererogatory virtue from them. Furthermore—and this is the most serious challenge to this position—waiting to be invited might express a less than virtuous desire to shun unfamiliar encounters and the possibility of rejection, to be inhibited by the risks of moving out of the safe boundaries set by their whiteness. This is true, but either response can go wrong—speaking out and waiting to be invited. Virtue is very difficult to achieve here. Accepting that these risks are inescapable is part of accepting the significance and legacy of whiteness. That this is an uncomfortable conclusion is, perhaps, how it should be. PRIVACY AND POLITICS There is a deeper tension worth exploring, which is troubling for anyone contemplating this tragedy, though I focus on its implications for how whites might respond. The first claim to make in this regard might seem trite: It is that any death is a fundamentally and essentially private event, and of proper moral significance fundamentally and essentially to the person it obliterates and to those who care for him. Any ethics that takes the distinctiveness of persons seriously—a condition for any plausible ethics—is committed to the view that death takes something unique from the world and constitutes an ultimate and serious harm to the person herself. 9 The privacy of death means that each person, and then those who matter to her, has authority in interpreting the significance of her death. In the rest of this chapter, I explore a more controversial claim that I think follows from this, though I can give it only a crude and tentative treatment. Roughly, the claim is that (barring a few counter-examples) insofar as there is reason for a death’s significance to be translated into a political event, something is lost morally, and this is intrinsic to both the moral tragedy and the political injustice. A further consequence of this is that it is not obvious that the public participation of whites in protesting


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such an event is always appropriate. This is a weak claim about whether such participation is obviously or always appropriate; I am not arguing that it is always inappropriate—the conditions that might make it so will be particular to each case. That Trayvon Martin’s death has become a political event is contingent on many factors: his family’s needs and strength of purpose, the public mood, perceived mishandling or insensitivity from the police and other officials. There are many deaths that share the politically relevant features of his: that he was a young black man, that he apparently aroused suspicion because of this, that his death was both pointless and heavy with racial symbolism. Because he died violently at the hands of someone suspicious and fearful, it seems, of his blackness, the meaning of his death has appropriately become saturated with the history of racial oppression. Martin’s family found it necessary to interpret his death in this way, and that is their prerogative. Whatever the reasons that this death, out of many others, has been taken up as a public political event, whites are restricted by decency in what we can now say, even out of sympathy and solidarity. This is one symptom of the injustice and one aspect of the moral tragedy. It is not possible in such a charged atmosphere for moral identity and its distinctive responses to have the automatic and overriding authority for whites we might think they should have for anyone. We would like the responses expressive of moral identity—sympathy and solidarity toward anyone who is harmed—to take precedence over those other considerations we also see the need to be sensitive about; we hope that it is precisely in doing so that injustice and division may be somewhat ameliorated. An event like this reminds us that this is not such a simple hope. The reasons in favor of expressing publicly, and acting on, the demands of our identity as moral agents—for moral community and reparation, for the authority of sympathy that extends universally to all those who are morally considerable—need to be carefully weighed against the reasons that render group membership rather than moral identity salient in these circumstances. The demands of moral identity remain and are pressing, and yet in these non-ideal circumstances their demands cannot always be heeded in action. This is a claim about the demands of moral identity, rather than a claim about conflict between moral values and some other values, or between apparently competing moral demands. I do not assume a particular view of morality here; I hope, that is, to be neutral between deontological, (indirect) consequentialist, and virtue ethics positions, with their attendant views on the status and authority of morality. All will agree that our identity as a moral agent is of crucial importance and that it ought not to be easy to set its authority and demands aside. When someone is so needlessly killed, any decent person feels the force of a moral self that is not defined by contingent aspects of our history and circum-

Politics, Moral Identity, and the Limits of White Silence


stances, and that is not selective in its sympathetic attention. That the demands and sympathies of this self might not have overall proper authority over the actions of some, because of their racial identity, is indicative of a morally wrong world. The point could be stated as a dilemma: Whites can express our moral identity and obey its call for sympathy and solidarity publicly, setting aside our racial identity; or we can accede to the realities of a racial identity which despite ourselves has helped to construct the problematic world we are struggling with. In the first instance, we risk political insensitivity or arrogance. In the second, we lose an opportunity to weaken the boundaries of race and potentially engage with each other as, simply, human beings. I am suggesting that in these circumstances whites may have overall more reason to choose the latter option, for reasons both of self-directed virtue and of sensitivity toward a group our racial identity has harmed. Nonetheless, along with the moral gains of increased sensitivity and humility, and any political gains that might ensue, we will incur a moral loss from setting aside the demands of moral identity; they do not lose their normative force when we cannot act on them. A second, general, symptom of the injustice and a second aspect of the moral tragedy is that the fundamentally private and individual dimension of this death risks being lost in the politics. Except when a nation is mourning a statesperson or worthy public figure (one of the counterinstances noted above), that a death becomes a political event is a sign that things are not as they should be. Martin’s death is talked over by strangers, mediated through interest groups, taken up as a cause by politicians in ways that might naturally incline us to be wary. Amidst all this political debate, that a young man’s life has been cut short, that—most importantly—a particular and unique person, whose identity is not exhausted by the political meanings assigned to it, has been lost is in danger of being forgotten. The tragedy of Trayvon Martin lies partly in the fact that a particular person has become an emblem—that he is made to stand for something beyond himself. This is not necessarily morally problematic, but there is a real and frequent risk, particularly in the political realm, that particularity will be diluted or coarsened into stereotypes. Those close to Martin, who have a right to mourn his death as a personal loss, are of course mourning an irreplaceable person, loved for his particularity. That this particularity risks being lost—the fate of so many heroes and martyrs—adds to the harm of this death. When politics engages the mystery of death, it is seldom ennobling. And yet, an unjust world is also one in which a personal death that is the result, in complex and mediated ways, of an unjust system, is appropriately seen as an emblem. It is unacceptable to view fellow citizens with a default fear and suspicion that criminalizes them and condemns many to lives with little hope, and in this, Martin’s death stands in for many.


Samantha Vice

When an instance of this treatment becomes known, it is right that it become a political issue; it is still, however, indicative of the injustice. The tragedy of Trayvon Martin, and the most telling symptom of the injustice that surrounds it and demands attention, is therefore the fact that his death has rightly been appropriated for politics, and taken up by communities that extend beyond the private realm of family and friends, where it properly belongs. There is value in this extension; it builds a common cause and solidarity amongst people with a shared sociopolitical history, it can jolt others out of complacency, and perhaps thereby provide an impulse for real change. The decision of Emmett Till’s mother to show her son’s beaten body to the world was a moment the personal became the political, appropriately and with some success. Perhaps the same will happen as a result of the Martin family’s decision to press for an inquiry. Nonetheless something is lost: the privacy of loss and the uniqueness of the person who is mourned. Again, I find no easy way to settle this tension. Part of my point is that in non-ideal circumstances, there are moral trade-offs that must overlook crucial features of common humanity and value in order to be sensitive to painful political realities that one’s common humanity so far has patently not been enough to assuage. In a moral tragedy with political dimension, the fundamental assumptions and demands of moral identity might have to cede to those of political and collective identity. What, then, are the consequences for my opening question? How should whites respond to Trayvon Martin’s death? I have argued that, as a practical measure, whites should ask blacks and be guided by their answer. And I have argued that the deeper, more general tension between different aspects of identity in these situations does not allow whites to respond in a way that leaves us morally pure and without loss. It should not, however, be surprising that white hands will be dirtied, given the moral grubbiness of the world they have fashioned and which we all, blacks and whites, must share. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am grateful to Nimi Hoffmann, Ward Jones, Sally Matthews, and Pedro Tabensky for their helpful comments. NOTES 1. Samantha Vice, “How Do I Live in This Strange Place?” Journal of Social Philosophy 41 (2010): 323–42; and “Reflections on ‘How Do I Live in This Strange Place?’” South African Journal of Philosophy 30 (2011): 503–18. The present chapter develops many of the claims made in these papers. 2. The term ‘whitely,’ coined by Marilyn Frye, is by now standard, and captures a habitual way of being that assumes the universality of a white perspective on the

Politics, Moral Identity, and the Limits of White Silence


world. See Marilyn Frye, “White Woman Feminist,” in Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminist Theory (Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1992), 147–69. In this chapter I assume that both whiteness—a socialized racial identity—and ‘whiteliness’ are problematic. 3. See the responses to “How Do I Live in this Strange Place?” and my reply in the special issue of The South African Journal of Philosophy 30 (2011), ed. Ward E. Jones. 4. George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), chapter 7. 5. On the dangers of theorizing whiteness, see Yancy, 229. 6. I have argued elsewhere (in “How Do I Live in This Strange Place?”) that full recognition of the significance of their racial identity would appropriately occasion shame from whites. 7. A further feature, set aside earlier, will also be relevant: (7) If there were a collective, organized white response to racial injustice. 8. Janine Jones, “The Impairment of Empathy in Goodwill Whites for African Americans,” in What White Looks Like, ed. George Yancy (New York: Routledge, 2004), 65–86. 9. While I take death to be a harm, it is not always the worst harm that can befall us. It can sometimes be a release from a harm thought to be unbearable or worse than death, like intense pain or ignominy. That there can be fates worse than death takes nothing away from the typical misfortune of death itself, nor that it is the ultimate harm.

SEVENTEEN Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett

INTRODUCTION: THE CRIMINAL AND THE NEW MINSTREL SHOW The neoliberal myth rests on a ruse of agency. Like slavery, the old Jim Crow erected a racial system into which one was born and could not easily escape. Such a system would have to be collectively dismantled. The post–Civil Rights, deindustrialized 1970s reasserted the age-old American myth of the entrepreneurial self. Laziness causes poverty, we were told, not transnational capitalism. This perpetuation of the myth of the self-made self took yet another turn with the Reagan revolution of the 1980s. As race and resentment transformed Richard Nixon’s early 1970s “welfare chiselers” (then assumed white and male) into Reagan’s infamous black and female “welfare queens,” 1 the stage was set for a new minstrel show, but this one, as Michelle Alexander tells us, is particularly deceptive because the new public enemy is not just lazy but criminal. By the 1990s, the “welfare queen” became the crack whore and along with her drug dealer emerged a population that no party, no politician, no parent would come to defend. The war on drugs distorts agency, Alexander observes, establishing a new Jim Crow void of empathy. Choosing a life of crime negates compassion. “It is far more convenient to imagine that a majority of young African American men in urban areas freely chose a life of crime than to accept the real possibility that their lives were structured in a way that virtually guaranteed their early admission into a system from which they can never escape.” 2 215


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Neoliberalism is thus a deceptively bright white fabric of illusions. There is the objective illusion of the entrepreneur—that work and talent drive the system. 3 And there is the subjective illusion that each one of us can be an entrepreneur of the self. For black America, the objective and subjective illusion is called post-blackness. It is the romantic illusion that blackness may be a style and a choice but that it need not be a burden— that work and talent drive a system cleared of the old race struggles by the apparent success of the Civil Rights Movement that took on Jim Crow and won. Not all blacks are free of course—one out of four black men are owned or controlled by the criminal justice system. But for the rest, the illusion is tempting. That is to say, good choices and hard work afford the cultural and professional skills to gain insider status, transforming blackness (in the experience of some) into a celebrated style, a fluid identity, and even a choice. Of course, post-blackness, even in this neoliberal fantasy, does not suggest that somehow blackness is not a significant demographic marker of life chances or that racial history is no longer relevant. Post-blackness is not quite so naive as to assert that we live in a postracial society. Rather it suggests that an African American who carries significant symbolic and real capital in a culture of entrepreneurs is not owned or controlled by this system, but rather is celebrated as a free agent in it. The system, white dominated as it is, offers for the talented and the driven a tempting pass. Critical race theorists identify this allowance for class to hold the burden of race at bay as a key element of a system that perpetuates neoliberal racism. 4 In neoliberal racism post-black blackness functions all too nicely with a market-based system that thrives on market niches, and therefore even on diversity. This post-black blackness presents an opportunity for diversity to contribute to our individual and communal wealth while living under the protection of our white security system. Recall that wealth production is the only unchecked value in neoliberalism. Markets of some kind may often serve us well, but neoliberalism seriously weakens and even threatens to disable any other values. Market value trumps all others. States still function but as systems of protection against the only real outsiders, those who are not wealth producers in the market system. But here rests the core cruelty and the central deception behind the bright illusions of the market ideology: neoliberalism is also a system for the production of those outsiders, that is to say those felons now marked for life. The dramatic rise in the prison population in the late twentieth century reflects not actual increases in crime rates, but a redefinition of serious crime that is intimately linked with black or brown people’s everyday lives. What Michelle Alexander calls the criminal label, which is more or less seamlessly hidden behind the white fabric of illusions, is a nightmare that may be more real than the giddy system of finance capital that produced it. Real, that is, if reality is experienced through the human suffer-

Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow


ing that lies behind the mythologies of our everyday consciousness. The tragedy of Trayvon Martin unravels the painful illusions of post-blackness as his story brings sadly to the fore the realities of a system that produces the criminal label in ways sometimes masked by words such as choice, agency, drive, and other neoliberal slang. This story begins with what should have been the wrappings of innocence: a kid in a hoodie, a gated community, and some candy. Let’s begin by recalling a few bare facts of the situation: The seventeen-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin was shot dead as a suspect by a local crime-watch volunteer while visiting his father’s girlfriend’s home in a gated community. Such a community would be a safe place, if any there are, for a teenager who ventures out after dinner to purchase some Skittles and an iced tea at a local convenience store— except for the factor of race. What happened that evening is not yet clear, but we know that the armed crime-watch volunteer phoned a non-emergency dispatcher to report that “this guy looks like he’s up to no good,” indicated that he was black, and, when prompted to explain what the suspect was wearing, responded, “a dark hoodie.” Soon this unarmed high school student would be dead. It is in this context that we shall consider and then cautiously cast off the politics of style and the ideology of choice to look instead at the vulnerability of neoliberal citizenship, and thus the price that demands homage to white respectability, as it denies the possibilities of multiracial solidarity in the name of going after the bad guy. STRIKE 1: A MUNDANE CHOICE—THE HOODIE WITH THE CRIMINAL LABEL This hoodie was as much to blame as the shooter for the Florida teenager’s death offers Fox News host Geraldo Rivera, who then recommends not wearing the hoodie as a solution, the quick fix, so-to-speak, for the safety of our Latino and black youth. 5 In fact, the urgency of attaining the safety and status that whiteness lends to white people has long been expressed as a desire to wear certain styles of clothing, but it has rarely worked out all that well. On the contrary, dressing white has often backfired in U.S. history. Consider, for example, that late-nineteenth-century African American women who dressed like “ladies” complete with parasols and other white bourgeois accoutrements of style were viciously attacked by those who aimed to keep them in their place and thus on the outside of respectable society. 6 So too, after World War I, African American veterans who wore their uniform for too long were targets of violence. 7 In both cases, African Americans unintentionally inverted social norms by embracing the social norms of respectability and often paid a tragic price. By the second half of the twentieth century, patriotic anxie-


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ty that turned on race and ethnicity exacerbated the ambivalence toward young men in particular during World War II. Robin Kelley’s analysis of zoot suiters as “race rebels” seems to implicate those who in the later part of the century would wear the hoodie as self-designating suspects primed for trouble. 8 And yet as Kathy Peiss has recently argued, for the most part teenagers like anyone else do not necessarily aim for any suggestion of defiance in the clothes they wear. 9 To blame Trayvon Martin’s death on his clothing as cynically as Geraldo Rivera did, is, as Charles Blow rifts, in a New York Times op-ed piece, like blaming rape on women who wear short skirts. 10 For teenagers in post-black blackness, the hoodie isn’t necessarily a sign of defiance or of resistance and certainly not of criminal intent. The hoodie like the rocker’s leather jacket and ripped jeans may still offer a nod of defiance, but it is also valued as just another way of adding what Shannon Winnubst describes as neoliberal coolness to our suburbs or our gated communities. 11 The hoodie for those teenagers not interested in making a political statement is more often than not a post-black symbol of blackness and a shopping mall aesthetic. Unfortunately, the hoodie can function as a sign of race and of criminality for those who patrol the boundaries of who does and does not belong. This case of mistaken identity is not unlike the earlier instances of African Americans intending to fit into ordinary white-dominated social norms but whose acts were viewed as those of a transgressive intruder. In a recent review of Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, Darryl Pinckney reports that he had a chance to question the British writer Zadie Smith about some previous remarks she made on the rich diversity of black experience; for her this diversity would translate into a celebration of “black ballet dancers and black truck drivers and black presidents. . . . [W]e all sing from our own hymn sheet.” 12 Pinckney asks in light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, “if she still felt that way about the hymn sheet, [and] Smith said maybe it wasn’t possible, because there was so much hostility toward black people in the United States. In England, she had thought more about class than race. In the United States, she discovered that someone else can rush in and define you when you least expect it, making your being black part of an idea of blackness far outside yourself” (35). “The price the white American paid for his ticket was to become white,” as James Baldwin remarks. 13 To become post-black does not suffice. Not when trigger-happy neoliberalism is looking for the next crime to be committed.

Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow


STRIKE 2: THE TICKET IN—THE GATED COMMUNITY CASTS ITS SHADOW AS MASS INCARCERATION The senseless killing of an innocent black youth stirs up words from Baldwin that continue to reverberate: “You wonder what your role is in this country.” 14 As he ponders his impoverished childhood, Baldwin recalls a life of turmoil and his father’s primary concern with keeping all of his children alive. But Baldwin’s youth was spent precariously in Harlem during the segregations of Jim Crow and the rumblings of what would become the Civil Rights Movement. 15 Trayvon Martin was a successful student at an integrated high school in Florida who nonetheless had been suspended for a trace of marijuana in his backpack when he visited his dad’s girlfriend’s home. A gated community echoes the long-felt desires for comfort, security, and respectability—what Baldwin would have understood as that elusive ticket in. Yet that ticket in has double resonances in an era of the white security system and diverging genres of enclosures. Indeed, the gated community and the cage prove to serve as another stage for the minstrel show (the show that is America) and the violent brutality it engenders. For the Jim Crow era of Baldwin’s youth has given rise to the shadow of the penitentiary and what Michelle Alexander has most forcefully laid out as the racial politics of a new Jim Crow. This one happens out of focus and behind police lines; its target is the criminal, and its apparatus of terror is the criminal justice system. This new Jim Crow shares some of the same racial dynamic and economic engine of the old Jim Crow, but it is much harder to see because the new caged black man appears less the victim of circumstance and more the cold and indifferent instigator. Recall that the more successful black sharecropper who managed to enjoy the fruits of his labor, perhaps even a taste of political agency, found that Jim Crow recast his “manly bearing” as a threat to white womanhood. 16 The Civil Rights Movement would bring into sharp relief the real terror—the lynching raids of the old Jim Crow. The new Jim Crow operates not through the lynch mob but the supposed colorblind penal system that unleashes its terror around the criminal outsider—the one who has nothing that this system wants. Ironically, he too, deeply involved in the informal economy, evokes the entrepreneurial self—but as the john, the pimp, the sugar daddy, the drug entrepreneur of the underworld of the ghetto and a generation up to no good. The white security system with its gated communities and mandatory sentencing provides a stabilizing apparatus for an economic system that exacerbates inequities that otherwise might provoke social unrest or even violence in the streets. How easy it would be to continue to play along with post-racial racism when only a minority of a minority are caught by the apparatus at any given time. Except that this system continues to slip up. It slipped up when it turned on an innocent teenager,


Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett

whose black skin, hoodie, and mundane trip to a convenience store for a little sugar high should not have registered as the profile for an intruder, but whose tragic murder nonetheless sadly bears the traces of the new Jim Crow. Whites too may find themselves as part of the collateral damage, but the war on drugs and the deindustrialized ghetto has made the cold neoliberal calculation: “Throughout our criminal justice system, as well as in our schools and public spaces, young + black + male is equated with reasonable suspicion, justifying the arrest, interrogation, search and detention of thousands of African Americans every year.” 17 By the age of seventeen, such trips to the local convenience store were no doubt routine for Trayvon Martin. Yet the heavy air of racial suspicion not only suspends a high school student three weeks for a trace of marijuana in a backpack but makes a trip for some sweets particularly precarious in the shadow of America’s gated communities. STRIKE 3: A BOX OF INNOCENCE—CANDY AND/OR A TRACE OF MARIJUANA With the doubling of the prison population in the 1980s, the felon label is intimately linked with anxious parenting designed to protect the innocence of our children and nurture in them the virtues of the entrepreneurial self. And yet, how easy it is for our children to strike out. In this new age of containment, just a trace of marijuana or even a box of candy can lead to discarded innocence. To be sure, generations of youth have been labeled suspect for the ways they have walked, talked, and dressed with special attention always paid to those not considered white. But in the 1980s, an important shift takes place that heightens the policing of youth, particularly black and Latino youth. Natasha Zaretsky explains that in the 1970s domestic upheaval and the legacy of foreign policy disasters engendered a sense of “wounded nationalism” and fears that the white family was falling apart. At that time the blame rested on youth deemed narcissistic who also lacked an older generation’s work ethic. 18 By the 1990s the younger generation was not simply lazy but now, thanks to the war on drugs, dangerous and one step away from a police record. Indeed, much of the anxiety over youth emerged with middle-class obsessions over a range of issues such as sugar highs, unsupervised play, violent video games, saggy pants, and even hoodies because bad habits could after all lead to something less than yuppie success. 19 But now in the name of protecting the family, a box of innocence can easily be transformed by the escalating anxieties of the new Jim Crow era of containment. Increasing populations of our black and brown youth, whose innocence has been reimagined as criminal, if they are not shot down in the

Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow


streets, are otherwise labeled as felons who then lose their economic and political citizenship in the illustrious war on drugs. This neoliberal war intensifies suspicion to such a degree that, as every parent knows, even the well-managed teenager seemingly protected by the white security system could go awry in the fictive narrative of late capitalism. The prison label is also built with the help of a gated childhood designed in the hopes that our own children will never cross over to the wrong side of the tracks. Coming of age at the turn of the twenty-first century means that even the most modest of everyday practices and purchases and thus the makings of the entrepreneurial self are tinged with fear and anxiety in which one false move condemns you or your child for choosing a life of crime. With mandatory sentencing it does not take more than one or two strikes. Certainly by three strikes, a minor infringement can expel one from the game forever. Meanwhile those of us who have grown up a part of so-called respectable society and decent families are trapped inside our closed communities and unable to find a means to gain empathy for those dismissed as choosing crime instead. Composing in the shadow of the penitentiary was “the ghetto saint,” Tupac Shakur, whose posthumous words continue to challenge the authority of whiteness in the age of mass incarceration, but Tupac understood hard time from the inside. 20 As a symbol his image still invokes a prison label that may block empathy and thus not crack the facade of colorblindness. Tupac Shakur teaches us much about our racial hypocrisies, but can he provide us with new symbols to take on our contemporary Jim Crow with its rhetoric of innocence? We know the Klansman’s noose of terror is a symbol of the struggles the Civil Rights Movement faced, yet “’It’s not racist to be against crime,’” as Alexander quotes John Edgar Wideman, and the victim of our drug wars “almost always wears Willie Horton’s face.” 21 CONCLUSION: TRAYVON MARTIN AND THE TRAGIC INNOCENCE OF OUR CHILDREN A new Jim Crow separates us into two more or less distinct populations—the entrepreneur and the criminal, training us to ignore the double consciousness that urges empathy for that part of the self that is other. The disorderly child, the suspicious teenager, the caged man—they are somebody else’s children. Among the rest of us are those who are, tentatively, post-black. In her powerful indictment of the continuing legacy of racial injustice, Alexander points out that the old civil rights movement fails to combat the perils of black identity in the wake of the drug wars: “A new civil rights movement cannot be organized around relics of the earlier system of control if it is to address meaningfully the racial realities


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of our time. Any racial justice movement, to be successful, must vigorously challenge the public consensus that underlies the prevailing system of control. Nooses, racial slurs, and overt bigotry are widely condemned by people across the political spectrum; they are understood to be remnants of the past.” 22 Against the criminalization of our youth, the hoodie profile, and the drug wars we propose among the symbols of this new era of containment a box of innocence, a gated community, and the tragedy of Trayvon Martin. Neoliberal racism basks in the light of a form of pretend innocence. This pretend innocence occludes systemic injustices as it moralizes the social divisions between winners and losers. In this pretend moral system some enjoy the cultural and economic benefits of a diverse society under the assumption that their position is well-earned. But in a system that has replaced the social security net and the war against poverty with gated communities and a war against drugs, the outsider is presumed guilty unless proven innocent. If the entrepreneur is the source of value in the free market system, the criminal stands in for its serious lapses. This dynamic of setting up the underclass as our enemies has replaced an older dynamic that targeted the underclass as lazy as a means to mask factory speedups and deindustrialization. The drug wars serve as the social engine for a massive system of criminalization and incarceration as manufacturing jobs have moved overseas leaving urban spaces void of economic opportunities. Sadly as a consequence, even the possession of a trace of marijuana can set the white security system in motion. Trayvon Martin was as innocent as any all-American high school kid—or recent president—who may or may not have inhaled or felt the need to punch back. Yet one thing followed another for this black youth. School suspension, an innocent high, the implications of a hoodie, and the shadow of a gated community would all tragically reinforce parental fears and an anxious society willing to embrace a neoliberal quest to segregate out the “bad influence.” Trayvon Martin, flourishing in a multiracial America, was gunned down in the name of protecting innocence— an innocence that still tragically turns on whiteness. The price of the ticket in is much too high. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We would like to thank Jacynda Ammons, Karlos Hill, Meghan Jordan, Randy McBee, David Pena-Guzman, and our editors George Yancy and Janine Jones for very helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.

Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow


NOTES 1. Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women (New York/London: Free Press, 2004), 183–86. On challenges to the stereotype of the “welfare queen,” see Annelise Orleck, Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty (Boston: Beacon Press, 2005). 2. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010), 184. 3. For an early analysis of the elements of neoliberalism see Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). Of the many rich Foucauldian discussions of the history of race, see especially Ladelle McWhorter, Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-Saxon America: A Genealogy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009). 4. Aviva Chomsky, Linked Labor Histories: New England, Columbia and the Making of a Global Working Class (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2008); David Theo Goldberg, The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2008); Vijay Prashad, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and The Myth of Cultural Purity (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001); David R. Roediger, How Race Survived US History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon (New York and London: Verso, 2010). 5. “Geraldo Rivera: Trayvon Martin Would Be Alive but for His Hoodie,” Fox News Latino (March 23, 2012), http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/03/23/ trayvon-martins-hoodie-and-george-zimmerman-share-blame/. 6. Elizabeth Fox-Genevese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 219; bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Boston: South End Press, 1981). On the politics of respectability, see Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994). 7. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), see cases discussed in note 13, 286 and note 15, 287. 8. Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York and London: Free Press, 1994), chapter 7. 9. Kathy Peiss, Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). 10. See interview with Charles Blow, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” prods. Bill Maher, Sheila Griffiths, Marc Gurvitz, and Nancy Geller, dir. Paul Casey (HBO, March 23, 2012). 11. Shannon Winnubst, “A Biopolitics of Cool: Neoliberalism, Difference, Ethics,” unpublished paper presented at Society for Phenomenological and Existential Philosophy in Philadelphia (October 2011). 12. Daryl Pinckney, “Big Changes in Black America?,” The New York Review (May 24, 2012): 35–37; Touré, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now (New York: Free Press, 2011); Zadie Smith, “Speaking in Tongues,” The New York Review (February 26, 2009). 13. James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985). 14. “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket,” prods. Karen Thorsen, William Miles, and Douglas K. Dempsey, dir. Karen Thorsen, California Newsreel (1990). http://newsreel.org/video/JAMES-BALDWIN-THE-PRICE-OF-THE-TICKET. 15. “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket.” 16. For a discussion of lynch mobs targetting African American men who were economically successful and/or poltical leaders in their communities, see Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (Boston: South End Press, 1999). “Manly bearing” is David Montgomery’s reference to the nineteenth-century mascu-


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line and defiant ethical code that workers directed toward their boss (David Montgomery, Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980], 13). 17. Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 199. 18. Natasha Zaretsky, No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968–1980 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007), see especially, 18–19. See also Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York and London: The New Press, 2010). 19. Steven Mintz, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood (Cambridge and London: Belknap Press, 2004), chapters 16, 17; Peter N. Stearns, Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America (New York: New York University Press, 2003). 20. Michael Eric Dyson, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2001). 21. Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 199; original citation from John Edgar Wideman, “Doing Time, Marking Race,” The Nation (October 30, 1995). 22. Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 223; emphasis in original.

EIGHTEEN “What Are You Doing around Here?”


Trayvon Martin and the Logic of Black Guilt Vanessa Wills

Millions of people observing the events of the Trayvon Martin case as it unfolds have been gripped and disturbed by the violence and injustices committed against Trayvon and by the emblematic nature of these injustices, indicative as they are of a widespread disregard and systematic devaluation of black life in general and of the criminalization of black men in particular. Three questions together form the organizing principle for how we should evaluate this case and set it within its larger social and historical context. These are: “Why do such events happen?,” “Who benefits from the fact that they are allowed to happen?,” and “How can they be brought to an end?” A full explanation of the factors leading to actions such as those taken by George Zimmerman would require a thorough economic and historical analysis that would quickly become too extensive for the limits of this space. The treatment of the case which I present here is necessarily brief, and focuses upon one key element without which it is impossible to answer these questions and make sense of the events of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, or of the responses to those events by the Florida legal system, the mainstream media, and sections of the black community. That element is what I call here “the logic of black guilt,” a form of thought in which black innocence is an impossibility. In this chapter, I will address the reasons that Trayvon’s case has captured the attention of blacks in the United States, how the logic of black guilt has been historically produced, and what that logic serves to 225


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uphold. I will conclude by addressing the insidious encroachment of “black guilt” into black politics and by discussing necessary steps to lay the groundwork for a new movement for black liberation. WHY TRAYVON MARTIN? The racial profiling and murder of a young black teenager 2 in the American South is terrifyingly commonplace in a nation steeped as the United States is in racist violence. And yet, this case has gripped the attention of blacks in the United States and abroad in a way that no other recent case of racist violence has. No small part of the explanation for this is that Trayvon Martin, a high school student walking to join family members at his father’s girlfriend’s house with nothing in his hands but a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea, strikes a figure of youthful innocence. And it is this innocence that makes it all the more striking and absurd that he should be perceived by anyone, but perhaps least of all a grown man carrying a loaded gun, as a mortal threat, and highlights blacks’ vulnerability in an atmosphere of racist hostility and suspicion. In the aftermath of the killing, all manner of attempts have been made to attack Trayvon Martin’s character and demonstrate his “guilt.” Hackers broke into his Facebook and Twitter accounts, 3 scouring them for what, to racists, I suppose, are photographic evidence of a dangerous black man and to others are simply cell phone pictures of a teenager fooling around. We’ve heard endlessly about the fact that he’d been suspended from school or that he’d smoked pot. What bearing could any of this have on the events of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida? None, except for its possible usefulness in establishing Trayvon’s supposed guilt and for making the case that George Zimmerman ought not to face punishment for extinguishing a life that some take to be of so little moral significance. In Trayvon Martin’s death one can see shadows of Emmett Till, the fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago who was brutally tortured and murdered in 1955 Mississippi for the “crime” of whistling at a white woman. In the aftermath of his murder, news reports surfaced that Till’s father had been convicted of rape and murder—the implication being that Emmett Till was not an innocent young teenager, but rather a predator genetically predisposed to sexual violence. 4 Today, as mentioned above, similar attempts are made to establish an essential culpability in Trayvon Martin. Consider whether except against a background of assumed black guilt it could ever seem reasonable to anyone to suggest that Trayvon Martin’s choice to wear a hoodie is as much to blame for his death as is the man who shot him. 5 Still, we need not and perhaps ought not 6 respond to every criticism of Trayvon that stems from the ghoulish fascination with

“What Are You Doing around Here?”


poring over his school records and toxicology reports for signs of original sin, except to notice how desperate and shameless the scramble has been to attack Trayvon’s character and erase the fact that he was a young black boy targeted for the crime of existing while black. Some have argued 7 that to emphasize Trayvon’s youth and innocence as a way of resisting the criminalization and demonization of blacks is already to give away the game, since it perhaps concedes that blacks have racist violence “coming to them” if they cannot adequately demonstrate their moral purity. There is something to this, I think. It would be an incredible shame, not to mention ultimately self-defeating, to engage a strategy of only defending the purest of victims and leaving the rest to the wolves. A movement for justice must draw the connections between gunning down an innocent boy and throwing away the key on a grown man who has made mistakes in life. (The importance of doing so is underscored by Zimmerman’s own attempt to downplay his violent actions by claiming in a statement to Trayvon's parents that at the time of the shooting, he believed Trayvon to be a fully grown adult. However, on the night of the shooting, Zimmerman told police dispatchers that Trayvon was in his “late teens.” 8 The discrepancy suggests that his later statement was calculated to mitigate the outrageousness of his actions. 9) Trayvon Martin, then, has at least a double significance as a figure in the history of U.S. race relations. He is of course himself, a well-liked and promising young man whose life was tragically cut short by violence. Trayvon Martin is also a symbol of the overwhelming violence and oppression faced by blacks in the United States as they continue to contend, in our supposedly “postracial” era, with indignities and abuses ranging from diminished education and career opportunities, to unscrupulous and impoverishing lending practices, to harsher sentencing in the courtroom, to a social environment in which the pursuit and killing of a young man, an event precipitated by Zimmerman’s judgment that Trayvon “looked suspicious,” is widely considered by white Americans to be a justifiable act. 10 WHAT IS THE LOGIC OF BLACK GUILT AND WHAT DOES IT SERVE TO LEGITIMIZE? Trayvon Martin’s death and its aftermath highlight the utter insanity of what I call here “the logic of black guilt,” a form of thought that erases the possibility of innocent black persons, so that any black person and especially any black man is read as an imminent threat, and furthermore, ultimately bears the responsibility for whatever harm might befall him at the hands of another. 11 As such, it is closely intertwined with such phenomena as victim-blaming and “driving while black.”


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Victim-blaming is the practice of interpreting the events of a crime in such a way that its victim becomes, if not the perpetrator, then at least an accomplice who is partly culpable for the commission of the crime. This is commonly seen in cases of sexual assault, in which a victim's whereabouts, attire, profession, sexual history, and so forth, become facts deemed relevant to the question of whether she or he is “truly” a victim, or whether the victim might have been, as the vicious saying goes, “asking for it.” “Driving while black” refers to the practice of racial profiling, in which black drivers are systematically stopped by police with greater frequency than white drivers. It is an allusion to what many blacks see as the “real” crime they have committed, namely, being black and behind the wheel. In this sense, Trayvon’s case can be considered one of “walking while black” or more fundamentally, of simply “existing while black.” The logic of black guilt includes both of these elements. It is a specific application of victim-blaming, in which the transgression that makes the victim complicit in his or her victimization turns out to be, at bottom, his or her very blackness itself, a condition associated in the racist imagination with inferiority and criminality. The apologist seeks to find some fault or wrongdoing in the victim to explain away or justify the injury done, and finds it in the simple fact that the victim was black and therefore “dangerous” and “suspicious.” The logic of black guilt is in many ways a legacy of Jim Crow laws in the United States. Jim Crow heavily regulated and controlled the presence and movements of black bodies, making their presence in “white spaces” into a crime not just metaphorically but literally. This history has been told many times before, but in the context of the Trayvon Martin case it is worth reminding ourselves, especially in these “postracial” times when we are so often encouraged to forget, that Jim Crow laws added legitimacy and public moral sanction to the extra-legal means used by racist whites to control blacks. Although gains have been made, the legacy of Jim Crow not only lingers but thrives, whether in the criminal justice system, in public school systems across the country in which “separate but equal” has once again become the de facto law of the land, or in the minds of individuals (a 2012 poll released three weeks after Trayvon’s death showed that 21 percent of Republican voters in Mississippi believed interracial marriage should be illegal; another 12 percent were undecided 12). In this context, no one can be surprised that “Stand Your Ground,” a law designed to expand the right of citizens to kill those they fear, has the effect of legitimizing and encouraging attacks on black people. 13 In fact, exactly this result was predicted by the National Defense Attorney Association, which warned in a 2007 report that laws like “Stand Your Ground” could lead to “a misinterpretation of physical clues that results in the use of deadly force, exacerbating culture, class, and

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race differences” and “a disproportionately negative effect on minorities, persons from lower socioeconomic status, and young adults/juveniles.” 14 Aware of “Stand Your Ground,” Zimmerman felt himself perfectly empowered to make Trayvon answerable to his authority, and understood—correctly, I might add—that the law would protect his right to control any situation that unfolded with lethal violence, if necessary. It was nationwide exposure and the intervention of a large, visible protest movement that created the possibility of his being held criminally liable for the killing at all. David Wilson has explained the ways in which media tropes such as “black-on-black crime” also reinforce this notion that there is something inherently criminal or dangerous about black people and black culture. 15 Consider that it would strike many as absurd to speak of the phenomenon of “white-on-white” crime. Cases of whites robbing, beating, or killing one another are not generally taken to be problems in the “white community” that whites should “resolve amongst themselves” before worrying about what people of other races are doing to them. Wilson writes that in newspaper coverage “in the early 1980s the issue [of blackon-black violence] exploded on the national scene. . . . These accounts further racialized this violence, offering evocative stories of black assailants assaulting black victims. At the core of this violence, in renditions, was blackness rather than poverty, economics, or class.” 16 “Stand Your Ground,” like other laws designed to broaden the scope of acceptable gun use and gun possession, takes root in an atmosphere of fear and vigilantism in which “concerned citizens” feel the need to arm themselves against the threat of violent blacks (an atmosphere in which, it should be noted, gun manufacturers regularly turn large profits). Similarly, as part of a larger electoral strategy of appearing “tough on crime,” “Stand Your Ground” laws allow candidates to whip up votes by sounding the “dog whistle”—that is, by using coded language to communicate to voters that they will employ state power to target and control blacks, and keep their supposed “criminality” from endangering white communities. In providing an example of how the logic of black guilt functions in shaping perceptions of violence against blacks, I am aided by the fact that students’ classroom comments can be arrestingly uncensored. Trayvon’s case came to prominence during an academic semester, and so I raised it as a discussion topic in my course on the philosophy of race. To some students, the racism and injustice of the attack against Trayvon and the subsequent sheltering of George Zimmerman was abundantly clear. But others did not see it this way. One student argued that Zimmerman was exactly right to profile Trayvon because unknown blacks in places they “don’t belong” may reasonably be assumed to be likely criminals, and that Trayvon had some responsibility for what took place because he was “walking around, being suspicious.”


