David Theo Goldberg: I’m sit­ting here a day past the announce­ment that Darren Wilson, the police offi­cer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri mul­ti­ple times would not be indict­ed for killing him, includ­ing a shot to the top of the head which was the fatal shot that brought Michael Brown to his death. I men­tion this pre­cise­ly because there’s been mul­ti­ple expres­sions of out­rage, both lead­ing up to the announce­ment of the indict­ment and in the wake of it. And it indi­cates a whole range of con­sid­er­a­tions around vio­lence and its his­to­ries in rela­tion to race. There have been con­tes­ta­tions about the evi­dence brought to the grand jury. Multiple con­tra­dic­tions, both between what Darren Wilson him­self said at var­i­ous times about the shoot­ings, as well as what var­i­ous con­test­ing wit­ness­es said about the wit­ness­ing of the shoot­ings them­selves.

I’m not here going to think aloud about these var­i­ous con­tes­ta­to­ry forms of evidence‐giving, although much might be said about that in rela­tion to think­ing about vio­lence. But rather to think about the Michael Brown shoot­ing in Ferguson, Missouri and the kinds of police response to it in rela­tion to the his­to­ry of vio­lence and the way in which race shapes said his­to­ry of vio­lence in a coun­try like the United States, although one can point to sim­i­lar, com­pa­ra­ble, relat­ed forms of vio­lence that you will find else­where in the his­to­ry of apartheid in South Africa, even in the his­to­ry of post‐apartheid South Africa, cer­tain­ly in con­tem­po­rary Israel/Palestine, and the response of both to the West Bank and the increas­ing and expand­ing set­tle­ments in the West Bank and Jerusalem, but espe­cial­ly the con­cen­tra­tion of Palestinians in the ter­ri­to­ry of Gaza.

If we go back to think­ing about what the shoot­ing in Ferguson, Missouri tells us, we can broad­en out to think about the forms of vio­lence faced by African Americans, par­tic­u­lar African American men—young men but not only, in the con­text of the United States. Black peo­ple, gen­er­al­ly black men in par­tic­u­lar, over the last thir­ty years in the US are twenty‐one times more like­ly to be shot and shot to death than white peo­ple, white men of a com­pa­ra­ble age, in not unre­lat­ed kinds of cir­cum­stances. This is relat­ed to evi­dence, data col­lect­ed in a now‐famous set of Harvard University social psy­cho­log­i­cal exper­i­ments that reveals a kind of shoot­er bias, what’s come to be called race on the brain,” where white and black respon­dents are more like­ly to shoot a black man look­ing like he’s reach­ing into a pock­et, pos­si­bly for a gun although no gun would be there. And both black and white respon­dents are more like­ly to shoot in a kind of video game sce­nario at the black per­son, the black man reach­ing into his pock­et than there are into a white man or women reach­ing into their pock­ets.

So there does seem evi­dence that there’s a kind of dis­po­si­tion in this soci­ety. It’s not nat­ur­al, it’s cer­tain­ly not genet­ic, but a kind of socially‐produced quick­ened response to the per­cep­tion that one might be sub­ject to vio­lence, might more quick­ly be sub­ject to vio­lence, on the part of black peo­ple, black men in par­tic­u­lar, than white by both white and black shoot­ers, and police­men have a sim­i­lar kind of response. So that’s the first indi­ca­tion of a kind of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed con­sid­er­a­tion of vio­lent respons­es in racially‐impacted and racial­ly fraught kinds of cir­cum­stances.

The oth­er thing one could point to is the way in which laws like stop‐and‐frisk laws and reg­u­la­tions in a city like New York lead to far greater accost­ing of black and brown peo­ple on the street, and have led and con­tin­ue to lead, even though stop‐and‐frisk has now been ruled uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. In 2011, some­thing like 685,000 peo­ple were stopped on the street of New York by police­men in a sin­gle year.

If you do the quick cal­cu­la­tion that’s some­thing like one per­son per minute, 90% of whom were black and brown, black and Latino peo­ple. And only 10% were arrest­ed, large­ly for mar­i­jua­na pos­ses­sion, or oth­er drug pos­ses­sion but large­ly mar­i­jua­na. And very few arrest­ed for the pos­ses­sion of weapons like guns. And that fac­tors into the way in which young black men, young black and brown men in par­tic­u­lar, are fun­neled into the judi­cial sys­tem and ulti­mate­ly into prison. Although con­sti­tut­ing some­thing like 25% of the American pop­u­la­tion cur­rent­ly. Black and brown men con­sti­tute well over 70% of the prison pop­u­la­tion. Which again repro­duces forms of vio­lence with­in the soci­ety, both with­in the prison con­text and obvi­ous­ly once peo­ple are released.

If we go back to Ferguson and we think about the imme­di­ate response to the killing of Michael Brown—the leav­ing him lying for four or five hours in the street; the way in which evi­dence was col­lect­ed and not col­lect­ed in rela­tion to Darren Wilson; the fact that he claimed that Michael Brown had reached for and grabbed his gun and yet no fin­ger­prints were tak­en of the police gun; and so on, one begins to get a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed response on the part of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to the way in which black men are treat­ed in the sys­tem, and of course to the way in which white police offi­cers are treat­ed in the sys­tem.

