Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Trauma of this Election

My FB posts last night were mainly rants – so let me try to put a few more coherent sentences together.

I’m sitting at the airport right now Philly-bound for NCA; honestly, I’d much rather be NWSA bound because I know that in Montreal I would be surrounded by a supportive community of folks who get that now more than ever we need intersectional feminist and critical race approaches to this right-wing resurgence. Despite COMM’s persistent conservatism in many areas, I look forward to drink, mourn, process, and strategize with those precious ones who share my sentiments at NCA. After all, what we have witnessed in this election is an anti-intellectualism on an unprecedented level.

The spiral of silence (to quote a famous COMM theory) proved deadly last night and had all the pollsters wrong. Who showed-up last night? The silent racism, white supremacy, misogyny, white anger, homo- and transphobia viciously reclaimed their voice to power. A backlash none of us could really imagine – backlash to eight years of Obama, to socio-cultural shifts that clearly made a lot of folks angry and unable to grasp, to the government “dictating your health care” and “taking your guns away” among so many other things.

Yes, Clinton was far from perfect, represents the status-quo and should have never been nominated by forward-thinking Dems in the first place. We all knew we were going to be fucked, yet a Trump election just didn’t seem fathomable, and now on November 9 it is reality.

You can blame the third party voters, write-ins, and POC folks allegedly not showing up and/or voting for who they were supposed to all you want – but what we really need to acknowledge is the fear Trump successfully incited in so many white middle-class communities, especially across the MidWest.

I get it. Some of my rural Minnesota folks are hurting: the manual labor jobs barely pay enough to make a living, “the Mexicans” are causing “trouble” in your small towns, “things aren’t the way they used to be,” “Somalis are rude, greedy, and terrorists,” “Obama has brought sin upon this country by giving the gays all the rights,” … and the list continues.

We need to get out of our “liberal newsfeed bubbles” and start talking to each other. Explain to those who consistently vote against their own interests why Trump will not be the messianic outsider who will fix all that’s broken.

Trump is not the exception – we are seeing a widespread resurgence of right-wing nationalism in all of Europe as well, responses to austerity politics and refugee crises. These are fragile times. While I believe in the strength of our democratic institutions we need to acknowledge that all the checks and balances are basically controlled by Republicans (which is different from when G.W. was elected in 2000 under equally divisive circumstances). I said it last night without trying to be polemic, but please remember that Hitler was also elected democratically into office.

Finally, on a personal note: I’ve never felt scared by election results until last night. Shit all of a sudden got very real. My legal status as a non-US citizen all of a sudden seems to pose a real precarity. And let me be very clear – I fully acknowledge my white German academic cis-privilege that will in all likelihood not make me the target of Trumpian vitriol, nonetheless I feel vulnerable. And I feel really scared for all the dark and brown lives that are not protected by white privilege, but have worked their asses off to realize their personal dreams and better their lives here in the U.S.

To all my queer, POC, immigrant, undocu and feminist warrior students (and they comprise the majority of my classroom at CU Denver) – please know that you are not alone.  We will continue the difficult conversations that we were already having in our classroom, we will process together and share our perspective, we will learn from one another, we will strategize and we will organize.

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Black Deaths Matter? Sousveillance and the Invisibility of Black Life

In this recent article for Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media & Technology my co-author K. Mohrman and I are examining the shooting of Philando Castile, and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds’, decision to film his death at the hands of the police, in order to explore the potential of live-streaming applications as a form of “sousveillance” that can expose white supremacy from below. In highlighting the political economy constraints that limit the dissemination of such images, we argue that the geographic and historical context of these videos as well as their integration into social justice movements, are critical for deploying them as effective tools that challenge racial inequality and make black life matter, not just black death.

Below is an excerpt, you can access the full article directly on Ada’s website.

