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.

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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