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“What did his suspicious behavior consist in, exactly?” I asked. The student paused, searching for an answer. Another student intervened to supply the obvious one, incensed by its inherent victim-blaming: “Being black! That’s the ‘suspicious behavior!’” The logic of black guilt functions together with white supremacy so that the mere presence of a black body in a space is already something for which whites are owed an explanation (consider the question Zimmerman put to Trayvon: “What are you doing around here?”). It becomes part of a “concerned citizen’s” duty to help keep blacks in their place. The “concerned citizen” believes that he has a special authority that blacks are obligated to recognize, and he is not so irrational for believing it, since he is backed up by a social system and a legal order that also recognizes this authority and will support him if necessary. Furthermore, according to the logic of black guilt, a black person involved in a bad situation is always assumed to be at fault. I asked my students to consider the reverse situation. A big, black man, in a van, with a loaded gun, spots a white teenage boy walking in his neighborhood wearing a hoodie. The black man reports the “suspicious” teenager to the police and then follows him, carrying his gun. The white teenager is shot and killed, and the black man reports that he feared for his life and was forced to shoot the teen in order to protect himself. The police conduct a cursory investigation and release the man back onto the street within hours, with no charges filed. The classroom rippled with nervous laughter as I described this scenario. The students recognized it as totally impossible—and indeed, it might as well be a piece of science fiction. Tellingly, I didn’t have to get very far into the story for them to see the absurdity of it. The mere idea of a “big black man” immediately made them see that nothing such a person could do would be regarded without fear or suspicion. HOW DOES THE LOGIC OF BLACK GUILT SHAPE BLACK POLITICS AND ULTIMATELY INTERFERE WITH THE PROJECT OF BUILDING A LIBERATORY BLACK POLITICAL MOVEMENT? I was thrilled to learn of a rally for Trayvon Martin taking place in Pittsburgh, a city I have lived in off and on for most of the past decade. But over the course of that rally, hope and excitement gave way to the bitter taste of stale tactics and old tricks. Speaker after speaker stepped to the podium to outline the different ways in which the murder of Trayvon Martin, the demonization of black men, and the impunity of whites to commit racist violence, lay, when it was all said and done, at the feet of the black community. Black people hadn’t voted, or they’d only voted in the presidential election and not in their local elections. So how could they be surprised, one woman screamed accusingly, when racist legisla-

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tion got passed? There were tables set up nearby to register rally attendees to vote—no excuses! The speakers were careful not to go so far as to actually say which party and which candidates ought to be getting black votes, but I am sure they did not mean the Republicans, and I am even more sure they were not there just so the audience could go “throw its votes away” on left-wing candidates. One speaker took to the stage to tell the audience that it was rap music and black-on-black crime that was ultimately to blame for Trayvon’s death, as these things had contributed to the widespread perception of blacks as dangerous. The defeatism of this self-directed victim-blaming and irrational finger-pointing is obvious. Instead of directly targeting structural inequalities that are part of society at large, hearers are invited to “start with themselves,” “look within,” or maybe even “be the change they want to see” (a cynical command which too often means, “you be the change you want to see and leave the rest of society just as you found it”). The crowd, which had started out energetic and militant, became more dejected and more sullen with every speaker. It had been blamed, harangued, and shamed into a state of utter political paralysis. Only one action, it had been told, could begin to redeem it, and that would be for its participants to line up at the voters' registration table. Why is this the message we hear, and why is it so effective? The space for such messages is created by an utter political vacuum where there should be a movement for black liberation. Because no other effective positive strategy is being put forward, it is possible for electoral politics to fill this vacuum with self-serving rhetoric. Instead of focusing and sharpening the popular black outrage into a political weapon, the rally acted as a release valve on that energy, dissipating it into the thin air of disorientation and disillusionment. It is also effective because we live in a society that has as one of its pillars the logic of black guilt. It is not hard to believe that if something bad is happening to blacks, then they must somehow be at fault for it. The crowd had assembled because it was hurt and outraged by a racist injustice, and it dispersed with the most easily manipulated attendees swallowing this story of self-blame hook, line, and sinker, and the rest of the crowd somewhere between disgust and demoralization, but certainly no closer to decisive or effective political action. The situation in Pittsburgh is bad, but it’s not unique. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams suggested that what happened to Trayvon Martin was a shame, of course, but that what black people should really be upset about is “black-on-black crime.” That the logic of black guilt is at play here is clear when Williams argues that the killing of Trayvon “should open a serious national conversation about how [black] culture made it easier for this type of crime to take place.” 17 It is not very far from here to the sickening conclusion that blacks bring racist violence upon themselves and have themselves to blame for it. Such a conclusion


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neatly makes social ills in black communities into a “black problem” that blacks must resolve without any resources from society at large, and it also goes a step further to make racist anti-black violence into a “black problem,” too, also one that blacks must resolve themselves, ideally through some collective act of absolution to wash away their sins. This is, by the way, awfully close to the political rhetoric of “personal responsibility” that closes our eyes to social inequality, diminished opportunity, and systematic oppression, 18 and like that essentially conservative concept has no place in a liberatory social movement with any hope of challenging existing social relations. CONCLUSION: WHAT IS THE WAY FORWARD AND WHAT SORT OF POLITICAL STRATEGIES CAN LEAD TO A NEW MOVEMENT FOR BLACK LIBERATION? It is first of all crucial that the movement to secure justice for Trayvon Martin and to oppose the racism that led to his death indict not just George Zimmerman, but also “Stand Your Ground” itself, a racist law that heavily contributed to this predictable result. It must join hands with movements against other forms of legalized racism such as the thousands of pieces of “tough on crime” legislation that are on the books, including mandatory sentencing and death penalty laws. It must make the connections between shooting a promising young black man in Florida and giving up on a troubled one in Philadelphia, since it is racism that provides the justification for both. As much as Trayvon’s case highlights the racialization of guilt and innocence in the United States and the criminalization of blacks, it is also important not to be drawn into the lurid dissections of his life and the attempts to defame him. This is a non-starter for people opposed to racism because it assumes that any of this could make Trayvon less valuable and therefore, Zimmerman’s actions less criminal. Nothing in Trayvon’s past could justify the fact that he was targeted on the basis of his race, just as similar hunts for victims’ imperfections could not justify the other countless instances of racial profiling and violence. A movement for black liberation must steadfastly repudiate the logic of black guilt and the language of victim-blaming. There is of course every difference between struggling against the social conditions that lower blacks’ expectations of themselves, and the evil suggestion that blacks are getting what they deserve in the form of racism and therefore must focus their energies on making themselves worthy of treatment as equal human beings. Black people cannot “fix themselves first,” and in fact this is precisely what is so potentially transformative about black liberation movements. It will not be possible to eradicate racism and

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solve the problems that face blacks without a fundamental change in society that would also bring us toward the eradication of other social ills such as war, poverty, and sexism. To “focus on ourselves” and leave the rest of society for later is no strategy at all. This raises the question of how blacks can discuss the problems plaguing black communities without reinforcing victim-blaming explanations. One place to start is by discussing the economic and political system out of which problems such as poverty, unemployment, and low high school graduation rates arise. This must be accompanied by political demands for a halt to further social cuts, and for greater public resources devoted to creating employment and educational opportunities for blacks. We especially owe it to black youth to explain to them the historical origins of the social reality in which they find themselves and to carefully explain, for instance, the origin and rationale of the “War on Drugs” and the interests that it serves. We must draw the connections between the special oppression of blacks in the United States and the broader phenomenon of social and economic inequality of which it is a part, and always steadfastly reject the racist idea that social ills in black communities are the result of a special pathology in black culture. The problem, for instance, with some popular hip-hop music is not that it reflects some special sickness in black culture, but rather that it mindlessly celebrates the materialistic, individualistic values of the dominant, capitalist one—values that, once accepted, undermine the possibility for solidarity and shared struggle. Blacks must ask ourselves, “Whom does that benefit?” The logic of black guilt can have a veneer of radicalism because of its passing resemblance to genuine calls for black unity, the strengthening of black communities, and the raising of black consciousness. However, we must not blur the thick line between self-determination and self-blame. The notion, for instance, that black-on-black crime is distinct from crime in general, and has its seeds in black culture itself, relies upon a demonization of black people that can never be part of a strategy for racial uplift. The idea that black people in the United States deserve political representation only insofar as they vote for Democrats totally ignores the extent to which issues concerning blacks are routinely shoved aside in mainstream electoral politics, as well as the fact that the Democratic Party trades in much of the same “tough on crime” rhetoric that Republicans do and contributes to a political environment in which laws like “Stand Your Ground” proliferate. If there is to be a new black liberation movement seeking to destroy racial oppression, it must establish its independence from any political party with a stake in maintaining social and economic conditions that contribute to the problems facing black people today, including the Democratic Party. It must take to heart the lessons of the black Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which at its most successful did not subordinate


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itself to the electoral strategies of either mainstream party, but rather used its strength as a mass movement to assert its interests and win reforms for millions of black people. NOTES 1. A friend of Trayvon Martin's, who was on the phone with him at the time of the attack, reports that she heard a man's voice demanding that Trayvon explain his presence in the neighborhood. The question posed was, “What are you doing around here?” (Serge F. Kovaleski, “Martin Spoke of ‘Crazy and Creepy’ Man Following Him, Friend Says,” New York Times [May 18, 2012], http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/19/us/ trayvon-martins-friend-tells-what-she-heard-on-phone.html). 2. Zimmerman’s racial and ethnic background is white and Latino. (“White” denotes a racial category, “Latino” denotes an ethnic category—that is, the fact that he is partially descended from Spanish-speaking populations.) This has been invoked to suggest that race and racism were not defining factors in this case. But the fact that Latinos also experience discrimination in the United States highlights one of the most insidious facts about racial and ethnic discrimination, which is that its logic is often internalized and replicated among oppressed populations who then harbor racist ideas about, and act in racist ways toward, one another. Moreover, anyone with a passing understanding of race relations in Latin America would immediately understand that being Latino hardly makes it impossible to be an anti-black racist. That said, it is true that Zimmerman’s Latino heritage makes it the case that he does not fit so neatly into the schema of white violence against blacks since historically in the United States that violence has been perpetrated by non-Latino whites. Yet, while I do not have the space to make the case as fully as I would like here, his actions, the initial protection afforded him by Florida law enforcement, and his defense in conservative quarters were made possible and legitimized by white supremacy that invested in him the authority to challenge Trayvon Martin’s right to be where he was, to demand and expect an explanation from him, and ultimately, to kill him. Consider here that the events might just as easily be described as a case of Trayvon dying while standing his ground, but they generally are not. It is the difference in these actors’ races that accounts for this. 3. Gene Demby, “Trayvon Martin’s Email and Facebook Accounts Allegedly Hacked by White Supremacist,” Huffington Post (March 29, 2012), http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/white-supremacist-trayvon-martin-email_n_138 9584.html; Dylan Stableford, “Trayvon Martin shooting: Debate over photos escalates,” Yahoo! News (March 28, 2012), http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/cutline/trayvonmartin-shooting-debate-over-photos-escalates-155103512.html. 4. Stephen Witfield, A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991). 5. Geraldo Rivera, “Trayvon Martin Would Be Alive but for His Hoodie,” Fox News, (March 23, 2012), http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/03/23/trayvonmartins-hoodie-and-george-zimmerman-share-blame/. 6. As bits of information are released through the media to discredit Trayvon Martin, it is tempting to be drawn into a debate with the right about what each bit means. Thus, there are back-and-forth discussions about photographs in which he projects a “tough” persona, the fact that he had been disciplined by his school, that a coroner’s report detected marijuana in his system, and so forth. Apologists for Zimmerman’s killing use these details to justify the killing, suggesting that Trayvon is “not so innocent” and therefore deserved what he got. It is extremely important to point out the racist nature of these fishing expeditions. (David Wiegel did this well in a March 2012 article for Slate titled “When in Doubt, Smear the Dead Kid.”) What should be avoided is joining Trayvon’s attackers in a pointless and distracting debate over the question of whether Trayvon Martin was or was not a saint. This sort of

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engagement, although perhaps well-intentioned, gives up the game to the right because it assumes that the answer to the question has any bearing on the justifiability of Zimmerman’s actions. As no one is a saint, Trayvon Martin cannot be one, either. So in accepting these terms of debate, Trayvon Martin’s supporters enter into a rhetorical game of “Tails you win, heads I lose.” But freedom from racial profiling and racist violence is not, or at least, should not be a privilege that individuals earn or forfeit. And in fact, if Trayvon had been a saint, it still would not have saved him that day. (Wiegel’s March 27 article can be found at http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/03/27/ when_in_doubt_smear_the_dead_kid.html.) 7. Letrell Deshan Crittenden, “A hoodie is a hoodie—why Travyon Martin’s background shouldn’t matter,” Voices of Philly (March 29, 2012), http://voicesofphilly.org/ 2012/03/29/a-hoodie-is-a-hoodie-why-trayvon-martins-background-shouldnt-matter/. 8. Zimmerman, who is twenty-eight years old, said to Trayvon’s parents, “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am” (Matt Gutman, Seni Tienabaso, Ben Forer, “George Zimmerman Tells Trayvon Martin’s Parents ‘I Am Sorry,’” ABC News [April 12, 2012], http://abcnews.go.com/US/george-zimmerman-tells-trayvon-martins-parents/story?id=16177849#.T-VbKBcthBE) 9. Jenée Desmond-Harris, “Did Zimmerman Lie at His Bond Hearing?” The Root (April 20, 2012), http://www.theroot.com/buzz/did-zimmerman-lie-his-bond-hearing. (Thank you to George Yancy for drawing my attention to this telling discrepancy in Zimmerman’s testimony.) 10. According to a Newsweek/Daily Beast poll, 30 percent of white Americans believe that Zimmerman’s shooting was a justified act of self-defense, as opposed to only 2 percent of blacks who think this. Thirty-four percent of whites were not sure whether Zimmerman’s act was justified or not (“Newsweek/Daily Beast Race in America Survey,” [April 2012]), http://www.thedailybeast.com/content/dam/dailybeast/2012/04/ 06/Newsweek_DailyBeast_Race_In_America_Survey.pdf). 11. In the context of this racist ideology, laws such as “Stand Your Ground” are racist laws. Amongst a population that is conditioned to perceive proximity to a black man as reason to fear, a law that sanctions the use of lethal force in the presence of “reasonable” subjective fear of bodily harm is one that is bound to legitimize white violence against black people. Along these lines, consider the sadly predictable results when blacks in Florida attempt to use “Stand Your Ground” to legitimize their acts of self-protection. Marissa Alexander, a black woman in Florida, married to a black man, fired a warning shot in order to deter her abusive husband from attacking her as she attempted to flee him. No one was physically harmed by her actions. Although she used a “Stand Your Ground” defense, she was sentenced to twenty years in prison, suggesting that in Florida, the right to self-defense does not extend to black women. What, one might ask, would have been the result if Alexander were a white woman endangered by a black man? This being said, although expanded self-defense laws are sometimes justified as necessary to protect domestic violence victims from prosecution, it is a longstanding problem that women often do not benefit from such laws because their involvement in relationships with their abusers is taken as evidence that they could not have genuinely feared them. (Julia Dahl, “Florida woman Marissa Alexander gets 20 years for “warning shot”: Did she stand her ground?” CBS News (May 15, 2012), http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57434757-504083/fla-woman-marissa-alexander-gets-20-years-for-warning-shot-did-she-stand-her-ground/). 12. Public Policy Polling, “Very close race in both Alabama and Mississippi” (March 12, 2012), http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_South ernSwing_312.pdf. 13. Similar mechanisms are at work in such pieces of legislation as the Fugitive Slave Act, which gave every U.S. citizen (that is, in essence, every white person) the legal responsibility to help return an escaped slave to his or her “owner,” or more recently in such legislation as the proposed H.R. 4437 (popularly known as the “Sensenbrenner Bill”) which sought to impose mandatory prison sentences upon persons who provide any form of assistance to undocumented immigrants. The similarity


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between “Stand Your Ground” and the Fugitive Slave Act has been discussed by Robert Gooding-Williams in his article “Fugitive Slave Mentality” (New York Times [March 27, 2012], http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/fugitive-slave-mentality/). 14. Steven Jansen, M. Elaine Nugent-Borakove for the National District Attorneys Association, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine: Implications for Policy and Practice,” http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/Castle%20Doctrine.pdf. 15. David Wilson, Inventing Black-on-Black Violence: Discourse, Space, and Representation (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005). Khalil Gibran Muhammad has eloquently applied this issue to the Trayvon Martin case (“Playing the Violence Card,” New York Times (April 5, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/06/opinion/playingthe-violence-card.html. 16. Wilson, Inventing Black-on-Black Violence, 4 17. Juan Williams, “The Trayvon Martin Tragedies,” Wall Street Journal (March 27, 2012), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303404704577307613183789698 .html. 18. Consider President Obama’s statement to students at Arlington High School: “But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life—what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home— that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude” (“Prepared Remarks of Barack Obama: Back to School Event,” WhiteHouse.gov (September 8, 2009), http://www.whitehouse.gov/MediaResources/PreparedSchoolRemarks.

NINETEEN Trayvon Martin When Effortless Grace Is Sacrificed on the Altar of the Image George Yancy

Nothing in the world is easier in the United States than to accuse a black man of crime. —W. E. B. Du Bois A man was expected to behave like a man. I was expected to behave like a black man—or at least like a nigger. I shouted a greeting to the world and the world slashed away my joy. I was told to stay within bounds, to go back where I belonged. —Frantz Fanon

Writing about the death of his young son, W. E. B. Du Bois writes, “All that day and all that night there sat an awful gladness in my heart—nay, blame me not if I see the world thus darkly through the Veil—and my soul whispers ever to me saying, ‘Not dead, not dead, but escaped; not bond, but free.’” 1 There is something almost remorseless in Du Bois’s words, something callous in the fact that there is the feeling of gladness in his heart. To speak of “gladness” after the death of one’s child strikes me, prime facie, as something heartless and cold. Yet, while certainly saddened by the death of his son, Du Bois speaks of his son having escaped and of being set free. In his hour of existential gloom and parental agony, Du Bois offers a powerful critique of white America. He suggests that there is a fate perhaps worse than the physical death of his son and that death itself can function as an out, an escape, as an exit to an otherwise slow, painful, living death that is to be had within the bowels of white 237


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America. Placed within the context of his critique of white supremacy, the death of Du Bois’s son functions as a blessing, as an avoidance of the inevitable process of dehumanization. It is important to note that Du Bois says that he felt “an awful gladness in my heart.” It is not a form of gladness free of dread; the term “awful” can function to modify that sense of gladness, speaking to the paradoxical, yet understandable, feeling of sadness upon the death of one’s black child and the sense of relief that one feels knowing that he will not suffer under the weight of white supremacy. As Du Bois writes, “Sleep, then, child— sleep till I sleep and waken to a baby voice and the ceaseless patter of little feet—above the Veil.” 2 But why begin a chapter on Trayvon Martin with the death of Du Bois’s very young son? It is to convey the point that it is not unreasonable for black people, whether in the nineteenth century or the twenty-first, to reflect upon the question: Was it better for me to have lived than to have died? This is not about nihilism. Rather, it is an attempt to communicate the gravitas of being black in an anti-black world where pain and suffering continue to be relentless and where the worth of black life continues to be valued below that of white life. It is, in short, a world where black people exist within a context of living death. This world of living death is a world where, as a black person, you are constantly reminded by white people, within an anti-black racist world, that you are a problem, a subperson, worthless and inconsequential, inferior, criminal, suspicious, and something to be feared and dreaded. You soon learn that to be black is to be a marked body, a body marked for death, a slow and seemingly ineluctable decay at the hands of those who fail to see you, or, more accurately, at the hands of those who think that they see you all too well. It is a species of death where your essence constantly precedes your existence; where you are known in advance, always already ahead of yourself, where white people know you better than you know yourself. And while there are days when you awake to a world that feels full of possibilities, you are reminded that you are “shut out from their [white] world by a vast veil.” 3 Emphatically, you are reminded: “Look, a black!” No more information is needed; your identity is fully written on your epidermis. You are an open book. There is only surface, no subtlety, no complexity, no interiority, and no perspective on the world. In fact, after being subjected for so many years to white racist narratives, white racist needs, and supposed white epistemic incorrigibility, there is no you, just them. You find yourself refused, negated, and denied, “peremptorily, with a glance.” 4 A glance, after all, is sufficient to register who and what you are. There is no need to look further. The white glance has become so saturated by the racist image (or the imago) until the image has come to possess a life of its own, torn from white racist perceptual practices, a legacy of white ideological supremacy, and a long history of material power relations that have kept black people oppressed and on the soci-