Introduction

On July 6, 2016 Philando Castile, a 32-year-old lunch supervisor at a St. Paul Montessori school, was pulled over by police in Falcon Heights, a suburb in Minnesota. During this traffic stop he was fatally shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Immediately after the officer opened fire, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, began live-streaming the event through Facebook’s Live application.[1] The video opens with Castile slouched back, his chest covered in blood staining his white t-shirt. Initially, Castile is still partially conscious and is audibly groaning as the viewer witnesses him slowly bleeding to death. Eerily calm, Reynolds directly addresses the camera as the officer continues to point his gun at Castile:

Reynolds: “Stay with me … We got pulled over for a busted tail-light in the back … and the police just… he, he’s covered – they killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed, he’s licensed to carry. … He was trying to get out his ID in his wallet out of his pocket, and he let the officer know that he was… that he had a firearm and that he was reaching for his wallet. And the officer just shot him in his arm.”

Yanez [shouting]: “Fuck … I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his head up.”

Reynolds: “He had…you told him to get his ID, sir. His driver’s license. Oh my God, please don’t tell me he’s dead…” [camera pans to show Castile not moving] (StarkS 2016).

As Yanez yells at her to keep her hands where they are she responds in an obedient, yet firm voice: “I will, sir, no worries, I will.” What viewers witness is Reynolds rehearsing a centuries-old script in which slaves were required to properly address and obey their masters. Reynolds understood that this traffic stop had turned into a matter of life and death: her own survival depended upon complete compliance and obedience to authority, evident in her recurring affirmations of “yes sir.” When Reynolds does start crying in anguish towards the end of the nine-minute video, after she has been put in the back of a police car, her four-year-old daughter can be heard comforting her: “It’s OK, Mommy. It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”

Even as Reynolds is forced to watch the killing of her boyfriend, she understands that the only way to assert that Castile is human whose black life did, indeed, matter is to document and film his death. Reynolds later told reporters that she recorded the video “so that the world knows that these police are not here to protect and serve us. They are here to assassinate us. They are here to kill us because we are black” (Domonoske 2016).

Images of Death

Visual depictions of black death have long circulated in U.S. society both as a reinforcement and challenge to white supremacy. For example, between the 1890s and the 1940s spectator lynching became a form of entertainment for white Southerners. “Attended by thousands, captured in papers by reporters who witnessed the tortures, and photographed for those spectators who wanted a souvenir and yet failed to get a coveted finger, toe, or fragment of bone” (Hale 1998: 202) lynchings propelled images of black death into mainstream U.S. culture as a form of easily consumable amusement. On the other hand, in 1955 Jet Magazine published images of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till’s severely mutilated corpse, which caused a nationwide outcry and helped to fuel the Civil Rights Movement. Thrust into the role of activist by her son’s brutal lynching, Mamie Till’s insistence that her son’s body be brought back to Chicago for an open casket service ensured that 50,000 mourners witnessed how he had “been crucified on the cross of racial justice” (Bunch cited in Nodjimbadem 2015). In 1992, the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers was recorded on a bystander’s camcorder. While the recording documented the state-sanctioned violence against King, a jury later acquitted the accused officers, despite the taped evidence, causing LA to erupt in riots. These examples demonstrate that the socio-political context in which media images of black death are created and disseminated determines their viability to expose and dismantle white supremacy.

Video footage documenting state-sanctioned violence against black lives has now become ubiquitous: cell phones, security cameras, as well as body and dash cam footage have made the public a witness to the police killings of numerous black and brown people. This article highlights the circumstances of Castile’s death, particularly Reynolds’ use of Facebook Live, to explore the function of the camera and live-streaming applications for exposing and challenging white supremacy. We examine the affordances of these technologies that allow for the inversion of the institutional gaze and enable individuals who have historically been the subjects of racialized surveillance practices to engage in “sousveillance,” a subversive surveillance from below. Unlike past depictions, sousveillance engenders new modalities of visibility that can move beyond the double bind of witnessing and spectacularizing that often follow images of black death. Yet, whether sousveillant images can challenge us to make black lives matter and not simply reinscribe an association between blackness and death depends not only upon their circulation within social media but their contextualization within larger social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter.

The complete article is available on Ada’s website: http://adanewmedia.org/2016/10/issue10-fischer-mohrman/

Fischer, M. & Mohrman, K. (2016) Black Deaths Matter? Sousveillance and the Invisibility of Black Life. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No. 10. doi: 10.7264/N3F47MDV

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