When the George Zimmerman verdict was announced in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder, I read the blogs and comments of numerous writers and scholars around the country, and listened to the pundits weighing in about it. Most pressing was the feeling of horrifying familiarity – like a refrain one recognizes and does not want to hear yet again, but which nonetheless repeats … and repeats … and …
I finally wrote something on my Facebook page. A friend and colleague declared, “You should publish that, Jaye!” And so, I have decided to inaugurate my blog with a reprint of what I wrote in response to the Zimmerman verdict. First, however, let me say that my intent for this blog is that it engage thoughtful, comprehensive and scholarly thought around issues of race and how it intersects with the performing arts. In particular, I am concerned with the phenomenon of antiblack racism and how it animates the world. In contemplating this, I will invite writers and scholars to contribute to the Featured Authors Forum on this blog so that my readers can also engage with the minds with whom I am most actively engaged.
And so, without further ado, here is a reprint of my Facebook entry from summer 2013, on the Zimmerman verdict:
I replied to a very perceptive comment by one of my dear friends on the news feed (and there has been a good deal of thoughtful engagement since the Zimmerman verdict). I am moved to paraphrase here what I wrote there, and to elaborate it a bit further:
The conversation about and direct confrontation of antiblack hatred – in particular – is the most crucial, feared and resisted conversation pending. It is even crowded out by some of the most progressive-leaning tracts, because they are often so invested in, among others, the notion that social change, rather than rigorous and continual diagnosis, is the magic ‘bullet’ (irony intended) for the eradication of social injustice. Underlying this is the notion that “social injustice” is an umbrella term encompassing a universal array of societal ills. So, for example, two-fold: racism becomes generalized, and then blurred with gender inequity in ways that camouflage both the particularity of antiblack racism and civility’s perpetuation of it by way of – and often, most especially – law and jurisprudence.
This most recent gesture within the theatre of law and its enforcement is a repetition along a continuum of antiblack hatred — which, bear in mind, only ever reveals itself openly these days in breathtaking (though to most black people, unsurprising) moments such as this latest acquittal, in a string of acquittals of those who beat and/or kill black people – regardless of whether covertly or in full and repeated public view. When placed in relief against the disproportionate and growing number of blacks incarcerated for a far greater number of misdemeanor and petty convictions than for capital ones – this exacting of “justice” constitutes what would be universally regarded as scandalous if the ethical adjudication of violence against black people were as inherent to law and jurisprudence as is the hatred of them in the law’s machinations.
To be sure, there is all manner of discrimination and injustice that runs rampant in the world. But while these injustices are regarded as anathema to the moral and just treatment of human beings, antiblack racism, by contrast, requires a far keener set of diagnostics. This is because antiblack racism is a hatred that functions – sustainably – as the brick and mortar of “civility”, such that many of its most flagrant perpetrators believe themselves – and vehemently so – to be otherwise.
Until so-called “civil” society, and its progressive interlocutors are willing to lean in, en masse, and reckon with this grim diagnosis – and in so doing, learn the importance of distinguishing it from those of other societal ills – the conversation that exposes its ubiquity can hardly begin.