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oeconomic and existential margins. In this way, whites are able to distance themselves from their own racist performances, while denying any involvement in the social constitution of black bodies as criminals, as raced others. In other words, through the process of reification, the black body becomes the very incarnation and embodiment of evil, a process from which whites extricate themselves and reposition themselves as external to the semiotic field of construction and thereby relinquish all responsibility. Hence, when it comes to policing black bodies, whites are actually policing images produced by their own fears, and disciplining their own deep sociopsychological constructions of black people. With white gazes everywhere waiting to put you in your place, you begin to move in this world slowly, as if dragging the weight of an unsought burden. It is a form of motility that takes effort. After all, within such a world, to move too quickly, to move with too much freedom, can cost you your life. There are places where you learn that you should not go, spaces that you should not traverse. Frantz Fanon writes, “All I wanted was to be a man among other men. I wanted to come lithe and young into the world that was ours and to help to build it together.” 5 To come lithe into the world is to exhibit effortless grace; to move through the world with ease, with dignity, with a sense of embodied motility that is expansive, that reaches outward. To come lithe into the world is to engage that world with a deep sense of freedom, connectedness, and reciprocity. Within an anti-black world, effortless grace is precluded. One moves with self-scrutiny, a form of scrutiny that forces one to live one’s life within contexts where distance and bodily movements are marked with a racial valence. Amadou Diallo (1999), who reached for his wallet and was shot at forty-one times by four white NYPD officers and hit with nineteen bullets, was already known. To move too quickly in a world in which your essence precedes your existence—where you are, ontologically, the white racist image—is to confirm white fears: you are a threat. It is a world in which a wallet becomes a gun. It is a world in which the late Rodney King, who underwent a brutal beating by white police officers (1991), can raise his hand to protect himself and that hand is perceived as a lethal weapon. Indeed, King’s black body, in this case, became superhuman and, therefore, called for the need of overkill. It is a world in which Latasha Harlins, who, thirteen days after the brutalizing of Rodney King, was shot in the back of the head and killed in South Central Los Angeles by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American woman, who thought that Harlins was trying to steal a bottle of orange juice. Having put the bottle of orange juice in her backpack, Du incorrectly thought that Harlins was attempting to steal the juice, not seeing the money in Harlins’s hand. Du attempted to take Harlins’s backpack, at which point Harlins hit Du. After the brief scuffle, Harlins turned and began to walk away. It is at this point that Du pulled out a gun and shot Harlins in the back of the head. It is important to note that Harlins had turned her back to Du, attempting


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to leave the store. Du claimed self-defense. This, however, was not selfdefense. There was no threat to defend against, unless one constructs the black body that turns its back and proceeds to leave, a threatening gesture. In this case, Harlins was defenseless, but in the mind of Du, she was a threat that had to be stopped. As we know, Latasha Harlins died, tragically, on the floor with the money for the juice in her hand. Within this context, white supremacy continued to operate. Du, while KoreanAmerican, was not free from the perceptual sedimentation of white supremacy. Moreover, the criminal justice system worked in Du’s favor, devaluing, I would argue, the life of a young black girl vis-à-vis Du’s life. A jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter and recommended a sentence of sixteen years in prison. The sentence was overturned by a white judge, giving Du only five years of probation, four hundred hours of community service, and was made to pay a five-hundred-dollar fine. 6 Here we have the death of a young black girl, shot in the back of the head as she walked away, the money found in her hand. The shooter is set free. This is an all too familiar narrative when it comes to the devaluation of black existence. For Du, who is complicit and perpetuates white racist ideology and practices, Harlins was a “natural” threat, a criminal that had to be stopped. The benign activity of buying juice within a context where you might be charged at any moment with attempting to steal, forces one to police one’s actions. To come lithe into a store against the backdrop of having one’s bodily meaning already confiscated is to move through that space with profound unease and trepidation. In other words, one may come in the store lithely, as Harlins may have, but leave otherwise, if at all. Recently, an undergraduate Chinese student of mine shared a story with me about her father who still lives in China. During a visit home, her father said that he would never eat with black people because he would feel uncomfortable. She went on to say that, from what she knows, her father doesn’t even know any black people. She also added that many Chinese think that blacks are dangerous, despite the fact that they have not met a single black person before. Within this context, the black body is deemed the global spook or the global face of fear and danger, a racist image that moves across space and time. Perhaps her father needs to be reminded of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that was passed by the United States Congress, which blocked Chinese immigration to this country and how, more generally, “Asian Americans were stereotyped as heathen, docile, crafty, and dirty, and called by new white-crafted epithets, such as ‘Chinks.’” 7 In the case of Du and my Chinese student’s father, the white racial frame operates subtly, providing each with a way of entering into the racial hierarchy, with black people relegated to the bottom, while they themselves are deemed lower than whites. 8 Think here specifically of the Chinese caricatured “Coolie” stereotype and the threat of the “yellow peril” vis-à-vis Asians more generally.

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As I have previously explored in my book, Look, a White!, Cornel West has described an experience when he was driving from New York to teach at Williams College and he was stopped on concocted charges of trafficking cocaine. He tried to explain to the police officer that he was a professor of religion. The white police officer replied, “Yeh, and I’m the flying Nun. Let’s go nigger!” 9 In stream with Ralph Ellison’s observations in Invisible Man, West is rendered invisible because the white police officer refuses to see him. 10 The white police officer’s white gaze militated against West’s self-ascription as a professor of religion or a philosopher. Frantz Fanon notes, “No exception was made for my refined manners, or my knowledge of literature, or my understanding of the quantum theory.” 11 Within the context of America’s white microtomes, West asks, “Can genuine human relationships flourish for black people in a society that assaults black intelligence, black moral character, and black possibility?” 12 This sense of “black possibility” has overtones of becoming—a sense of existential and ontological reach; indeed, it is indicative of what it means to come lithe into the world. Yet, white America continues to reduce black bodies to their epidermal surfaces and to stereotypes that constrict. I am reminded of the recent case of a white Connecticut middle school teacher who, after calling her black male student by the wrong name, and after he pointed this out to her, she allegedly said, “How about black boy? Go sit down, black boy.” 13 Notice how his identity is flattened, how he is simply a black boy, a marker reminiscent of days long past. In the spirit of Fanon, though contextualized to this situation, “Look, a black boy!” Even more problematically, it is not that he is simply reduced to a specific black boy; rather, there is a sense in which he is reduced to the category “black boy.” He has become identical to all black bodies, one-dimensional, and replaceable or disposable for that matter. He will not be missed. Or think of the ninth-grader at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, who was reading a poem by Langston Hughes and was allegedly told by his white teacher to “read blacker.” According to the student, she said, “Blacker, Jordan. C’mon, blacker. I thought you were black.” 14 Reduced to the white image/imago of the black body, especially within a social space where he was the only black student, I am sure that he felt the ways that the glances of the other white students fixed him “in the sense in which a chemical solution is fixed by a dye.” 15 For his white teacher, he must have been an imitation of blackness, an ersatz wannabe, masquerading as the real, essentialist thing. In both cases, black bodies are policed and controlled according to a static image. In the case of Cornel West, the white police officer’s actions are part and parcel of a larger white racist regime that is designed to control/stop black bodies. West notes, “White supremacist ideology is based first and foremost on the degradation of black bodies in order to control them.” 16


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It is the power of static images, and the power of interpellation, which involves the reiteration of racist norms, 17 that militates against the bodily integrity of West, and other black bodies. As Mari J. Matsuda writes, “Static images deny the fluidity and complexity of actual experience.” 18 Static images frame black bodies before their appearance. As a “nigger,” it is impossible for West to be a professor of religion. After all, to be called a “nigger” presumes a white normative and epistemic framework that constructs one as ontologically stagnant, worthless, stupid, and inferior. Within the encounter with the white police officer, West’s voice possesses little or no power. He is stripped, so to speak, of the ability to render actionable his interior knowledge of his own identity. His self-knowledge, in this case, does not make a difference in a white world predicated upon the premise: “Stop the niggers!” West’s knowledge is inconsequential vis-à-vis the white officer’s so-called epistemic authority to recognize a “nigger” when he sees one. As a professor of religion, West is effectively rendered invisible. Yet, he is rendered hyper-visible as a drug dealer. He is rendered a problem just as Trayvon Martin, as I will show, was rendered a problem by George Zimmerman. Within the larger context of white racist America, black people inhabit socially constructed spaces where we are tokens of danger beyond our control. Indeed, as a black male, I am that pre-marked black thing. I am that site of historical white discursive markings that precede my birth, leaving me typified: “Oh, you mean the black guy?” Hence, I arrive on the scene already too late. Before I am born, as it were, the meaning of my body is not my own. It belongs to those historically embedded racist practices, discourses, and institutional and material forces that struggle to remain invisible, that struggle to make sure that I am the problem and that I recognize myself as the problem. Teaching at a largely white university, my white students are often surprised when I share with them narratives of black people who in public spaces are followed by security in stores as they innocently shop, and are stopped while driving in their vehicles. I explore with them just how whiteness, as a form of capital, operates within a post-civil rights racist America. As Joe Feagin argues, “Symbolic capital enables whites to avoid many interactive problems, such as police profiling and similar official harassment, and it facilitates positive interactions among whites in many social settings, such as in party settings, job interviews with white interviewers, or gaining access to white political officials.” 19 I explain to them that being stopped is an experience that leaves black people with the feeling of being known without any introduction, that being constantly stopped puts one on high alert that at any point one will be misunderstood, surveilled, physically detained, and perhaps killed. I explain to my white students that black parents take the time to talk with their children about how to move within public spaces, how to comport their bodies, especially in the presence of white police officers. All of them look in silence. It is during such pedagogical moments that I am

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reminded that we (blacks and whites) live in different social universes where daily experiences of race and racism do not overlap, where they, my white students, get to move though the world with effortless grace. They have not had “the talk.” Indeed, it is hard (perhaps nearly impossible) for them to grasp the weight of what it is like to be told by one’s parents not to run down the street lest they be accused of stealing something because of the color of their skin. While they get to move with effortless grace, black young people are told by their parents to move in ways that do not trigger suspicion, a form of self-monitoring that requires a great deal of effort. Yet, given the reality of white racism and how it functions as a site of dominant ideology, to be black is itself the crime; it is the stimulus to activate the suspicion. I recall sharing with my white students the tragic story of Amadou Diallo. There was one older black woman in the class who noticeably had tears in her eyes as she thought about her own black sons. My white students did not seem to comprehend the link. They did not seem to understand the gravity of what it means for black parents to fear that their black sons and daughters may be stereotyped as criminals and not make it home alive for dinner. After all, as whites, they come lithe into the world with white privilege and white “innocence.” As a father of black sons, and after hearing the actual shot that took the life of Trayvon Martin on the 911 tapes, I wept. While I realize that the issue of who exactly is screaming on the 911 tapes is still undecided, there was something about the screaming and then the sudden silence that was so incredibly powerful and poignant to me. Moments before George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, we know that Trayvon was alive, that he was still with us. The sound of that one shot that pierced through his young body, punctuated a painful and permanent silence, the end of a young black life, the termination of someone who cannot be replaced, who will not reappear on this earth, the son of a mother, Sybrina Fulton, and the son of a father, Tracy Martin. I not only felt the death of somebody’s child, but the possible death of my own black sons under similar circumstances. Indeed, unlike President Obama, who said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” 20 I do have sons who look like Trayvon Martin. I imagine that Newt Gringrich would say, as he said of President Obama, that what I said is “disgraceful” and I “should be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background.” 21 I am indeed horrified. Yet, Gringrich has forgotten or refuses to acknowledge (or perhaps has never known) that black people suffer in their bodies quite differently from whites. 22 What Gringrich wants is to erase any reference to race, to neutralize race through the deployment of an ethical rhetoric designed to undermine the specific racial and racist contours of the Trayvon Martin killing. Hence, it is important to claim Trayvon Martin along shared racial lines, which does not and should not exclude compassion and understanding from non-black people. What we must not do is to embrace a form of ethical posturing that is designed to avoid (or has the effect of


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avoiding) bringing critical attention to black bodies living under a white dominant ideology in which those bodies are deemed evil and suspect a priori. In 1963, James Baldwin was aware of the existential pain and suffering that result from procrustean white gazes, and white institutional structures, that distort and limit black bodies in North America. Writing a heartfelt letter to his nephew, James, in The Fire Next Time, Baldwin warns, “You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set for ever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being,” 23 someone to be degraded, feared, and looked upon with suspicion. In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon, in 1952, was all too aware that “Look, a Negro!” was a form of interpellation that came along with racist legends, narratives, and myths. 24 “Look, a Negro!” was enough to produce a negative response, a sense of trepidation and suspicion, because to be black was deemed synonymous with being a site of racial aberration. Trayvon Martin could have been the recipient of Baldwin’s heartfelt letter; for its content still rings true. Time has passed, almost fifty years, but anti-black white racism remains, especially when you consider that Trayvon suffered and died because he was watched (and watchable) and racially profiled (and profilable) as someone “worthless” and in the “wrong” place: “Look, a black!” I would argue that even before George Zimmerman saw Trayvon, he “knew” who the “real thugs” were. Zimmerman already had possession of the image of the criminal, which no doubt included all of the attendant feelings of trepidation and hatred. In our frantic effort to make sense of the killing of Trayvon Martin, it is important to be reminded that black bodies have long suffered the weight of historical racist assumptions. While I trace the morphology of the white gaze vis-à-vis the black body in my book, Black Bodies, White Gazes (2008), recall that the first American Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1798) described “Negroes” as being cruel, impudent, revengeful, treacherous, nasty, idle, dishonest, and given to stealing. Indeed, Negroes were said “to have extinguished the principles of natural law, and to have silenced the reproofs of conscience.” 25 This form of characterization, this general “knowledge,” made it no doubt easy to keep black people sequestered from white, normative spaces. According to the logic of this racist imagery, black people are not really fit to be part of the white body politic. Hence, their status as “citizens” is always already racialized and thus precarious, contestable, or simply nonexistent. In fact, black people have been deemed “anti-citizens.” 26 The conceptualization of black bodies as criminal is not some mere vestige from the antiquated days of European imperialism. Speaking of our contemporary moment in gender-specific terms, Mi-

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chelle Alexander notes, “Once blackness and crime . . . became conflated in the public consciousness, the ‘criminalblackman’ . . . would inevitably become the primary target of law enforcement.” 27 Given the historically racist discourse regarding black bodies, and the contemporary racist conflation of black men with crime, George Zimmerman performed whiteness as the transcendental norm through the interpellation of Trayvon as a problematic black body, an unfit citizen, a contagion. Many have argued that the site of violence occurred upon their confrontation. I would argue that the act of violence and aggression began with Zimmerman’s non-emergency dispatch call. After setting the stage in terms of prior break-ins, Zimmerman says, “There’s a real suspicious guy.” He also says, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” I would assume that Zimmerman already thinks the person that he is describing is black because, when asked by the dispatcher, he says, within seconds, that “He looks black.” Asked what he is wearing, Zimmerman says, “A dark hoodie like a gray hoodie.” Later, Zimmerman says that “now he’s coming toward me. He’s got his hands in his waist band.” And then, “And he’s a black male.” But what does it mean to be “a real suspicious guy”? Hearing only Zimmerman narrate the scene, we only have one perspective. What does it mean to look like one is “up to no good”? Zimmerman does not give any details, nothing to buttress the “validity” of his narration. We also find out that he, who we now know was Trayvon Martin, looks black, that he has his hands in his waist band, and that he is coming toward Zimmerman. His narrative reads like a scene depicting imminent danger, attributing to the black body ill intentions. The scene is painted in this way because of Zimmerman’s interpretation of the scene, but there is nothing that is manifestly true in his interpretation that demonstrates the implied imminent danger or ill intent. Keep in mind that Zimmerman is in his vehicle as he provides his narration to the dispatcher. What he “sees” through, however, is a visual field that is clearly value-laden; it is “a seeing which is a reading.” 28 As “the looker,” it is not Zimmerman who is in danger; rather, it is Trayvon Martin, “the looked at,” who is the target of suspicion and possible violence. After all, it is Trayvon Martin who is wearing the hoodie, a piece of racialized attire that apparently signifies black criminality, a way of covering his head and face because of the crime that he is always already about to commit as opposed to keeping dry because it is raining or to keeping warm because it is so cold. Also, Trayvon Martin has already been identified as a black male who, no less, has his hands in his waist band. Given the history of white racist logic, Trayvon must be carrying a weapon. Indeed, according to white axiomatic logic, this is a body that is up to no good, especially since, as Zimmerman later says, “Something’s wrong with him. Yep, he’s coming to check me out” and “He’s got something in his hands.” A cell phone? An ice tea? Perhaps a bag of Skittles? Zimmerman also says, “I don’t know what his deal is.” A


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black young male with “something” in his hands, wearing a hoodie, looking suspicious, and perhaps on drugs, and there being “something wrong with him,” depicts a racist narrative of fear and frenzy. The solution: “Kill the black boy! Excise the stranger from the gated community.” Was it not The Birth of a Nation that “put the lynching of a black rapist at the heart of a national narrative about exterminating the danger within[?]” 29 And on Zimmerman’s reading, where, again, there is nothing that is manifestly true in his interpretation that demonstrates imminent danger or ill intent, Trayvon Martin is the “black predator,” is about to strike, to sully all things white and pure. After all, as Zimmerman says, we don’t know what his deal is. Moreover, Zimmerman’s narrative constitutes a “schematic foreshadowing of an accusation, one which carries the performative force to constitute that danger which it fears and defends against.” 30 Zimmerman has already provided the dispatcher with a narrative construction that no doubt already has him, the dispatcher, on the edge. From Zimmerman’s account, the police officers called to the scene would have already been primed to look for someone dangerous, someone to be stopped, someone who had to be stopped; indeed, something of a terror lurking in the night, someone black, anyone black. The message was clear: you’ve got to send someone now before he does something, because he will do something. Within this context of discursive violence, Zimmerman is already guilty of an act of aggression against Trayvon Martin. His aggression is enacted through his gaze, through the act of profiling, and through his discourse, and through his construction of a phantasmatic laden description that reinscribes white fear and white myth-making. He has thrown the first discursive blow. The imagery that he deploys to describe Trayvon Martin is assaultive. The words and the imagery are attacks on the personhood of Trayvon Martin. 31 They are assaultive, as Matsuda argues, “because the idea, the word, the image is an act.” 32 When the dispatcher says, “Just let me know if this guy does anything else,” it is Zimmerman who has already done something. Not only has Zimmerman’s discourse circumscribed Trayvon Martin’s black body as a site of danger, but his discourse, his racist hermeneutic framework, functions as a form of character assassination. Prior to his physical death, Trayvon Martin had already been sacrificed on the altar of the image. Trying to move lithely-into-theworld, Trayvon Martin is stopped by the gaze of a Negrophobic stranger, which thereby forces Trayvon to move with effort and self-conscious calculation. Trayvon Martin is thrown into a state of disgrace, profiled as a criminal. You know, one of those types with whom my Chinese student’s father would not associate. Yet, as we all know, Trayvon Martin was walking in the rain with a bag of Skittles and iced tea, which he bought from a 7-11. He had come from his father’s girlfriend’s home to get some snacks during halftime of the NBA All Star game. He did not have a gun, and he had not committed a crime. There was nothing wrong with him,

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despite Zimmerman’s report. And assuming that the phone records are accurate and that what Trayvon’s girlfriend describes is accurate, 33 Trayvon was actually aware that Zimmerman had been watching him from his vehicle. In fact, from his girlfriend’s account, Trayvon expressed concern or worry that a stranger was watching him. This is intimated also when Zimmerman says that Trayvon is coming to check him out. After Zimmerman is asked to inform the dispatcher if this guy (that is, Trayvon) does anything else, Zimmerman says, “These assholes. They always get away.” I wonder what the dispatcher thought as he remained silent after the racist comment. Perhaps, he could have said, “We don’t need you to say that, Sir.” At this juncture, we already know that the person identified as suspicious is a black teenager. It is not hard to determine who falls under the category, “assholes.” It is black male teenagers or black people more generally who are socially constituted, by Zimmerman, as assholes. The use of the dehumanizing and derogatory term “assholes” within the overall context of Zimmerman’s other racist assumptions about the black body is consistent with his psychological demeanor toward Trayvon. After the asshole insult, Zimmerman, still in his car, says, “Shit, he’s running.” At this point, we can hear Zimmerman open the door to his vehicle and begin to chase Trayvon. I wonder why? Could it be that Trayvon is, according to Zimmerman, one of those “assholes” who “always get away”? In short, then, Zimmerman’s “white gaze” had already depicted Trayvon Martin as “out of place” and “out of order,” as someone who is already guilty of something, but who manages to escape the “hand of justice” or “his hand of justice.” And while it is unclear if Zimmerman uttered the racial slur, “fucking coons,” under his breath, Trayvon’s black body is already targeted as an “asshole,” well, specifically, one of those assholes, who must be stopped, because they “always get away.” Of course, Zimmerman could have allowed Trayvon to simply run away, to get out of his policed social space. And since he had already called the police, who were on their way, why run after Trayvon, why proceed with the possibility that he might make contact with Trayvon? To run after Trayvon is to make sure that he does not get away, you know, the “asshole.” Zimmerman effectively became the “law,” running after Trayvon in the name of “justice,” “community security,” and whiteness, which are historically predicated upon the denial of black humanity, the harassment of black bodies for “vagrancy,” and being punished for being on the wrong (white) side of town. On my interpretation, Zimmerman, by running after Trayvon, had already created the conditions for the possibility of either himself or Trayvon getting hurt. Zimmerman had set the terms for a possible encounter, but a possible encounter where he, Zimmerman, possessed a 9mm and Trayvon possessed a bag of Skittles—a profoundly asymmetrical power relationship. And while the dispatcher, after determining that


