Hypervisible Invisibility and Race


Post by Olivia Cole at HuffPo.

“Khadijah Costley White shared stories from her childhood in a piece for the Washington Post, in which she described the distress and pain of growing up black and female in school. She describes the punishment she received for her frustration, and it mirrors what I witnessed in my own schooling: black girls facing bias and neglect, who are then punished for their human response. What was interpreted as a cry for help from me was interpreted as “bad black girls” from my peers. It is in this way that black children are both hypervisible and invisible: in one way, the black girls at my school’s behavior was hypervisible; subject to heavy policing and punishment, gossiped about by the faculty. But in another way, these girls were entirely invisible: the causes for their behavior going unexplored and unconsidered, their cries for help unheard.”

“A white kid at the pool party — the one who recorded the incident in McKinney, in fact — said the following: “Everyone who was getting put on the ground was black, Mexican, Arabic. [The cop] didn’t even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible.”

“This is what it means to be white in America. To be visible for the good and invisible for the bad. We are on every TV screen, every magazine cover for our achievements, but when we riot after a basketball game or a Pumpkin Festival, we’re slid quietly to the bottom of the deck, or gently sat by the side of the road and without cuffs after engaging in a shootout with police.”

There is a poem by Ai that I quote often, in which she writes:

“what can I say, except I’ve heard

the poor have no children, just small people.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Riots in Baltimore

In the Atlantic:

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead? . . . When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.

And in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,

America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

What, to the Black American, is Martin Luther King Day?

Philosopher Chris Lebron in the NYT.

During the days of slavery one could identify a person analogous to the swine-drover in the meat market. This person — we might call him a man-drover — rather than ushering pigs to market to be sold as a transferable commodity, did so with blacks. It goes without question that this treatment was inhumane. It made blacks into something less than human, things to be traded as objects to fuel economic necessity.

You may think that these days are long past but consider the case of Ferguson, Mo., — a city of 21,135 people, predominantly black, that served 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses in 2013. This remarkable level of surveillance and interdiction incidentally generated for Ferguson more than $2.5 million in revenue from fines and court fees — the city’s second largest source of revenue. I ask you, what is this except the return of the drover in the mask of state legitimacy? In a nation where blacks possess only on average a dime of wealth for every dollar of white wealth, how is this reclamation of scarce resources anything but the continuation of oppression by other means, the reduction of blacks to instruments of economic necessity and exploitation?

If this does not convince you, listen to the audio track of Eric Garner’s last words. In a tragic sense, his plea — “I can’t breathe” — is the soundtrack of black life under conditions of deep unfairness and disregard: When we use the breath we have to ask for the rights and respect that ought to be ours, we have little breath to accomplish much else. Everyday life becomes the double struggle of working not only for what we need but also for securing that to which we are entitled in any case. Dr. King may have seen the promised land, but we appear to be anchored off its coast.

Baltimore Juries and Epistemology

David Simon (of “Homicide” and “The Wire” fame) has an excellent article which begins with a puzzling statistical observation.

It’s a curious item – a draft report by a local non-profit foundation, a simple statistical study of the difference between Baltimore criminal juries and those of the surrounding, suburban counties.

It seems that in Baltimore, one of the most violent cities in America, jurors are far more reluctant to convict criminal defendants than in the suburban enclaves that ring the city.

He goes on to explain this statistic in a simple, devastating, and deeply depressing manner– the explanation is absolutely obvious for anyone who knows key facts about Baltimore, but nobody discussing the statistic bothered to learn these facts. (And although it may be along the lines that you’re expecting, the specifics are shocking.) Along the way, he reflects on economic and racial divides in America, and the way that they impact on our knowledge, on what questions we ask, and on what we pay attention to. He also discusses differing reactions to The Wire in Europe and the US, arguing that both get something deeply wrong, and analysing why and how they go wrong. (And yes, it is relevant.) Basically, example after example of importance for anyone interested in the intersections of epistemology and politics.

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)