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Reviewed by:
  • Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State by Chandan Reddy
  • Kemi Adeyemi (bio)
Chandan Reddy, Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. 320 pages

In 2010, the National Defense Authorization Act increased the Department of Defense budget to $680 billion. Tacked onto the bill was the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act that expanded the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by the perception of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The practical and theoretical work of this amendment grounds what Chandan Reddy describes in his book, Freedom With Violence, as the constitutive framework of personhood rights in the United States: that the racialized and sexualized contours of the sovereign, rational, and liberal citizen and nation are instituted and regulated by violence. Reddy traces the concept of freedom with violence through the twentieth century, utilizing a critical ethnic studies approach that is emboldened by a queer of color critique to provide rich analyses of the global political economies of violence, race, and sexuality.

One of the more compelling moves within Freedom With Violence is the way Reddy uses the power of amendments to conserve and modify the meanings of that which precedes them to structure his method. He advocates the metaphor of amendments rather than “intersections” to best account for how sexuality both produces and is produced within the structural contingencies of race. This approach to stacking robust information opens room for Reddy to take on the unwieldy task of simultaneously exploring how violence, race, and sexuality are mutually engaged, theorizing seemingly incongruous case studies together and critiquing the politics of knowledge production in the academy.

Reddy sets this course with a first chapter on W. E. B. Du Bois’s critique of the twin processes of positivist sociology and the racialized modes of [End Page 233] land ownership in the post-Reconstruction Black Belt. He then traces Nella Larsen’s personal experiences with and literary treatments of black, transnational migration in her novel Quicksand to excavate the similar narratives of racial alienage they produce. The literary analyses of Du Bois and Larsen uncover how scholars of color understood black abjection as central to the image of freedom and equality the United States attempted to project. In the process, Reddy underscores how violent, racialized experiences of citizenship and territorialization enabled the very legal, economic, and academic ideals of U.S. modernity that continue to work against people of color.

These introductory chapters stand alone as successful rereadings of canonical texts. Moreover, they demonstrate the more insidious mechanics of freedom with violence that becomes evermore explicit in the second half of the book. Reddy’s descriptions of freedom with violence are strongest when he describes how the force of U.S. military action is framed as a rational, “legitimate violence” in the name of the modern state. He argues this violence is actually framed as a counterviolence to the perceived irrational, arbitrary, and uncivilized violence of the racial other. Reddy argues the moral order that spurs racialized, legitimate violence abroad is always amended by a domestic, sexual order. In dedicated chapters, he analyzes how race and sexuality are often paradoxically aligned in the homophobia of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, as the figure of the “gay Pakistani immigrant” is debated in contemporary immigration legislation, and in the rhetoric of gay marriage rights. Reddy develops a queer of color critique throughout each case study warning against analogizing racial experiences with experiences of sex and sexuality. For better or for worse, this critique rests largely in the presumption that a queer of color perspective has a special capacity to illuminate the precarious positions of racial and sexual minorities.

There is an abundance of information in this book, and each chapter is full of subheadings that provide necessary support to this intense project. Reddy’s breathless attention to amending his data and thoughts with ever more information can be frustrating. At the same time, the reader is determined to keep reading as if it were a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, returning to and reworking the book—hoping and scheming that your ends will...


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pp. 233-234
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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