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Zimmerman was following Trayvon, said, “We don’t need you to do that,” Zimmerman had already created the conditions for not only a possible encounter, but a possible confrontation. He had already elicited from Trayvon the need to protect himself against a stranger who was following him. “We don’t need you to do that” speaks to a limit that Zimmerman had already crossed. The dispatcher certainly understood that this limit had been crossed. By transgressing a line that he should have already known not to have crossed, Zimmerman had already created a context where Trayvon had to stand his ground. Again, if what his girlfriend said is accurate, we know that at some point Trayvon asked Zimmerman, “What are you following me for?” This is a legitimate question to ask, and one that bespeaks a right to agency, and a concern for one’s own safety. In response, Trayvon’s girlfriend says that she heard, “What are you doing here?” This is a discourse of control and fear. It is the discourse of Apartheid. It is a form of discourse that polices your mobility, freedom, and social ontological reach. It is a discourse that negates effortless grace. It implies that you don’t belong, should not belong. Given the historical and contemporary context involving the devaluation of black life, Zimmerman’s interrogation is directed not only at Trayvon’s right to be here or there, but interrogates his right to be. The interrogation, in short, not only has spatial implications, but deep existential implications. And while there is yet much information to be had regarding the initial words exchanged between them, and who initiated physical contact, it was Zimmerman’s aggressive profiling, his racially loaded discourse, his projections that something was wrong with Trayvon, his discourse that implied that Trayvon had something dangerous in his hands, his claim that Trayvon looked suspicious, and by implication guilty of something, that makes him the aggressor, the one who would make sure that this one “asshole” would not get away. And, as we now know, Trayvon was indeed followed and stopped dead. But why was he even questioned, and deemed stoppable, especially as he lives in a country predicated upon freedom and the pursuit of happiness, and where the laws reject involuntary servitude unless one has committed a crime. Zimmerman’s actions help to frame an important question. If to be black is comparable to being guilty of having committed a crime, is involuntary servitude, then, a price to be paid for being black? Is to be black, in 2012, an ontological crime, a crime of simply being? Trayvon Martin was walking while black (WWB), which is enough to sound the alarm: “Look, a black male!” Well, the racist narrative falls into place: lock your doors, stop him, interrogate him, pursue him, he’s done something, he’s got something in his hand, and he’s wearing a hoodie. But don’t forget to call him an “asshole”; he deserves it. And even if you’re not a police officer, it doesn’t matter. He is black and that is enough to put you on the side of the law. And if you follow Zimmerman’s deeply flawed logic, if the black person that you are officially told

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not to follow decides to defend himself because he is afraid for his own bodily safety, then you may need to kill him regardless of the fact that he carries nothing more benign than a bag of skittles. In short, the image prevails. As the protector of all things “gated,” of all things standing on the precipice of being endangered by black male bodies, Zimmerman created the conditions upon which he had no grounds to stand on. Indeed, he created the conditions that belied the applicability of the Stand Your Ground law. Since Trayvon Martin’s tragic death, most of my white students have come to rethink the ways in which they have not been attentive to what it means to be black (and unsafe) in America. Indeed, they have come to rethink the complex ways it means to be white in an America that privileges whiteness. For most blacks, Trayvon Martin’s tragic death is a reminder of our collective worthlessness in North America. My hope is that we honor the memory of Trayvon Martin by mustering the courage to think seriously about the meaning of race and how the tragic reality of Trayvon Martin’s death unambiguously forces us to critique our rush to celebrate a “post-race” America. And his death happened when the highest office in this land, arguably in the world, is occupied by a black man. NOTES 1. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1982), 231. 2. Ibid., 232. 3. Ibid., 44. 4. Ibid., 44. 5. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1967), 112–13. 6. http://www.southcentralhistory.com/la-riots.php. 7. Joe R. Feagin, The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and CounterFraming (New York: Routledge, 2010), 80. 8. Ibid., 113. 9. Cornel West, Race Matters (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1993), x. 10. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 3. 11. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 117. 12. West, Race Matters, 86. 13. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/kathleen-pyles-connecticu_n_15807 79.html. 14. http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/17/10737634-ninth-grader-saysteacher-told-him-to-read-langston-hughes-poem-blacker?lite 15. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 109. 16. West, Race Matters, 85. 17. John T. Warren, Performing Purity: Whiteness, Pedagogy, and the Reconstruction of Power (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), 29. 18. Mari J. Matsuda, Where Is Your Body?: And Other Essays on Race, Gender, and the Law (Boston. MA: Beacon Press, 1996), 168. 19. Feagin, The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing, 136.


George Yancy

20. http://www.politico.com/politico44/2012/03/obama-i-had-a-son-hed-look-liketrayvon-118439.html. 21. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2120222/Trayvon-Martin-case-Obama -aide-hits-Gingrichs-criticism-president.html. 22. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 138. 23. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1963), 16. 24. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 112. 25. “Negro,” in Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader, ed. Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), 94. 26. Joel Olson, The Abolition of White Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 43. 27. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010), 104–5. 28. Judith Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” in Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising, ed. Robert Gooding-Williams (New York: Routledge, 1993), 16. 29. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 83. 30. Judith Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” in Reading Rodney King, Reading Urban Uprising, ed. Robert Gooding-Williams (New York: Routledge, 1993), 18. 31. Matsuda, Where Is Your Body?, 165. 32. Ibid., 164. 33. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/03/20/trayvon-martins-girlfriend-recalls-final-conversation-before-shooting/.

TWENTY Coda—Through the Eyes of a Mother Reflections on the Rites of Passage of Black Boyhood Carol E. Henderson

For millions of women who looked into the face of Sybrina Fulton and saw themselves, the [Trayvon Martin] case brought to the fore a question Black mothers have been asking themselves for generations: When my son walks out this door, will he come home alive? —Jeannine Amber, “The Danger Outside” Trayvon Martin was likely taught the life lessons necessary to survive an encounter with the police (or their posse cousins) by his parents and other elders. Because black life is cheap, a young person of color can do everything “right” and still end up dead. What does this mean for blackness, when a century or more after the end of slavery, and decades after the end of lynch law, that your guilt is still assumed? —Chauncey DeVega, “Trayvon Martin and Life Lessons for Young Black Boys” 1

When I had my son, I learned how to pray. Not that my prayer life was not strong already. But having the privilege to bring life into the world— a new being full of promise with a future filled with tremendous possibilities, having the responsibility, the stewardship of ensuring that this new person grows into a healthy maturity—well that was a daunting task that required extraordinary assistance. I also knew what kind of world my son was being born into—a world that had framed his little life before he was born. He was a black male child—one to be feared, controlled, contained, and if necessary, eliminated. History bore this fact out. Numerous narratives pepper the annals of print and visual culture, spelling out in painful acuity the ways in which this society values black male life. Scottsboro 251


Carol E. Henderson

Nine. Emmett Till. Atlanta Child Murders. Yusef Hawkins. Stephen Lawrence (in the U.K.). These facts made my fear real—palpable. I promised myself that I would not indoctrinate my son with my angst and anxiety. I wanted him to be a free human being—in mind, body and spirit, regardless of the script society had written for him and me. As a single black mother, I was aware that I would have to carry the extra baggage of societal ignominy, economic marginalization, and strained material resources, but this is the land of the free, the place where everyone can achieve a level of success if one puts his/her mind to it. Hard work pays off, right? And although obstacles like poverty and prejudice stood in one’s way, we are overcomers. This is the cloak of hope I wrapped myself in as I made my journey through academia and the racial and cultural maze of America’s lies—controlling images 2 that presupposed I would emasculate my son, mar his emotional and psychic well-being to the detriment of all humankind, as the destructive charges in Patrick Moynihan’s caustic report loomed large. My counter to this idea: I would create a safe space in our home. 3 This would be our fortress—a place where I could protect his young childhood as much as possible, as I shielded him from those forces lurking just outside the door. In this safe space, we could imagine all the wonderful things he could be when he grew up—a doctor, lawyer, basketball player, teacher, senator—even president of his own company or the United States. In our intimate and safe world, all things were possible. But this safe space is not portable. I knew that. The statistics were against me and him. I also knew that there would be rites of passages— heart stopping moments—when I could not protect my son from racial surveillance and/or others’ unwarranted fear. Like the time we entered Popeye’s Chicken when he was about twelve and the cashier thought my son was going to rob the place because he came in with his hoodie on and that urban swag young black boys may use to mask the fragile “I” within. My son had entered the place about five minutes after me because, as most tweens do at that age, they take their time following after their mothers. I knew he was trying to establish some type of independence from me, so I allowed him to come in once he had awakened from his sleep. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not been there to redirect the eyes and mind of the peaked male clerk who followed my son from the door of the establishment to just yards away from me when I calmly told him “He’s with me.” Seeing the color return in the cashier’s face made painfully clear to me that there would be many more days like this, instances where I would not be with him. My son and I had a productive talk on the way home—the car smelling of Popeye’s chicken and my trepidation about the days that lay ahead. I, like countless other black mothers, held nightly vigils as my son matured into his young adulthood, diligently paving a deliberate path for him to follow, hoping—praying that my life lessons at home had

Coda—Through the Eyes of a Mother


registered—settled—in the recesses of his developing mind so that he would not, as Marita Golden states, “make a fatal detour, be seduced, or be hijacked by a white or black cop, or a young black predator, or a Nazi skinhead, or his own bad judgment, or a weakness that even I as his mother [could] not love or punish or will out of him.” 4 This is the psychological toll exacted on the mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, rich and poor who try with all their spiritual might to protect the most vulnerable in their lives. The Martin case reminded us that middle-class status won’t protect you from the “niggerization” 5 tactics of a nation. Child advocate Marian Wright Edelman says it best in her letter to her sons—a letter that we are gratefully privy to, “It is utterly exhausting being Black in America—physically, mentally, and emotionally.” 6 The outcome of this exhaustion manifests itself in a myriad of ways in the African American community—self-nihilism, depression, spiritual resiliency, artistic creativity, and athletic fixation. Each is a ritualistically performed act that quells the stemming tide of frustration and anger, both by-products of living on the world’s stage. And although some people may call me alarmist—exaggerated in the distressing ways I speak of this terror, vexation, and rage—one cannot ignore the mounting toll of young black male youth shot, unarmed, because they “look suspicious”—a supposition based on the ways they dress, the way they walk, the color of their skin—their urban swagger. The daily stress of navigating these cultural minefields of “double jeopardy of a social and representational sort simultaneously,” 7 while carving out a self-affirming and unique self-identity, comes at a high cost. There is the “nonstop racial mindfulness and dealings with too many self-centered people,” as Edelman reminds us, “who expect you to be cultural and racial translators and yet feel neither the need nor responsibility to reciprocate—to see or hear you as a human being” 8 that is wearing on the spirit—the soul—of everyone in the village. And the black mothers that must live each day with the tedious imbalance of life and death, an imbalance both materially and emotionally taxing, unfair in its laser-like focus on our children—these mothers continue to press their way each day, safeguarding the good in our children. That is not to say that our boys are angels always and that they don’t make mistakes—they do. And some of our boys live in environments so toxic that they seem doomed to a life of dread and violence before they get their adult teeth. In a perfect world, it would be nice to think that everyone should be entitled to transition through life’s cycle with a few bumps and bruises—but with one’s sense of purpose still intact. No child is born wanting to hate, to be violent, or to be abandoned, discarded, and unloved. And no child wants to be forgotten. These are learned behaviors. So for the black mothers who give a damn—those who give birth to the young men we speak of—the young men that, as boys, they nurse and nurture through their teenage years—these young men are anything


Carol E. Henderson

but insufferable, unlovable, unwanted—they are precious gifts bequeathed to us by the Creator. The Trayvon Martin murder case reminded all of us with shocking veracity that our gifts—our children— could be taken away from us on a whim—an impulse fueled by a paranoid need to reconcile the nation’s angst about black male bodies “out of place.” President Barack Obama’s election into the highest office in this country has emboldened this angst in ways startling and pervasive. And while Obama’s world may seem far from the experiences of a Trayvon Martin or a Ramarley Graham, 9 the impact is very real. All of Obama’s blackness could not save these boys from the insidiousness of white supremacy and racist ideology because the number of assassins is too great. They replicate themselves in our laws, cultural apathy, insensitivity, greed, our exhaustion. This means that more of our boys will be trapped in an endless web of bankrupt ethical and moral pragmatisms, snagged in probation to prison pipelines, or worst, we groom a new generation of black boys to be undereducated and underemployed in a world that has technologically left them behind. These are all ways to kill someone. This is the moral crises we are facing. And more chilling is John Edgar Wideman’s assessment that the killing of our black boys is “an effort to murder our future” 10—a future that is tenuous at best—a future immediate and gradual in its beckoning. Reclaiming the futures of ours sons takes a global effort. Restoring the image of our sons is a mother’s prerogative. One cannot help but recall the revolutionary ways in which black mothers have over time and dispensation reclaimed the futures of their children in order to restore their humanity—and ours. Harriet Jacobs, as a slave mother, hid her body for seven years in the attic of her grandmother’s house so that her biracial children could be dislodged from the legal standards of her time that said her children would follow the status of the mother. Challenging even the legal breadth of her owner, Jacobs created safe spaces in her community that relied on the radical social practices of a grandmother who owned her own home during slavery—the very grandmother whose presence helped facilitate the movement of her children out of the bondage to an illusory freedom. Although centuries away from our present-day conundrum of the criminalization of our black boys, enslavement—whether by chattel bondage or the penal code system—requires a similar effort of radical change. Mamie Till Mobley understood this very fact when she ushered her fourteen-year-old son’s body out of Money, Mississippi, so that the whole world could see the ugliness of racial hatred. Murdered for allegedly whistling at a white storeowner’s wife, Mrs. Till knew that Emmett’s body was key to exposing the legacies of violence enacted against black boys and men in the South. Threatened with the edict “Don’t let the sun go down and that body is out of the ground,” 11 Mrs. Till Mobley and other agents of change got Emmett’s body out of the South and delivered

Coda—Through the Eyes of a Mother


him to her Chicago, Illinois, town. Although she fainted when she saw the condition of her son, Mrs. Till understood that the visual image of Emmett as a disfigured and bloated corpse could not be the final narrative which shaped Emmett’s life. Reclaiming his flesh was but one act, and it meant she could script a fuller history of Emmett. Thus she introduced other images of Emmett as a son—the boy that he was—into the public space. These images, coupled with her decision to arrange an open casket funeral, gave Mrs. Till Mobley leverage to engage public discussions about a judicial system that would free Emmett’s professed murderers, thereby sanctioning the murder of black children. Mrs. Till’s act made Emmett’s body—his mangled face—a part of the social fabric of American history, and her actions should then be read as a gesture of defiance to legitimize the public subjectivity of her son. In this way, the southern efforts to cast her son as a thing, a monster, a sexual predator, bumped up against the narrative of a mother’s love, reminding us that exposing the moral and ethical corruption of a nation is more than social activism—it is “necessary bread” 12 for rescuing—healing—our bodies, our minds, our very souls. Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, was thrust into a similar role immediately following her son’s death as mounting media scrutiny clouded the central issues of the case. Alleged marijuana use threatened to skew public perception of Trayvon. Accusations of Martin as a drug dealer, coupled with an up-close image of him in a hoodie, fueled America’s criminal imaginary and its boogieman phantomology. We were experiencing a tremor on the fault line of America’s racial memory—a memory whose crevices had reached its limits with the number of black boys enfolded into it. As in years before, the rescripting of black male victims’ narratives in the public discourse of America’s body politics followed a similar pattern. These archetypes cast our sons as illegitimate heirs to America’s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, even as minors, socially positioning them not to be protected by America’s judicial laws. That Zimmerman could stay free six weeks after shooting and killing an unarmed youth is one thing. That he justified his actions based on his rabid ideal that Trayvon was “out of place” in a suburban neighborhood while in the possession of Skittles and ice tea is quite another, and lends credence to the notion that policing the racial divide is a white man’s privilege, and that any violations of these racial codes can be met with deadly force. “Whiteness and White privilege involve the luxury of being able to decide how, in what ways, and under what condition, you will . . . allow yourself to be uncomfortable,” writes Chauncey DeVega. “White privilege also involves the luxury of not having to have a conversation with your kids about how to avoid being murdered by the cops because of your skin color.” 13 But Zimmerman was not a cop. He was acting in the stead of a white male citizen 14 who felt justified in patrolling—and protecting—the racial


Carol E. Henderson

divide. Yet, more importantly, what becomes evident in this miscarriage of justness is Sybrina Fulton’s desire to humanize her son. Not only did she and Trayvon Martin’s father demand the public release of the 911 tapes, which vividly communicate Zimmerman’s mind-set on the night in question, pictures surfaced in various media outlets of a younger Trayvon, thirteen or fourteen years old in his little league team T-Shirt to demonstrate that he belonged to a family. There was the poignant picture of Trayvon being kissed by his father Tracy, of Trayvon holding his cousin, and also a picture of Trayvon astride a horse looking directly into the camera—his baby face betraying his seventeen-year-old frame. 15 These are the recycled images in our social media that create a narrative of a young boy dead before he should be. His mother has remained poised, somber, and stalwart in her efforts to get justice for Trayvon. She understands that laws have to be changed and national conversations about our young black men must continue in order to save them. Through her pain, she reaches out to a nation struggling with itself because it feels helpless. Her strength, like Mamie Till Mobley’s and countless others, is the ancestral energy—our mourning cloth—that we wrap ourselves in. This is a mother’s love—to think of others before herself—to sacrifice her personal moments of bereavement for a national call to justice. These actions remind us of the cost of righteousness, fairness, and integrity. They command us not to forget. They encourage us to love the children still amongst the living. This is the greatest homage we can pay to the mothers of Stephen Lawrence, Emmett Till, and Trayvon Martin. These are the reflections of life through the eyes of a mother. These are the visions of life that will save us. NOTES 1. Jeannine Amber, “The Danger Outside,” Essence Magazine (June 2012): 104; Chauncey DeVega, “Trayvon Martin and Life Lessons for Young Black Boys,” Open Salon (March 19, 2012), http://open.salon.com/blog/chauncey_devega/2012/03/19/trayvon_martin_and_life_lessons_for_young_black_boys, accessed May 29, 2012. 2. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (New York: Routledge, 2000), 67. 3. Ibid., 95. 4. Marita Golden, Saving Our Sons (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 7. 5. Cornel West suggests that all black children are “niggerized” at some point in their lives. He also surmises that black children live in a state of psychological unrest because of the unwarranted and unwanted social scrutiny and violence they are subjected to. See DeVega’s “Trayvon Martin and Life Lessons for Young Black Boys” for more information on the topic. 6. Marian Wright Edelman, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (New York: HarperPerennial, 1992), 23. 7. Maurice O. Wallace, Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men’s Literature and Culture, 1775–1995 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 19. 8. Edelman, The Measure of Our Success, 23.

