In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Black Joy in the Time of Ferguson
  • Javon Johnson (bio)

So little is known of our past, we can imagine damn near anything.—Terrance Hayes1

In the wake of this country’s most recent displays of structurally violent anti-blackness—including the acquittal of murderer George Zimmerman and the refusals to indict murderer Officers Darren Wilson, Daniel Pantaleo, and Sean Williams, or murderer Sergeant David Darko—we witnessed a wave of responses from peaceful marches, strategy meetings, die-ins, social media campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter, uprisings, riots, a litany of think pieces, poems, songs, art work, and so many others. As a spoken-word poet, I penned a number of pieces in a series of attempts to find a place to put all of this bubbling rage, hurt, and fear. In one poem, “(Un)titled Black,” I simply wrote, “I want to live in a world where police do not murder Black people” over and over, as if my basic request was a punishment unto itself. In another, I demanded a move away from peaceful protests, which ended:

Pay close attentionWHEN the State says,“This is a time for peace.”They are admittingthat when they firstfired the gunit was a time of war.Do not sit quiet.Do not whisper, unless it’s for strategy.Do not make another beautiful Black ballad [End Page 177] to be used in the soundtrack toyet another shitty movie about racismthree decades from now. Do not go gentle.Do not turn the other check.Yell. Scream. Show themyour claws. Your fangs.Be the monsterthey always thought you were.Show them the anger.The hurt.IT HURTS.IT HURTS.IT HURTS.WHEN the State decides to murderits next Black child,remind them of the shotgunshow them the hurt …

I struggle mightily with my poetic call for the “shotgun,” as I truly want to be a pacifist, but how can I continue to desire that in the face of all this black death? How can I turn the other cheek when my people are murdered, comedic songs are made, “I can breathe” t-shirts are produced? All while painting us as the violent ones in the media? If anything, black folks have been overly patient and overly nonviolent, as it is not just these few cases that have received national attention. It is the all-too-forgotten black women and black queer folks, it is 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Tarika Wilson, who was shot in her home while holding her baby, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, unconscious Tyisha Miller, 93-year-old Kathryn Johnston, and the too many names I do not have the space to list here that are corporeal reminders of the “vulnerability of [our] own black bodies.”2

In her brilliant essay, “‘Can you be BLACK and Look at This?’ Reading the Rodney King Video(s),” Alexander locates what she calls a “bottom line blackness.”3 For her, in the midst of high anti-essentialist discourses, violence often “erases other differentiations and highlight race.”4 Ultimately she argues that black pain is made both invisible and inaudible to many with crucial judicial, cultural, and political consequences. But, given that “[b]lack bodies in pain for public consumption have been an American national spectacle for centuries,” I do not want to think about invisibility and inaudibility as antithetical to visibility and audibility.5 The in/visibility and in/audibility of black pain are often one and the same, establishing orders and essentially communicating/dictating place and boundaries in service of the nation-state that uses anti-black racism as the [End Page 178] foundation for white supremacy. How else can we make sense of murderer Darren Wilson’s testimony that he feared for his life because Mike Brown “had the most intense aggressive face” that could only be described as “a demon?”6 In our God-fearing country, which historically constructs black people as innately violent, Mike Brown was not portrayed as a prospective college student, not even a human, but a demon that needed to be exorcised so that this un/holy house could be made livable for all the good...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 177-183
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.