The Creation and Preservation of an Unjust Identity of People of African Descent in Film

Abby Carchio 

A driving question in Africana Studies is, what does it mean to be a problem? This abstract question might be difficult to answer in a brief blog post, but narrowing the topic of focus onto identity fabricated in film might provide a clearer picture. Scott Poulson-Bryant’s work, “Put Some Bass in Your Walk” tackles the ins and outs of performance theory. Performance theory concerns itself with how identity is created or performed. Film is a very powerful space in which identity can be created and represented. Films can positively create and reinforce an identity or it can negatively create and reinforce an identity. When movies produce an identity that is faulty or destructive, it becomes a problem. Film, identity, and Africana studies intersect quite often, and this intersection can produce an example of what it means to be a problem. Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, there have been many major motion picture films that have created and reinforced a stereotypical identity for people of African descent. These films have portrayed black characters as infantile and incapable, and simultaneously preserved an unjust narrative of white supremacy. By highlighting three very different films from the past century, it will become very clear how the creation of a stereotypical and false identity is a problem that translates from the screen to the real world. 

The Civil War is a topic that has been taken up several times by Hollywood. Although it is a historical event, the narrative has been changed to fit the big screen. One of the first popular films regarding the Civil War was entitled The Birth of A Nation. This silent film was produced in 1915 by D.W. Griffith. The storyline follows two families, one from the North and one from the South. The important takeaway from this film is how incredibly racist it was. The film glorified the white supremisist group known as the Klu Klux Klan. Every major part depicting black people was played by a white actor in blackface. (Source one) And, most importantly in regards to identity, black people were stereotypically portrayed as infantile and incapable. One particular scene depicts a fictional Congress almost entirely run by black men. These men are portrayed as acting wild, silly, and disorderly. All characteristics of men incapable of leading a government. This scene creates an identity for the audience to take back to the real world and impose on other black people. Now is a good time to point out that generalizing the actions of one person, or the identity of one person, and assigning it to an entire demographic is flawed and unjust. This does not negate the fact that it does happen. It especially happens with film. People assume what is being portrayed on screen is an accurate representation of that type of character in real life. With all of this said, The Birth of A Nation presented its audience with a fabricated identity for the black people in the film. This is a problem. First, it is a false identity that negatively characterizes a demographic of people. Second, this identity is taken from the film and applied to other people of African descent. Uneducated people would take this fabricated identity and assume that it applies to all black people. The Birth of A Nation exemplifies the problem of film and the fabrication of identities. 

Fourteen years later, Gone With The Wind was adapted from the book to a movie. This story focuses on the the South during the Civil War and promotes the trope that the Civil War was less about slavery and more about states’ rights. Although this film was less overt in its racist production, it still produced a negative image of the black characters. Big Sam and Prissy, two major characters who were slaves to the main family in the film, are depicted as uneducated, child-like, and emotionally unstable. This film, again, created a false identity for these characters that could easily be taken from the theaters and into the real world. 

Some might think this problem is strictly a historical one, but this is a contemporary issue as well. In 2016, the Civil War movie entitled Free State of Jones was released. This film follows Newt Knight, a white man in the Confederate Army who is opposed to slavery. Knight was forced to flee the army and ended up finding refuge with a group of runaway slaves. The movie comes to a climax when Knight heroically leads a successful rebellion. (Source two) This movie was noticeably less racist than The Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind, but it does perpetuate the harmful narrative of white supremacy. At its core, this movie supports the narrative that people of African descent need the help of a white man. Although history proves that groups of runaway slaves successfully organized revolts throughout the Civil War, this film chose to depict a narrative in which the white man is still the savior. Although perhaps less intentional, this movie fabricated an identity of a black person being unable to help themselves. This creation of identity reinforces a problematic power dynamic that still plagues the world today.  Identity is a precarious topic because it is constantly in fluctuation and varies from person to person. Speaking about the identity of an entire group is even more complex. While acknowledging this complexity, it is important to recognize the fabrication and misrepresentation of identity within films as a problem for people of African descent. Films, such as The Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind, and The Free State of Jones, portray black people as infantile and incapable, while simultaneously  reproducing the narrative of white supremacy. This representation can be, and oftentimes is actually, applied to people of that particular demographic in the real world. This is a problem because it can cause disadvantages and unjust roadblocks within society.

Source One

Source Two:

Africana Thought as Resistance:Contextualizing Colonialism

What is Africana thought? How does it differ from Western thought?

In order to discuss Africana thought and its differences from Western thought, it is important to locate Western thought historically, geographically and thematically. According to Swarthmore College Professor James Kurth, the West is geographically inclusive of the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In “Western Civilization, Our Tradition”, Kurth defines Western civilization historically and socioculturally, tracing the creation of the West to three time periods, primarily “(1) the classical culture of Greece and Rome; (2) the Christian religion, particularly Western Christianity; and (3) the Enlightenment of the modern era.” (Kurth, 5). Kurth’s work raises an interesting point regarding the relationality and malleability of Western sociocultural and political development that is embodied by a constant tension between tradition and progress. (Kurth, 12). It is worth noting the fluctuating and unstable conception of the West, given its different meanings depending on contexts. The West has been referred to as the “New World,” relationally to histories of colonization. The West geographically includes Latin America and the Caribbean; however these lands’ and their people’s contestation and subversion of colonial projects begs the question of whether this classification is efficacious. Further, within any given Western space, it is interesting to consider whether undeveloped, untamed, or “wild” land might push back against the idea of the West. The geographic understanding of the West is innately tied to modern colonial conceptions of land, ownership and property. As such, it is important to acknowledge the flexibility and non-locatable form of the West. In terms of Western thought, Kurth states that the Enlightenment period’s undergirding ideology is central to understanding Western thought in modernity. The Enlightenment occurred in the eighteenth century and widely impacted European philosophical thought by prioritizing reason and empiricism and citing these worlds of thought for the creation of just and progressive societies. Given the enormous breadth and scope of change caused by the Enlightenment, it is important noting the way institutions were created to support and feed into each other. For example, empiricism in medicine was constructed to fit colonial beliefs of biological racial difference, and in this way, biomedicine was shaped by colonialism and capitalism and vice versa.