But if one then looks at the way in which the police response gen­er­al­ly to the out­pour­ing of protests that occurred almost imme­di­ate­ly from that first night onwards in Ferguson, Missouri, there was a mas­sive mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the police. So if you look at images, the kinds of mil­i­tary weapon­ry that were brought onto the civic streets of Ferguson, Missouri again speaks to the way in which vio­lence gets per­pe­trat­ed by the state in rela­tion to peo­ple of col­or in a large­ly, 60% black city, where most of the peo­ple on the street were African American.

What this revealed in fact was the way in which the mil­i­tary in the US had been licensed to sell—I mean, actu­al­ly a bud­get had been set aside to do this. To sell at very low cost, used mil­i­tary weapon­ry, and indeed in some cas­es new mil­i­tary weapon­ry: armed police vehi­cles; tank‐like vehi­cles; high‐powered guns; rock­et launch­ers; I mean, it’s pret­ty unbe­liev­able in an urban American context—to police forces around the coun­try that were sup­posed to be used for polic­ing urban out­bursts of the kind seen in Missouri but were in fact also being used for things like drug busts in pri­vate hous­ing and so on.

In more or less two or three weeks on either side of the Michael Brown shoot­ing, there were a series of killings by police across major cities in the United States of one African American per­son after anoth­er, in New York City Eric Garner, in Chicago, in Los Angeles, in Oakland, in Houston, Texas and so and so forth. So sev­en or eight cas­es at rough­ly the same time which got focus in the media for about a day and then dis­ap­peared, where the Michael Brown shoot­ing became some­what icon­ic pre­cise­ly because of out­pour­ing of protest that con­tin­ued and con­tin­ued in the wake of the announce­ment of no indict­ment.

So one can link this kind of mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the police to think­ing about the way in which racial neolib­er­al­ism and the emer­gence of post‐raciality in the last fif­teen or twen­ty years has fash­ioned the way in which soci­ety is now ordered. Neoliberalism was of course a response to and dis­place­ment of the wel­fare state and the way in which the wel­fare state was dimin­ished as neolib­er­al­ism took hold polit­i­cal­ly from the 1980s onwards, when you think of Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl, Pinochet and so on across the world.

And what one saw was neolib­er­al­ism not so much dimin­ish­ing the state but restruc­tur­ing state for­ma­tion away from the kind of civic under­pin­nings of state for­ma­tion, for bet­ter and worse a way in which the state under the wel­fare sys­tem had pro­vid­ed a social safe­ty net for those con­sid­ered to be cit­i­zens of the state, where the state was run in the 1930s and 40s and imme­di­ate­ly in the wake of the Second World War, regard­ed as racial­ly more or less homo­ge­neous. And when that homo­gene­ity, or that per­ceived homo­gene­ity, began to crack, the state began restruc­tur­ing itself away from that social safe­ty net and pro­vid­ing of a kind of social secu­ri­ty basis and fram­ing, and saw itself as one com­men­ta­tor put it, seek­ing to so dimin­ish the state that you could drown it in a bath­tub.

Which was actu­al­ly to restruc­ture by tak­ing from the pro­vi­sion of that social safe­ty net and adding those resources to the secu­ri­ti­za­tion and the polic­ing of the soci­ety. And so you saw the con­tri­bu­tions to mil­i­tary bud­gets, con­tri­bu­tions to polic­ing bud­gets, going up dra­mat­i­cal­ly as the con­tri­bu­tions to social secu­ri­ty, wel­fare ben­e­fits and so on, retire­ment sup­port and so on, rad­i­cal­ly dimin­ish­ing. And so you’ve got this kind of inverse rela­tion between the diminu­tion of the state in rela­tion to the sup­port for civic engage­ment on the one hand, and the rad­i­cal increase of mil­i­ta­riz­ing tech­nolo­gies and ratio­nales on the oth­er.

And this went hand in glove as this devel­oped into the 1990s and towards the end of that mil­len­ni­um with the way in which post‐raciality emerged as an expressed com­mit­ment against…or, real­ly as a push­back against per­ceived mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, where mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism rep­re­sent­ed both the diver­si­ty of what Stuart Hall would call—did call—multiculture, demo­graph­ic diver­si­ty on the one hand, and of course the kind of cul­tur­al het­ero­gene­ity that came along with it in the wake of increased het­ero­gene­ity of Global Northern states pret­ty much across the world.

And post‐raciality emerged as a recon­fig­u­ra­tion of racial con­cep­tion by the state in rela­tion to this new neolib­er­al­iz­ing con­di­tion, where post‐raciality rep­re­sent­ed not so much the after­life, in the sense of the end of racism as Dinesh D’Souza called it, or John McWhorter, we should no longer pay any atten­tion to race. And so the ques­tion is not real­ly whether we are or aren’t post‐racial yet, but rather what racial work the post‐racial came to be doing and the forms of vio­lence it rep­re­sent­ed and con­tin­ues to rep­re­sent.

