Another day another slay, literally. George Floyd, yet another black man murdered by the police inundated news stories yesterday, and as it is with black murders, it is not only Flloyd’s story that makes the news but his body. His body, robbed of the richness of black spirit, lay breathless on the concrete, yet another victim of the vaccine America casts onto the black collective.
The dictionary defines a vaccine as follows:
a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases, prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products, or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease.
The acts of violence cast against the black collective, like a vaccine, preys on what is socially projected as harmful. Specifically, the global violence cast onto the black collective through the black body attacks black flesh as if it were an illness that must be extinguished for the good of mankind. Thus, anti-black violence is a metaphorical vaccine that whether a bullet, a chokehold, or attempted murder manifested through a phone call made to induce the former, constitutes a genocidal act. This genocidal vaccine deflects from the true global pandemic that is white supremacy— a disease that attaints immunity in anti-black vaccines created to ensure its longevity.
Whether shot to death like Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other black riddled with bull ets or asphyxiated like Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, the anti-black vaccine produces a tangible effect to white supremacy. Here, I wish to push back on the nuance contemporary visibility appears to afford slain black bodies. Decades ago, white murderers took pictures beside mutilated black bodies and sold black body parts as souvenirs. These corpses themselves provided visibility to the true invisible enemy. Thus, it is not hurt feelings, or word choice that illuminates racism, those are symptoms—these corpses depict what results from vaccines that exist so whites can maintain the disease of white supremacy.
Thus, these images, in their past and present manifestations, do not exist to raise awareness. Rather, they exist to “stimulate the productions of antibodies,” or to inspire similar reinforcing acts. These socially reproduced images exist to vaccinate through fear and praxis, while simultaneously granting whites the power to vaccinate should they find blackness threatening to the health of white supremacy.
This vaccine takes a particularly antagonistic stance to black aspiration, illuminating words the late Malcolm X spoke years ago. X stated: “That’s not a chip on my shoulder. That’s your foot on my neck.”
X’s words reference anti-blackness as rooted in precluding black aspiration as it pertains to breath and ambition. Notably, their need not be foot nor hand on a black neck to prohibit black breath or black ambition.
To breathe, or “keep black breath in the black body,” as Christina Sharpe says, seems simple. However, simplicity encompasses what supremacy murders.
To breathe easy in this anti-black world has little to do with lungs or the pharynx and has everything to do with color. The heavy feeling that follows not being able to breathe, or take in the fresh air, without the stench of white supremacy, or the haunting thought that even your last breath will be polluted with anti-black air, illuminates the persistent belief that black bodies are merely taking up space in an anti-black America.
The anti-black vaccine, which exists to extinguish black breath, betrays breathing as not a biological need, but a social praxis that becomes a luxury under the white gaze.
As many in the nation await a vaccine for COVID-19, this vaccine analogy posits an imperative contemplation. Particularly, vaccines, by default, function as answers to a problem. To consider the anti-black vaccine as presenting an answer, or response, to blacks as a problem, as WEB Dubois proclaimed in the early twentieth century, elucidates that there is often victory in the questions we ask rather than the answers we seek as a collective.
Dubois, W.E.B. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” The Souls of Black Folk. New American Library, 1982, pp. 43-53.
Sharpe, Christina. In the Wake: On Being and Blackness. Duke UP, 2016.