Coda—Through the Eyes of a Mother


9. Ramarley Graham was an unarmed eighteen-year old young man who was followed by police into his home in the Bronx based on a tip of drug sales in front of a bodega that had been staked out by a street narcotics unit of the New York Police. Police kicked in the door of his home and followed Graham into the bathroom where he had been hiding, and it is alleged, flushing small amounts of marijuana in order to avoid further arrest. Graham was killed with a single bullet to the chest. The thirtyone-year-old undercover officer who shot him, Richard Haste, was charged with first and second degree manslaughter some weeks later and has plead not guilty. Haste posted $50,000 bail and remains free until trial. The Graham case was overshadowed by the Trayvon Martin case some weeks later and has not received the same media attention as the Martin case. This case is very relevant, however, as it shows a pattern of police brutality against unarmed black men. 10. John Edgar Wideman, “The Killing of Black Boys,” reprinted in The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative, ed. Christopher Metress (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2002), 278–88, http://www.emmetttillmurder.com/Wideman.htm, accessed May 29, 2012. Although Wideman’s comments were directed at the cowardly assaults upon young people who engaged in social activism during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1950s and 1960s, his words find resonance in our current conundrum. Such racial fetishism centered on the bodies of our young black male (and black female) youth unravels the neat current-day argument that we live in a postracial world because we have a black president. The reality is that our young black men are tracked—subjected to surveillance—in an age when more black men appear on television—and in jail—than at any other time in our cultural history. 11. Mamie Till Mobley’s cousin, Mose Wright said that he was relayed this message by people of power in the town. Many speculate that it was the sheriff. See George Curry’s article “The Death That Won’t Die: Memories of Emmett Till 40 Years Later” (Emerge Magazine 6, no. 9 [July–August 1995]: 24–32). 12. Cheryl Clarke defines black women’s writing as “necessary bread.” Cheryl Wall extends this ideology to include “a commitment on a writer’s part to bring to our work a critical consciousness about our positionality, defined as it is by race, gender, class, and ideology. This position or place we are assigned on the margins of the academy informs but does not determine the positions or stances we take. From the margins various strategies may be deployed, and varied, indeed contradictory” (1–2). This is the attitude of the Black mothers I speak of in this essay—the margins do not determine how they will deal with inequality and social injustice directed at their children. See Changing Our Own Words, ed. Cheryl Wall (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989). 13. DeVega, “Trayvon Martin and Life Lessons for Young Black Boys,” footnote 1. 14. It is common knowledge that Zimmerman is biracial—his father is white, and his mother is Latina. It is also common knowledge that Zimmerman’s father carries much political and social weight in Florida as a retired judge. My point for mentioning him as acting in the stead of a white male citizen has as much to do with his mind-set as it does his privilege of assuming the white male position as the son of a socially acceptable white male. 15. These pictures stand in stark contrast to the police picture of Trayvon Martin that Tracy Martin had to see in order to identify the body of his son. As reported in an interview for Essence Magazine, the digital picture showed Trayvon dead on the ground, eyes rolled back in his head with a tear streak on his cheek and saliva dripping from his mouth—a haunting last image to see of your child. The Martin case was further exacerbated by the fact that immediately following the shooting, Trayvon’s body was taken to the Medical Examiner’s office and tagged John Doe. Only after Tracy Martin reported his son missing did the pieces of the puzzle come together. Each parent knew the behavior of their son, and that knowledge went a long way to recovering the remains of their son.

Selected Bibliography

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Affirmative Action, 29, 108; conjuring into “reverse discrimination,” 28 African Americans, 28, 29; association of drugs with, 27; consideration of fundamental existential questions by, 142; constant facing of white violence by, 44; under correctional control, 29; dealing with white supremacy, 18; economic gaps with whites, 28; expectations of obligation without rights, 46, 47; history of unpunished violence against, 53; importance of selfdefense for, 19; invisibility of, 27; justifications for defense of selves and property, 53; lack of blame on institutional failure in relation to, 29; military service and, 46, 47; myth of not assisting other African Americans, 28; in oppositional culture, 132; relations with police, 42; right of self-defense, 53, 54; second-class status after prison release, 101n14; self-respect and, 44; social standing of, 19; systemic violence experienced by, 48; value of lives of, 20, 51, 52, 147–151, 155–165; white terrorism and, 41 aggression: state-sanctioned, 38 Alexander, Marissa, 143, 152n8, 235n11 Alexander, Michelle, 87, 95, 101n14, 141, 142, 143, 145, 146, 150, 151, 152n8, 153n15, 215, 216, 219, 221, 244 alienation: of being black, 132; bodily, 177 Amber, Jeannine, 251 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), 120, 124 Anderson, Benedict, 37

Anderson, Jacquelline, 25–31 Anti-Lynching Committee (NAACP), 55n2 Aristotle, 82 assimilation: pressure for, 134; resistance to, 137 autonomy: black cultural, 133; lack of for slaves, 159; of rationality, 74; reproductive, 159; of self, 74, 81, 82; subjectivity and, 80 Baez, Anthony, 114n1, 114n2, 114n4 Baldwin, James, 198, 199, 200, 201, 203n25, 204n33, 218, 219, 244 Balzac v. Porto Rico, 47 Barrett, Lindon, 141, 147 Bates, Ruby, 148 Behaviorism, 174 Bell, Derrick, 31, 32n7, 201n2 Bell, Sean, 143 Benjamin, Rich, 33, 35, 36, 37, 99, 100 Bennett, William, 96, 195, 197 Berry, Mary Frances, 43 bias: compatibility with interracial intimacy, 98; contemporary, 59; decision-making errors and, 60; implicit, 65; racial, 59–66; reasonable suspicion and, 61; shared unconscious, 66; unconscious, 98 biopower, 122, 123 black bodies: become instantiation of criminality, 75, 80; constituted meaning of, 21; constructed as manifestation of social threat and danger, 174; control of, 241; as global spook, 240; in hoodies, 22; as intrinsically suspicious, 22; legitimate territorialization of, 21; marked as sight of evil and villainy, 76, 120; meaning of presence of, 174; 271



ontology of threat and, 175; perceptions of, 21; phenomenology and anti-black racism, 174–178; policing, 239, 241; as problematic body, 174, 242; process of reification, 239; racially constructed, 177–178; rendered invisible, 241; social presencing of, 173–180 black children and parenting.: blame the victim syndrome, 162–163; charges of exploitation of child tragedies and, 164–165; coverage of black/white victims of tragedies, 162–163; devaluation of black sons, 155–165; differences in treatment of white/black mothers of victims, 163–165; economic exploitation of black victims, 163; fear of black on black crime and, 184; guidelines provided to children to ensure safety, 156; hearing countdown to internment, 197; living away from black people, 187; pain of discrimination against, 167n25; parental responsibility and, 186–188; provision of skills need to negotiate racial barriers and, 189; psychological toll for, 253; race and social mobility dilemma and, 185; race and success dilemma for, 184; in racist society, 23, 183–189; reality of raising, 23; rites of passage of black boyhood, 251–255; selling, 43, 183; “The Talk” and, 156, 157–158, 186, 242; tragic innocence of, 221–222; vulnerability in, 200. See also black motherhood Black Codes, 27, 147 black cyborgs, 19, 193–201; battle of, 201; construction of, 200; as creature of social reality, 198; endeavors of, 203n20; overcomes brutality of imposed limits, 198 black guilt: insidious encroachment of into black politics, 226 Black Legion, 47 black liberation, 232–233 black males: as bodies marked for death, 91; criminalization of before

appearance of, 74, 75; epistemic conclusions about, 74; existential conditions of lives of, 91; irrational fear of, 18; seen as dangerous, 26, 29; sociolegal responses to murders of, 19; subject to virtual probation, 92, 93, 95–99; value of lives of, 20, 51, 52, 147–151, 155–165; visible through constructions of racist imaginary, 74 Black & Missing Foundation, 166n8 Blackmon, Douglas, 87 black motherhood, 168n28; criticism of working in, 161; devaluation of, 155–165; differences in treatment of white/black mothers of victims, 163–165; knowledge of whites’ opinions of black children, 157; love for children not seen as genuine, 22; pain felt for sons, 157–158; reflections on rites of passage of black boyhood, 251–255; as site of pathology, 22; valued only for economic benefits to slaveholders, 158–159 blackness: conflated in public consciousness with criminality, 245; connection to state of nature, 202n3; criminality associated with, 120–121; in democracy's graveyard, 193–197; as demographic market of life chances, 216; as evil destined for eradication, 195; as form of degeneracy, 123, 124; impossible time and space in anti-black world, 197; not codified as worthy of living and flourishing, 124; phobic response to, 195; seeking distance from, 89; synonomous with “criminal other,” 178; as victimization, 193–201 Black Panthers, 49 black(s): beyond protection of the law, 126n5; boundary violations and, 86; constructed as criminals, 95; crimes against, 26; debate over humanity of, 27; denial of animus toward, 98; desire to confine, 95; destruction by legal and economic systems, 149;

Index devaluation of lives of, 18, 91, 105, 110; group solidarity among, 133; humiliation of, 86; hypersegregation of, 132; inability to be redeemed from sin/slavery, 19; interaction with non-blacks, 34; lack of societal protection for, 163; paid “subsistence wage” while whites paid “family wage,” 161; patterns of treatment meted out to, 146; predictability of deaths of, 19; prohibition on relations among, 143; punished for doing well, 147–151; reduction of to criminals, 19; resistance to laws, 43; stereotypes of, 62, 63; supposed to be segregated from whites, 147; trapped in lower status occupations, 195; undervalued lives of, 20, 155–165; as “usual suspects,” 95; vulnerability of, 226 Blackwell, James, 152n8 black women: devaluation of motherhood and, 155–165; economic necessity of employment for, 161; illicit status of lives of, 22; lack of protection for, 160; romantic paternalism used against, 22, 159–160; seen as “bad mothers” if working, 22; shielding white women from harsh plantation conditions, 159; as “welfare queens,” 22, 162; working in subservient positions maintaining model of white superiority, 161 body: absent, 177–178; as bearer of behavior, 175; in disappearance, 177–178; of dysfunction, 177; intervolvement with the world, 175; as object among other objects, 174; presencing of, 177; shaped by society, 178; social, 175, 177–178, 179; surface, 178; theory of MerleauPonty on, 174–177. See also black bodies Boggs Act, 151 Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, 87, 93, 101n15, 105, 107, 108, 111 Bouie, Jamelle, 149, 150


boundaries: crossed, 86; of progressivism, 198–200 Boxill, Bernard, 51 Brown, Henry Box, 44 Brown v. Board of Education, 28, 32n7, 39n4 Bundy, Ted, 27 Butler, Anthea, 106, 114n9 Campbell, Grace, 46 Canetti, Elias, 86 Capehart, Jonathan, 157 capitalism: monopoly, 19, 41; transnational, 215 Castle Doctrine, 119, 124, 165n4 Chamberlain, Kenneth, 23n8, 143, 152n8, 153n27 Chestnut, Mary, 169n47 Chicago riot (1919), 45 Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), 240 Churchill, Ward, 49 Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration, 36 Civil Rights Congress, 48, 195 Clark, Kenneth, 174 class: dominant, 43; holding race at bay, 216; inequality, 136; order, 50; ruling, 43, 101n15 Clinton, Hillary, 148, 153n20 co-existence: experience of, 175; possibility of, 176 COINTELPRO, 49 colorblindness, 93, 94, 99, 107, 111, 184, 197, 219 communities: barriers in, 34; connections to other members of, 37; gated, 33–38; “ideal” white, 35; imagined, 33–38; as incarceration, 219–220; police relations with black, 42; protection from external threats, 34; as safe places, except for factor of race, 217 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (1970), 151 conceiving: abandonment of connection between blacks and inferiority, 146; acts constrained by nature of things, 145; conception of,



144; constrained by what is possible, 144; idea of complete subject and, 144, 145; the inconceivable, 148; as opposed to imagining, 143–147; severing link between whites and concept of superiority, 146; of what happened to Trayvon Martin happening to a white boy, 141–151 Cone, James, 73 conservatism, 134 control, maintenance of, 19 Corey, Angela, 16–17 Cosby, Bill, 26 Coulter, Anne, 166n15 Crane, Les, 54 criminality: application of stereotypes and, 62; bidirectional association between blacks and, 120–121; black guilt until innocence proven, 92; black-on-black, 26, 184, 185, 229, 231; choice of as lifestyle, 215–217; conjuring up images of blacks and, 120; glorification of, 136; mistaken judgments of, 65; preceding arrest, 95; presumption of black disposition for, 92; regarded as particularly black, 93; stereotypes and, 62–63, 64; visual tuning when looking for threats, 120, 121; whiteon-white, 27 criminal justice system: African Americans in, 29; carceral subject formation and, 94; different charges for whites and blacks, 151; disenfranchisement of former felons, 93; failure to indict police for violent acts, 104; historical lack of justice for black defendants, 49; incompetence in, 18; lowered penalties for whites, 151; ownership of black men in, 216; police brutality cases, 42, 43; reasonable suspicion and, 61; redefinition of serious crime linked to blacks’ everyday life, 216; reluctance to prosecute Zimmerman, 15, 16–17; rise in population in, 216, 220; second-class status for blacks after prison release, 101n14; seen as instrument of

oppression by blacks, 87; slavery of, 93 critical race theory, 216 Cross, William, Jr., 156 Crump, Benjamin, 15, 16, 156 cultural: apathy, 253; autonomy, 133; change, 77; creativity, 22, 134, 136; difference, 130; diversity, 131, 134; identity, 133; lines of demarcation, 174; meaning, 178; nationalism, 134; objectification, 180; pathology, 93; perceptions, 27; resistance, 136; semiotics, 22 culture: black, 98, 134; critical appreciation of, 134; ghetto, 132; musical, 136; oppositional, 132, 136; political, 45; postracial white supremacist, 27; prison, 133, 140n21; role in fighting racism, 133–135; security-obsessed, 120; of segregation, 132; superiority of European, 131; youth, 134, 185 Dahmer, Jeffrey, 27 Darwinism, 86 Davidson, Maria del Guadalupe, 33–38 death: black, 41–55, 200; black bodies marked for, 92; black predictability, 193; civil, 92, 93; as escape, 237; fate worse than, 237; foretold, 197; indignity and, 41–55; as normative, 193; as political event, 209–210; by preventable disease, 195; privacy of, 209; as setting free, 237; shadow of, 92–95; social, 92, 93, 94; suspicion and, 64; by way of white terrorism, 41–55, 92–95 Dee Dee (girlfriend), questioned by police, 7–14 Delgado, Richard, 201n2 Demby (slave), 76, 77 Denton, Nancy, 132 Descartes, Rene, 73, 144, 145, 152n8, 153n15 desegregation, 39n4 devaluation. See value DeVega, Chauncey, 251, 255 Diallo, Amadou, 26, 42, 103, 104, 114n1, 114n2, 143, 237–249

Index dignity, maintenance of, 51 discourse: hegemonic, 27; on personal responsibility for black failure, 29; racialized, 127n27, 245 discrimination: fracturing experience of, 184; without bigotry, 60 diversity: contributions to individual and communal wealth through, 216; cultural, 134; done badly, 36; guarding against, 35, 36; postblackness and, 216 Dooley, Trevor, 117 Douglass, Frederick, 44, 74, 76 Dred Scott v. Sandford, 27, 46 “driving while black,” 228 Du, Soon Ja, 237–249 Du Bois, Sylvia, 44 Du Bois, W. E. B., 46, 87, 88, 176, 194, 237 Dzidzienyo, Anani, 89 Edelman, Marian Wright, 253 ego: asymmetrical relationship to the Other, 81; maintenance of, 74; racist, 74; transcendental, 79; as ultimate horizon, 79 Ellison, Ralph, 241 Empiricism, 174 ethics: of black oppressed, 51; demands of the Other and, 73, 74; development of notion of, 74; of dignity and self-respect, 51; as first philosophy, 74, 80; plausible, 209; of silence, 20, 21; theory of, 174; valuation of life and, 85; virtue, 210 Ewald, Alex C., 93 exceptionalism: American, 106–107; assumptions of ontological virtue in, 107; distortion of vision by, 107; hatred of the Other and, 111; ideology of, 106; racial violence and, 103–113; sanctioning of genocide and, 106; white supremacist, 106–107 experience: of co-existence, 175; collective, 198; of discrimination, 184; diversity of black, 218; of embodied existence, 177


Fanon, Frantz, 178, 193, 194, 196, 199, 200, 201, 202n3, 203n26, 239, 241, 244 Feagin, Joe, 242 Ferguson, Stephen C., II, 41–55 Fletcher Ben, 46 Foucault, Michel, 117, 121 Fugitive Slave Act, 43, 46, 235n13 Fulton, Sybrina, 15, 19, 22, 85, 156, 163, 164, 165, 255 Gacey, John Wayne, 27 gangs, 136; white, 27 Garden of Eden: image of postlapsarian world and, 35; no role for non-whites in, 35; Whitopias and, 34–37 Gates, Henry Louis, 95 the gaze: black, 153n21; criminogenic, 95; dominant, 194; pain resulting from, 244; saturated by racist images, 238; subjects/objects of, 97; white, 19, 21, 94, 239, 241, 244, 247; of white supremacy, 97 God: embodied in face of the Other, 73; knowledge of, 73; notion of infinity and, 73; paganism and, 75; structural integrity of signs in worship of, 83n5 Goff, Phillip Abita, 59–66 Goffman, Erving, 94 Golden, Marita, 253 Golden, Timothy Joseph, 73–82 Gordon, Lewis R., 85–90, 153n16 grace: effortless, 239, 242; sacrifice of, 237–249 Graham, Ramarley, 23n8, 143, 153n27, 257n9 Great Migration, 161 Hampton, Fred, 49 Haraway, Donna, 203n20 Harlins, Latasha, 237–249 Harrison, Hubert H., 46 Hart, William David, 91–100 Harvey, Jennifer, 103–113 Hattori, Yoshihiro, 64–65, 66 Havis, Devonya N., 117–126 Hawkins, Yusef, 252



Hegel, G. W. F., 92 Heidegger, Martin, 74, 79 Henderson, Carol E., 251–255 Hitler, Adolf, 86 Hoagland, Sarah Lucia, 25–31 Holloway, Natalee, 156, 162, 164 hoodies: as act of protest, 137; avoidance of, 132; banality of, 22; black bodies in, 22; class and, 139n14; cultural significance of, 22; different meaning when worn by blacks, 131; as form of communication, 130, 132; inconsequential in inevitability of death for Martin, 202n7; marking one as target for violence, 137; material marker of criminality, 76; meaning in only by racist misperceptions, 137; meaning of, 130–131; as message of opposition, 132; mistakenly considered a sign of race and criminality, 217–218; perceived as “thug wear,” 138n2, 139n6; pro/con of wearing, 129–137; relational opinions on, 101n16; seen as sufficient condition for racist attack, 50; victim-blaming and, 129 “Hoodies and Heels: Justice for Trayvon Martin,” 165 Husserl, Edmund, 74, 79 “I am Trayvon Martin,” 164 idealism, 174 identity: African American vis-à-vis state, 47; American, 114n8; black, 134; conceptualizing, 37; cultural, 133; group, 37; moral, 205–212; postblack, 19; racial, 211, 213n6; spatial, 37; spoiled collective, 94, 95; stigmatized, 98; virtual, 99 “If We Must Die” (McKay), 44 images: as acts, 246; of black child already framed as menacing, 196, 251; controlling, 252; of “ideal” white communities, 35; racist, 240; simian, 202n3; statis, 242; stereotyped, 185 imaginary: racist, 75, 79; semiotic structure of, 75; white, 146

imagining: conceiving as opposed to, 143–147; conceptions of, 20; Trayvon Martin shooting happening to white boy, 141–151 immigration: illegal, 35, 36; Latino, 99; Whitopias and, 35 injustice: ethics of silence and, 20; explaining away, 108; inability to overcome, 54; knowledge-produced forms of, 19; normalization of, 87; protesting, 21; systemic, 222; themes of, 20; white attempts to respond to, 205–212 integration: burden of on blacks, 199; defining, 201n2; narratives of, 197; need to become non-black for, 19; requires non-slavery, 194; salvaging, 198 intellectualism, 174 irreplaceability, 85–90 Jackson, George, 50 Jackson, Natalie, 15 Jacobs, Harriet, 254 James, David, 117 James, Joy A., 193–201 Jealous, Ben, 17 Jeffers, Chike, 129–137 Jefferson, Thomas, 86, 100 Jim Crow, new, tragedy of, 215–222 Jim Crow Laws, 148, 215; legacy of, 228 Johnson, James Weldon, 89 Jones, Janine, 1–23, 141–151 Jones, William R., 51, 53 Jones Act (1917), 47 Julison, Ryan, 16 justice, double system of, 87 “Justice for Trayvon,” 164 Kaczynski, Ted, 27 Kelly, Robin, 218 Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders, 42 King, Coretta Scott, 194 King, Martin Luther, Jr., 44, 54, 194, 199 King, Rodney, 18, 26, 42, 179, 196, 203n30, 237–249 knowledge: of black criminality, 95–99, 244; of God, 73; racial, 98;

