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Black Lives, White Imaginaries
Vampirically, white vitality feeds on black demise—from the extraction of (re)productive slave labor to build the nation’s wealth to the ongoing erection of prison complexes to resuscitate rural economies—in these ways and many more, white life and black death are inextricable.
— Ruha Benjamin, “Black AfterLives Matter: Cultivating Kinfulness as Reproductive Justice”
While raising Mateo, my son, I began to understand what I had taken from you.
— Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator: Dark Fate
And then they’ll embalm him . . . and make us pay for it.
— Georgia Jackson
On November 08, 2005, Peter Fleming Jr., defense attorney to California death row inmate Stanley Williams, submitted a plea for clemency to the "one man . . . empowered to save . . . Williams”: "The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger.” [I]
Schwarzenegger responded on December 12, 2005: “STATEMENT OF DECISION: Request for Clemency by Stanley Williams.” [ii] He begins, “Stanley Williams has been convicted of brutally murdering four people during two separate armed robberies in February and March 1979. A California jury sentenced him to death, and he is scheduled for execution on December 13, 2005.” Schwarzenegger traces a history of court decisions, appeals, and more decisions (all favoring a verdict of guilt). “In the 24 years since his convictions and death sentence,” Schwarzenegger states, “Williams’ case has been thoroughly reviewed.” Even “possible irregularities” have been examined. “[T]here is no reason to disturb the judicial decisions . . . that he is guilty . . . and should pay with his life.”
Next, Schwarzenegger turns to the question of reformation and redemption: “Williams claims that he is particularly deserving of clemency because he has reformed and been redeemed for his violent past.” This notion Schwarzenegger rejects swiftly. Redemption is impossible, he argues, without an admission of guilt. Additionally, Williams’ “postarrest and post-conviction conduct” contradicts his claims of redemption: “[W]hile . . . .waiting trial, [Williams] conspired to escape from custody by blowing up a jail transportation bus and killing the deputies” guarding it. Williams’ conspiracy to kill in order to escape, Schwarzenegger reasons, is consistent with guilt, not innocence.
The judicial record affirmed and Williams’ claims of redemption rejected, Schwarzenegger considers the assertion that Williams has contributed positively to society through his books (Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence; Life in Prison; Blue Rage, Black Redemption). About the impact of Williams’ books Schwarzenegger is skeptical. Gang violence remains pervasive, he observes, which “leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message.” Moreover, in the dedication of his book Life in Prison, Williams pays respect to a number of people Schwarzenegger perceives as undeserving, most offensive among them, political theorist and author George Jackson.
Based on the “the totality of circumstances,” states Schwarzenegger, “Williams’ request for clemency is denied.”
The next day, December 13, 2005, Schwarzenegger added to his career as “cinema’s greatest death machine” his second real kill. [iii] While all three of Schwarzenegger’s state-enabled real kills contribute to his iconic splendor, especially significant is his killing of Williams, a well-known Los Angeles gang leader, heavyweight bodybuilder and Black man. Additionally, with the killing of Williams, Schwarzenegger writes history in especially fortuitous alignment with his intended post-gubernatorial project, “The Governator,” a planned franchise to include a comic book, television series, video game and movie wherein Schwarzenegger retires from politics to fight crime as a vigilante. Executing Williams, Schwarzenegger cosplays his future franchise and kills, at once in costume and office, at a productive intersectionality of character and elected official. [iv]
Schwarzenegger's “Statement of Decision” was printed in newspapers nationwide, including The New York Times. 15 years later, it continues to be circulated through numerous repositories and archives, including Wikipedia (“Stanley Williams,” footnotes 09 and 32). [v] Buried, however, is the document that voids it: “STATEMENT OF DECISION: (corrected version) Request for Clemency by Stanley Williams.” [vi]
On December 13, 2005, I noticed errors of historical fact in Schwarzenegger’s statement—errors I perceived as significant and pertinent to the conclusions drawn and death sentence authorized.
