The American Gaze Meets Black Bodies
Last night, Philando Castile was shot through–through the crosshairs of the American Gaze. Colored bodies, but particularly black bodies, are anathema, better yet, antithetical to the American Gaze, because, the American Gaze can’t bear the sight of black bodies—the Medusas of the American mythos.
The American Gaze is White Supremacist. It does not merely prefer whiteness via what social scientists like myself have often referred to as implicit bias or subconscious objectification of the black other. The American Gaze was hewn by eradicating Native Americans and was monetized by whipping and raping black slaves into submission. The American Gaze advanced on the land that is neither yours nor mine, but belongs to the First Nations (but they are relegated to reservations so the American Gaze does not have to behold their visage).
The American Gaze makes hunting licenses a preferred form of identification for voting in Texas, but black bodies with permits to carry concealed weapons in Louisiana and Minnesota, are hunted down for availing themselves of their 2nd Amendment rights. The brutal deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile do not represent incidental tragedies, blips on a police radar, they represent intentional strategies of the American Gaze institutionalized in the penal system, new notches on a policeman’s belt, new stars and bars on a police uniform.
The American Gaze mythologizes capitalism as the great hope. But the American Dream born of the American Gaze was always intended to beget a middle class comprised of white Protestant bodies. Not Irish or Italian Catholics. Not European or Sephardic Jews. Not Muslims from anywhere. But they all became white, in due time. And the Indians and Asians do tech, so the Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians didn’t become white but they did get let in on the Dream.
Thus, entrepreneurial capitalism is not the province of the Alton Sterling’s of the world. Selling lawful items on street corners is reserved for the rightful inheritors of the Dream—white suburbanites who can freely sell stuff door to door in their own hoods and door to door in others hoods while wearing hoodies if they damn well please and carrying concealed weapons with a make my day swagger that bests the likes of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne put together.
The American Gaze strips colored bodies of agency. Of liberty. Of the vote. The American Gaze imprisons black bodies, but not merely through mass incarceration. Ostensibly free black bodies fully possessed of habeus corpus, such as those OB/GYNs delivering babies, Assistant Attorney Generals arguing cases before the US Courts of Appeal, Professors researching, writing, and teaching in Ivory Towers, such bodies are not free to roam the land where the buffalo were all but exsanguinated by the American Gaze through the barrel of colonial conquest. And that’s just the Hawkins girls. But as black Americans have always known, being “respectable Negroes” doesn’t immunize you from the American Gaze.
The American Gaze says White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism is the standard so if your version of theology or mythology or pedagogy or prophecy or philosophy represents anything other than a white Supremacist Jesus and a white supremacist church that pats itself on the back for apologizing for slavery and racism and discrimination 250 years too late, you are dangerous, demoted, dismissed, and demonized–off the bat.
Before you open your mouth the American Gaze sizes you up and misrecognizes you as a minstrel. Magical things that you black folk are, you nevertheless fail time and again to conform to the Western (white) canon; therefore, you will eventually be deemed heretical and harangued; but if you hold on long enough like a good Negro, your lynching will only be partial and you might merit a cookie and punch party as you exit the institutions that comprise the American Gaze.
Despite post-racial protestations to the contrary, the American Gaze doesn’t really care about the content of my character. In the final analysis, in the split second decision of whether to fatally shoot six times (or sixteen), or whether to properly subdue according to the principles elucidated in voluminous case law emanating from the Fourth Amendment re: lawful search and seizure, probable cause has never been the rule of thumb for black bodies.
Black bodies per the American Gaze are always reasonably suspicious enough for those who protect and serve to shoot first and ask questions later. The American Gaze even deems little black boys bodies’ dangerous. Eleven year old boys, like Tamir Rice, playing in a park are seen through the American Gaze as budding gang members. Of course, were Tamir white, he’d have been seen through the eyes of the cop peering through the American Gaze as a burgeoning hunter. And he’d be alive today.
The litany of bodies killed by the American Gaze are being documented by Bryan Stevenson’s project to locate the site of every lynching in the US. But make no mistake. Eric Garner’s black body. Laquan McDonald’s black body. Rekia Boyd’s black body. Sandra Bland’s black body. The Charleston Nine’s black bodies. These too represent the American Gaze at work.
Why? And how?
Because the American Gaze is white Supremacist, present, not past. Dylan Roof was more “woke” to the American Gaze than most white Americans who quickly deemed him insane. In short, he had race and class and sex and gender conscience, and his actions epitomize the end, the final result, of the American Gaze: the perpetual killing of black bodies.
Dylan Roof was more honest than an American legal system that perpetuates the lie that justice is (color) blind yet disproportionately incarcerates and disenfranchises black and brown bodies which is tantamount to killing the colored citizen’s soul.
In response to the death of good black souls like the Charleston Nine, the American Gaze peddles the opiate of the masses: prayer. In its predominantly white evangelical churches, they pray for inanimate entities, cities like Baton Rouge, Charleston, Ferguson, Orlando. Prayers that translate, Lord, protect the “good” citizens (non-black) and the American empire begotten by the Gaze from any embodied protest, economic boycotts, or armed resistance. Armed resistance that the Declaration of Independence avers is the right, no, the duty, of citizens when the government becomes abusive of its power.
Don’t get me wrong. I pray with fervent hope against all injustice in the world. And I place my body in alongside my Syrian refugee friends displaced to Gaziantep, Turkey and with my black brothers and sisters living in the war zone that are the South and West sides of Chicago. But I say HELL NO when the American Gaze glances at black bodies en masse and thinks it “got over” on black folk; pacified us with subpar schools that socialize black and brown babies into the penal system. So I not only pray that my sister will never become the motherless child of Elijah, I also demand change.
I take to the streets because I am a conscientious citizen of two kingdoms–an earthly one and a heavenly one. Because personal, professional, and pedagogical commitments demand it. As an educator of political science, I have always taught my students that theoretical solidarity with the oppressed is not solidarity at all. It is elitist bullshit that perpetuates the American Gaze from afar. I have always taught that the publications of the American Political Science Association are irrelevant, pie-in-the–sky pontifications if they are irrelevant to sociopolitical problems in the here and now. Political science pedagogy should demand embodied protest in #EmbodiedSolidarity with all the oppressed who are subject to the Gaze of the American Empire–rather than reification of the Empire’s gaze.
The revolution will be televised. Facebook and YouTube will continue to project the truth about the American Gaze’s disdain for colored bodies–and LGBTQ bodies–and the list goes on.
Black bodies like mine will continue to defy the American Gaze, prophesying even to the death. Do you dare to defy the American Gaze to see us?
As a black woman subject to the American Gaze, I will use what power I possess against the powers who dare not gaze at my black body lest they turn to stone.