In the context of recent killings of unarmed black people by white people, several commenters have invoked the phrase “[Fill in the blank]-ing while black.” We know about the apparent dangers of selling cigarettes while black, of surrendering while black, of holding a package of skittles while black, of asking for help while black, of being hurt while black, of holding a toy while black. This chorus of warnings calls attention to what many of us already know: the attachment of seemingly any verb to blackness can provoke state-sanctioned violence.
Angela Davis recently explained that this problem—the problem of state-sanctioned, legally excused violence against black bodies—indexes “an unbroken line” from slavery to the present. The story of continuity is cross-cut with the specificity of this historical moment, but the point is nonetheless searing in its accuracy. The resonances of a legal past of excusing, justifying, even commending the destruction of black people shapes this moment.[Continue Reading…]