The aforementioned social feedback system of the Western colonial project has resulted in a locking out of Black people from the biased pursuit of empiricism because of empiricism’s (and other thought Western thought world’s) reliance on the exclusion of others. In addition, this kind of exclusion is central to Western thought because of the way pseudo-ethical justifications of violence feed into the legitimization process of colonialism and imperialism. In other words, eliminating violence and exclusion from the Western philosophical canon would call for a complete deconstruction because of its foundational importance to  colonialism. Africana thought has worked to critique, subvert, and contest the absolutist attitude taken on by creators and enforcers of Western empiricism and knowledge making. Africana thought identifies and challenges institutional and systemic processes that are opaque, due to the way Western institutional limbs have been constructed to enforce and maintain their own power. (Bogues, 55). Further, Africana thought gives life to untold voices, stories, histories and lives that would otherwise be silenced. World renowned professor and academic Saidiya Hartman coined the term “critical fabulation” to describe the process of breathing life back into silenced and erased voices. This idea is central to the effort of Africana thought, regardless of the technical field or genre any given work is attributed to. Africana thought differs from Western thought because of the way it originated as a practice. Africana thought is rooted in radical acts of resistance that eventually became incorporated into educational systems. This history is very different from that of Western thought, which emerged from theory, theorists, and philosophers. In this way, Africana thought has always been dependent on transformative action and calls for progressive change. The incorporation of Africana thought and philosophy into higher education led to a diversification of the academy and a widening of the literary canon. Africana thought is inherently multifaceted, given the field’s demand for a lens that captures different aspects of lived realities at a single time. Because of this, Africana thought is capable of retelling lost stories and reclaiming erased histories. In this way, Africana thought has the power to threaten y the way institutions continue to perpetuate violence and perform acts of systematic exclusion. Africana thought confronts direct impacts of institutions and systems while also addressing the impacts of their harm. For example, Africana thought demands attention to not only biomedical racism, but the way this tenet of Western thought led to the creation of respectability and desirability politics, which are reinforced by parallel systems of power. In this way, Africana thought’s expansiveness cannot solely be measured by theoretical sparring or citations because its practice extends beyond classrooms. Lastly, it is important to note that Africana thought exists theoretically as much as it does in the bodies of those that practice it. Africana’s roots in practices of and beliefs in radical transformation attest to the intrinsic link between the personal and political. Further, Africana thought, unlike other philosophies, is not only able to, but demands that ideas of class, race, gender, sexuality, etc, be thought of in tandem as much as Black people embody these intersections.

The university space is an interesting place to see these fields, which at times exist in tension with each other, interact because of the way universities feed into systems of power and histories of violence. While Africana thought and practice has been critical to the transformation of sites of violence, it is crucial to think about whether institutional diversification and inclusion is a form of control, surveillance, or dominance. It seems Africana thought lives within the confines of Western academia in a way that questions the continued case for a claim of a post racial society. Universities can be sure to point to this inclusion as a form of silencing.

Works Cited

Bogues, A. And What About the Human? Radical Anti-Colonial Thought and Critical Thinking.

Hartman, S. Venus In Two Acts. Indiana University Press. 2008.

Johnson, E.P. Black Performance Studies. Sage Publications. 2005.

Kurth, J. Western Civilization, Our Tradition. The Intercollegiate Review. Fall 2002/Spring 2004.

What is Africana Studies?

Africana Studies is the cultural, historical and political investigation of the African diaspora. There are two major ways that Africana Studies differs from “western thought.” First, Africana scholars incorporate the effects of power, namely colonialism, neocolonialism, systemic racism, and slavery into their work. Second, even though the understanding of power dynamics is essential to Africana Studies, scholarship around the Africana aesthetic and performance are not viewed as solely the products of power. There is more to the study of art than just viewing through the lens of colonialism. 

In his chapter in A Companion to Africana Studies,Anani Dzidzienyo elaborates on these two guiding ideas within Africana Studies. He uses an exploration of Africana Studies within the context of Latin America and the Caribbean to describe the way that Africana Studies is inherently interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. He argues that studying Latin America provides key insights for and play into larger themes from Africana Studies. He uses this argument in two ways; first, as a tool for looking at the complexities within a field that looks at a diaspora and second, to investigate the way that Africana Studies is a multidisciplinary field.  He writes that “African American Studies involves a direct engagement with histories of colonialism and neocolonialism;” the first tenant of the way that Africana Studies differs from “western thought.” However, he is quick to note in the same breath that Africana Studies is not “all about power…and political action.” This touches on the dynamic between Africana Studies as a power-conscious discipline but not one that revolves solely power. This dynamic is essential for the creation or Africana Studies as an intellectual endeavor that is more than just a counterargument to traditional narratives about the African diaspora. While Africana Studies does harness an understanding of power in the global context, it has its own agency as a field in the fact that it is more than just a reactionary discipline. 

Perhaps because of its newly minted status or because of a deeply seeded systemic racism within academia, Africana Studies is a greatly misunderstood field of study. In 1973, The New York Times reduced Africana Studies to simply “view the relationship between the culture of all people of Africana descent and the society in which they live.” This vast simplification not only undermines Africana Studies as a legitimate intellectual field. Additionally, this simplification also ignores that fine relationship with power that Africana Studies scholars explore. 

There are two works of art that encompass the field of Africana Studies within the context f the United States. The first is Shirlene Holmes’ play “A Lady and a Woman.” This play draws upon the history of the feminist theory, the historical whitewashing (and erasure) of Reconstruction, a plethora of black performance art and literature, as well as an understanding of America public policy during the Reconstruction era. This multidisciplinary approach encapsulates the North American branch of Africana Studies. Shirlene Holmes wrote this play with a deep understanding of Africana Studies and it shines through her characters. The movie “Us,” directed by Jordan Peele (excluding the fact that it is a horror movie) also explores many of the facets of Africana Studies. Although investigations into the power dynamics as a result of colonialism, neocolonialism, systemic racism, and the legacy of the slave trade are all evident in the film, there is also an aspect of an interrogation into the aesthetic, separate from power.     

Economics is the antithesis of Africana Studies and fittingly, can be seen as the pinnacle of western thought. Economics arose, not out of mathematical truths or a pondering about the universe as other fields did, but instead to a sort of productivity linked to greed. In the same step, economics is built on knowingly fallacious models written decades and even centuries ago by out of touch elite, white men. As such, economics and economists have failed everyone in America, not just low-income people ad black and brown people (who were historically excluded from the outcomes of the discipline), but also the wealthy, white elite who it was supposed to serve. Economics lies in direct opposition to Africana Studies because economics is not a serious intellectual exercise. One of its main shortcomings is the fact that economic models do not account for power or the legacy of power. The dichotomy between economics and Africana Studies is important in understanding what Africana Studies is not—Africana Studies is not based on unverifiable models, a way of erasing power from public policy, nor is it a singularly faceted understanding of the world. Where economics fails, Africana Studies soars. While just recently the New York Times, Financial Times, BBC and other major news sources have started question the accuracy of economics, economics still holds up in the view of academia as a viable field of study, while Africana Studies departments do not get nearly as much funding or attention.

