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  • #Blacklivesmatter and the State of Asian/America
  • Jian Neo Chen (bio)

Since Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin's murder by George Zimmerman in 2012 and Zimmerman's acquittal in Sanford, Florida, #BlackLivesMatter (#BLM) has contributed to activating analysis and movement against antiblack racism at a scale not seen since 1950s and 1960s civil rights, black power, and pan-African movements. Cullors and Darnell Moore's successful #BLM freedom ride to Ferguson, Missouri, to support uprisings against the police killing of eighteen-year-old Mike Brown in 2014, along with #BLM's participation in galvanizing public attention and protest against multiple other police murders of unarmed black women, men, and children in 2014, including the more publicized cases of Eric Garner in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, established #BLM as a leading network of local organizers and cultural workers in a growing national and global movement against antiblack police terror. Yet, #BLM was never a project focused solely on police brutality. From inception, Garza, Cullors, and Tometi's assertion that "black lives matter" in response to Martin's death focused on not only Zimmerman's civilian policing of his gated community, which was supported by Florida's Stand Your Ground law. #BLM called attention to the court and jury—and thus citizens'—acquittal of Zimmerman, while Martin was "post-humously placed on trial for his own murder."1 As social media hashtag, direct action, and movement building network, #BLM deepens the analysis of antiblack racism beyond the tendency to privatize racism by law enforcement and citizens as individual acts of discrimination in an otherwise racially reformed or even postracial society. It "goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes" to address [End Page 265] the persistence of state-initiated and -sponsored violence against black communities, despite the formal restructuring of the U.S. nation-state from three and a half centuries of white supremacist enslavement and apartheid to "post"-racist civil reform beginning in the mid-1960s.

#BLM's unapologetic affirming of the mattering of black lives is therefore no less than a mobilization to overturn the antiblackness that founds the modern U.S. nation-state and also other nation-states in a global economy modeled on Western colonial liberalism. Its refusal to disconnect racist violence against black people from a nation-state premised on the devaluation of black life emphasizes continuities, rather than breaks, between the antiblack political economies and cultures of pre- and post–civil rights America. As Saidiya Hartman has argued, American antebellum chattel slavery goes beyond any rational economic claim to the enslaved black body as property to entirely consume (and enjoy) the slave's person:

The relation between pleasure and the possession of slave property, in both the figurative and literal senses, can be explained in part by the fungibility of the slave—that is, the joy made possible by virtue of the replaceability and interchangeability endemic to the commodity—and by the extensive capacities of property—that is, the augmentation of the master subject through his embodiment in external objects and persons. Put differently, the fungibility of the commodity makes the captive body an abstract and empty vessel vulnerable to the projection of others' feelings, ideas, desires, and values; and, as property, the dispossessed body of the enslaved is the surrogate for the master's body since it guarantees his disembodied universality and acts as the sign of his power and dominion. Thus, while the beaten and mutilated body presumably establishes the brute materiality of existence, the materiality of suffering regularly eludes (re)cognition by virtue of the body's being replaced by other signs of value, as well as other bodies.2

Slavery's dispossession of the black body involves not only captivity and terror but also the eviction of "(re)cognition" for the slave's "materiality of suffering," even through the slave's own self-witnessing. The enslaved black body is an exchangeable "surrogate for the master's body," invested with feeling, agency, and value that s/he her/himself cannot willfully determine, if only to further the slave's absolute subjection by projecting...


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