BUILT to Burn: White Supremacy, Self-Immolation, and Dylann Roof

Guest Post by Leonard Curry

Roof is a product. He is neither natural nor inevitable. He embodies both white supremacy and the failure of white supremacy–that is, like capitalism, white supremacy is self-immolating. Ask yourself, how can capitalism be the “best” system if it is always collapsing? How can white supremacy be “supreme” if a person like Roof exists? He is not Donald Trump or “shirtless Matthew McConaughey;” he is poor, unastute, unpretty, “degraded” whiteness–whiteness that is supposed to stay in the racial closet so that supremacy is believable. He is an old formation of white supremacy that is supposed to no longer exist because the elite white supremacists no longer carry this model.

It is my hope that white and black people alike are tired enough of our white supremacist culture to finally do something about it. Because, believe it or not, there are situations where cooperation and work across racial difference is actually MORE fruitful than racist notions of scarcity.

For white people–

Step one: disintegrate whiteness. Find particularity again. Know your racial histories. Learn multiple narratives. Locate your individuality within community.

Step two: abandon the logics of scarcity; invest in something other than your best interest. Invest in other people. Find a cause that you believe in that is bigger than your own purity, safety, guilt, or lonesomeness. Do explicitly racial, anti-racist work. Do it everyday.

Step three: give up power, share power, empower others, amplify their voices, only know what can be rightly known through encounter and the gift of exchange; be undone by another; learn limits.

Folks of Color–

Check your investments in whiteness. Whiteness is like Voldemort in Harry Potter; you might have to die trying to get it out of you. (Some of us believe in resurrection though.)

You might have to pull a Dave Chappelle. Just make sure you have a community to do this work in.

Finally Beloved, read:

Ladelle McWhorter, Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo America: A Genealogy; Emilie M. Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil. These are not easy books because of the content and because of the stories that they tell. But they are worth it. Read them multiple times. And let’s go to work.

Leonard Curry is a PhD candidate in Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University. He is also an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His current research includes Black radical traditions, anti-colonial and postcolonial thought, critical race theory, and critical social theory.

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Why We’re Not Celebrating Chief Anderson

 Guest post by Andrew Krinks

Nashville’s chief of police has garnered praise from a wide spectrum of people for his response to local protests against racist police violence. But celebrating a police chief for refraining from harming protesters and defending our right to “express” our “thoughts” only decenters the real cause for celebration: the growing coalition building power in the movement against white supremacy and economic injustice in Nashville and beyond—a coalition and a movement whose message Chief Anderson has thus far successfully refrained from acknowledging or engaging in any meaningful way. Thus, we see no reason to spend energy celebrating Chief Anderson until he concretely joins us in the struggle to dismantle white supremacy and economic injustice—which would mean significant changes in what policing looks like in our city.

In response to protests nationwide against the murder of black men, women, and children at the hands of white police officers, and against the subsequent non-indictments of those officers, chiefs of police across the U.S. have dealt with demonstrators swiftly and aggressively, in many cases with billy clubs, rubber bullets, tear gas, and jail cells. In responding in such a way to protests against racist police violence, police departments have only reinforced the point the demonstrations have sought to make: policing in the U.S. is inherently violent and inherently racist.

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TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TENNESSEE’S DEATH PENALTY

1. There are no rich people on death row

  • 85-90% of people on death row were financially unable to hire attorneys to represent them at trial. They are assigned public defenders with much higher caseloads and fewer resources than private law firms.
  • Public Defender’s offices in both Nashville and Memphis have reported chronic underfunding and understaffing, to the point of not being able to take on a new case (Memphis Commercial Appeal and TBA).

2. There are racial biases in the system

  • A study of capital sentencing in Tennessee from 1981 to 2000 found that defendants with white victims were 3.15 to 75 times more likely to receive the death penalty than defendants with black victims (ABA report, p 284).
  • More than 1 in 4 black inmates condemned to death in Tennessee from 1977 to 2001 were sentenced by all-white juries (Amnesty, p 40).