In conclusion, Africana Studies offers more than fields that work within the confines of “western thought.” Africana Studies uses power as a tool, but not a rule, for understanding the African diaspora. It is more than just a reactionary discipline. The interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature of Africana Studies allows for a greater understanding of the history and future of the globe within the context of the African diaspora.  

Behavioralism vs. Structural Racism: The Ethical Implications of the Debate

The debate of behavioralism or structural racism has been core to analysis of African American life and culture for the last century. Now, the language of the debate might seem to set its parameters as all facets of black life and culture. But through a different lens, namely the examples continuously brought into conversation, that language of “life and culture” proves to be coded for a much smaller subset of the black experience: criminality. And as a result, criminal acts are employed by these two opposing schemas to read, either an increase in or lack of, morality into the crimes committed.

Disputing whether the causes of criminality are behavioral or structural presupposes that ethical decisions should be based on their accordance with the law. The debate greatly overlooks how prejudice and bias, specifically the persecution of low-income and black bodies, have been embedded into the American legal system. And in the process, behavioralism and structuralism showcase how different racial and economic positions lead to a support or critique of a racially biased judicial system.

Take for example the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar. Williams-Bolar, an African-American single mother from Akron, OH, was arrested, charged and jailed in 2011 for sending her two daughters to a predominately white school in Copley Township. The affair commenced a heated dispute in the public sphere, with stark contrasts in those who defended Williams-Bolar’s actions and those who condemned them, standing with the Township’s ruling. But on both sides, the guiding logic of the debate stemmed from basing the morality of decisions on obeyance of the law.

Those in disagreement with Williams-Bolar upheld this relation of morality and law. In one exemplary comment taken from an article about the situation, user who cares wrote, “People need to learn they can’t just go and TAKE better things…they have to earn them. They have to work for it” (Rose, Public Tales Wag the Dog, 452). And in a similar vein, Williams-Bolar’s prosecutor Sheri Walsh said of her during her trial:

“Kelley Williams-Bolar was not prosecuted and sent to jail because she wanted a better life for her children. She falsified documents, engaged in many different acts of deception to four different governmental agencies, and continued to do so over a two-year period.”

In building an argument for structural racism’s influence on Williams-Bolar’s actions, Rose highlights a troubling assumption in Walsh’s proclamation. Walsh “frames the case through an absolute dichotomy: a person who falsifies government documents cannot do so as a parent trying to provide a better life for her children” (Rose, Public Tales Wag, 452).  The image of Williams-Bolar that the Copley Township attempts to build proves contrived and morally questionable. Walsh’s logic demonizes criminality, stripping those not in line with the law of the humanity afforded to any other citizen. Defenders of Williams-Bolar’s choice attempted to re-establish her humanity, one in particular asserting that she engaged in “what many reasonable parents have done for decades: cleverly manipulating an already rigged educational system to work in the best interests of her children” (Rose, 451). This “already rigged system” encompasses several systemic issues: racial neighborhood segregation; gaps in neighborhood safety; and legalized inequality in the education itself, just to name a few. To accept that there are by-design barriers to entry for low-income families of color is to accept that the racially and economically biased education system needs to corrected, before that system is weaponized against citizens attempting to overcome said barriers. An acknowledgement of these barriers overrules the popular pull-oneself-up-by-their-bootstraps mentality used by user who cares and shows the hypocrisy of demonizing a mother like Williams-Bolar for seeking greater access to a system already denying her equal access to begin with.

The questionability of presuming law as basis for ethical decisions extends beyond the Copley Township case. Let us examine the present crisis of unlawful murders resulting from police brutality, specifically the disproportionate murder of black and brown Americans. The use of the word “unlawful,” for this essay especially, should not be taken flippantly. Many of the defendants of these unarmed civilians have activated the term to point out the proclaimed injustice of these murders. However, injustice actually proves to be separate from, or better yet imbedded into, the American legal system. Police brutality cases have shown the lengths the law has gone to protect officers in question, and how much this debate of behavioral-versus-structural forces provides the base of this inequal system.

One of the most prominent cases in recent memory was the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, on July 6th, 2016. After a trial held in July of the following year, the officer who murdered Castile, Jeronimo Yanez, was found not guilty of second-degree murder. And the evidence brought to the case exemplifies how a behavioralist reading of black behavior can have dangerous, even fatal consequences for black people. An important facet of the case was Castile’s possession of a firearm inside of the car, but a firearm that he possessed a legal permit to carry and did not draw at any time on Yanez. However, the officer “feared for his life”, per his testimony, where he claimed “I didn’t want to shoot Mr. Castile. That wasn’t my intention. I thought I was going to die” (Ellis, Kirkos, CNN, Officer who shot Philando Castile). Here, the implications of “legal” show their different definitions for different bodies in the American conscience. Yanez imposed an image of criminality onto Castile, assigning the ownership of a gun to a desire to use the weapon in antagonization. And even through the due processing of the case, the rights afforded to a non-black officer to fire a weapon were not the same ones afforded to Castile, a black civilian with a concealed weapon under rightful ownership and no clear and present danger apparent. So not only does the law show an unequal preference in who it affords retribution, the law also assigns “legality” different values to different citizens, favoring those who are non-black over those who are black.

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Derecka Purnell and Marbre Stahly-Butts ring in a case for the importance of acknowledging structural inequality in our legal system. Purnell and Stahly-Butts acknowledge that the modern American police state roots its policies directly in chattel slavery, setting the precedent for disproportionately punishing the black and poor. They also acknowledge that there are severe limitations for social justice in trying to “reform” police forces:

“Systems of oppression, like slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, must be reduced and abolished —not reimagined. Police officers, who primarily put people in cages, are the enforcers of mass incarceration. We must reckon with the reality that the police are part of the problem and stop investing money, power and legitimacy in them” (Purnell, Stahly-Butts, NYT, The Police Can’t Solve the Problem).

In this regard, Purnell and Stahly-Butts strike a nerve, just as Rose strikes a nerve in her understanding of the Williams-Bolar case. Socio-political dilemmas such as education inequality and police brutality are part of the greater fabric of America’s social structures, namely our legal system that provides a backbone to them. To attempt to remedy said dilemmas with behavioral changes, like community policing or more cautious interactions with police, fails to grasp the depth of the systemic structures they belong to. One can still maintain a behavioralist mindset around these dilemmas, as plenty of Americans today still do. But to do so requires a willful ignorance of systemic inequality and leads to a dubious conflation of the law and a model code for citizen behavior.

