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The Logics of Anti-blackness Undergird Every Mode of Injustice We Seek to Remediate

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To help people think more deeply about race, equality, and policing in the United States, we have brought forward the publication of the ebook version of this book by two months. We’re making this ebook free (until August 1) to anyone who wants to engage with this crucial conversation because we believe that books can change the world around us.


In the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd, renewed calls to defund or even abolish formal police departments are gaining momentum. If successful, these efforts could save countless black people from state-sanctioned violence and death. While this is a very obvious and visible place to start in the fight against anti-blackness, my research has shown that every time one racist system is dismantled, another tends to pop up to replace it.

For example, the civil rights legislation of 1968 did much to increase access to housing for black families who previously had few options. In suburban St. Louis, however, the ‘American Dream’ soon became a nightmare when the risk that is historically and pervasively attached to blackness drove resources, investment, and revenue to the next ring of metropolitan development. In response, small cities, including many with black leadership, resorted to relentlessly policing residents and space using ordinances and property codes to close the gaps in municipal budgets. Today black residents in this area continue to experience a perpetual double bind as they suffer from and pay for the disappearance of resources that occurs when they simply occupy space.

While this is a very obvious and visible place to start in the fight against antiblack violence, my research has shown that every time one racist system is dismantled, another tends to pop up to replace it.

As I show in my book Black Lives and Spatial Matters: Policing Blackness and Practicing Freedom in Suburban St. Louis, formal policing is but one example of the multiple forms of informal policing that black people encounter every day. Furthermore, black people are expected to be both the window and the mirror that reveal racist practices and to initiate the physical, emotional, and intellectual labor of antiracist work. The fact that George Floyd would be just another “suspect that died in police custody” if his violent death had not been recorded is an example of the level of proof and degree of violence that is required to verify what countless black people have been saying—that police violence happens. Unfortunately, culling ‘bad apples’ or banning certain chokeholds will not impact the myriad other ways that blackness is policed and antiblack violence is experienced. 

The leaders of Ferguson resistance, many of whom identify as women and queer, were mobilized by the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 but they knew that laws, policies, and even the indictment of killer police officers would not secure the freedom they fight for. Although the Ferguson police department symbolized a general disregard for black life, much of Ferguson resistance centered on the refusal to conform to the expectations that define ‘a respectable negro’ and on the demand to set the terms of protest. In a society where the physical and social death of black people is normalized and space is used as a means of exclusion and control, simply living as and being where one chooses is a powerful (and risky) form of protest. As I argue in the book, Ferguson resistance was critical to what we understand as the Black Lives Matter movement today.

As I show in my book Black Lives and Spatial Matters: Policing Blackness and Practicing Freedom in Suburban St. Louis, formal policing is but one example of the multiple forms of informal policing that black people encounter every day.

The ethics of lived blackness—living fully and visibly in the face of forces intended to dehumanize and erase—recognizes its location outside privileged positions of power. It also understands this position as a powerful counterpoint to the current logics that order people and space. This embodied and emplaced praxis of freedom distinctly exposes systems built on the expectation and tolerance of black suffering and premature death—a tolerance that is on bold display in the era of COVID-19.

Although legal, political, and economic solutions to vastly uneven distributions of power and resources should not be abandoned, we will continue to reproduce structural and physical violence if we do not recognize how the logics of anti-blackness undergirds every mode of injustice we seek to remediate. Our failure to understand blackness as historically and violently located beyond the map of the current world also forecloses the potential to access the generative capacity that an unmappable blackness provides. At this time, when a global pandemic is pulling back the curtain to momentarily reveal the rigging behind a planet that lacks a sustainable future, we must all fully recognize and vehemently support the futuring work that an ethics of lived blackness does toward imagining and manifesting different worlds.

*Featured photo by Maria Polzin on W. Florissant Rd. in Ferguson on March 31, 2015. 


Jodi Rios is a scholar, designer, educator, and activist whose work is located at the intersection of physical, social, and political space. Follow her on Twitter @rios_jss.

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