Index transcendence and, 73–82 Koch, Charles and David, 120 language: coded, 27, 229; racialized, 27 law enforcement: abrasive relations with black community, 42; attempts to discredit black political figures by, 49; brutality in, 42, 43; claim that victims cause their own death, 111; coercive powers in, 43; conspiracies among departments of to infiltrate black organizations, 49; designed to keep track of blacks, 87; different charges for whites and blacks, 151; exclusive concentration on black men, 142; insistence that race is irrelevant in violent actions by, 105; involvement in murder of African Americans, 48; legal racial disparities in, 32n7; massive exoneration in brutality cases, 105; misconduct in, 43; personnel in white terror groups, 47; racial profiling by, 57n24; rarely held accountable for racist acts, 50; reasonable suspicion and, 61; righteous indignation when accused of misplaced violence, 105; “stop and frisk” programs, 57n24; tolerance of violence by, 50; unregulated use of force by, 53; violence in, 42, 103, 104, 114n1 Lawrence, Stephen, 131, 252 Lawson, Annie, 183, 191n14 Lawson, Bill E., 183–189 Leder, Drew, 177–178 Lee, Bill, 5, 15 Lee v. Mathews, 168n35 Leighton, Anne, 25–31 Lester, Kenneth, Jr., 16 “Letter From Birmingham Jail” (King), 44 Levinas, Emmanuel, 73, 74, 79, 80 Lewis, Tracey McCants, 155–165 liberalism, abstract, 107 Livoti, Frank, 114n4 Logan, Rayford, 47 logic of black guilt, 22, 225–233; black person assumed to be at fault in,


230; defining, 225; erasure of possibility of innocence by, 227; functioning with white supremacy, 230; historical production of, 225; insanity of, 227; interference with building black political movement and, 230–232; legacy of Jim Crow laws, 228; radicalism and, 233; repudiation of, 232; responsibility for harm and, 227; shaping black politics by, 230–232; shaping perceptions of blacks and, 229; victim-blaming and, 227 Lorde, Audre, 203n21 Loury, Glenn, 94, 97, 98, 99, 141, 145, 146, 153n15 Low, David, 38 lynching, 55n2, 86, 149, 194, 219 Major-Morris, Kimra, 172n91 Make My Day law. See Stand Your Ground Law Malcolm X, 44, 52, 53, 54, 55 Malveaux, Julianne, 161 marginalization: economic, 132, 252; of youth, 139n13 Martí, José, 89 Martin, Tracy, 15, 19, 85, 156 Martin, Trayvon: actions prior to altercation not strange or erratic, 179; attempts to demonstrate guilt of, 110–111, 226, 234n6; body in preexisting concept of “criminal,” 76, 81; concern over being watched by a stranger, 247; death of by way of white terrorism, 53; displaying unremarkable behavior resulting in murder, 99; drug tests for, 179; dysappearing body of, 178–180; expectation of proof of right of presence in neighborhood by, 50; impossible situation of, 88; intrusion into imaged white space, 38; lack of protection of the law for, 79; living on borrowed, impossible time, 197; logic of black guilt and, 103–233; perceived as illegal alien, 100; presumption of criminal intent and, 50; sacrificed on altar of image, 246;



speculations on activities of, 110–111; transformation of physical body occurs during observation by Zimmerman, 179; treated like property by Zimmerman, 77; wrongfully stopped by Zimmerman, 248 Marx, Karl, 51, 101n15 Massey, Douglas, 132 Materialism, 51 McAdoo, Harriette, 186 McClendon, John H., III, 41–55 McDade, Jesse, 51 McKay, Claude, 44 McNeil, John, 27 McVeigh, Timothy, 27 meaning: lack of for black lives, 20; of lives of white persons, 20; negative cultural, 178; shared, 175; social, 175; of the world, 175 media: comparison of attention with disappearances of white children, 156; coverage of black/white child victims, 162; facts provided by, 14–17; lag in taking up story of death of Martin, 156; minority, 156; response to Martin killing, 16, 156–158; role in reinforcing notion of white supremacy/black inferiority, 162; social, 156; strategy garnered by Martin parents and lawyers, 156, 163–165 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 173, 174–177 Miller, Austin, 169n47 Million Hoodies for Trayvon March, 137 Mills, Charles, 131–132, 139n13 mind: possession of essence by, 144; possibilities and, 144; as thinking thing, 144 “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” 156, 162 Mobley, Mamie Till, 254, 257n11 Moore, Harriette Simms, 48 Moore, Harry T., 48 Moore, Richard B., 46 moral: agency, 205, 207; identity, 205–212; purity, 227; tragedy, 205, 207

morality: norms of, 52; rights-based, 44; self-respect and, 51, 52; silence and, 21 Morgan, Piers, 26 Morrison, Toni, 194, 201 Morton, Samuel, 28 Moynihan, Patrick, 162 Multiculturalism, 131, 132, 133 Musto, David, 151 National Amber Alert, 164 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 164 nationalism: black, 201n2, 203n22; cultural, 134; revolutionary, 201; “wounded,” 220 National Rifle Association (NRA), 124, 120, 124 Nelson, Jill, 42 neoliberalism, 215; attempts to blur white racism by, 19; deceptions of, 19; illusions of, 19, 216; weakening of other values by, 216 neoslavery, 94, 96 “New Negro,” 44 Niebuhr, Reinhold, 96 911 call, 2–5, 118 Nixon, Richard, 215 Nkrumah, Kwame, 51 Obama, Barack, 23, 31n4, 93, 114n8, 114n9, 139n19, 147, 148, 150, 153n18, 153n21, 188, 236n18, 253 Obama, Michelle, 161 Oboler, Suzanne, 89 Omi, Michael, 114n5 ontology, black, illicit status of, 19 oppression: racist, 142, 200; shared experience of, 133; systemic, 232 O’Reilly, Kenneth, 49 Organization of Afro-American Unity, 53 the Other: asymmetrical relationship to ego, 81; criminal, 178; ego as ultimate condition for appearance of, 79; embodiment of God in face of, 73; encounter with resulting in destabilization of subjectivity, 79; ethical obligation to, 74; hatred of,

Index 111; heteronomous ethical relation to, 79, 74; loss of alterity and, 74; putting the self in crisis, 79; recognition of, 175; transcendence emanating from heteronomy of, 81 Outlaw, Lucius, 142 Palmer Raids, 49 pants, sagging, 130, 139n19; commitment to black cultural autonomy and, 135; cultural resistance and, 136; debate over, 135–136; meaning of, 135, 136; musical culture and, 136; opposition to, 135; origin of, 135 paradox: creation of flexible ideology and, 107; exposing, 108–113; ideological, 105; in Trayvon Martin shooting, 103–113 Parks, Daryl, 164 Parks, Sherri, 156 paternalism: defining, 169n39, 171n84; romantic, 22, 159–160, 170n52 patriarchy: compulsory reproduction and, 169n39, 169n41; defining, 169n39; exploitation of both white and black women by, 169n41; keeping white women at home through, 161; regulation of women’s fertility in, 169n39, 169n45 Patterson, Orlando, 92, 94 Patterson, William L., 48, 52 Peiss, Kathy, 218 perceptions: colored by race, 60, 66; decision-making errors and, 60; dominant, 97; implicit bias influence on, 65; shaped by logic of black guilt, 229 Pereira, Frederico, 114n1, 114n2 philosophy: as activism, 51; as egology, 79; epistemological orientation of Western, 74–82; ethics as, 74, 80; as guide to rational resolution of issues, 51; of nonviolence, 54; political, 54; social change and, 51; totalizing ambitions of Western, 79; tragedies of, 74 Pinckney, Darryl, 218 Plato, 79


Plessy v. Ferguson, 45 Polizzi, David, 173–180 positivism, legal, 76 post-blackness, 216; illusions of, 19 poverty, cause of, 215 power: disciplinary, 122, 123; docility and, 122; social, 174 Price, Victoria, 148 progressivism: boundaries of, 198–200; civil rights, 199 race: colonial construction of, 27; “common sense” of, 114n5; construction of ignorance about, 143; criminalization of, 87; disparate treatment and, 61; essence of, 146; public discourse on, 108; relations, 184; relation to crime, 96; shaping attitudes about, 186; sociopolitical construction of, 66; stressing character over, 188; survival of dominant group linked to death of others, 123; “talk,” 189; whatness of, 145; white American supremacist anti-black views of, 146 racial: bias, 59–66; character and, 59; difference, 130; dignity, 44; discrimination, 167n25; disparities, 21, 93; embodiment, 21; hierarchies, 18, 93; homogeneity, 99; hypocrisy, 221; identity, 211, 213n6; ideology, 96; inequality, 107, 136; injustice, 18; knowledge, 98; order, 50; pathology, 18; policing through concern with “security,” 124; profiling, 18, 49, 57n24, 166n20, 226, 242, 244; reality, 94; slurs, 49; socialization, 186; stereotypes, 94, 121; stigma, 94, 98, 99; “suspicion cascades,” 59; violence, 44, 103–113, 195 racism: anti-black, 89, 153n16; attempts to obfuscate through neoliberalism, 19; avoidance of dialogue on, 18; as basic mechanism of state power, 123; colorblind, 28, 93, 94, 107, 111; connection to U.S. imperialism abroad, 48; creation of difference where there should be none, 133;



cultural dimension of black resistance to, 133; denied by whites, 26; difficulty of seeing operations of, 121, 122; dilemma of African American parent and, 183–189; “disappearance” of, 31; enabling, 107; falsification of history and, 28; focus on “intent” in judicial proceedings over, 112; history of, 133; individual, 26; institutional, 26, 52, 189; as key feature of modern state, 122; legalized, 232; in military occupations, 47; neoliberal, 216, 222; paramilitary groups and, 43; part of structure of the nation, 31; patriotism and, 47; postracial, 219; relevance of cultural difference to fighting, 130; role of culture in fighting, 133–135; seen as cultural misunderstanding, 133; statesponsored, 117–126; stigmatization of difference and, 133; “suspicion cascades,” 60; white, 21, 42; without racists, 87, 93 racist: rationalizations, 86; societies, 86 Ramsey, JonBenet, 156 Randolph, A. Philip, 46 rationality: autonomy of, 74; blameworthiness and, 76; selfassurance of, 74; of slaves, 76 Reagan, Ronald, 215 reality: racial, 94; social, 198, 203n20, 233; totalization of, 74; of white supremacy, 94 reciprocity, 175; lack of or rejection of, 176 redemption, 201n1; black cyborgs and, 200–201; deliverance from sin or slavery for, 194; impossible, 195, 196; as precondition of integration into white-dominated universe, 194; strategies for, 197; through hope that police brutality will be punished, 203n30; of whites, 199 “Red Summer” (1919), 44, 45 relativism, 86 res, 76; structural integrity of, 75; transcendence emerging from subjectivity, 80

re-segregation, 34 Richardson, L. Song, 59–66 rights: basic, 52; of citizens, 55; civil, 52, 93, 194, 197, 199, 200, 201, 201n2, 216, 257n10; deprivation of, 93; human, 52; inalienable, 52; political, 53; second amendment, 52, 54; of self-defense, 53, 55; of survivorship, 86; voting, 93 Rivera, Geraldo, 22, 26, 111, 129, 132, 138n1, 138n2, 139n6, 157, 167n23, 218 Robeson, Paul, 48, 52 Robinson, Cedric, 204n33 Roediger, David, 86 Romney, Ann, 161 Rosen, Hilary, 161 Row, David, 34 Ruffin, Thomas, 56n8 Rush, Bobby, 137 Rustin, Bayard, 194 Sanders-Lawson, E. Renée, 183–189 Sanford Police Department: failure to order Zimmerman to stand down, 5–6; institutional moves by, 105; justification for non-arrest of Zimmerman, 77 Schomburg, Arturo, 89 Schopenhauer Arthur, 85 Scottsboro Nine, 148, 252 scripts: for institutionalized violence, 103–113; interpretative role of, 104; non-racial, 107–108; power of, 107; pre-existing, 105; revealing, 108–113; unwillingness to take white supremacy seriously, 105; white supremacist, 107–108 segregation, 94; culture of, 132; current, 28; debasement of, 173; debate of humanity of blacks and, 27; educational, 28; as form of confinement, 94 self: autonomy of, 74, 81, 82; maintenance of ego and, 74; put in crisis by heteronomous experience of the Other, 79 self-defense: assertion of right of by Zimmerman, 15, 118, 156, 229,

Index 235n11; embrace of concept of, 200; importance of, 19; right of, 53, 54; suspicion and, 64–65; white terrorism and, 50 self-respect, 44; basic right to, 52; black, 49–55; deserving full moral status and, 51; embodied in resistance to white terror, 45; tenance of, 44, 51; need for full civil and political rights for, 52; viewing oneself from moral point of view, 51; white terrorism and, 49–55 Sensenbrenner Bill, 235n13 “separate but equal,” 228 Serino, Chris, 15, 87, 88 Shakur, Assata, 193 Shapiro, Herbert, 42 Shaw-Taylor, Yoku, 89 Shelby, Tommie, 51, 133 Shillady, John, 55n2 Shoot First laws, 119 signa, 76; structural integrity of, 75; transcendence emerging from subjectivity, 80 silence: appropriate instances of, 207; ethics of, 20, 21; kinds of, 21; morality and, 21; political reasons for, 21; white, 205–212 “The Slave Codes,” 158, 169n37 slavery: chronic violence and, 92; comparison to owning property, 43, 168n35; concept of social death and, 92; of criminal justice system, 93; dislocating effects of emancipation from, 93; misconception created by that black mothers were not good mothers, 160, 168n31, 170n51; penal exception to abolition of, 93; profit of the master as purpose, 56n8; runaway slaves and, 44; selling children and, 43, 183; of the state, 93; as subject of dishonor, 92; Underground Railroad and, 44; white exploitation of blacks through, 159; white violence and, 18 slaves: aggrandized, 194; bodies marked for death and, 92; chattel, 76, 94, 147, 194; children of, 158–159, 168n30; compulsory reproduction


and, 169n41; conceived as criminal before attempting escape, 147; considered “outlaws,” 76; enfranchised, 194; forced to serve as “other mothers” to owner’s children, 160, 170n49; illegality of unaccompanied by sociocultural change, 77; insurrections and, 96; lack of autonomy over reproduction, 159; moral agency and, 76; not allowed to create families, 169n44; required to be absent from home and children, 159; status as property, 76, 168n30, 168n35 Smart, Elizabeth, 164 social: behavior, 177; body, 175, 179; change, 51, 77; charisma, 33, 99; control, 53; death, 92, 93, 94; embodiment, 173–180; inequality, 232; interactions, 173; justice, 54, 189; margins, 195; meaning, 175; media, 156; mobility, 185; networks, 59; norms, 217, 218; organization, 199; power, 174; presence, 173–180; reality, 198, 203n20, 233; relations, 198; reproduction, 195; services, 99; space, 94, 96, 241; standing, 19; universe, 199; visibility, 173, 178 Socrates, 79 space(s): demarcated, 34; imagined, 34; occupation of, 95, 96; public, 34; raced, 21; real, 34; relational, 97; safe, 252; social, 96, 241; white, 33, 38, 228 speech, deadly, 105 Stand Your Ground Law, 15, 21, 25, 152n8, 156, 163, 165n4, 235n13; abandonment of retreat requirement for, 65, 66, 118–119, 165n4; allows broad license to act, 119, 125; avoidance of prosecution through, 41; codification of racially constructed notions of suspicion, 101n32; delayed arrest of Zimmerman and, 77; encourages attacks on blacks, 228; favors armed vigilantes, 34; fear of uncertain danger and, 125; impact of, 119;



impetus behind, 34; justification for through growing fear over state ability to protect whites, 124, 125; as legal camouflage for murder, 41; misleading racially neutral appearance of, 120, 125; perniciousness of, 124; public hygiene and, 123; racial profiling and, 50; reasonable belief and, 119, 125; self-defense in public places in, 118–120; state-sponsored racism and, 117–126; using security to weed out degeneracy through, 125 state: coercive powers of, 43, 47; failure to protect African Americans lives and property, 53; hierarchies of human species in, 122; population management in, 122; power, 45, 47, 52; racism and, 117–126; refusal to defend Constitution, 45; repression, 46, 49; seeking to deputize individuals to manage “degenerate” populations, 117; subspecies identified as more or less valuable than others in, 122, 123, 127n27; support/collaboration with white terror, 45, 46; terrorism, 50; violence, 43, 49, 53 Steel, Shelby, 26 Steele, Claude, 184 stereotypes: Asian, 240; bidirectional, 121; of black men as dangerous, 27, 121; of blacks, 63; common knowledge of, 62; criminal, 62–63; group, 62; implicit, 61; influence on interactions, 62; negative, 60; negative expectations and, 62, 63; racial, 94, 121; self-regulatory consequences of, 63–64; suppression of, 62; suspicion and, 63–64; threat in, 61, 63–64; underperformance and, 63 stigma, 94; of black cultural difference, 133; “enigma of,” 99; racial, 94, 98, 99 subjectivity: autonomy and, 80; in crisis, 74; destabilized, 79; embodied, 173, 174–177; inverse relationship with transcendence, 81;

racist, 80; response of to ethical demands, 81 suspicion: accessibility of, 62; of ambiguous actions of non-whites and, 64; appearances and, 61; of blacks, 95; “cascades,” 59, 60, 65; greater risk of death for blacks from, 64; group, 62; perceptions of, 21; racial disparities in perceptions of, 59; racial traps in, 60; reasonable, 61; self-defense and, 64–65 stereotypes and, 63–64 “Talented Tenth,” 194 “The Talk,” 156, 157–158, 186, 242 Taney, Roger B., 46 Taney Principle, 46, 47, 50, 52, 55 Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 153n20 terrorism, white, 41–55; black death at hands of, 42, 44–49, 50; black selfrespect and, 49–55; government complicity in, 42; right of selfdefense against, 50; sanctions for, 52; shaping of African American lives by, 53; state support for, 45, 46. See also Taney Principle Thar, Jasmine, 143, 152n8 themes: black bodies in white spaces, 21, 33–38; black cyborgs, 193–201; black guilt, 22; blackness as victimization, 193–201; black ontology, 20; conjuring tricks, 25–31; devaluation of black male children, 155–165, 183–189; imagining and conceiving equal/ different treatment, 141–151; injustice, 19, 20; irreplaceability of life, 19, 85–90; logic of black guilt, 225–233; maintenance of control, 19, 33–38; message of wearing hoodies, 129–137; neoliberalism, 19; of not belonging, 21; predictability of black death, 19; racial bias, 59–66; racism of Stand Your Ground Laws, 117–126; sacrifice of grace, 237–249; scripts and paradox, 103–113; selfrespect, 41–55; social embodiment and racism, 173–180; statesponsored racism, 117–126;

Index suspicion and stereotypes, 59–66; transcendence, 73–82; white supremacy, 18–19, 25–31; white terror and black death, 41–55 Thomas, Laurence, 51 Thurmond, Strom, 98 Till, Emmett, 18, 22, 131, 186, 196, 212, 226, 252, 254 Tillotson, Michael, 87 transcendence: assumption of dualistic form, 75; double-edged sword of, 83n5; emanating from heteronomy of the Other, 81; inverse relationship with subjectivity, 81; justice and, 73–82; as locus of alterity, 19; need for respect for, 19; problem of knowledge and, 73–82; signified through words, 75; unethical, 75–79 Trayvon Martin shooting: assumption of enormous political importance as symbol of injustice, 207; difficulty in allowing whites’ empathic response to, 207–208, 209–210; emergent scripts in, 105; as example of racism, 41; facts according to Zimmerman, 2–5; facts provided by media, 14–17; hoodie blamed for, 129; imagine happening to white boys, 141–151; initially not deemed newsworthy, 156–158; maintenance of Whitopias and, 38; national media response to, 16, 156–158; 911 call, 2–5; as normal result of American society, 19; obscured from general public knowledge, 156; as political event, 209–210; as “post-mortem” event, 20, 91–100; public outcry over, 41; questions concerning facts of, 5–17, 176; report of telephone conversation with girlfriend, 7–14; rhetorical efforts to enable nonracial readings of, 105; rush to judgment about white supremacist nature of, 111; unavoidable confrontation and, 176; white terror and, 41–55 Trayvon Martin shooting, supremacist responses: “A black man in a hoodie might make a watchman nervous,”


