The Spectacle of Historical Trauma of Black Bodies in America: Subjectivity, Abjection, and Commodification of The White/Black Gaze

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.34739/fci.2023.04.07

Keywords:

black gaze, white gaze, racism, abjection, objectification, psychic trauma

Abstract

In 1994, Elizabeth Alexander's”'Can you be Black and Look at This?’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s)” was published in The New Yorker magazine. Alexander focuses on the ways in which Black bodies have been the focal point of public pain, torture, and humiliation for centuries. These public lynchings, whippings, and other forms of physical abuse leading to maiming and death have been elements central to the entertainment for the racial status quo. Alexander's essay also focuses on the ways in which there has always been a “Black gaze” bearing witness to the decimation of other Black bodies--- the legacy of which leads to a continued cycle of both psychological and historic trauma that is (re)visited over and over again. Of course, with the prevalence of technology now a norm, such incidents of recorded violence are part of life in America.

 

As the United States' greatest cancer, racism, continues to be a root cause of this violence, neither the killing of Blacks nor survivors' consciousness will be healed; and worse, the spectacle of racial violence will continue to perpetuate victims on various levels: 1) as victims directly tied to such violence and 2) as witnesses to said violence. My proposed essay focuses on the tragedy of Black bodies as spectacles of public pain---whether they are viewed as victims, as specimens of morbid curiosity, or as receptacles of displaced hate and disgust; and even as supposed rightly displays of justices incurred, simply because the body in question is Black (“They got what they deserved. They should have just pulled over.”). I will focus on various, very public historical and modern-day lynchings, from Emmett Till to George Floyd, and explore the cause and effects against Blacks in America. Ultimately, the essay poses the following questions: who is the monster, who are the victims? And at what cost will this continuum perpetuate the legacy of trauma of the American Black population?

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References

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Nussbaum, Martha C. 1995. “Objectification”. Philosophy & Public Affairs 24: 249–291.

Orlando, D. (Writer) & Marvin, L. (Director). 2021. Covenant II: Welcome to Eidelon. (Season I, episode 9) [TV series]. In Waithe, L., 2021. Amazon.

Scott, Darieck. 2010. Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination. New York: NYU Press.

Tillet, Salamishah. 2020. "Endless Grief: The Spectacle of ‘Black Bodies in Pain". New York Times, 19 Jun. 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/arts/elizabeth-alexander-george-floyd-video-protests.html.

Till-Mobley, Mamie. 2003. Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America. New York: Random House, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edshlc&AN=edshlc.009225137.4&site=eds-live.

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Published

2024-01-24 — Updated on 2023-11-06

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How to Cite

Briseno, R. (2023). The Spectacle of Historical Trauma of Black Bodies in America: Subjectivity, Abjection, and Commodification of The White/Black Gaze. Forum for Contemporary Issues in Language and Literature, (4). https://doi.org/10.34739/fci.2023.04.07 (Original work published January 24, 2024)