Black people only have one recognized right in this world — the right to death. This right is not the right to choose when or how we will die, it is not a coveted right. This right is also not the same guarantee of death that all living beings share. That everyone will eventually die is not to say everyone shares the same relationship with death. The anti-black world positions black people in close proximity to death so that the threat of gratuitous murder awaits us at every corner. This is the price of living Black in the Anti-Black world.
Anti-Blackness is not simply the racist actions of a white man with a grudge nor is it only a structure of racist discrimination — anti-blackness is the paradigm that binds blackness and death together so much so that one cannot think of one without the other. When one thinks of dying, we think of “fading to black” — when we think of Death (Grim Reaper, Devil, Angel of Death), we think of a being cloaked in blackness. And in the popular imagination, when we think of black people (children, women, men), a dead body will come to mind. Everyday my newsfeed and certainly my television screens are filled with a new black person dead, so much so that the story is almost mundane. Our death is a commodity exchanged on screens and in songs, the strange fruit to whet the appetites of a nation of strangers.
Consider the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King jr as an example. First of all, it must be stressed that King was assassinated with the help of our government. But the story is always told that his death was a sacrifice for the greater good of the nation. In spite of his radicalization at the end of his life — including principled stances against capitalism, the American military, and even stating bluntly that he was afraid he had “integrated his people into a burning house” – King’s image is used to promote American hegemony. His memorial in Washington was funded by big oil companies like Shell and Exxon and the third-world labor abuser Wal-Mart. Anti-blackness is the paradigm that will not only kill a black person, but will then use their image and even their death as a hollow symbol to represent everything they stood against. Even in death there is neither peace nor rest for black people.
Anti-blackness is the living legacy of slavery. While slavery is classically thought of as a system of forced, unpaid labor, this view does not hold up to historical fact. In fact some slaves were paid, meagerly for sure, and also many slaves were not forced to labor. This is not to deny the brutality of slavery, it is instead to say we miss the violence of slavery when focusing on the labor aspect. The slave was a commodity. The slave was a living object that could be used for whatever purpose the master desired. The slave exists under the threat of death, so the slave must comply in order to stave off this imminent destiny. The slave’s only right then was a right to death – not to die an honorable death, but simply to be consigned to a death in the shadow of history.
This history continues after the abolition of plantation slavery, through jim crow segregation and systematic lynching into the contemporary period of the prison industrial complex, stand your ground laws that protect anti-black vigilantism, and the recent report that shows that a black person is shot by a cop every 28 hours. Anti-Blackness is the zombie of this history, the undead structure of slavery that still persists today and perils black lives. The fight against this violence is the fight of our day, a fight to avenge the unethical murders of folks like Rekia Boyd, Kenneth Chamberlin, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride and so many others. The black struggle of the twenty-first century is the global fight to create a new world where black lives matter – a fight for a black future.
by Nicholas Brady, PhD Candidate at the University of California, Irvine.