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  • A Black Girl Song for Dajerria
  • Tanisha C. Ford (bio)

Racing. Racing. My heart pounded through my chest. I felt woozy as if I was inhaling thin air. I could hear my heart booming through my ears in rhythmic patterns. Thump, thump. Thump. Thump. My stomach flooded with acid. Like a chopped and screwed track, my surroundings moved in slow motion. I was trapped between two temporal and spatial worlds. My mind struggled to make sense of it all. I could see fragmented scenes from a YouTube video rendered through my body's sensory recall mechanism. Was this real? Was I reliving a memory that belonged to me? To someone else? Corporeal déjà vu, one might call it. This splitting of selves, of memory, of space generated palpable emotional energy. But as swiftly as it had settled upon me, it was gone. Stillness. Yet, an emotional residue remained; it sat with me like a musty smell in a confined space.

I was remembering Dajerria.

I stepped my feet into the round holes at the bottom of my black Michael Kors one-piece swimsuit and shimmied the elastic material up my thighs and over the arch in my back, slipping its spaghetti straps over my broad shoulders. It was Labor Day weekend 2016, and I was meeting my girls at Long Island's Jones Beach for one final hoorah before our semester began. Yet as I put on my suit, excited about a day of not-so-youthful revelry, my body rebelled.

I was emotionally yanked out of the present and into the past, as my body remembered the first time I saw the viral video of Dajerria Becton, the then-fifteen-year-old black Texas teen who was slammed to the ground, in her bathing suit, by white, veteran McKinney police officer Cpl. Eric Casebolt after an innocent pool party on June 5, 2015 spiraled into a race-related brawl. Tough not the first time that Dajerria had taken center stage in my mind, this was by far the most visceral [End Page 156] response. I was experiencing a paralyzing body memory of an event that had not happened to me. Or had it? My rational mind could not compute.

It turns out, this body memory was the missing piece of an intellectual puzzle that I had been trying to assemble for years. My scholarship on black women and style politics relies heavily on carefully mined and curated archival materials and oral interviews with black women of different generations. Yet, prior to this Labor Day weekend event, I had not fully considered the power of the emotional—of pleasure, of trauma—in how we feel about our clothes or how we experience being dressed. Nothing in my historical methods toolkit had prepared me to broach such topics. Historians deal with documents, deal in objectivity. There is little room for emotion in our "burden of proof." But so much of the black experience lives in individual and collective emotion, in the affective.

Instead of pushing the feelings deep into the enzymes of my body and discarding the difficult intellectual questions they raised, I sat with the stale emotions that now adorned me like a second skin.1 I braced myself and rewatched the viral video shot by Becton's white peer, Brandon Brooks. I began theorizing about what I term a "black feminist material culture" approach to dress and the ways in which such a framework could help scholars, activists, and everyday people grapple with the (im)material connections between the sensory body and clothing. In viewing the unedited footage this time, I bore witness to Becton's trauma, an act that produces its own trauma for the witness.2

What I saw and heard unsettled my soul.

"Don't make me fucking run around here in thirty pounds of goddamn gear on in the sun."

Before unleashing his ire on Dajerria Becton, Casebolt addresses some black male teens and barks, "Don't make me fucking run around here in thirty pounds of goddamn gear on in the sun." The very material restrictions and weight of the oppressive uniform against Casebolt's skin serves as a symbol of state violence...


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pp. 156-160
Launched on MUSE
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