Works Cited

Ellis, Ralph and Kirkos, Bill. “Officer who shot Philando Castile found not guilty on all counts.” CNN, June 16, 2017.     verdict/index.html

Purnell, Derecka and Stahly-Butts, Marbre. “The Police Can’t Solve the Problem. They Are the Problem.” New York Times, September 26, 2019.

Rose, Tricia. “Public Tales Wag the Dog: Telling Stories about Structural Racism in the Post Civil Rights Era.” Du Bois Review 10, no. 2 (2013): 447-469.

The Emergence of the Black Chruch as a Cultural Stronghold

So… is it a Black Church or a White Church?

Upon hearing that question, one might already know what the real underlying questions are: 1) Is the service going to be long? 2) Does the pastor passionately yell out during the service? 3) Are the church members going to be clapping and stomping to old-school hymnals? 4) Are people going to be catching the holy ghost? If the answer is “yes” to two or more of those questions, the church may likely be classified as a Black church. But, how can churches ever be classified as Black when Christianity was used to 1) justifify the capture, selling, and abuse of black bodies and 2) indoctrinate Black individuals with religious principles to assimilate them into white society? This kind of thinking had led to many recent movements for Black people (specifically, Black Americans or Descendants of American Chattel Slavery) to reject Christianity and turn to African forms of religions or reject religion all together. However, this kind of thinking seems flawed in that it searches for some kind of past connection to whiteness and racial slavery. Because most things and ideas can be traced back to whiteness and/or racial slavery, it seems like a “boring” approach to a topic that could be fruitful. Instead, what if one thinks about Christianity’s connection to Blackness while centering the positive effects it has had on Black unification and preservation of culture?

While it was introduced to Black people during colonialism and racial slavery, Christianity did not become a major part of Black life until after the end of slavery in the U.S. Even in its emergence, it was something different that traditional Christianity; in its initial introduction to enslaved Africans, “it emerge[d] as a Christian religious culture mildly peppered with African indigenous and  Islamic styles of worship and synthetic magical folk practices across 246 years of enslaved African presence in the Anglo United States.” 1 Over time, it continued to grow and change. The Black Church initially served as a means of catharsis during slavery and, afterwards, offered some of the first opportunities for Black people to own land. Over time—about a century ago—the Black Church became the site for political and social organization, as well as centers for economic development and growth. In addition, the church provided an environment free of racism and oppression where its Black members were free to pursue social, economic, and political opportunities that could be sought by all. It also served as a place of spiritual uplift, using expressions of overcoming oppression and “lifting while climbing.”2

            Yes, even though Christianity was introduced to Black people through racial slavery, it provided—and still provides—a means of uplift. This is what separates the Black Church from the white church. The Black Church revolves around freedom from oppression, a major facet that automatically separates itself from the white church, and racial solidarity. That is why, aside from the heavy presence of Black churches in the U.S. (especially in the south, where slavery was most prevalent), we see Black churches across the diaspora; we see congregations of African American, Afro-Canadian, Afro-Caribbean North American, Afro-Caribbean European, African North American, and African Europeans. And, these diasporas represent a myriad of nationalities that range from Nigerian, Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Congolese, South African, Jamaican, Barbadian, Bahaman, and Surinamian and, within these nationalities, distinct ethnicities such as Yoruban, Igbo, Ewe, Akan and Zulu.3 These are all people that have been affected by the slave trade and/or colonialism. And, within these churches that encompass much of the diaspora, we see lots of similarities: passionate singing, over-participatory members, and emphasis on community and solidarity. Therefore, one can see how Black churches across the diaspora emerged as a place of uplift, solidifying its difference from the white church.

            Despite the fact Christianity was introduced to Black people through slavery and colonialism, Black people have turned it into something that serves the progression and uplift of the race. As human beings, Black people are fully capable of recognizing and understanding the origins. Again, this is why there is a push to return to “traditional” African religions. However, the Black Church has served as a Black cultural stronghold, preserving Black relationships, Black mobility, and Black perseverance. Therefore, instead of centering whiteness in observing the Black Church, one should center blackness to see how the Black Church has positively affected Black people in the U.S., as well as across the diaspora.


  1. Stewart Diakité, Dianne M., and Tracey E. Hucks. “Africana Religious Studies: Toward a Transdisciplinary Agenda in an Emerging Field.” Journal of Africana Religions 1, no. 1 (2013): 28-77.
  2. “’The Black Church,’ a brief history.” African American Registry. Last modified November 1, 1758.
  3. David Daniels III. “Reterritorizing the West in World Christianity: Black North Atlantic Christianity and the Edinburgh Conferences of 1910 and 2010.” Journal of World Christianity 5, no. 1 (2012): 102-23. doi:10.5325/jworlchri.5.1.0102.

Kanye: Loud or ‘Quiet’?

Last week, Kanye West released his ninth studio album, Jesus is King, to mixed reception. Because of West’s political affiliation and social commentary of late, there have been many who felt it necessary to withdraw their support of his artistry and platform. This sentiment has been echoed throughout his industry and in popular culture, as many of his associates and former collaborators have come out expressing their belief that West’s actions warrant him being ‘canceled’. 

But where Hip-Hop and popular media chastised and exiled Kanye, a new community of conservative figureheads has embraced him. As a result, West has grown to become one of the most polarizing figures in rap culture, as his comments have continually fed a racially charged dialogue on politics, artistry, and expression. Most notably, however, West has become known for his expressed support for President Donald Trump, going as far as to promote his campaign while on tour and even wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ apparel. 

In the latest iteration of several acts in alignment with the Trump administration, West was praised for his album by none other than the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. Taking to Twitter on October 28th, Trump Jr. wrote: “Kanye West is cracking the culture code. @kanyewest’s new album #JesusIsKing is the epitome of fearless creativity and “dangerous, unapproved” ideas. Leftists always try to silence those who are speaking truth. They’re waging a war on our family and culture. Kanye is a pioneer. ”

For much of his audience, West’s latest political action and statements have proven to be limit-testing. After all, Kanye West’s accomplishments and influence on his genre have made him one of the most important Black artists of his generation. But by aligning himself with an openly racist, hateful administration not only does he tarnish this legacy, but he also, as some will argue, appears to contradict himself. After all, how did an artist who once embodied the resistance and power of Black culture, possibly be aligned with an administration and ideology like Trump’s? 

