We have to talk about what is being said and what is not being said. What is being said through the use of symbols and indexes is that black trauma and violence is not a point of abjection in American culture. It is so common and woven into our visual culture that at the 2017 Biennial, Dana Schutz, without protest, was able to produce a grotesque painting, Open Casket, depicting the mangled body of Emmett Till.
What isn’t being said is that violence and trauma against the black body is an integral part of American history. The question then arises; Is black identity in the postcolonial US being tied to trauma and violence? The blatant answer is yes. It’s so ingrained through different ideological systems from police violence and television programming to teachings in psychology class, that everyone’s psyche including those of non-black peoples is skewed despite their acknowledgement or lack thereof.
Black people internalize this trauma fetishim through our own art forms and media, which was recently exemplified through Childish Gambino’s new music video. This interpolation of trauma and violence on both social, systematic, and economic levels is being internalized and the reaction is detrimental to the black psyche as a whole.
Whether it’s the singing and dancing that mimics a minstrel show, the use of black bodies as dancing or singing props, or the killing of choir members (reminders that we aren’t safe in our own places of worship, referencing both Dylan Roof and the church bombings of the 60’s civil rights movement) they all fall under the guise to discuss that “ This is America.”
I hear that Black people love this video and Donald Glover’s use of multiple symbols and ideologies that point us right back to our oppressive state in this neoliberal climate.
This video seems to be a mimicry of satire in its movements and gestures. Using symbols Gambino shows us ‘America.’ In addition, he uses symbols to it perpetuates notions of Blackness being tied to both violence and entertainment simultaneously. This playcates to both black and non-black audiences letting them know that “this is how it is”. What does it mean for us to reframe our own trauma for an audience that aids in the perpetuation of that trauma? Is it possible for us to reframe and claim our own bodies in context of trauma when we are interpolating it through the frame of the oppressive structure?
How can we love this video and shame Kanye in the same breath — understand that I’m not talking about the “Slavery was a choice Kanye” but the Kanye from a week or two before with the ‘Make America Great Again’ Hat. Are they not brothers in their sense of understanding?
Kanye uses the ‘Make America Great Again’ hat as a prop to discuss his new ‘free thinking’ identity which viscerally upsets his liberal & black audience. His ‘free thinking’ is not free at all, but rather bound by the interpolation of ideologies. Kanye is trying to break different molds of Blackness, and this is not the first time we’ve seen him do this. The confederate flag jacket he wore in hopes to spark the discussion about reclamation & continually asserting his position as someone who subverts culture.
The issue doesn’t lie within the words or the hat, but the combination of the words along with the font and classically, bright, warm red hat. These combinations: the words, font & the hat don’t just exist separately but combine as an amalgamation of signs to create one meaning that is attributed to Donald Trump, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and so on. This hat represents ideologies symbols and indexes that are harmful and detrimental. The words on the hat cannot detach and form a new meaning that does not reference its roots within racism and white supremacy.
Kanye’s delivery fails. His audience is unable to care about what it could mean to reclaim that phrase and make it applicable, but only cares about how it exists currently.
Both Kanye & Gambino — in their own individual ways — are making statements about the state of America by using imagery that reference racism and white supremacy, but Kanye falls flat in his efforts to reclaim the trauma that comes with it through the lack of a clear and evident statement. Both successfully grasp concepts of violence through visual culture, allowing the audience to become spectators.
Why don’t we have this same visceral reaction to Childish Gambino’s video? Is it because we accept that imagery? It’s not less harmful than seeing the MAGA hat. Do we allow it because we are able to see ourselves and in doing so, what does that mean? Kanye picks an object that is not associated with blackness and wears it, rather confidently. He uses this symbol of violence, like Gambino, to re-contexualize it. But we as an audience are not in favor of this concept. Did Kanye’s wearing of the hat crystalize the violence and white supremacy woven into it? Did Gambino’s shooting of the choir or juxtaposition of police present around black bodies crystalize that violence?
Many people are riddled with emotions when discussing the things Kanye has done recently and he has fallen from grace, and because of this many have shut him out as an artist by any means of the definition.
As much as people claim to dislike Kanye, we are eager to produce — even support — another Kanye to take his place. Let us be wary to give titles of edginess and ingenuity as it cannot be given to any black man who traumatizes his black audience.
America, the beautiful, with her freedoms and equalities and most of all the dreams of upward mobility. She is different, she is better, she is almost- too good to be true. The United States of America, wears a veil stitched in many places with fictions and fabrications. She is praised for her cloth, which is said to perpetuate equal opportunities and justices. The United States has a dark past, and it stains each present day and the future. In order for progress to be made one must unveil her past in order to prevent further injustices.
Slavery was said to be crucial, but devastating for the Blacks in America. Although a nation blossomed economically and politically through the enslavement of a people, it mangled humanity to this day. Not only did the economy flourish almost 400+ years ago because of slavery, it is still flourishing today because of it, from both an economic and social standpoint. The institution of slavery created a new version of capitalism and reinstated the binaries between the have and have-nots but also between Whites, Blacks, and other People of Color.
The beloved United States Constitution was written in 1777, created out of a need to form a new national government and to define the rights of the American people. The Constitution represents the basis of our rights. It separates us from any other country in the world. It is the undercurrent of our lives, guiding people’s everyday decisions from freedom of speech, to taxes to the right to bear arms.
It appeared that the Constitution guaranteed basic rights to each citizen, but if we examine it closely, in reality it was only White citizens who received its benefits. Well what about poor Whites and White women? Regardless of gender and socioeconomic class, Whiteness was still a privilege. All Whites had rights. Although it was debated about, Blacks were not considered full human beings- ⅗ a man to be exact. Life in the united states revolved around his document that we cherish and revere today. From the start we failed to acknowledge that Black People were indeed people. In the perpetuation of these positive ideas that the constitution states, the perpetuation of the negative ones were still prevalent.