I assumed these errors were the fault of the newspaper on hand. But when I checked other newspapers, I saw the errors uniformly reproduced, and in the days to come, none of the newspapers issued redactions, corrections, or comments.
I contacted the governor’s office to request an official copy of Schwarzenegger’s statement. I spoke by telephone with Cristi Caspers, Special Assistant to the Legal Affairs Secretary.
She asked me if I was an attorney. I said no.
“Great,” she said. “I can send it to you. But you should know, it is no longer valid.”
“Oh,” I said, “I did not know.”
“It has been replaced,” she said.
“A corrected version,” she said. “The corrected version voids and supplants the original.”
“Voids and supplants,” I said.
“Yes. Shall I send you a copy?”
A few days later, I received both versions by U.S. mail. One version, of course, I knew well. It is the known version. It is American history. It is the uncorrected version; yet also it is the original, and as such, it is unlabeled. The original cannot be changed. The word “uncorrected,” therefore, cannot be retroactively added. The errors of the original are preserved in the fossilizing amber of its originality.
The corrected version, by contrast, borders on phantasmal. It is a document of primacy and secrecy. Center and margin. From its quantum location, it erases without erasing; supplants without supplanting; voids without voiding; it corrects the record off-record; it restores factuality to an unread state archive without disturbing mainstream histories and perceptions. It underscores an interplay of repositories and anthems.
From inception, the corrected version declares, prefigures, and/or predetermines its own future obscurity. It is not THE CORRECTED VERSION, but the “(corrected version).” In the printed document, parentheses bound shrunken lowercase letters. The corrected version is a whisper, entombed with Williams. His death renders the corrections less consequential. Whatever was incorrect about Schwarzenegger’s original statement of decision, it is too late once Williams is killed.
Williams’ death amplitude-modulates White punctuation, deepening valleys of silence, heightening mountains of emphasis. Broadly, I speculate, ceremonial executions of racialized humans reify and augment Standard American English, or White English, from punctuation mark, grammar, syntax, and genre to canon. When written or spoken by Whites, for example, cannot the period at the end of any statement fall like a gavel? Is not the prison system a procedural corpus and architecture for sentencing?
Just as Williams’ death imbues White marks with visceral, punitive dimensions, so, too, it untethers the White text from its own reification. The end-goal of the original document was the death of Williams. Until he is dead, the document must hold to the truths that make up its argument. But once Williams is dead, the document may express new truths. Now, the text may exercise a malleability and plasticity that was always already its right, White truth always at once eternal and free. This paradox permits uninterrupted arrogance—a perpetual state wherein necessary, convenient, or desirable modifications to assertions of reality never require or indicate humility. Post-truth is not only as old as Whiteness, it is synonymous with it.
I am concerned with these racial logics and American blood rituals whereby uncorrected White imaginaries are canonized and sanctified through violent corrections to Black bodies, and corrected White imaginaries are, along with corrected Black bodies, caged or buried. Additionally, I am concerned with the White imaginary as an intergenerational and global-imperial brand and franchise—a destructive and generative production across sectors, markets, goods and services, platforms, institutions and venues, technologies, and media.
Numerous ancestors and contemporaries shape me. Described as “part toy fair, part museum, part theme park,” Trenton Doyle Hancock’s installation at Mass MoCa, Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass, was, among other things, an immersive, 50,000-plus-square foot, intermedia critique of White supremacy, its objects and artifacts traversing materials, periods, genres, and sectors. Walking the exhibit over several days, I began to feel more strongly the importance of subverting and countering White supremacist ideology and conditioning to scale—creatively leveraging every tool of culture and every material and every type of human experience possible in a coordinated way. [vii] Concurrently, I began to reflect with enhanced rigor upon the transmedia, multiagency energies and synergies that constitute White supremacy, and to grasp the productive momentum of critical mass: how an accumulation of interrelated artifacts may assume vitalities and directions born of the whole, engendered and actuated and regenerated in an ecosystem. For a new and better future to come true, we need new representations, new spaces, new communities and, ultimately, new childhoods. These notions grew through my experience of Mind of the Mound.
