Time in the age of the Coronavirus and #BlackLivesMatter: a dossier    

[Click on link to go to each essay]


by Cara Caddoo

Here is a short list and very incomplete list of books, articles, interview, and podcasts that have informed some of our conversations about how the past relates to the historical present. I’ve tried to include a mix of academic and non-academic texts. There’s also a few books here that I’m looking forward to reading over the next few months.

Beginning with the longer history of race and visuality: 

Few scholars have transformed the ways that we think about race and visuality like the brilliant Nicole Fleetwood.

Tina M. Campt’s work, especially her book Listening to Images [https://www.dukeupress.edu/listening-to-images], had been so important in getting us to think beyond vision to consider how we give particular images meaning. “Be it a portrait, a daguerreotype, an album, our experiences with those images is really about touching them, leafing through them, giving them to other people, sending them to folks, framing them, displaying them—those are not just encounters of vision or sight,” she explains in this great Imagine Otherwise interview [https://ideasonfire.net/63-tina-campt]. Listening to Images (Duke University Press, 2017)

Saidiya Hartman’s groundbreaking work on the archive, representation, and depictions of the black body in pain. See for example,

As Jacquelyn Goldsby’s A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature [https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/S/
] and Shawn Michelle Smith’s Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture [https://www.dukeupress.edu/
have demonstrated, lynchings and images of lynchings were highly public spectacles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Until the 1908, postcards of lynchings regularly circulated through the U.S. mail. These images, which clearly depicted the faces of the lynch mobs, did not bring these murderers to justice.

If public-facing action is an inherent aspect of participating in social movements, we need to grapple with the ways race has figured into history of surveillance and ideas of criminality in the United States.

“I just don't want to have this kind of technological determinism that a camera will save us from the camera, because it definitely won't,” Simone Browne explains, “Videos alone won’t make things substantially different for black people resisting surveillance or white supremacy. But there is something, with those videos showing our own narration of them, our ways of understanding that moment, to recognize white supremacy and to challenge it, that's happening now. But it's still black death.” [https://www.wired.com/story/how-surveillance-reinforced-racism/]. Her book Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness [https://www.dukeupress.edu/dark-matters] considers the entwined history of surveillance, blackness, and racial formation.

Leigh Raiford’s Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle is an essential book for anyone interested in the history of visual culture and the struggle for Black freedom. She considers how photography came to play an especially prominently role in Black activism in the mid-twentieth century. As she reminds us [https://hyperallergic.
com/ 572314/photographs-freedom-liegh-raiford
]:“The move we have to think about is the move away from the photograph as helping us access truth. And instead to think about the photograph as helping us access knowledge. And that that knowledge is not necessarily something that has to be seen to be understood.”

“Just as much as nonviolent direct action, rebellion presented a way for the oppressed and disenfranchised to express collective solidarity in the face of punitive state forces, exploitative institutions, and calcified “democratic” institutions,” Elizabeth Hinton writes in “The Minneapolis Uprising in Context,” Boston Review, May 29, 2020[http://bostonreview.net/race/elizabeth-hinton-minneapolis-uprising-context]. I’m looking forward to reading her new book America on Fire The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s [https://wwnorton.com/books/america-on-fire]

Andrea Ritchie documents how policing disproportionally affects the lives of Black and Indigenous women in Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color [http://invisiblenomorebook.com/].  

More than any other historian, Mary L. Dudziak’s Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy [https://press.princeton.edu/books/
] has helped me to understand why we need to think broadly about a range of social and political confluences when we consider the history of the classically defined Civil Rights Movement. In this book she argues that certain civil rights demands gained traction during the Cold War as the U.S. federal government sought to improve its global image. She outlines some of her ideas in George Floyd Moves the World The Legacy of Racial Protest in America and the Imperative of Reform” [https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-06-11/george-floyd-moves-world]

Another great book that accounts for US foreign and domestic policy in the history of U.S. race relations is Ellen D. Wu’s The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority [https://press.princeton.edu/

In his essay, Travis Wright’s references Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s essay “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past Long Civil Rights” from the Journal of American History [https://www.jstor.org/stable/
], a must-read for thinking about how we define social movements.

In chapter six “Mobilizing an Envisioned Community,” of my book Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life [https://www.hup.
] I consider an overlooked set of factors that contributed the formation of the first mass Black protest movement of the twentieth century.

In this interview, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham discusses some of the strategic reasons that earlier generations of activists embraced respectability politics, “wrestling with respectability in the age of #blacklivesmatter: a dialogue with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham” [http://www.forharriet.com/

Racquel J. Gates’ excellent book Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture [https://www.dukeupress.edu/double-negative] asks, “If one were to eschew the politics of respectability altogether and disregard the notion that media representations directly support or challenge racism, where would that leave categories of positivity and negativity?”

As my colleague Liza Black [@_Liza_Black] points out in her new book Picturing Indians: Native Americans in Film, 1941-1960 [https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9780803296800/], there are important differences between colonialism and racism. Scholars of Native American history, especially regarding sovereignty, offer us some of the most interesting ways of thinking through the problem of visibility.

Finally, to return to the theme of time, I want to underscore how much work goes into social media activism. Thinking about activism as both a form of labor and as a form of care is important. In doing so, I want to recognize the type of actions that we perform which fall outside of traditional definitions of resistance but which are just as important to the formation of social movements.

“A radical ethic of care compels us to build new things to compensate for the inability of capitalism to care. To seek coalition with colleagues, families, friends, strangers. To be honest with our students, our colleagues, families, friends that we are working while at home under remote emergency conditions. We teach, working to brighten the dark for our students, for our families, for our colleagues. Devotion causes us to ask who we have overlooked because we never had to look before.” These words come from historian Michelle Moyd [@mimoyd1] in her essay “You Need Devotion: A Syllabus” [https://digitalfeministcollective.net/
]. You can get her recently co-authored book Linguistic Disobedience: Restoring Power to Civic Language with Yuliya Komska and David Gramling here [https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319920092].

Useful Twitter resources

Mary L. Dudziak

Nicole Fleetwood

Andrea Ritchie

Leigh Raiford

Jasmine Cobb

Racquel Gates

Carl Suddler

Nell Painter

Simone Browne

Christina Sharpe

Michelle Moyd

Yuliya Komska

Cara Caddoo

Liza Black

Jodi A. Byrd

Elizabeth Hinton

Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Amrita Myers

Ellen D. Wu

Anthony C. Ocampo