To Kanye West, however, these criticisms of his character are invalid, as he believes they are the result of racial expectations projected upon him. Recently, Kanye expressed these very same sentiments at one of his live performances. As he begins, “they try to tell me because of my color who I’m supposed to pick as the president,” West said in videos that attendees recorded at the service. “You’re black, so you can’t like Trump,” he said, imitating his critics. Then, West declared: “I ain’t never made a decision only based on my color. That’s a form of slavery. Mental slavery.”

At this moment, West appears to be problematizing the societal expectations for Black people, going as far as to call them a form of ‘mental slavery’. For him, the widespread narrative which attempts to dictate political and ideological alignment for Black people is far too restrictive, and perhaps even obscures other aspects of his identity. In West’s opinion, the expectation that he, as a Black person, must dislike Trump is evidence of the pressures of this narrative of blackness. In his eyes, West is resisting being put at odds with the president involuntarily, and therefore accomplishes an expression that serves more than the public expectations for his character. It is similarly the problem of public expectations which Kevin Quashie problematizes in his book, The Sovereignty of Quiet

The Sovereignty of Quiet by Kevin Quashie is an exploration of dominant narratives of black culture and existence. In an analysis of these narratives, Quashie demonstrates that blackness is too often equated with public expressiveness and resistance, stating “black culture has been characterized largely by its responses to racial dominance, so much so that resistance becomes its defining feature and expectation” (Quashie 11). His claim, however, is that these common definitions of blackness are too limiting, and he goes on further to speak on how these definitions can impact artists. 

In the text , Quashie argues that the ability to view blackness in a state of quietness requires an attentive reexamination of how we read and understand Black culture. He supposes that because of the encompassing effect resistance has on narratives of blackness, there are aspects of personal expressions of blackness that are excluded. As he writes in his novel, “this argument for quiet aims to give up resistance as a framework in search of what is lost in its all-encompassing reach” (Quashie 5).

To understand why Blackness is often equated with resistance, he explains that social values and definitions of blackness have set such a precedent. And the solution, which he suggests is ‘quiet’, appears to defy these values, rather focusing on the aspects of emotional interiority and expression necessary for full human expression. Describing the interior nature of quiet, Quashie states that “interiority is a quality of being inward, a ‘metaphor’ for ‘life and creativity beyond the public face of stereotype and limited imagination’ (Quashie, 12). 

In a similar sense for West, his choice, though controversial, offers access to his interiority, allowing him to affirm his self-perception. As he goes on to explain in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, West says

“[the hat] represented overcoming fear and doing what you felt, no matter what anyone said, in saying, you can’t bully me. liberals can’t bully me, news can’t bully me, the hip-hop community, they can’t bully me. at that point, if I’m afraid to be me, I’m no longer ye. that’s what makes Ye”.

For West, being invested in his political expression was a way for him to affirm his own life away from political stereotypes and expectations. 

In light of Quaashie’s argument for quiet, could Kanye’s latest actions then be read as a re-reading of Blackness? If viewed in terms of their analytical approach and perspective, then there is some connection. Identifying as Black and being expected to be a Democrat can be considered a stereotype, and if West is any example, the kind which does have social repercussions when not adhered to. As Quaashie suggests black expression is too often limited to resistance, West can be seen as offering political expression as an example of this limitation. Because Black people have historically had to agitate for more rights, their political association has been granted to the party which best served that platform, the Democrats. As the party became iconized as the party of the first black president, it also grew able to draw consistent support from a greater percentage of Black Americans. But this history and condition, as Kanye argues, is not only unfair but insufficient in influencing his political alignment. 

So does Quashie’s argument in this book lend West’s positionality legitimacy? By way of his public image and standing, West affirms the same conclusions Quashie argues in his text; Blackness only exists in the public consciousness as resistance, and it seems that this public conception is what Kanye West fails to see beyond. Because he shows a refusal to be constricted by race, West reveals his ultimately narrow perception of race. 

When West speaks about the racial expectations for Black people, he fails to recognize that his view is arguably similarly reductive- he simply is being contrarian, with the hopes of gaining some deeper sense of freedom through doing everything socially unacceptable. 

Because of this reductionist view, West solely defines race as this place to be constricted, not informed. He likes to believe that there is a way to separate himself from his Blackness, or at the very least, not be in constant sensitivity of it. But there is no such way, and as long as he continues to ignore the racism and intolerance of the Trump administration, he will just be making a self-destructive decision in associating with them. 

Works Cited

Jr., Donald Trump. “Kanye West Is Cracking the Culture Code.@Kanyewest’s New Album #JesusIsKing Is the Epitome of Fearless Creativity and ‘Dangerous, Unapproved’ Ideas.Leftists Always Try to Silence Those Who Are Speaking Truth. They’re Waging a War on Our Family and Culture.Kanye Is a Pioneer” Twitter, Twitter, 29 Oct. 2019,

Live, Jimmy Kimmel. “Jimmy Kimmel’s Full Interview with Kanye West.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Aug. 2018,

Quashie, Kevin Everod. The Sovereignty of Quiet: beyond Resistance in Black Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2012.

Schwarz, Hunter. “Kanye West At Sunday Service Salt Lake City Talked about the Republican Party of Lincoln Freeing the Slaves and How He Supports Trump: ‘I Ain’t Never Made a Decision Only Based on My Color. That’s a Form of Slavery, Mental Slavery.”” Twitter, Twitter, 5 Oct. 2019,

Black Life: $2.75

On October 25th, Adrian Napier sat, with his hands up, on a New York City subway car, while several NYPD officers pointed their guns at him through the window. The video of the incident shows 19-year-old Napier sitting alone, though the car was not empty. Folks huddled on both sides of the car, in an attempt to avoid potential gunfire from the multiple guns pointed through the window. Police officers stormed the subway car, tackled Napier and proceeded to cuff him. The NYPD made a statement regarding the now viral incident, claiming that officers received a call that Napier was armed with a gun. When officers attempted to make contact with Napier, he ran away, entered the Pacific Avenue subway station, hopped the turnstile and got on a southbound 4 train. When the train arrived at Franklin Avenue, almost a dozen officers were there waiting for him, guns drawn, as seen in the video. Law enforcement did not find the alleged gun and Napier was arrested for theft of service.

