Between Acts: The Interlude

25 Nov

The denial of history to African peoples took time-several hundreds of years beginning with the emergence of Western Europeans from the shadow of Muslim domination and paternalism. It was also a process that was to transport the image of Africa across separate planes of dehumanization latticed by the emerging modalities of Western culture. In England, at first gripped by a combative and often hysterical Christianity-complements of the crusades, the “reconquests,” and the rise of  Italian capitalism-medieval English devouts recorded dreams in which the devil appeared as “a  blacke moore,” “an Ethiope.” This was part of the grammar of the church, the almost singular  repository of knowledge in Europe. Centuries later the Satanic gave way to the representation of Africans as a different sort of beast: dumb, animal labor, the benighted recipient of the benefits of slavery. Thus the “Negro” was conceived.

– Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism

The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.

– Darren Wilson, child killing agent of the state

That black lives matter we have to insist, even though it should go without saying. But we know that “matter” cuts at least two ways, that black lives have consequence and that they provide the substance of the fears the drive the mechanisms of the state that position black lives proximate to death. Robin D. G. Kelley has a piece today that puts Mike Brown’s death, and his killer escaping trial, into a larger context of state violence. He names some of those who in the past 100+ days have been victims of state violence, and highlights ongoing activism in the face of what for practically speaking is a war against mostly working class black and brown folk. It’s an important piece and highlights something important: state violence is different against other forms of violence. Robert McCullouch, St. Louis prosecutor, bristled at the idea that the police kill with impunity. Going without punishment, because people like McCulloch substantially determine whether a crime has been committed meets the very definition of impunity, in this case the state’s refusal to punish its agents. This paragraph seems especially salient:

Whether we call it a war on drugs, or “Operation Ghetto Storm” as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement dubs it, what we are dealing with is nothing less than permanent war waged by the state and its privatized allies on a mostly poor and marginalized Black and Brown working-class. Five centuries in the making, it stretches from slavery and imperialism to massive systematic criminalization. We see the effects on our children, in the laws that make it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults; in the deluge of zero tolerance policies (again a by-product of the war on drugs); in the startling fact that expulsions and suspensions have risen exponentially despite a significant decline in violent crime. Crisis, moral panics, neoliberal policies, racism fuel an expansive system of human management based on incarceration, surveillance, containment, pacification, lethal occupation, and gross misrepresentation.

I keep coming back to that sense of waiting, that sense of being in the interlude, in that no-time between acts, in this case, between acts of state violence. Not quite in anticipation or dread, but in that way that makes the modality of life itself one of waiting: for a life to begin, for a life to be taken, for a life to appear, for the loved one to get home safe, or not.

In the coming weeks, no doubt there will be interviews with child killing police officers including Michael Brown’s killer. I think there already was one. Watching the live press conference, it was terrifying to see the degree to which the news has become an advertisement for the police. We’re constantly asked to think not from the perspective of the dead child or of the loved ones he or she has left behind, but from the point of view of the shooter, to stop just short of thinking from the perspective of the state. Staying with the shooter, of course, we miss the state, for which these spectacles of violence simply reinforce who is and is not the people, with the police drawn from the underclasses they then terrify, yes, with impunity.These are features, not glitches. We miss the ways poverty has persisted as a racial category, and the ways carrying out the will of the state is a way of trying to keep the state from remembering it’s supposed to be targeting you.

But it misses that thing, that no-time of living for those constructed as threat to be contained, as demon, as soul to be saved, as body over which redemption can be won. It misses the regularity with which we’re reminded of this recursive time that, I think, is not quite tragic but stalled. The interlude.

To imagine his perspective, the shooter’s, is to imagine the world from a place where we didn’t exist, so our stubborn remainder caused fear, panic, rage. He was unspeakably ordinary, confident in his prejudices and perspectives, not banal, not surprising but outrageous.

To imagine his perspective, the shooter’s, is to know that this was happening every day, was everyday, was imminent, possible, thinkable, and that no matter how high we stacked our grief it would never rise above the height of our dead.

It is to imagine ourselves from that place where we are not object but pure imminence, a threat with neither bottom nor top, a coming thing, creeping, waiting to emerge and drag everything down into pools and pools of black.

It is to delight in the image of our own broken bodies, to weight the psychic weight we carry. To see even in our grieving the threat you imagine us to be.

Maybe it is just that we have survived despite the continuing efforts to kill us, we’ve thrived in this interlude neither outside nor belonging to time, and people would feel stupid if after all that killing, all the bones of our ancestors lining the floor of the Atlantic and bleaching still in the swamps, if they didn’t keep hating us the more we failed to be their perfect demon. Maybe they fear we are better, that we’re “on the side of justice, objectively.”

To imagine his perspective, the one marked for death since birth,  is to imagine yourself from the perspective of the nothing, the void, the zero, the non-entity without which it was difficult to calculate what matters and matter itself. To see yourself as incipient erasure.  A zero is not nothing. From the inside, in that interlude, it marks every joy, smile, joke, laugh, pleasure, hurt, and indifferent nothing with the death we had been escaping since the slave ships. To imagine from his perspective might be to begin to imagine other forms of living, the beginning of the next act in which you could live and be free.

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