3. There is too little oversight and accountability for judges and lawyers in capital cases

  • A 2007 study by the American Bar Association found that the TN death penalty system falls short on 10 key points, including Inadequate Procedures to Address Innocence Claims, Lack of Meaningful Proportionality Review, and Failure to Preserve DNA Evidence in Capital Trials. These issues remain unresolved today (ABA report).
  • A prosecutor in Shelby County has been publicly reprimanded by the TN Supreme Court for withholding evidence in a capital trial, and yet faces no disciplinary consequences from the DA’s office (Memphis Flyer).

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TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MASS INCARCERATION

1. What the term means

  • The phrase “mass imprisonment” was coined by sociologist David Garland in 2000 to describe the massive expansion of imprisonment in the US between 1975 and the late 1990s. This new regime of punishment differed in two remarkable ways: 1) the sheer scale and magnitude of the increased use of imprisonment in a departure from historic norms and 2) the systematic imprisonment of whole groups of the population without social scientific evidence that punishment has a strong relationship with crime control.

 2. Scale: There are more than 2.4 million people behind bars in America

  • Approximately one out of every four prisoners on the entire planet are in U.S. prisons, but the United States only accounts for about five percent of the total global population. Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons has quadrupled. Incredibly, 41 percent of all young people in America have been arrested by the time they turn 23. 12 million people cycle through prison in a single year. 7 to 8 million people are under some form of criminal justice supervision (including probation and parole).
  • Tennessee incarceration rates have gone from just over 100 people incarcerated per 100,000 people in the 1970s to over 400 in 2010.

 3. Systematic Imprisonment of groups: Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color

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Mourning Becomes Justice

Guest post by Michelle Brown

This is the irony or paradox. Political resistance could kill you, well actually the state could in response to your resistance, but the beloved community could save you. Not from physical death. Nothing would do that, not even god. But from meaningless death and despair. One does not negotiate with the state’s use of terror, violent and premature death (actual physical death or disappearance through incarceration). One opposes it and in that opposition finds meaning in black suffering.

– Joy James, “Black Suffering in Search of the ‘Beloved Community’”

Criminal justice in the United States is a project that intersects with race and mortality at every intersection. In laying out this claim, of course, I have the killing of Michael Brown in mind and recent events and actions in Ferguson, Missouri. I also situate this present moment within the growing historical record of patterned, racialized state killing. I mean to point to a kind of disturbance that is foundational, ordinary, routine: Mass incarceration and capital punishment are produced through a host of everyday discretionary decision-making and institutional practices that make up criminal justice, creating the conditions for premature death, like that of Michael Brown. To name only a few of these (and to engage them superficially at best), consider the following:

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Death and Taxes: The Real Story Behind Tennessee’s Electric Chair

Guest Post by Lisa Guenther, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University

Yesterday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill to bring back the electric chair as the default method of execution, should lethal injection drugs become unavailable or unconstitutional. While the first version of the bill restricted its application to death sentences issued after July 2014, a last-minute amendment lifted this restriction, making it applicable to those who are currently on death row. Theoretically, this means that we could be facing an execution by electrocution in Tennessee as early as Oct. 7, when Billy Irick is scheduled to be killed.

It is tempting to decry this return to the electric chair as a “barbaric” lapse into brutal forms of violence that do not befit a democratic nation such as the United States. It is also tempting to affirm this legislation as a more “truthful” display of what is really going on when the state kills, and to hope that the unconcealment of state violence will lead to more vigorous opposition. But it’s not at all clear that more truth leads to more activism, nor that brute violence is incompatible with US democracy.

In order to understand what’s happening in Tennessee – and in other states that are currently going out of their way to kill people, such as Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Utah – we must move beyond moral discourses on the death penalty and trace the material, political connections between state violence, economic inequality, and white supremacy in the United States.

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