Public response to the incident has been immense, especially within the context of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent decision to support the hiring and training of 500 new NYPD officers who be exclusive responsible for policing public transportation systems, in order to reduce fare evasion. However, to many New Yorkers, this crackdown on fare evasion exemplifies broken windows policing and is simply coded language for an increasing criminalization of low income communities of color. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) claims that fare evasion, rather than financial mismanagement and bureaucratic failure, is responsible for their decaying infrastructure, complete with constant delays, neverending construction and crumbling subway stations. Nonetheless, Gov. Cuomo justified his decision to increase police presence in public transportation spaces, due to the MTA’s claim that the $300 million they lose annually from fare evasion, is resulting in a significant financial impact. 

Yet this loss in revenue pales in comparison to the $51 billion construction plan MTA proposed earlier this fall. Such a massive capital project suggests that the millions of dollars lost to fare evasion is merely a drop in the ocean for MTA. This monetary perspective, coupled with increased police presence and intimidation tactics, supports the assumption that the fight against far evasion is nothing more than another opportunity for the state to violently hyper-criminalize and over police low income, Black people, as well as restricting their mobility and solidifying the isolation of poor, Black urban communities. According to The Crime of Being Short $2.75: Policing Communities of Color at the Turnstile, a report generated by the Community Service Society, “In the first three months of 2017, the NYPD reports that they have arrested 4,600 people for fare evasion (‘theft of service’ charges), an overwhelming 90 percent of them black and Hispanic” (2). The report goes on to lay out how, “In Brooklyn in 2016, young black men (ages 16-36) represent half of all fare evasion arrests, but represent only 13.1% of poor adults” (2). These figures further prove the validity of claims that fare evasion arrests are rooted in racialized understandings of criminality and policing.

Perhaps the most unsettling moment in the video of Adrian Napier is not the multiple guns pointed at the teenage boy through the window, but rather the point in which he turns to a stranger in the subway car and asks them to call his mom. Napier’s experience has catalyzed an onslaught of mass protests against the increased police presence and brutality in subway stations. However, it is necessary to remember that Adrian Napier is a teenage boy who underwent an immense trauma, inflicted by the hands of the state. His traumatic experience is now being discussed, publicized and reproduced in a way that is void of any consideration for what Adrian Napier, as a 19 year old boy, felt and was thinking while he looked down the barrel of government sanctioned guns. We know he thought of his mother. Perhaps he thought about how that was going to be his last, living moment. Maybe he had visions of his name as a hashtag, strangers reposting his school picture, marching in his memory, hoping to bring justice to his untimely death. Perhaps he was scared, numb even. 

In his text, Sovereignty of Quiet, scholar Keven Quashie outlines the ways in which Black people are looked to as markers to understand society. He states that, “Resistance is, in fact, the dominant expectation we have of black culture” (3). Because Black people are looked to as subjects to understand the world, they are unable, and not allowed, to exist within a nuanced space of humanity. He goes on to explain how, “black subjectivity exists for its social and political meaningfulness rather than as a marker of the human individuality of the person who is black” (4). Adrian Napier, is no exception to this mass, universal politicization of Blackness. The 19-year old is now responsible for a renewed mobilization against the racist, classicist crackdown on fare evasion. He now serves as an emblem and symbol of Black America constantly and historically enduring state violence. 

Like Quashie explains, nowhere within Napier’s very public characterization is there room for him to simply be a young person who committed a wrong doing, worthy of learning and growing from his mistakes. In both the eyes of the law and the public, he cannot exist simply as a young man who messed up and committed a petty crime. Rather, his juvenile error made him both a threat to the law and a championed survivor of police brutality. In Quashie’s theorized reality, Adrian Napier is a young Black man who deserves the “undisputed dignity of humanity” (26), a world in which his humanity does not have to be justified and proved, but instead is taken for granted. However, a world in which Adrian Napier does not have to qualify his right to exist as a full person, is also a world in which his life would be worth more than $2.75. 

Works Cited 

  1. Colon, Dave. “MTA Reveals $51B Capital Plan — Now the Challenge is Funding it.” StreetsBlog NYC. StreetsBlog, 16 September 2019. Web. 
  2. E.B. “What “broken windows” policing is” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 27 January 2015. Web. 
  3. “Governor Cuomo Announces Agreement to Add 500 Additional Uniformed Officers to NYC Subway and Bus Systems to Improve Public Safety, Protect Workers and Combat Fare Evasion.” Governor Andrew M. Cumo. New York State, 17 June 2019. Web. 
  4. Jones, Jess & Stolper, Harold. The Crime of Being Short $2.75: Policing Communities of Color at the Turnstile. Community Service Society of New York, October 2017. Web. 
  5. Martin, Nick. “The Class War of Fare-Dodging Crackdowns.” The New Republic. The New Republic, 31 October 2019. Web. 
  6. Offenhartz, Jake. “Photos, Videos: NYers Jump Turnstiles En Masse To Protest Police Brutality On The Subway.” Gothamist. New York Public Radio, 2 November 2019. Web.
  7. Shepherd, Katie. “Putting dozens of lives at risk over $2.75’: NYPD slammed for pulling guns on fare-hopping teen.” The Washington Post. WP Company LLC, 28 October 2019. Web.
  8. Quashie, Kevin. The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture. Rutgers University Press, 25 July 2012. Ebook.

Collective Action Beyond a Singular Issue Focus: Why Chicago’s Teacher Strike is a Starting Guide for Challenging Systemic Racism

Education has been a site of limitation and mobility for Black students. While states rolled out anti-literacy laws during slavery, enslaved and free Black people formed clandestine schools (1). Brown  v. Board of Education of Topeka successfully argued against the doctrine of separate but equal, yet schools are more segregated now than they were almost 50 years ago. Now, the Chicago Teachers’ Strike is actively pursuing comprehensive structural changes to improve the possibilities of Black students. Chicago educators are responding to a lack of State aid, support, and effort to rectify federally institutionalized discrimination. Politicians across the nation should look to Chicago as a guide on how to revolutionize the public school system and address systemic discrimination or prepare for more strikes.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) took to the streets on October 17th and the strike recently came to an end on October 31. The 15-day strike was in response to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inability to codify her campaign promises into a contract. The CTU crafted demands that took a multifaceted approach to combat educational inequity. A deeper analysis of the CTU’s demands is vital for understanding the importance and revolutionary potential of challenging multiple discrimination systems at once. One of the CTU demands that best exemplifies this was the call to have affordable housing in the city.