111–112; “Something else must be going on,” 110–111; “Trayvon Martin wasn't so innocent,” 113; “We don’t know both sides yet,” 109–110; “Zimmerman is Latino and has Black friends,” 112–113 Trump, Donald, 31n4 truth: existence of, 79 Tubman, Harriet, 44 Tuch, Steven, 89 Underground Railroad, 44 value: of black lives, 20, 51, 52, 147–151, 155–165; empirical facts concerning, 147–151; of lives of white persons, 20 Vargas, João Costa 193–201 Vice, Samantha, 205–212 victim-blaming, 30, 111, 129, 162–163, 228, 231 vigilantism, 50, 66, 229 violence: black on black, 229; chronic, 92, 94; discursive, 246; enabling, 103–113; enslaving, 197; of epistemology in transcendental ego, 74; exceptionalism and, 106–107; as form of social control, 53; genocidal, 106; gun, 163; indiscriminate, 55; interpretive role of scripts in, 104; lethal, 196, 199; in maintenance of class and racial order, 50; of ontology, 74; perpetrators seen as righteous, 106; police, 49, 50, 103, 104, 114n1, 195; preemptive, 196; pre-existing scripts for, 103–113; racial, 43, 44, 49, 59–66, 103–113, 195, 226; random, 43, 195; regenerative, 196; responsibility for, 104; retaliatory, 53, 55; rhetoric used to excuse, 104; sanctioned use of, 43; state, 19, 43, 49, 53; state power in pursuit of, 45; supremacist, 19; systemic, 103; unprovoked by victim, 104; unpunished, 53, 54; vulnerability to, 200; white, 18, 27, 42, 44, 52; white supremacist endorsement as justifiable, 111; women and, 43



Wall, Jim, 49 Walsh, Adam, 164 Walsh, John, 164 Washington-Williams, Essie Mae, 98 We Charge Genocide petition, 48, 52 welfare: chiselers, 215; queens, 22, 162, 215 Wells, Ida B., 194 West, Cornel, 241, 256n5 whatness, 152n8; anti-black, pro-white components of, 146; articulation of, 144, 146; of race, 145 “White Meccas,” 33, 99 whiteness: codified as worthy of living and flourishing, 124; as form of capital, 242; normative, 97; panoptic, 97; suppression of association with crime and, 124 white(s): affluent, 34; attempts to respond to racial injustice, 205–212; conjuring tricks and, 25–31; denial of racism by, 26, 28, 239; distancing themselves from racist performances, 238; domination by, 31; do not necessarily feel privileged by their race, 148; economic dependence of women on men, 22; empathy toward blacks, 207; existential grounds for anger by, 149; feeling that segregation/ slavery is over, 26; as foundation, 30; in gangs, 27; “goodwill,” 207; implication in racial injustice, 207; impossibilities for, 143; incoherent racial positions taken by, 108; indiscriminate violence against, 55; infantilized in presence of blackness, requiring state protection, 196; intentions of individual, 143; interaction with non-whites, 34; need for African Americans in order to affirm own superiority, 31n4; offering ostensibly nonracial explanations for racial inequality by, 108; paid “family wage” while blacks paid “subsistence wage,” 161; patterns of treatment meted out to, 146; poor, 149, 150; as prized American title,

86; protection of women by men, 22; public outrage from as affront to victims, 21; racism and, 21, 42; sense of virtue in being, 109; silence of, 205–212; symbolic dependence on blacks, 203n25; tacit assumption of membership in police, 87; world perspective, 212n2 white supremacy, 25–31; based on degradation of black bodies for control purposes, 241; being black seen as criminal in, 30; blaming victim in, 30; characterization of relationships in, 31; elimination of compared to antiblack racism, 89; exceptionalism and, 106–107; exposure of falsehoods of, 107; focus on imagined motivations of black individuals and, 30; gaze of, 94, 97; genocidal attacks on blacks and, 48; impeding serious discussion of realities of Trayvon Martin shooting, 108–113; insidiousness of, 18; institutionalized, 104; maintenance of, 26; myth that there is no racism in, 31; normalization of, 26; as normal part of African American life, 18; opposing, 153n16; paradox and script in, 103–113; perceptual sedimentation of, 237–249; policing white spaces and, 21; predictable outcomes of, 109; racial disparities and, 93; reality of, 94; redressing wrongs and, 28; stabilization of, 32n7; as structural, systemic feature of U.S., 18; unwillingness to consider seriously, 105; white awareness of, 205 white women: belief that ideal position for was at home, 160; protected by romantic paternalism, 159–160, 170n52 “White Wonderlands,” 33, 99 Whitopia, 33–38, 99–100; black presence in as reasonable suspicion, 39n5; boundaries of, 34, 35, 37; dangers to non-whites in, 34; defense of, 34; defining, 33; desire

Index for simpler way of life and, 35; formed through community planning, 37; guarding against “gangs” and diversity, 35, 36; hostility to immigration in, 100; imagined along lines of nationhood, 37; protection and maintenance of, 38; qualities of inseparable from race and class in, 36; racial homogeneity of, 36, 99; racial motives for development of, 36; seeking to escape problems associated with blackness, 100; seeming race-neutral, 36; statesanctioned aggression in, 38; traced to visions of the Garden of Eden, 34–37 Wideman, John Edgar, 221, 253, 257n10 Wilderson, Frank, 194 Willett, Cynthia, 215–222 Willett, Julie, 215–222 Williams, Juan, 231 Williams, Patricia, 168n35, 169n47 Wills, Vanessa, 26, 145, 146, 153n15, 225–233 Wilson, David, 229 Winant, Howard, 114n5 Winnubst, Shannon, 218 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 31n2, 32n6, 32n9 Wolfinger, Norman, 16 Wormser, Richard, 45 Yancy, George, 1–23, 76, 153n21, 206, 237–249 Zaretsky, Natasha, 220 Zimmerman, George, 1; account of incident by, 2–5; actions based on unreasonable conception of reason,

285 88, 89; actions negating Martin’s value as a person, 52; aggression toward Martin, 246, 247; allowed to go free by law enforcement officials, 50, 103; asserts right of self-defense under Stand Your Ground Law, 15, 118, 156, 229, 235n11; attempts to appear non-racist by, 88, 89, 234n2; avoidance of legal responsibility for murder, 77; becomes the “law,” 247; charged with second-degree murder, 16, 200; community vision of, 38; contradiction of age estimate by, 6, 16, 235n8; creation of conditions for confrontation by, 248, 249; delayed arrest of, 77, 103, 107, 255; disappearance of accountability for acts, 30; drive to protect property over lives, 52; false interpretation of observations, 245, 246; hypotheses on motives of, 110–111; interpretations of instructions from dispatcher to, 5–7; “knowledge” that Martin is a “criminal,” 76, 77; not checked for drugs/alcohol, 15, 29, 179; perception of presence of Martin by, 176; pernicious conclusions about Martin drawn by, 74; protests over failure to arrest, 25; release from jail on bond, 16; reliance on bias by, 65; self-identification with law enforcement, 77; subjective opinions on appearance of Martin, 6–7; support for from white systemic culture, 77; suspicious behavior on part of, 88; told by dispatcher not to follow Martin, 5–6, 112, 118, 155, 165n2, 248; turns himself in, 16; victimization of perpetrator and, 30

About the Contributors

Jacqueline Anderson is an educator and, since February 1975, has been an assistant professor of humanities and philosophy at Olive-Harvey College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, where she has twice served as department chairperson. Through her publications, she has contributed to academic discussion about lesbianism and feminism, publishing in such journals as Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. She has jointly coordinated the Olive-Harvey College Women’s Center since 1990 and has been highly involved in the college’s Faculty Council. Maria del Guadalupe Davidson (PhD, Duquesne University) is assistant professor of African and African American studies, and adjunct assistant professor of women and gender studies at the University of Oklahoma. She is the author of The Rhetoric of Race: Toward a Revolutionary Construction of Black Identity (University of Valencia Press, 2006), coeditor (with George Yancy) of Critical Perspectives on bell hooks, and coeditor (with Katherine Gines and Donna-Dale Marcano) of Convergences: Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy (SUNY, 2010). Stephen C. Ferguson II is associate professor in liberal studies at North Carolina A&T State University. He holds a BA in history, philosophy, and a minor in black studies. He received an MA and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Kansas. His areas of expertise include Africana philosophy, Marxist philosophy, philosophy of sport, and social-political philosophy. He coedited the Oxford Handbook on World Philosophy (2011). He has published in a number of journals including Cultural Logic and Socialism and Democracy. He is coauthor with John H. McClendon III of Beyond the White Shadow: Philosophy, Sports and the African American Experience (Kendall-Hunt, 2012). Phillip Atiba Goff (BA, Harvard University; PhD, Stanford University) is assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Goff is a social psychologist whose work examines the apparent conundrum of declining racial prejudice in the face of persistent racial inequality. As the executive director of research for the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity, Dr. Goff’s work often seeks to translate this laboratory research into the field of criminal justice. Timothy Joseph Golden (JD, Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law; PhD, University of Memphis) is associate professor of philosophy at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. His areas of specialization are nineteenth- and twentieth-century continental phi287


About the Contributors

losophy, African American philosophy/critical race theory, and philosophy of religion/philosophical theology. His most recent essay, “Epistemic Addiction: Reading ‘Sonny’s Blues’ with Levinas, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. Golden also practices law as a member of the Criminal Justice Act Panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where he represents indigent criminal defendants who appeal their convictions and sentences. Lewis R. Gordon is the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy at Temple University, where he also directs the Institute for the Study of Race and Social Thought and the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies. His books include Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, Her Majesty's Other Children, which won the Gustavus Myer Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America, and, with Jane Anna Gordon, Of Divine Warning: Reading Disaster in the Modern Age. William David Hart (PhD, Princeton University, 1994) is professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and an affiliated professor of African American studies. As a critical theorist of religion, Hart explores basic questions such as “What is religion?” and “Why are people religious?” He is especially interested in the intersection of religion, ethics, and politics. His research interests include religious naturalism and humanism, African American religious thought, and religion and postcolonialism. Hart is the author of Edward Said and the Religious Effects of Culture (Cambridge, 2000), Black Religion: Malcolm X, Julius Lester, and Jan Willis (Palgrave, 2008), and Afro-Eccentricity: Beyond the Standard Narrative of Black Religion(2011). Jennifer Harvey is associate professor of religion at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. She received her PhD in Christian social ethics from Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York. She is the author of Whiteness and Morality: Pursuing Racial Justice through Reparations and Sovereignty (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and a coeditor of Disrupting White Supremacy: White People on What We Need to Do (Pilgrim Press, 2004). Her recent publications on reparations movements in Protestant traditions include, “The Absence and Presence of Whiteness in the Face of the Black Manifesto,” Journal of Religious Ethics (March 2011) and “Which Way to Justice: Reconciliation, Reparations and the Problem of Whiteness in US Protestantism,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics (Spring/Summer 2011). Jennifer also has a history of anti-police brutality activism in New York City and is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches (USA). Devonya N. Havis grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, earned a degree in religion from Williams College and a PhD, with distinction, in philosophy at Boston College. Her numerous jobs have included a stint as a press aide to a Boston City Councilor and service as a staff reporter for the Bay State Banner, a Boston-based black-owned news weekly. She has taught courses in ethics, contemporary continental philosophy, critical

About the Contributors


race theory, and black philosophy at Boston College, Harvard University, and Virginia Union University. Currently an assistant professor of philosophy at Canisius College, in Buffalo, New York, Havis teaches philosophy courses that range from introduction to traditional Western philosophical concepts to explorations of Hip-Hop theory and its political implications. Her writings include “Blackness Beyond Witness,” in Philosophy and Social Criticism, and “Moving in the Black Difference: Finding Location in Dislocation,” in On the Move: Mobility and Identity, edited by Kris Knauer. Carol E. Henderson is professor of English and chair of the Department of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware, Newark. Her recent publications include “The Bodies of Black Folk: The Flesh Manifested in Words, Pictures, and Sound,” “In the Currents of the Stream: Water Rituals, African American Culture, and the Women of Brewster,” as well as numerous essays in critical volumes and journals such as Modern Fiction Studies, The Journal of Popular Culture, Religion and Literature, Alizes, and Legacy. She is the editor of three books, Imagining the Black Female Body: Reconciling Image in Print and Visual Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), America and the Black Body: Identity Politics in Print and Visual Culture (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009), which includes two of her own essays, and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain: Historical and Critical Essays (Peter Lang, 2006). Henderson is also the editor of two special issues from MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States and MAWA Review, and has a published monograph by the University of Missouri Press titled Scarring the Black Body: Race and Representation in African American Literature (2002). She is currently at work on another monograph titled Resurrecting the Hottentot Venus: Visions, Revisions, and Literary Responses. In her spare time, she gives back to her community by working with Beautiful Gate Outreach Center, a faith based organization that assists individuals affected and infected with HIV/ AIDS. Sarah Lucia Hoagland is a Bernard Brommel Distinguished Research Professor and professor emerita of philosophy, women’s studies, and Latino/Latin American studies, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago. She is author of Lesbian Ethics: Toward New Value and coeditor of two anthologies constructed to disrupt dismissals and encourage the discussion to continue: For Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology with Julia Penelope, and Re-Reading the Canon: Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly with Marilyn Frye. Her more recent work in epistemology explores the coloniality of knowledge, arguing that discursive colonization proceeds in practices where the only agents are advocate researchers and the only discourse for articulating subjects’ lives is an Anglo-Eurocentered one. Joy A. James is Presidential Professor of the Humanities and professor in political science at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and visiting professor in African and African Diaspora studies and re-


About the Contributors

search fellow in the Institute in Urban Policy and Research Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin. James is the author of numerous articles on cultural studies and incarceration. She is editor of The New Abolitionists; The Angela Y. Davis Reader; States of Confinement; and Warfare in the American Homeland. Her books include Resisting State Violence; Transcending the Talented Tenth; Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics; and Seeking the “Beloved Community” (forthcoming SUNY Press). Chike Jeffers is assistant professor of philosophy at Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia). He specializes in Africana philosophy and philosophy of race with general interests in social and political philosophy and ethics. He is the editor of Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy (SUNY Press, forthcoming) and the author of “Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism” (forthcoming in The Southern Journal of Philosophy) and “Do We Need African Canadian Philosophy?” (forthcoming in Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review/Revue canadienne de philosophie). Janine Jones is associate professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is interested in philosophical topics and problems where race and gender, philosophy of mind, language, epistemology, and metaphysics intersect. She is the author of “Illusory Possibilities and Imagining Counterparts” (Acta Analytica, 2004), “The Impairment of Empathy in Goodwill Whites” in What White Looks Like, edited by George Yancy (Routledge, 2004), and Racialized Embodiment in Racialized Realms (Forthcoming SUNY). Bill E. Lawson, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Memphis, received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has taught at Spelman College, Montclair State College, West Virginia University, the University of Delaware, and Michigan State University. He teaches courses in the areas of African American philosophy and social and political philosophy. He has testified before a congressional subcommittee on the issue of welfare reform. He was a 2011–2012 University of Liverpool—Fulbright Fellow at the University of Liverpool, Liverpool UK. Lawson has published numerous articles, edited several books, and co-authored a book with Howard McGary. Anne Leighton, uncredentialed. Tracey McCants Lewis is assistant clinical professor of law and acting director of the Duquesne University Law Clinic. She teaches in the Bill of Rights clinic and supervises students’ work on discrimination cases in matters of employment, housing, public accommodation, and education. John H. McClendon III is professor in the Department of Philosophy and the former director of African American and African studies at Michigan State University. McClendon’s areas of expertise include African philosophy, philosophy of African American studies, Marxist philosophy, and the history of African American philosophers. He is the author of C. L. R. James’s Notes on Dialectics: Left Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism

About the Contributors


(Lexington Books, 2005) and several monographs, reports, booklets, and articles in noted anthologies. He has published widely in a number of journals including Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, Cultural Logic, Journal of African Philosophy, Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Socialism and Democracy, The AME Church Review, Explorations in Ethnic Studies, Sage Race Relations Abstracts, Freedomways, American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, and Ethnic Studies Review among others. He is currently the coeditor of the American Philosophical Association Newsletter Philosophy and the Black Experience and serves on the editorial advisory board of the journals Cultural Logic and Journal of African Philosophy along with membership on the advisory board of Blackpast.org. He is coauthor with Stephen C. Ferguson II of Beyond the White Shadow: Philosophy, Sports and the African American Experience (Kendall-Hunt, 2012). David Polizzi is associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Indiana State University. He received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Duquesne University and an MA in humanistic psychology from West Georgia College. He is editor of The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology. L. Song Richardson (BA, Harvard University; JD, Yale Law School) is professor of law at the University of Iowa College of Law. Professor Richardson received her BA from Harvard College where she majored in psychology and graduated with honors. Professor Richardson is an expert on criminal law and procedure. Her current research utilizes the science of implicit social cognition to study criminal procedure and policing. Currently, she is working on a book that examines the legal and moral implications of mind sciences research on policing and criminal procedure. She is also coediting a book titled The Future of Criminal Justice in America that will be published by Cambridge University Press. Professor Richardson’s scholarship has been published by law journals at Cornell University, the University of California, Duke Law School, Northwestern University, the University of Minnesota, and Indiana (Bloomington). E. Renée Sanders-Lawson is assistant professor in the leadership department at the University of Memphis. She received her PhD in educational administration from Michigan State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and Masters of Science degree in rehabilitation counseling from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include school leadership, diversity in the administration of K-12 schools, first year principals, women of color in higher education administration, and black women superintendents in K-12 urban school settings. João Costa Vargas teaches black studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


About the Contributors

Samantha Vice is senior lecturer at Rhodes University in South Africa, and is coeditor of the journal Philosophical Papers. She has coedited two collections: Ethics at the Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2011), with Ward E. Jones, and The Moral Life: Essays in Honour of John Cottingham (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), with Nafsika Athanassoulis. A special issue of Philosophical Papers, on aging and ethics, coedited with Tom Martin, is forthcoming. She has published articles on a variety of areas in moral philosophy and has recently turned her attention to issues in social philosophy. Cynthia Willett teaches philosophy at Emory University. She has published three authored books, Irony in the Age of Empire: Comic Perspectives on Irony and Freedom (Indiana University Press, 2008); The Soul of Justice: Social Bonds and Racial Hubris (Cornell University Press, 2001); and Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities (Routledge, 1995). She has coedited Theorizing Multiculturalism (Blackwell, 1998), and she is also one of the coeditors of the e-journal Symposia on Race, Gender, and Philosophy (MIT). She teaches courses in ethics, philosophy and literature, moral psychology, and social theory. Julie Willett is associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. Her book, Permanent Waves: The Making of American Beauty Shop (New York University Press, 2000), explores the ways in which race and gender shape the work culture and history of hairdressing throughout the twentieth century. Vanessa Wills is assistant professor of philosophy at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She specializes in moral, social, and political philosophy, and nineteenth-century philosophy (with a focus on the work of Karl Marx). She is particularly interested in the question of how different economic and social arrangements inhibit or promote the realization of values such as equality, freedom, and human development. Her current projects include a manuscript about Marx’s moral thought, as well as essays on topics such as human rights, the relationship between freedom and determinism, and democratic leadership in Black politics. Dr. Wills earned her PhD in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh in 2011. George Yancy is associate professor of philosophy at Duquesne University and coordinator of the Critical Race Theory Speaker Series. He is the author of Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), which received an honorable mention from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. He is also the author of Look, a White!: Philosophical Essays on Whiteness (Temple University Press, 2012). He has authored numerous articles in scholarly journals and has edited twelve influential books, three of which have received Choice Awards. He was nominated in 2011 for the Duquesne University Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarship.