Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega
Location
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Birthday
September 11
Title
A (Sometimes) Respectable Negro
Bio
Editor and Founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes He has been a guest on the BBC, Ring of Fire Radio, Ed Schultz, Joshua Holland's Alternet Radio Hour, the Burt Cohen show, and Our Common Ground. His essays have been featured by Salon, Alternet, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Kos. The NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Utne Reader, Washington Monthly, Slate, and the Week (among others) have featured his expert commentary and analysis on race, politics, and popular culture.

Chauncey DeVega's Links

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MARCH 21, 2012 2:18PM

Trayvon Martin and the Twenty-First Century Slave Patrol

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If there is a version of Godwin's law for discussing African American slavery and the Black Holocaust I always try to step delicately around it. Far too often words such as "lynching," "racism," "field negro," "house negro," "plantation," and "slave catcher" are thrown around with casual disregard for the historical weight which they carry.

In following the most recent developments regarding the murder of Trayvon Martin, I keep returning to one thought.

So much of the existential, psychic, and emotional violence inflicted on people of color in this society is prefaced on a basic idea: there are those who "naturally" belong to a political community and others who are perpetual "guests," "outsiders," or "anti-citizens."

The Black Freedom Struggle was many things: primarily, it was about a fight for civic inclusion, equality, and dignity. The Black Freedom Struggle was also centered on a politics of respectability which keenly understood that white supremacy was dependent on a basic premise: the lowest white person is automatically elevated in social stature, respect, and accomplishment over the most accomplished, brilliant, intelligent, and graceful black person.

Of course, these norms have been massaged and "evolved" to fit the "colorblind" post Civil Rights era. They still exist however, and are as ugly, pernicious (and at times) violent as ever.

"Stop and frisk," "driving while black," housing segregation, being harassed and racially profiled while shopping, and the conservative Right wing vitriol which suggests that President Obama is "uppity" or "arrogant," are all examples of how racism is a cognitive map. The white gaze orders bodies and peoples. Racism puts individuals in the "right" place and reacts with hostility to those who dare to step outside of it.

Trayvon Martin is dead because as a black person he did not follow the approved script. Historically, racism and racial violence have done work through the control of public space. Consider how this works literally in the case of Trayvon Martin. He was killed in a gated community, one located in a town that has a history of racial violence and where black people suffered under Sundown town-like conditions.

Knowing one's rightful place also works in terms of social expectations about power--who has it, how it is exercised, and which types of bodies it can be exercised on with impunity. The idea of blackness being ascribed certain traits and standards of comportment, bearing, behavior, and submission relative to "white" authority is naked and transparent in the phone transcript of George Zimmerman's call to the local police.
7:09 p.m. ET
Dispatcher: "Do you need police, fire or medical?"
Zimmerman: "We had some break-ins in our neighborhood ... and there is a real suspicious guy. ... This guy looks like he's up to no good, he's on drugs or something. It's raining, and he's walking around looking about. "
Dispatcher: "Is this guy white, black, Hispanic?"
Zimmerman: "He looks black."
Dispatcher: "Did you see what he's wearing?"
Zimmerman: "A dark hoodie, grey hoodie, jeans or sweatpants or white shoes. He's walking around staring at the houses.
Dispatcher: "Location?"
Zimmerman: "He's near the clubhouse right now. Now he's coming towards me. He has his hands in his waistband. He is a black male. Something's wrong with him. Yep. He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is. Send officers over here."
Dispatcher: "Let me know if he does anything else."
Zimmerman: "These a**holes, they always get away.When you come in go straight to the left ... when you pass the clubhouse ..."
Dispatcher: "Clubhouse? "Now he's just staring at me."
During part of this time, Martin is on the phone with a 16-year-old girl. Below is an account of the phone call as relayed to In Session's Sunny Hostin by a lawyer for the Martin family:
Martin told the girl someone was following him, and she advised him to run. Martin said he isn't going to run but will walk quickly. Zimmerman caught up with him, and Martin asked Zimmerman why he was following him. Zimmerman then asked Martin his name and why he was there. The girl on the phone says she heard Zimmerman push Martin, and then the call drops. She tried to call Martin back, but he didn't respond.
What does it mean to be deemed inexorably and permanently "suspicious?" What does it mean to be forever "suspect?" What does it mean to be marked as a "threat" from "the womb to the tomb?" It means to be "black." This is the new/old Curse of Ham as seen in the social and racial imagination of people like George Zimmerman and his enablers in the local police department.

History echoes. Ultimately, George Zimmerman reminds me of those white men riding on the slave patrols, eager, petty tyrants who are looking for any excuse to put their boots on the throat of a black person in order to raise themselves up a bit higher. They live to control public space, and how different bodies exercise their freedoms and liberties in it.

Maybe I just broke a rule about evoking slavery in discussions of twenty-first century American social and political life. But sometimes a little line-stepping is healthy, necessary, cathartic, and appropriate.

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R! Your points about "slave patrols" are excellent. Also, a terrific PBS special a month ago called "Slavery by Another Name" pointed out how post-Civil War, these "patrols" were part of placing huge numbers of Black folks in "prison peonage slavery" which continued to 1942! White Southerners and States made FORTUNES on this illegal mis-use of the 13th Amendment's exception, which did NOT outlaw slavery in prisons. Here's link to the PBS program:
http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/

Also, I've been noticing Conservatives across the blogosphere run to the Florida Law and Zimmerman's defense, and not only portray him as the "victim," but they are sending out links (a la Breitbart) to doctored photos of Trayvon to maliciously and intentionally portray him in a false and negative light, i.e. as "threatening" and "dangerous," etc. SICKENING.

(check out my article, "Was Andrew Breitbart the Anders Breivik of Right Wing Media" when you get the chance.
http://open.salon.com/blog/ronrobinson/2012/03/01/andrew_breitbart_the_anders_breivik_of_rightwing_media_dies
R! Your points about "slave patrols" are excellent. Also, a terrific PBS special a month ago called "Slavery by Another Name" pointed out how post-Civil War, these "patrols" were part of placing huge numbers of Black folks in "prison peonage slavery" which continued to 1942! White Southerners and States made FORTUNES on this illegal mis-use of the 13th Amendment's exception, which did NOT outlaw slavery in prisons. Here's link to the PBS program:
http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/

Also, I've been noticing Conservatives across the blogosphere run to the Florida Law and Zimmerman's defense, and not only portray him as the "victim," but they are sending out links (a la Breitbart) to doctored photos of Trayvon to maliciously and intentionally portray him in a false and negative light, i.e. as "threatening" and "dangerous," etc. SICKENING.

(check out my article, "Was Andrew Breitbart the Anders Breivik of Right Wing Media" when you get the chance.

http://open.salon.com/blog/ronrobinson/2012/03/01/andrew_breitbart_the_anders_breivik_of_rightwing_media_dies
Line stepping IS healthy. Too many people are uninformed and uneducated and some things have to be said from the angle of those being oppressed. I enjoyed your post, seeing you as a very insightful and intelligent fellow. I am just an old grandma, and if you ever read my poems, you will laugh.( I frequently misspell.) Hope you don't mind my input. This was very interesting.
wanted to point out that We Are respectable Negroes links (on this page0 leads to many articles and this one was up there first. the "regulators" and other patrols have long history and a part of the 2nd amendment as well as all the Bill of Rights were to address fears of states not committed to the Constitution including restrictions on the armed patrols. Chuck Norris seemed to miss the role of his Texas rangers in slave regulation including raids on towns of free blacks in Mexico and massacre of Hill country Germans who had no truck with slavery. And of course the Brownsille "riots" where more Congressional Medal of Honor holders than in any other action, or the Tulsa "riots" and of course the Georgia Gold Rush and the Trail of Tears. Course, I read your Arizona History of the United States so I knew this never happened
On the mark again, Chauncey. And yes, of course slavery is a relevant topic.


Bigotry, racism, presumed white privilege of today, they're all interconnected.
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And that those "Accepted Behaviors" are actually descended from a literal "lineage" of ambitious, repressive policies that brought about and perpetuated Slavery early in our national history, haven't considered that?
_____________________________________________

Colonial and "Empire Building" behaviors are direct precedents to the pretense of privilege behind racism, slavery was the "Product" of those currencies in our National History.
Chauncey, it's a given that my comment "Haven't considered that?" wasn't directed at you, I actually "Quoted" that paragraph but for some reason got hard lined breaks for my trouble ;-)

Suppose I could take the time to learn HTML, right?
As a white man, there is no way I can truly appreciate the rage people of color must feel when incidents like this happen. But I can approximate it...and even that approximation, deficient as it must be, hurts to the bone.

We all have to hope that we all will one day wake up...and stop this horseshit, but I suspect that day is still more than walking distance into the future.

I expect there is much more to go in this story...and Zimmerman will pay a big price for what he did.

But the price, no matter how big, will not be big enough...and there will still be plenty of people who will see him as a scapegoat rather than as an out-of-control racist, bully.

We'll see what happens...and the officials of the state of Florida better think things through very carefully before doing anything that looks like sweeping this thing under the carpet.
I live in a Southern California community which has a Hispanic majority--especially on my "side of the tracks/neighborhood". And, it is very common for people to be stopped for "DWB" which of course is "driving while brown" and sometimes just for "WWB" or "walking while brown"--as I see fairly often when a Sheriff's car has one or 2 young hispanic men stopped, sitting on the curb being interrogated and then being photographed for the "suspected gang member" file. Why? Because they're brown.
If there's a car or truck in a white neighborhood on "the other side of the tracks", it better have lawnmowers and weedeaters in the back.
And so it goes.
It's a travesty.
thank-you, Chauncey.

after listening to the 9-11 tapes here

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/03/two-thoughts-on-trayvon-martin/254879/

I don't think the history you're invoking is in any way "unfair"....

The cries on that tape, I think, make it not possible not to care. I don't think it's possible to forget, either, listening to those tapes. I respect you, Keka, Ta-Nehisi Coates among others for drawing my attention to what happened.
R!
 Thank you for this perspective.

 This might also interest you. See Trayvon Martin: Defense a Pig-Sty Beneath a Racist Facade?