Some critics of the Union’s demand claimed that affordable housing had no place within a teachers’ union bargaining contract. It is evident that they either fail to recognize or choose to willfully ignore the need for a multifaceted approach against institutionalized racism. Tricia Rose’s current project is making a manual that explains how systemic racism works (2). Rose described a discrimination system to be a set of dynamically related areas in which 1) disparities favor certain groups over others, 2) disparities are mutually reinforcing, and 3) only one source of disparities is needed for it to be discrimination; meaning that colorblind laws can still reproduce racialized outcomes because they are predicated on older, biased laws. For her project, the related areas of focus are wealth, housing, education, and criminal justice. In terms of the Chicago Teachers’ Strike and their demand for affordable housing, it is valuable to hone focus on housing, education, and wealth.   

Furthermore, it is invaluable to cite the problem to the status quo a more comprehensive, multifaceted reform plan can pose to those who the current system benefits most or impacts to a lesser extent. As Rose notes in her 2013 work, “Public Tales Wag the Dog: Telling Stories about Structural Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era,” narratives can be used to normalize and legitimize discrimination systems. Thus, the public claim of affordable housing as a necessity for educational success presents a radical call for an end to systemic racism.

A previously never-articulated demand for teachers’ unions is the CTU’s call for an expansion of affordable housing in Chicago. This demand for a teachers’ union strike is unprecedented; however, it shouldn’t be. As Rose has articulated, it is utilizing an intersectional view of discrimination is necessary to dismantle structural racism. Housing is a major cog in the machine of America’s racial discrimination system. Affordable housing can help combat rates of homelessness amongst Chicago public school students and their families. Homelessness puts students at a higher risk for dropping out of school, so affordable housing can have a direct impact on graduation outcomes. It also will make it easier to recruit teachers and utilize educators from Chicago neighborhoods as opposed to opening up teaching positions to suburban educators who may lack an understanding of the communities Chicago public school students live in.  

  Affordable housing also provides similarly promising prospects for Black communities who housing laws have negatively targeted. Most people garner their wealth through homeownership (3). Racialized housing laws have targeted and negatively impacted Black communities. Black homeownership lags behind white homeownership and perpetuates economic disparities between the two groups. Optimistically, affordable housing can mean an opportunity for historically disadvantaged Black families to move away from renting and towards homeownership and accruing generational wealth.

The CTU recognizes the interconnectedness of education, housing, and wealth and what that can mean for dismantling a racial discrimination system. Political leaders have proven this to be a problem. Since the initial proposal of the idea of affordable housing, Mayor Lightfoot had opposed considering it for the union contract because, as she claimed, housing was an issue that affected the entire city, thus discussing it for the CTU collective bargaining agreement was not appropriate. Disappointingly, the Mayor maintained her stance on the CTU’s demand for affordable housing. This moment was an amazing opportunity for Mayor Lightfoot to substantiate her claims as a progressive reformer. However, the problem to the status quo the CTU has posed and their articulation of the linkage between housing and educational attainment proved too great a problem for the city government. The potential for radical, multi-axis reform has hit an impasse in Chicago.

The CTU has shown through its demands that it is dedicated to the larger cause of uprooting structural racism. While not being a total success in terms of the fulfillment of every demand, the CTU Teachers’ Strike has accomplished significant feats and has galvanized teachers’ unions strikes across the nation. Local and state level political leaders should embrace the insights of these educators who have committed themselves to supporting and developing the future leaders of our communities. CTU’s multifaceted demands should set an example for all those who plan on utilizing collective action. Collective effort to address systemic discrimination is ineffective if it only targets a single issue.

(1)Heather Andrea Williams, Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 184.

(2) Tricia Rose, “How Systemic Racism Works in an Era of ‘Racial Equality’.” AFRI 0090:Introduction to Africana. October 1, 2019.

(3) Ibid.

The Ungendering of Black Women

Clara Pritchett

In Dr. Scott Poulson-Bryant’s lecture on the intersections of performance theory, queer theory, and Africana studies, Dr. Poulson-Bryant raised the question of how and why we adhere to cultural norms around race, gender, and sexuality. Building upon this initial query, he asks what happens when characteristics attributed to specific groups conflict with each other within people who hold identities perceived as contradictory to one another. This essay will explore this question through an analysis of the ungendering of black women throughout history and how the effects of that ungendering manifest today.

Throughout history, white supremacists and segregationists have ungendered black women for political and social gains. One way white supremacists and segregationists ungendered black women was desexualization; often the same women underwent this process in different contexts. One way black women were desexualized was through the commoditization of their reproductive capacity. The Virginia Law written in 1819, Partus Sequitur Ventrem, literally translated to  “that which is brought forth follows the belly (womb),” made it so the offspring of slaves would also have enslaved status even if the father was white or even the owner himself. This incentivized slave owners to sexually assault and rape female slaves to ensure the future of their workforce. This meant sex with black women was not something of pleasure but something for monetary gain. In this same period, black women were not able to marry. Marriage, as a legally binding contract, would have given slaves recognition under the law and therefore implied humanity and citizenship, neither of which were economically or politically valuable to those in power. One of the fundamental markers of gender performance for women was marrying a man and taking care of a home, especially in the Antebellum South, and black women did not have the option to do so. 

After emancipation, women were still excluded from cultural norms surrounding gender. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Redemption, unprecedented numbers of lynchings occurred across the country. One of the most common reasons given for lynchings was being accused of raping or assaulting a white woman. Mobs and vigilante groups ran ravage for the stated reason of protecting their women even when the relationship was consensual or did not exist at all. White women were also not required to testify in cases of rape or assault for the stated reason of protecting their fragile, emotional selves. The need to protect their sexual purity was a defining characteristic of their womanhood. Black women did not have this same level of legal protection. Additionally, while there was no longer a monetary incentive for raping black women, rape still persisted. Rape was a tool of terror used by the Ku Klux Klan and other white vigilante terrorist groups. Rape of black women not only occurred as a show of public terror, but in private spaces. Many black women worked as domestic servants or otherwise in the homes of white people and were subject to sexual advances by their employers. Even though these occurrences were common, the legal system did not recognize them or afford the victims representation. Black women were rarely granted a trial, and when they were they were confronted with insurmountable obstacles. One example of an obstacle is the implicit ideas around black women’s inherent promiscuity. In 1918, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that, in statutory rape cases, rape could only happen if the person had not previously had sex. The ruling also discusses that most white women are moral, meaning they have not previously had sex, and most black women were immoral, so black women could not legally be raped. They did not have the legal protections created for maintaining the purity of  women, but black women were not “true women” in the eyes of the law. The period of mass lynching was also the rise of Jim Crow segregation. Segregation in public facilities showed in black and white how culturally normative gender did not include black women. Bathrooms were the most obvious example of this. A photo from this time period shows three sets of public bathrooms labeled: “Men,” “Ladies,” and “Colored.” A separation between white men and white women was inherently necessity it seems in subscribing to the cultural norms around gender, but a separation between black men and black women was not.

