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  • Undeniable Forensic Evidence
  • Jennifer Tyburczy (bio)

What constitutes “evidence?” In exploring how queer studies may be equipped to respond to Ferguson and beyond, especially in light of the verdict to not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, I want to leave the realm of the legal-juridical, knowing this system has a historic and continuing role in defining, facilitating, and perpetuating the lived realities of racism. I wish to conceive of other modes of evidence as prompted by the genealogy of speculative thought and utopian aspirations of queer theoretical scholarship. To do so, I revisit three trailblazers of (queer) critical race critique before I make a “sideways reading,” to riff on Siobhan Somerville’s tactic for unsettling the too-often segregated discussions of homophobia, sexism, and racism,1 to make a geographical move from Ferguson, Missouri, to Columbia, South Carolina, where I witnessed three separate but interlocking events in the lead-up to the decision on Michael Brown’s murder that demand to be counted as proof. In moving sideways across race, gender, and sexuality, and regionally from the Midwest to the South, I intend to continue the work of dislodging sexuality as the only privileged site of queer inquiry and to cast the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, and Columbia, South Carolina, as synchronic, pertinent, and interconnected.

In 1991 Julie Dash’s avant-garde film Daughters of the Dust introduced the “speculative fiction” of South Carolina as the turn-of-the century setting for queer Gullah counter-communities. For Dash, “speculative fiction” describes a narrative mode with the capacity to promote deeper, more complex, and yet truer understandings of black queer populations and their precarious position in North American cultures.2 I want to return to Dash’s term, to nod at the historic [End Page 193] and continuing erasure of black queer centrality to the civil rights movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (Bayard Rustin, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and countless others) but primarily to mine “speculative fictions” capable of leading us to a truer appreciation of the complexity of blackness to the law and in particular, as this short forum invites, the queerness of blackness in Ferguson and beyond.3

In the same year that Kimberlé Crenshaw published her germinal article, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,”4 Patricia Williams published her masterpiece The Alchemy of Race and Rights and forged an approach to critical legal studies that mobilized the critique of so-called “color-blindness” not only in the legal sphere but also in the field of critical legal studies.5 In Alchemy, Williams combines critique with a reconceptualization of liberalism to challenge the perceived potential and limitation of how, whether, and if rights viewed and conceived through a liberal model can ever truly serve as the vehicle for social justice. In so doing, she forged a new genre of writing—a queer form, much in line with Dash’s “speculative fiction”—delivered from her breakfast table in her bathrobe and slippers and necessarily composed of, like Barbara Smith said of the history of African American gay and lesbian lives, “fragments, in scattered documents, in fiction, poetry, and blues lyrics; in hearsay, in innuendo.”6 Like the normalized ways in which histories are written, archived, and displayed by white privilege masquerading as color blind, Williams’s book manifested the need for new forms, methods, and presentations to illuminate the negative racial scripts that are and continue to be taken for granted in legal theories and institutions, critical or otherwise. But if murder, of the spirit and of the body, is her major thematic concern, a more utopian vision of rights is her major remedy.

With utopia in mind, I turn to José Esteban Muñoz’s utopian hermeneutics as described in his article “Ephemera as Evidence” and his final book, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity.7 Like Dash and Williams, Muñoz also refuses a too-easy objectivity as a mode for adjudicating what counts as proof, and I want to extend this critique to the positivist nature of forensic science.8 Although scientifically obtained images...


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pp. 193-207
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