Anti-Black Violence, Police Brutality,
We collectively represent the oldest journal of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship in the United States.
We write this statement in the midst of events that magnify a long history of unceasing anti-Black violence in the United States, and we do so to express our pain, rage, and vigilance. Along with this statement, we make available for open access our most recent articles about Black protest.
The mass protests in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade, among many, many, other African Americans, remind us of the words of Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks: revolt occurred “because it became impossible for them to breathe.” The current uprisings are part of a long history of Black resistance and liberation movements—the Haitian revolution, Black Power and the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Apartheid movement—that have inspired other freedom movements around the world. But they are also distinct in their roots in the Movement for Black Lives, which was founded and organized by queer Black women, to create a world that values Black life and centers Black joy. This movement affirms the work and intellectual labor of Black women and queer, trans, and disabled people who use feminist and queer pedagogies to critique hierarchical organizations and charismatic leaders.
The uprisings take place in the third month of a COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated Black lives. The healthcare system has long failed Black people, but especially so under an administration determined to gut the Affordable Care Act. Low-paid healthcare workers, janitors, domestic workers, transportation workers, and those working in the gig economy have been forced to work without proper personal protective equipment, belying the notion that they are “essential” workers. Racial capitalism has rendered vast numbers of people disposable through staggering layoffs. The US state’s failure in the domains of health and economic protection stands in especially stark contrast to its spectacularly militarist crackdowns on protesters using tear gas, rubber bullets, and low-flying army helicopters. The Trump administration’s necropolitics are on full display: it has determined who will live and who will die by enacting violence in the name of preserving law and order and by pursuing neglect and austerity measures that have so far contributed to the deaths of over 105,000 people and a deadly economic collapse.
As uprisings continue and cities burn across the country, and popular media and conservative portrayals decry violence toward property, we reiterate our commitment to challenge violence against people—structural and physical—and the environments they inhabit. We recognize that racialized narratives shape the violence and note how, when white bodies instigate violence, it is often overlooked. We acknowledge and condemn the hardships that property damage causes to those who are economically struggling. But we refuse to be distracted from the key principle: the non-negotiable value of Black lives, minds, and bodies.
As we collectively grieve specific lives lost, we also know there are countless others whose names we will never hear. The unrest we see is the culmination of years of terror visited upon Black people of all kinds. The death of Black men at the hands of the police has now provoked a series of protests, but until the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, we had never seen such large-scale protests over the death of a Black woman. And we see over and over again that queer and trans people such as Tony McDade who die at the hands of the police are not grieved publicly, their humanity not seen. We salute projects such as #SayHerName and #BlackTransLivesMatter that have raised awareness of the depth of state violence against all Black people.
We recognize the bravery of those who protest white supremacy and stand in solidarity with them: amid a deadly pandemic, people are putting their lives at risk for this principle. Their demands for change have not gone unnoticed in other parts of the world. Thousands have protested in New Zealand, showing support for Black people in the United States and calling attention to the continued oppression of Mãori and Pasifika people. Similar protests have taken place in Jerusalem, drawing connections to the plight of Palestinians under Israeli rule. Feminists in India have declared solidarity in the name of those marginalized by the caste system and religious majoritarianism. In London, thousands chant, “I can’t breathe,” and “Black Lives Matter!” as they hold their own government accountable for its racism.
America is burning. We hope it will provoke a burning urgency to achieve justice for Black people and dismantle white supremacy.
Open access to our recent articles on Black protest can be found at http://www.feministstudies.org/home.html.
Acknowledgments: We are grateful to Sheila Smith McKoy, Barbara Ransby, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Achille Mbembe, among other scholars, for insights that influence this statement.