Black Death


Tiny - Posted on 04 June 2020

Author: 
Ashoka Finley

image: kiran nigam (insta: @kiranmnigam)

The word pandemic comes from the greek words pan, which means /all/ and demos which means /people/. As humans we don't have much experience with things that have the potential to affect us all. In fact much of our lives are predicated on a deep compartmentalization of cause and effects. It's why most of us avoid the gaze of the houseless person that's asking for sustenance on our morning commute. Without compartmentalization we word have to fully accept the violence that permeates our society, the violence that keeps it running and the violence that we believe is legitimate in the interest of our own safety. Violence in our society isn't an afterthought or anomaly, it's a core tenet, without it our society would not be able to function in the way that it does. One might say that this is a "good" thing but that is too easy of a bypass and we would be overlooking our own culpability, our own satiation, our own sustenance that is derived from this violence. Many of us know this and recognize this, we often see it all around us when we enter /public/ space, we lament its existence , we post, we blog, we tweet, we say "isn't it terrible what's happening to them?", but only at the point that we are presented with their death for our consumption. The daily atrocities become too much to hold.

This tell us something about the nature of a pandemic and what we consider /all people/ problems. A pandemic is such because of its potential to create the conditions of sudden, irrational and inexplicable death to all people. And so the /public/ becomes the terrain on which people's actions are policed in the service of /general/ wellbeing. In a pandemic this means social distancing, business closures and takeout. But even without a pandemic, it means vagrancy laws, stop and frisk, and the criminalization of entire populations. We don't get "that cute brunch place in that up and coming part of town" without a consistent, and perpetual violence. It is the mortar between the bricks of that great new apartment on the border of where we feel safe. Because this is a society premised on scarcity, that apartment is one of the few you can afford, precisely because of its historic experience of violence. Black death is what created the possibility for you to even be there. This is the liminal space we are pushed too, where the threat of violence to the /other/ makes us feel safe. It's the space where a stay-at-home order is a policy to keep you safe from the pandemic while they shoot black people in their homes.

Black people experience a perpetual pandemic in this country. The threat of sudden death, spread by others is constantly present. It happens to us while running the neighborhood, while sleeping in our homes, when we go to the store, sitting in our cars, meeting for church, while being held in a holding cell, while having mental breakdowns from living in a fascist country, while eating, while crossing the street, this obviously being a truncated list. Black death is a pandemic. But it is the pandemic that you don’t think you can catch.

Systems built to oppress people, oppress people. Even though these violent tactics and institutions have been scaffolded on the pain of those deemed less than, the structures themselves become a tool that can be applied to the populace at large. We are facing a fully militarized police force in the streets because your parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents opted out of or assented to the escalation in their lifetimes. They believed the racists when they told them to be afraid, and now you are confronted with what was created out of that fear. The effects of this fear are contagious. They spread through cities and communities, into minds and hearts, until we accept the violence as necessary. Accountability and impunity are two sides of the same conversation and it has been a long conversation at that. If the structures of violence have been given tacit impunity for the maiming and murdering of black bodies over centuries, through the acquiescence and praise of white and true /americans/, why would they suddenly feel bad about shooting you in the face with rubber bullets or tear gas? Why would they be able to be shamed or admonished for such behavior. Because you're white?

A society that devalues life devalues all life. The fragility of your vital organs and bones and breath are the same. If I kneel on your neck your whiteness will not save you. I mean weren't we /all created equal/. But if you are indeed shocked about the level of violence you'll need to accept that you implicitly believe the lie. The lie that your life is more valuable than mine because of the color of your skin. That your life is sacrosanct while others are disposable. That your generational wealth is the result of hard work and not systemic preferences. Because how else would you be surprised about the level of violence you see now, without understanding the lineage that it comes from. This society has tried to destroy black people and all you got was this shitty police force. The fuel for this society is the black body, it gives it logic and meaning. The black body here and abroad is the manifesto by which this country operates. Protect and Serve...Protect from Black while Serving White. Terrorize an entire population and then distill the culture they create to survive into content to be distributed. The violence being witnessed now has been prototyped and perfected on black bodies. There is a deep sustainability to this process because the human body is a deeply renewable resource, the black body even more so. "Throw half of them off the ship, we can always go back for more" We are accountable to the crimes committed in our name.

But if this is hard for you to accept that is understandable, it is natural to deny that part of yourself under threat; compartmentalization is how we have been taught to survive violence. The head wants to avoid what the heart doesn't want to take in. You'll need to eventually allow yourself to actually feel it. Your life depends on it. Because the sooner you do, you'll realize how high the stakes truly are, how little time we have and that it's all about to get way more intense. You might even begin to understand the radix, the /root/, the radical position. Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Capitalism and Colonialism have reached the end of their time here on earth, but their roots have permeated every aspect of our lives. They are the pillars of our house and this house is about to collapse. We need to build new houses and sustain those that have been built in defiance of these constructs, we need to build spaces to create, to grieve, to laugh, to sustain, to learn, to work, to heal. We need to build the spaces that this society has destroyed, especially those in the black community. This isn't about donating to a bail fund, it's about giving the house you're going to inherit to a indigenous and or black land trust. It's about not charging rent to your black tenants so you stop profiting from their lives. It's about shunning the police in your community, stop consuming culture that posits them as the savior. It's about putting your body on the line not in a protest but in daily life. What if 60 year old white women walked into police precincts and stopped their functioning, block the exits so the police can't leave in their vehicles. Setup funds to support cops who defect and take evidence or resources with them. Every local government should be shut down until a actionable plan for societal change is adopted, every town meeting and city council should be overrun. You don't need to be aggressive just unyielding. Business as usual is just another phrase for violence as usual. Make normalcy intolerable. Use your privilege to stop the very functioning of violence. Participate like your life depended on it. And then, maybe then, this pandemic will end.

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