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219 Conclusion #BlackLivesMatter It is fairly common wisdom that death punctuates life. It causes the living to reevaluate and reconsider just about everything, particularly that deep existential question: what the hell am I doing with my life? This question became quite palpable for me in the years since 2012 as the movement for Black lives, popularized by the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter , grew in response to a highly televised spate of state-sanctioned and extrajudicial violence against Black men and women. While in Black communities the problem of state violence is so well known it is almost banal, the broadcast of Black deaths through cell phone-captured video, dash cams, and surveillance tapes gave Black activists the evidence they needed to bring these concerns to the national stage. As young Black activists and their allies took to the streets, faced the police, and suffered the consequences, I had to ask myself how my story of young Muslims and Muslim Cool related to this movement. How did the project, and I myself, respond to the fierce urgency of now? The answer to that question is simple: fundamentally, the story of Muslim Cool confirms that yes, Black Lives Matter. Existence at the Intersection of Power and Inequality The broad Black Lives Matter movement (now represented, inter alia, by an organization of the same name as well as by events such as the Movement for Black Lives in July 2015) has shaken a mainstream U.S. American assumption about race to its core. Black Lives Matter has undermined the belief that race and racism are things of the past in the United States. This belief became increasingly trenchant after the inauguration of the first Black president of the United States, whose election was interpreted as proof of a postracial America. This utopia is defined 220 | Conclusion by the presumption that the country’s institutions and the majority of its citizens “don’t see race,” and thus when racism does rear its ugly head, it is an anomaly precipitated by the lone-wolf actions of White supremacist outliers, such as grandparents stuck in a pre–civil rights mentality, or of mentally disturbed young White men. By the summer of 2015, young Black activists had become increasingly effective in pushing back against this narrative. They marshaled citizen journalism and community-based research to document the reality of state violence. For example, young Black activism made the finding of the report Operation Ghetto Storm, namely, that a Black person is killed by state-sanctioned violence every 28 hours, an oft-quoted statistic.1 Although their work gained momentum from this particular form of state violence, the focus of young Black activists was ultimately on articulating the multiple ways in which Black life does not matter in the United States. These include disproportional incarceration rates: more than half of the two million persons in U.S. prisons are Black and Latin@, which, according to legal scholar Michelle Alexander (2012), has resulted in another startling statistic: there are more Blacks in the prison system today than were enslaved in 1860. The devaluing of Black lives is also reflected in income and wealth: Black unemployment levels are twice the national average, and the number of Black children in poverty is more than three times that of White poor children. Thus, while the emergence of crowdfunding campaigns for White men accused of killing Black men and crusades in support of the confederate flag (which inspired its own hashtag, #HeritageNotHate) provided further evidence of the insidiousness of anti-Black racism in the United States, Black activists ’ focus was not on these familiar interpersonal forms of racism but rather on how anti-Black racism lies at the core of social, political, and economic life in the United States. As the mantra “Black Lives Matter” suggests, Blackness at the intersection of power and inequality is also fundamentally about life— inequality at the level of life and race as a structural condition of U.S. sociality. In his 2014 book Habeas Viscus, the African American Studies scholar Alexander Weheliye offered a long-awaited (at least by me) critique of a popular body of social theory. He took to task theorists such as Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben for failing to adequately account for race as central to our ideas of the human. In his critique of Agam- Conclusion | 221 ben, Weheliye points out that while Agamben theorized the concept of “bare life” as a human experience that is prior to racial categorization, the real-life example...


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