Consequences of the ungendering of black women and the stereotypes surrounding it still remain today. One example of this is evidence of bias of juries in rape cases. Conviction happens much more frequently in cases of black men charged with raping a white women than in cases of white or black men charged with raping a black women. The main cause of this is the same ideas around black women’s promiscuity. Another example of how these stereotypes manifest in present day is the expunging of the childhood of black girls. A report written by the Georgetown Law School people perceive black girls as less innocent than their white counterparts. People believed they required less protection and nurturing and that they know more about adult topics, especially sex. These assumptions, similar to those made of black women one hundred years ago have consequences in the educational and criminal justice systems. In both systems, black girls are receive harsher punishments compared to their white counterparts for identical offenses.

The ungendering of black women has had dire consequences to the lives of black women from slavery to present day. While gendered stereotypes and performance roles have had horrendous consequences for women of all races, exclusion from them has also attributed to struggle.

Works Cited

Epstein, Rebecca, Jamilia Blake, and Thalia Gonzzlez. “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girlss Childhood.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2017.

Hunter, Tera W. “Putting an Antebellum Myth to Rest.” The New York Times. The New York Times, August 2, 2011.

Morgan, Jennifer L. “Partus Sequitur Ventrem: Law, Race, and Reproduction in Colonial Slavery.” Small Axe. Duke University Press, April 3, 2018.

Stern, Mark Joseph. “The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Transgender Rights Brief Is a Trenchant History Lesson.” Slate Magazine. Slate, March 3, 2017.

Wriggins, Jennifer. “Rape, Racism, and the Law.” Rape and Society, May 2018, 215–22.

How to Read the Black Body

Peter Simpson 

The politics of representation within the discipline of Africana Studies is well documented. In many instances, Blackness is viewed through the lens of a white audience or as an act of resistance against the hegemony of whiteness. This binary however, is insufficient to explain the diversity, breadth and depth of Black communities, both within the United States and abroad. This blog aims to highlight the various ways in which Black bodies can be “read,” or interpreted, framed and judged. It will draw on research done by leading scholars, Dixa Ramírez and Kevin Quashie, paying particular attention to the influences of context, geographic location and popular imagery, on the perceptions assigned to Black people. It will similarly draw on the recent killings of unarmed Black Americans, and in particular, Black women. In so doing, this blog endeavors to historicize the portrayal of Black life in popular media, speak to the agency of Black bodies and situate their lives independent of dominant, prevailing stereotypes. 

Ramírez’s seminal excerpt entitled “Against Type: Reading Desire in the Visual Archive of Dominican Subjects,” asserts that the unwavering gaze of free Black subjects unsettled many of these visitors.”[1] In this instance, the term visitors refers to white American tourists. More contemporarily, this feeling of unrest by white Americans is embodied best through the #SayHerName started by The African American Policy Forum (AAPF). Although occurring in two different contexts, histories of racial violence undergird American and Dominican society alike. AAPF recently reflected on the tragic killing of Atatiana Jefferson by  white police officer Aaron Dean, on October 11th. Forth Worth, Texas police claim Officer Dean perceived a threat as he approached Jefferson’s window. It is important to note however, that this occurrence, as well as the assumed violence of Black people, was not singular or uncommon. Police officers routinely kill Black women, often times in intimate settings such as their homes and vehicles. 

Evidently, Dean carried racist signifiers of Blackness, which often position Black women as superhuman in strength, in need of discipline, and not worthy of being recognized as full humans. To readers, Jefferson’s murder should also speak to the ways in which the criminal justice system and individual actors within the carceral state, view Black women as a collective as deserving of such cruel treatment, versus as individual women with their own agency. This loss of agency is furthered through the limited air and print coverage given to Black women killed by police, reducing them to what Ramírez says as anything but “an individual with a name.”[2] This stands in stark contrast to the well-known names of murdered African-American boys and men such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, who are frequently remembered in discourses relating to police misconduct and brutality. 

It is likewise imperative to hone in on the privacy of the spaces in which women such as Jefferson are murdered-their homes. Jefferson, at the time of her death, was playing video games with her nephew. This humanizing, and familiar activity should encourage us to (re)-think Black culture vis-a-vis popular expressions of Black women as loud, dramatic and enraged. The act of playing video games and babysitting are similarly, acts of human individuality, that often occur in the quiet confines of one’s home. Actions such as these resist what Quashie calls “the imperative to represent,” in his seminal text The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture.[3] Quashie argues that the case for quiet is an argument against the limits of Blackness as a concept and questions the boundaries of racial identity, opposing the singularity of race, in so doing.[4]

The use of quiet as a lens to view the daily interactions of Black women allows for the greater understanding of their desires, vulnerabilities, fears and ambitions. More significantly, it requires us to shift the ways we read and look at Black women and change the expectations historically imposes on their bodies. There is sovereignty in this! This sovereignty opens up a space to expose the lives of Black people not being solely determined by narratives of the wider social, white world. Similarly to Quashie, this blog encourages readers to do a close viewing of the circumstances under which Black Americans are murdered, the way media sources depict their killings and the legacies they leave behind.

Atatiana Jefferson was an aunt and daughter, had aspirations to go to medical school and is remembered for her caring and loving nature. Taken together, these memories provide Jefferson with dignity and agency, despite her unfortunate death. There is power and influence in these moments of quiet interiority, despite the public nature of Black killing and the subsequent visible demands for justice in Jefferson’s name. Ramírez and Quashie prompt us to consider an alternative present and future for Black life- one not readily legible to wider America and simultaneously, not for public consumption or viewing. Jefferson’s life exemplified both of these facets, chiefly through the power of the everyday, intimate moments such as relaxing, playing video games and taking care of your younger relatives. The ability for her to do so however, was unrecognizable to Officer Dean.

[1] Dixa. Ramírez, “Against Type: Reading Desire in the Visual Archives of Dominican Subjects,” in Colonial Phantoms Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the 19th Century to the Present. Dixa. Ramírez (New York, New York: New York University Press, 2018), 148.

[2] Ibid. 153.

[3] Kevin. Quashie, “Introduction & Publicness, Silence, and the Sovereignty of the Interior,” in The Sovereignty of Quiet. Kevin. Quashie (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2012), 4.

[4] Ibid.6.