My TEDx talk on Racial Politics, Genocides, and the Meaning of Embodied Solidarity.
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.
June 19, 2016
Father’s Day collides with Juneteenth this year.
Juneteenth–a day of emancipation for enslaved black folk, my ancestors. Black folk who lived a stone’s throw from where their daughter would have the privilege of attending Rice University thanks to their faithfulness. Patient folk who learned quite belatedly, two-and-a-half years plus 19 days to be precise, that they were free from chattel slavery, at least that form of it.
Yet, 153 years after Juneteenth, freedom for the black male remains an oxymoron. An elusive American Dream. An embodied nightmare.
Because in 2016, black bodies, particularly black male bodies remain shackled.
Chained to a carceral Republic that only intended to commodify black bodies for the solidification of the Capitalism borne of a Protestant Ethic. And after slavery was over, left them to the fate of a white, governmental invisible hand that magically keeps thieir unemployment rates at 50%. They call this political economy.
Dehumanized by a polity that deemed them 3/5 persons and eagerly performed experiments on them–injecting syphilis into their “animal” veins. Or scraped cells from a woman’s cervix sans permission and called it proper cancer research–HeLa has a name. They call this Western Medicine.
Stripped of dignity by a country hellbent on perpetuating the myth that race does not matter where the American Dream abounds. The fact that the vast majority of humans rotting in jail are black and brown can be attributed to their pathology–a lack of personal responsibility, a culture of poverty–never mind that the institutions (public schools) purportedly positioned to elevate them to middle class-ness are actually intended to socialize them into more grown up governmental institutions (prisons).
Because the American Dream is farcical when you are freed to strive only to be re-enslaved by a void where educational opportunity and economic opportunity structures are supposed to exist. But you know, the scales of justice are equal for whites and non-whites, rich and poor. And lady liberty bids us all, tired and poor, to keep up the lie that the American pretense is for all, except Syrian Muslims.
Black men are still stripped of dignity in their death. Men like my grandfather who hopped a train from Rockville, TX to Oklahoma City, OK to study engineering at Langston University at the same time as the “Great Debaters”; who served in the Burma and South Asian sphere of World War II, only to be treated as a second class citizen upon his return home; who became the first black instructor at the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in OKC; and who having been called to ministry in the 1950s, retired early and used his own money to plant a church in an underserved area of Northeast Oklahoma City in 1962–you know, the redlined area where blacks could live and maybe own homes. And now other people want to buy up and take over my Granny’s property. Color coded maps still prevail. They call this gentrification.
My grandfather pastored New Bethel Baptist Church for 21 years. In 1983, he died at the church, just 2 days after baptizing me and my youngest sister. And today, this is emblazoned across the wall of the church that God and my PawPaw built.
One year ago this past week, a “Coonville” in Charleston, South Carolina was shot up by a white supremacist who knows that race matters in ‘Merica. But as the good book says, you can kill the body but not the soul, So the souls of the Charleston 9 live on. They live on in their families modeling of love and forgiveness rather than dishing out the hate of Dylan Roof. Or the person who desecrated the church where I met Jesus on felt poster boards and in the King James Version of the Bible. The kind where Jesus’ words were red, warning us that hatreds and bigotries do not become those who grasp human dignity.
153 years after Juneteenth, Malcolm X’s American Nightmare and Martin Luther King’s American Dream remain in stark juxtaposition.
Coonvillians like me ain’t scared. But we lament the Fathers bodies in jail; or relegated to the only opportunity structure readily available to them–the streets. And we hope in the hope that does not disappoint us while resisting and protesting systems, structures, and institutions that not only permit, but sanction the continued oppression of colored bodies.
Coonvilles like mine and Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC will never cower. We’ve got something within. Something America didn’t give us and America can’t take away.
Happy Juneteenth and Happy Father’s Day.
June 14, 2016
Gay night clubs are SACRED SPACES for many of my LGBTQA friends whose churches, colleges, families, teachers, clergy, and yes, government, have not only failed to protect their queer bodies, but outright rejected their bodies created in YHWH’s image.
Let me share something which may offend some of your sensibilities. On several occasions during grad school, I danced the night away with gay friends at gay night clubs. It’s no different than my ethnically Korean friend from Kazakhstan going dancing with me at a primarily black night club. The majority culture welcomed me (a straight) into a celebration of life.
I can’t speak for Jesus. But Jesus was always walking with oppressed bodies. Dignifying their existence by daring to acknowledge their bodies. Walking with them on the margins where society had castigated them to rot in hell.