And so post‐raciality in its racial work came to rep­re­sent the retreat of the state from any kind of racial ref­er­ence, any kind of a racial terms being deployed or employed by the state, the dec­la­ra­tion by the state that it’s com­plete­ly neu­tral in rela­tion to race, even as it’s pro­tect­ing and indeed empha­siz­ing the free­dom of expres­sion of any­body to be able to express them­selves, so long as not engag­ing state resources, in racial terms. Which would mean that pri­vate indi­vid­u­als could dis­crim­i­nate in employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties in rela­tion to race. They could pub­lish in var­i­ous social media of real­ly per­ni­cious expres­sions around race and the state would have its hands tied in rela­tion to being able to do any­thing about it, pre­cise­ly because pri­vate expres­sion under these forms of neolib­er­al restruc­tur­ing would be off lim­its to state inter­ven­tion.

And the para­dox of post‐raciality is seen in the ten­sion between claim­ing that we’re over race, we’re beyond race in state terms, and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of racist expres­sion of a quite vio­lent kind that we’ve wit­nessed emerg­ing all over the place, increas­ing­ly pro­tect­ed in var­i­ous ways by a kind of repres­sive set of state appa­ra­tus­es, both inter­nal­ly and exter­nal­ly. And so what one sees hap­pen over here is a set of log­ics appear­ing where you have these racial out­bursts of the kind you’ve seen in Ferguson, Missouri. But you see them pro­lif­er­at­ing all over the place both with­in the United States and beyond. The response to the kind of activism Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands is racist, for exam­ple, has become increas­ing­ly vio­lent. Leave our nation­al mas­cot alone. Don’t touch it. If you do, we’re going to beat you up.” Police beat­ings of peo­ple on the streets of Amsterdam and else­where. And so on; you can point to oth­er instances, whether in Australia, whether in Britain in the wake of the Mark Duggan shoot­ing and so on and so forth.

And so what one has is a series of log­ics emerg­ing in the name of post‐raciality that are deeply racial­ly etched even in denial of its terms of racial ref­er­en­tial­i­ty. So some­one who is called on express­ing them­selves in racist terms would say, I had no inten­tion to be racist. Wasn’t me, there­fore I’m not,” fail­ing to look at the way in which a series of expres­sions might be linked to his­tor­i­cal expres­sions and so a kind of dehis­tori­ciza­tion of the very con­di­tion itself, leav­ing the expres­sions free of a kind of charge of racism, or claim to be free of charge of racism, even when it con­tin­ues to repro­duce both forms of racist expres­sion and forms of exclu­sion in the wake of that expres­sion of those who’ve his­tor­i­cal­ly been tar­get­ed and exclud­ed by it.

And so denial of racism, a denial of race racist intent, comes to be iden­ti­fied as part of this log­ic of the post‐racial. Indeed one sees it when a per­son express­es them­selves in racist ways, is called upon it and says…well you know, the apol­o­gy is now usu­al­ly not, I’m sor­ry that I offend­ed you,” rather, I’m sor­ry if you are offend­ed,” right, where there’s a kind of reversibil­i­ty where the offense is tak­en by the vic­tim but not per­pe­trat­ed by the offend­er, right?

And so it’s part of a more gen­er­al set of a racial reversibil­i­ties that are enact­ed in the name of the post‐racial that the forms of racism that are iden­ti­fied most read­i­ly in the name of the post‐racial are now sup­posed racisms by blacks against whites rather than the tra­di­tion­al and con­ven­tion­al forms, and con­tin­u­ing forms, of racist expres­sion in denial of say whites against blacks.

So, these forms of racial denial, these forms of reversibil­i­ty, are extend­ed and con­tin­ued in the name of post‐raciality, and even one then points to the fact that peo­ple are deny­ing what is obvi­ous­ly a racist expres­sion that becomes a kind of denial of denial, a kind of reit­er­a­tive and recur­sive form of deni­a­bil­i­ty.

And so one sees the way in which racisms get extend­ed in the name of and in the wake of the era­sures of any terms of racial ref­er­ence. It’s almost as though racisms are being extend­ed in the denial of racism itself. And so there’s a kind of racisms with­out racism, an enig­mat­ic con­di­tion where one finds it almost impos­si­ble even to get one’s hands around the very fact of the expres­sion itself.

And so you see in the con­text of the United States an extend set of denials that racism is any longer rel­e­vant, that racism is any longer ongo­ing. And when it does exist it’s mere­ly the expres­sion of a one‐time event, uncon­nect­ed to oth­er events. That they’re anom­alies. That they’re mere expres­sions of bad apples, of indi­vid­u­als who ought to know bet­ter but the state and the sys­tem and the soci­ety can wash its hands of any respon­si­bil­i­ty or any under­tak­ing for these events.


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Square Cash, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.