Old Things Still Relevant

The news about the Michael Brown grand jury and the Eric Garner grand jury and every other instance of unchecked police brutality and racist violence we’re hearing about has left me too shocked and numb and sad and angry and exasperated and bewildered and tired and energized to think any useful thoughts right now. So instead, I’ve been thinking about all of the radical and powerful things other people are saying, and about how we’ve been thinking and talking about these problems for a very long time. And while I hesitate to foreground white scholars in the midst of all this, something Judith Butler wrote in 1993, in the wake of the Rodney King trial, is worth returning to:

The video shows a man being brutally beaten, repeatedly, and without visible resistance; and so the question is, How could this video be used as evidence that the body being beaten was itself the source of danger, the threat of violence, and, further, that the beaten body of Rodney King bore an intention to injure, and to injure precisely those police who either wielded the baton against him or stood encircling him? […]

To the extent that there is a racist organization and disposition of the visible, it will work to circumscribe what qualifies as visual evidence, such that it is in some cases impossible to establish the ‘truth’ of racist brutality through recourse to visual evidence. For when the visual is fully schematized by racism, the ‘visual evidence’ to which one refers will always and only refute the conclusions based upon it; for it is possible within this racist episteme that no black person can seek recourse to the visible as the sure ground of evidence. Consider that it was possible to draw a line of inference from the black male body motionless and beaten in the street to the conclusion that this very body was in ‘total control,’ rife with ‘dangerous intention.’ The visual field is not neutral to the question of race; it is itself a racial formation, an episteme, hegemonic and forceful.

— “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” from the collection Reading Rodney King Reading Urban Uprising

This is what we’re dealing with, what we’ve been dealing with for ages. See you on the streets.

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