Social death [from Wikipedia] is the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society. Used by sociologists like Zygmunt Bauman and historians of slavery and the holocaust to describe the part played by governmental and social segregation in that process. Examples of social death are:
“If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that the “Negro” has been inviting whites, as well as civil society’s junior partners, to the dance of social death for hundreds of years, but few have wanted to learn the steps. They have been, and remain today – even in the most anti-racist movements, like the prison abolition movement – invested elsewhere. This is not to say that all oppositional political desire today is pro-white, but it is usually anti-Black, meaning it will not dance with death.”
― Frank B. Wilderson III
In class Monday, I shared that these deaths at the hands of the police are numbing my ability to cry it’s happened so much throughout my life since childhood. A naive Puerto Rican/ Dominican male whose been pretending he can get by in the class was gleeful and said “awesome!” after I shared that yet another man was shot dead by the cops on video. Stunned, I asked what was so awesome about it. He naively shared, as Darnell L. Moore, points out in the repost below, that this time would actually prove something. His naive public declaration does more harm to others and himself than he knows. It speaks to a problem I face in higher ed among students and faculty who resist that race/racism intersectionally affects them. This young man said in class weeks back that he doesn’t identify with race or ethnicity ; he doesn’t identify as Dominican or Puerto Rican. He’s American. More power to his right to self identify but his reaction was utterly clueless about not only the history of capturing such abuse on video and the lack of effect it has on structural/state violence but also the very thing I talked about in my TEDx talk on self worth being directly shaped by how others view us as racialized and gendered subjects, as organisms living in an environment.
This numbness in the moment it’s happening leaves me reducing individual lives lost to a nameless black man. I never shared his name Eric Harris was somebody’s son, somebody’s love of their life, somebody’s guardian as well as all his not so favorable acts and connections. It’s why we stand indivisible behind #blacklivesmatter with all who join us.
Tulsa Sheriff’s Office Robert Bates, 73, shot to death suspect Eric Harris in Oklahoma after pulling out his gun instead of his taser, all captured on cop cam. An arresting officer whose knee pinned the head of the violently assaulted man to the concrete said point blank “F*ck your breath!” as the wounded man gasped in shock at being shot and gasping for his last breaths of his life.
#ericharris #trayvonmartin #renishamcbride #rekiaboyd #michaelbrown #walterscott
Who sat in awe for the last breaths of these human being? Who helped them as they lay suffering without compassion? We die black and not human is on all our screens lately. The fourth screen handheld and mobile and the big screen that bears Oscar’s dead body but not Oscars. #oscargrant #12yearsaslave #passingstrange
It’s only at films mediated by a screen that individuals who are marked as oppressed groups of color are allowed to see ourselves as human in public. At least that’s how it feels.
For me as a child 40 years ago, this began first at home, watching television. First, it was the film “Cornbread, Earl and Me” (1975) with young actor Larry Fishburne when I was in junior high. I remember only the dead son not the surviving mother. Or “Cooley High” (1975). “Boyz in the Hood” when I was pursuing my doctorate.
This is patriarchal hegemony at work. It shapes the algorithms of my memory. Even as a woman I remember all these scenes about the boys and men before I think of the character of Celie in Alice Walker story shot for the big screen by Spielberg — The Color Purple (1985) — which broke my heart when I first saw it on TV while pursuing my master’s degree. Or even Tyler Perry’s 2010 version of For Colored Girls which brought on sobbing tears but left out the realities that matter for black and brown women that were so eloquently represented on stage in Ntozake Shange’s original choreo-poem which I saw when I was in junior high. I don’t remember feeling any way about it then but the I later bought book in grad school? Genius!
Only in the dark, narrowly focused attention of screens mediated by actors distancing the reality from its lived moments did it seem that I/we were allowed the permission or the freedom to mourn publicly and to resist before social death. It was only in the personal space of a private or somewhat segregated theater that I could grieve quietly and publicly mourn and even laugh to resist the hegemony of what has come to always seems like a destiny for us black and brown folk–man, woman, and child. And then there’s us women who are black and brown and the girls.
The more hidden deaths not immortalized often screen–the cis and transgender females and little black girls like Aiyana Stanley-Jones–seem to always matter less to everyone but us black women and our allies. Even black female “actors” on TV, film and the news matter less; little black girls like Quevenzhané Wallis or the president’s daughters Sasha and Malia at Thanksgiving or Racheal Jeantel in court not yet 18 are denied humanity online and in public. #blackgirlsmatter
Really makes me wanna holler, they way they do our lives, to paraphrase Marvin Gaye. A better quote from Zora Neale Hurtston hits the mark.
I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me.
My presence in the classroom matters but I wish I was teaching more black students at CUNY how to be engaged and to ethnographically study this networked public crisis. #admissionsmatter #CUNY