Jesus saw suffering bodies and declared them good. The I AM said you matter because you are. Woman at the well, your female body matters. Paralytic man, your disabled body matters. Jesus came to liberate bodies as well as souls. LGBTQA bodies. The only people Jesus called fools were the religious zealots and bigots of his day–whitewashed tombs he called them–their supposed righteousness had rendered their souls dead. Walking Tombs=#ReligiousZombies
I mourn the senseless loss of bodies. I am not here to pontificate about why or how this happened. I mourn that many of my LGBTQA friends feel unsafe in their bodies and I empathize because I too, am a vulnerable body.
Yet, I reject the notion that the #OrlandoMassacre is not about religion or politics. While my previous FB post raised Trump, it was to make a point about a nation unsafe for #QueerBodies and #MuslimBodies.#realDonaldTrump‘s rhetoric is purposely inflammatory and exacerbates an already unsafe situation. He can’t take it back. It’s too late.
The sociopolitical context matters. Presidents and presidential candidates should not only mourn 50 departed souls, but protect the vulnerable bodies still with us. That’s what #Justice looks like.
Our country, our homes, our churches, our schools, our universities (non-sectarian and sectarian) need to be safe for my LGBTQ and my Muslim friends. We need #EmbodiedSolidarity. Which means sitting in the fear and loneliness of our oppressed queer and Muslim friends.
Mourning with those who mourn,
June 13, 2016
The Qur’an says:
Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.”(Qur’an, 5:32)
I learned of the #Orlando shootings in a hotel room in Turkey. I was awake at 3 am Turkey time as I had partaken of the morning feast before Ramadan as it was my privilege to fast with my Muslim neighbors while in Turkey. Early reports were hopeful that the situation was one of a hostage. By the time I saw the news in the afternoon, I was devastated to learn that a misguided soul had taken 50 lives during the high holy month of Ramazan.
Homophobia. Islamophobia. These are two sides of the same coin.
My laments about #realDonaldTrump are not political statements on my part. Contrary to what some of you have assumed, they do not connote how I plan to vote, whether I plan to vote, or for whom I plan to vote (although you can surmise that I will not vote for him). I’m a political scientist. I study this shit. That said…
I couldn’t care less for whom you extend the vote that my grandfather fought for in WWII while being spit on on the sidewalk at home in OKC, for which countless other uncles and cousins–men and women have served in Vietnam, Desert Storm, “War on Terror” so that Plymouth Rock can continue to crush and terrify our black bodies (but that’s a different lecture for a different day). But know this, First Nations (Nat Ams) whose land US stole, Japanese folk whom the US interned as many of them fought for freedom, black folk, gay folk, Muslim folk, poor folk, and increasingly Latino/a folk, fight for the empire that colonized(colonizes) their bodies. And Trump tramples them in his talk and he’s the real American who is going to make it great? Haha.
My statements re: him are because he and his rhetoric are DANGEROUS. They exacerbate hatred while blaming you and I for calling a spade a spade. HE’s a racist. A misogynist. A xenophobe.
Jesus says, you know a tree by it’s fruit. So I’m not calling Trump names, I’m just naming his fruit.
Trump is the name caller. Then he turns the tables and says we should be less sensitive. Toughen up. The American Dream (which incidentally, he knows nothing about since he inherited his money from his daddy) is not for wusses.
Donald Trump represents the vilest form of narcissism–if you have a problem with what he says, it’s your problem, not his because he’s always right. Recall, he never apologizes. Ever. Such a humble man.
Trump also epitomizes the height of privilege–to say whatever the hell you want to say and then say you didn’t mean it. Things like:
–I have an audience of millions whose own subconscious racist and xenophobic and Islamophobic and homophobic views have been piqued by my pedestrian ramblings.
–I’m rich so fuck you (sorry Granny and Auntie).
The point is this. Vote. Don’t vote. Be a conscientious citizen. I’m not at all convinced that Donald Trump cares about the human dignity of the most vulnerable. Which is what the world’s major religions call us to do. To do for the least of these.
I continue to stand with the LGBTQA community in their oppression.
I continue to stand with the Muslim community in their oppression.
From the reports I’ve seen in Greece today, Muslims and the queer community are not blaming one another, they are embracing one another. I can’t wait to be back in the states to embrace you too.
We are one. It’s time for #EmbodiedSolidarity.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,
Larycia Alaine Hawkins