restricted access Blackness, Sexuality, and Entertainment
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Blackness, Sexuality, and Entertainment
The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory, Tavia Nyong'o. University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms, Frank B. Wilderson. Duke University Press, 2010.

Terror has a history.

Paul Youngquist, "The Mothership Connection"

It feels like an important thing to be part of a community of hundreds of thousands of people who are wrongfully stopped on their way to work, school, church or shopping, and are patted down or worse by the police though they carry no weapon; and searched for no reason other than the color of their skin.

Nicholas K. Peart, New York Times

The news was announced while I was completing this essay that Rodney King was dead. Dead at 47. Dead, in fact, after having come so close to death that both he and we marveled that he had, in some way, survived. It was March 1991 and TV news stations played on a loop those 81 seconds of video and audio of the four white Los Angeles police officers repeatedly tasering and beating a screaming Rodney King.1 Writing in the wake of that beating and countless others, Elizabeth Alexander makes clear in "'Can you be BLACK and Look at This?': Reading the Rodney King Video(s)" that black suffering and violence against black flesh (what Hortense Spillers identified as "that zero degree of social conceptualization that does not escape concealment under the brushes of discourse" [206]) are invisible and inaudible to many eyes and ears. The taped beating as supposedly incontrovertible evidence of police brutality against Rodney King is thrown into question, the frames manipulated and slowed down, sound removed, and so on, and the brutality shifted from the police to [End Page 827] King himself. In Alexander's text, these outrages are powerful instances of the ways that "[b]lack bodies in pain for public consumption have been an American spectacle for centuries" (78). In the face of that self-evident truth, Alexander looked "for the join," sought a language that would carry the ways such historical and present violence positioned black people as witness and participant—constituted through and by vulnerability to overwhelming force though not only known to themselves and to each other by that force.2 "This history," she writes, "moves from public rapes, beatings and lynchings, to the gladiatorial arenas of basketball and boxing" (78-79). King too sought a language; he too looked for the join. Speaking at the 1 May 1992 press conference organized to plead for an end to the violence that he will be come to be blamed for, King says: "We—we all can get along. We just gotta—we just gotta, you know—I mean, we're all stuck here for a while"; "Can we—can we get along?"; "I'm not a—I'm not like they're—picking me out—picking me out to be"; "Can we—can we all get along?"; "I love people of color, you know"; "Can we—can we get along?"; "We'll get our justice; they've won the battle, but they haven't won the war" (Brokaw n.p.). King's words would become the raw materials of stand-up comedy and King's body and its movements (his petty "troubles with the law" that registered to most as belonging solely to him and not to the law) would be tracked and become the raw material of tabloid news. And in a sleight and slight of hand and tongue that, like the slowed-down video staging the response to violence as the ontology of violence, the three-day uprising in response to the four white officers being found not guilty by that all-white jury in Simi Valley became known as the Rodney King riots.3 Put another way, the aggrieved not acknowledged to be aggrieved is staged as the aggressor. The beating of King was yet another powerful instance of the long and complex history of white enjoyment to be found in black suffering as an "American spectacle," a national pastime.

Can "we" get along? The answer to King's almost unaskable yet repeatedly asked...