Now, creating a new hierarchy where White People are on top and Slaves and people of color are on the bottom both socially and economically. Unlike before where Europeans are majorly separated by class, they would be united under the constitution, which guaranteed social equality among Whites. Socially all whites despite socioeconomic status were above Blacks. Although not every White owned slaves all White people benefited from the social institution of slavery.
The issue is that the Constitution was not formed to protect Blacks. Blacks were seen as property not as people. The Constitution ignited the fire of a new Nation to be formed with laws and documents to protect and serve only it’s White inhabitants. The basis of the United States is the beloved document; the Constitution. But the Constitution proved to be flawed and offering no solace to it’s non-white inhabitants especially to the slaves.The United States of America has now implemented laws and documents to ensure a White Supremacist reign. This institution affected race relations in the United States for centuries. The peculiarity of Slavery and is it’s existence amongst a new empire which prided itself on freedom and the pursuit of happiness, but thrived off of the enslavement and oppression of others is a paradox. A nation produced from a Paradox is bound to suffer major repercussions. The beautiful façade of equality and justice that America portrays, brinks the edge of irony. Behind a mask is a slavery that was like none before it, but will forever be engraved into her history. Oh, America the great can rest on a pedestal because its feet are placed upon the backs of slaves.
Following the end of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery the Constitution changed, and the three-fifths clause was nullified. Although on paper Blacks were no longer said to be 3/5ths a person, in practice it was not. The idea of equality was only an idea. Many Whites couldn’t phantom the idea of being considered equal to a Black Person. After all, the constitution had stated otherwise, and hundreds of years of the institution of slavery had shaped the psyche of the typical White American into thinking that he was more superior than his Black counterpart. The idea of equality could not appease White America. The sustainment of this racial and social binary had to exist.
The Civil war left the United states in economic shambles. Interestingly enough, prison labor became an even more vital part of American capitalism than before. A solution in response to the economic crisis was to build more prisons, many prisoners being former slaves and poor Whites. The penal system was becoming a new form of public and widely accepted slavery. If we are to examine our very own Constitution we would see that Slavery wasn’t abolished. The 13th amendment states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
If we examine the school-to-prison pipeline we will see that this is another tactic to increase incarceration thus increase free slave labor. The School to prison pipeline is enforced in schools all over the country. It is the institution of unjust policies policies that encourage police presents in schools, extreme tactics of physical restraint and automatic punishments that result in suspensions.The idea of free labor is horrid, but a necessary reality for the success of the United States. The pipeline reflects the true desires of the prioritization to incarcerate over the desire to create successful and functional citizens. So perhaps that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in reality it is. Racial minorities and disabled people are the target. By taking an even closer look, Black boys are most affected by this. A strong police presence affects the psyche of many students but also aids in the criminalization of youth. In public school systems the shift for discipline has gone from the administration to the the police. Often times these officers have to training with children, as a result students are subject to school-based arrest, the majority being non-violent and pertaining to disruptive behavior. Black students are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled according to the nationwide study done by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Black children make up only 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once. Black students are being wrongfully suspended and often arrested for common infractions and frivolous things ranging from class tardiness to wearing the wrong colored socks.
In some jurisdictions, these students who have been suspended or expelled are said to have no right to an education at all. Their right to an education is often taken away. In other cases, they are sent to disciplinary alternative schools. These private, for-profit disciplinary schools often fail to provide educational services to students who need it the most. More often than not, these students are sent to juvenile delinquent centers. Students who commit minor offenses may end up in secured detention if they were to violate conditions prohibiting them from activities like missing school or disobeying teachers. Students of color are being punished more severely than their white counterparts for the same actions. This is not an issue immune to northern, or “liberal” states. But a systematic institution that plagues the nation. These zero tolerance systems are only affecting Latino, Black and or disabled students and it specifically hits Black students the hardest.
On a larger scale mass incarceration outside of the school systems is amplified. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics concludes that a Black male born in 2001 has a 32 percent or 1 in three chance of going to jail while Latino males have a 17 percent chance and White males have a 6 percent chance. With this being said, Black boys are five times and Latino boys nearly three times as likely as White boys to go to jail. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the US has only has five percent of the world’s population but close to a quarter of the world’s prisoners (over 2.3 million people behind bars).
The US rate of incarceration is five to eight times higher than other highly developed countries and black males are the largest percentage of inmates according to ABC News. Black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes. African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than White defendants, and 20 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants. Trails are often rare. We often overlook the fact that only 3 to 5 percent of criminal cases go to trial while the rest are plea bargained. The majority of African American defendants never get a trial. Most plea bargains consist of promise of a longer sentence if a person exercises their constitutional right to trial. As a result, people end up in the prison system. The American Bar Association suggest to plead guilty even when innocent. With mass incarceration the increase of wrongfully convicted felons arise. Felons have no right to bear arms or to vote. These are rights guaranteed by our amendment. The creation of felons means the creation of a group of people without a voice, without rights. These events are no isolated or random. They are a systematic institution.
History shows us that the unequal social and economic treatment of Blacks was still perpetuated. Although Slavery has been over for 150 year the impact of Slavery remains with us both economically and socially. The idea of White Supremacy did not die with slavery but sustained as time went on. Racism and systematic oppression doesn’t disappear over time but adapts to new laws and social climates. Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws created a new form of slavery that didn’t require physical shackles and chains. The humid and thick hatred of the South’s defeat permeates the whole country. The residuals of slavery are still with us. A new form of slavery has been in sustainment. The social practices of racism and the institution of it are alive and well. We cannot pretend like we are not affected by slavery on both a social and economic level today. Who do we give humanity to and Who is truly considered human?