To composer Steve Reich I am indebted for a heightened awareness of the marks of racialized power on the sounds of communities. Reich observed that people’s speech, or “speech melodies,” are “the unpremeditated organic expression of the events they lived through,” that the voices of Holocaust survivors, for example, bear witness to their experience. [viii] Reich’s insights guided my attention towards the tonalities of America’s racialized caste system—pitches, timbres, inflections and accents, melodies, and cadences of oppression and resistance—to what Jennifer Lynn Stover calls “the shifting sonics of white supremacy” and Franz Fanon calls “the voice `that speaks from the djebels’”). [ix] Sensing racialized hatred and revolutionary love as vibrations helped me work intellectually and emotionally at the confluence of media and the body. Bearing imprints of history and intention, sound issues from our bodies and collides physically and physiologically with sensory membranes all around us. By sound we are literally moved (portions of our bodies set in motion). Describing processes for indoctrination of racialized hatred in Soledad Prison’s O Wing, or Security Housing Unit (SHU), where White prisoners are “pressured . . . to join . . . `Hitler’s Helpers,’” political prisoner and cultural theoretician George Jackson underscores the transformational affects of carceral sonics that “[destroy] the logical processes of the mind . . . madness streaming from every throat, frustrated sounds from the bars, metallic sounds from the walls, the steel trays, the iron beds bolted to the wall, the hollow sounds from the cast-iron sink or toilet.” [x] In Western architectures, American prisons and concert halls stand at opposite and interrelated ends on a spectrum of racialized sonic ontologies.
Joy James observes, “From its origins as a democratic slave state or a slave democracy into its current manifestations as a penal democracy, the United States of America has produced a wealth of writings constituting perhaps the worlds largest collection of (neo)slave literature.” [xi] Through two hundred and forty five consecutive years of national practices and policies of racialized captivity, the United States has
sustained the conditions for constituting a historic body of literature spanning centuries and telling the multidimensional stories of racialization, dehumanization, captivity, and violent, terror-forced subjugation and labor—stories traversing and entwining chattel slavery, convict lease systems, Jim Crow, and mass, racialized incarceration. Largely, with a few notable exceptions—Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl—this body of (neo)slave literature has been neglected by public institutions of education and research, resulting in a literary canon as invisible as it is vast. It is walking dead to ignore America’s canon of (neo)slave literature.
Through the racialized mythologies of comic books, I saw as a child the possibility of being a super hero myself—inheriting some portion of the White hero’s power—by virtue of superficial physical resemblances, like blonde hair and blue eyes. I began to understand “whiteness as treasured property in a society structured by racial caste.” [xii] Concurrently, I began to observe that my older brother’s heroes were of a different color, his color. His heroes in music especially stood out to me. While I listened to AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Billy Squier, my older brother was listening to Parliament, Funkadelic, George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, ZAPP, Gap Band, Prince, Morris Day, Cybotron, Grandmaster Flash, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Through such differences, I first began to fathom and process color-coded group identities. Further, I began to discern a choice before me—a choice I was unprepared to process or make: align with my older brother and be different from a White-majority community; or align with the community and be different from my older brother. This difference, I understood, was more than a matter of preference (unlike, for example, the difference between a White person who prefers heavy metal and another White person who prefers pop).
Then in 1977, when I was six years old, two things happened. One, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, aired on ABC [xiii]; two, our parents withdrew my older brother and me from a progressive alternative school, Six Rivers (named for the Eel, Van Duzen, Klamath, Trinity, Mad and Smith Rivers), and enrolled us in a public school, Lafayette (named for an aristocratic military officer in the American Revolutionary War). Roots introduced me to, and traumatized me with, American histories of racialized abduction, imprisonment, sadism and torture, enslavement and murder. Public school taught me that, contrary to my initial perceptions and assumptions, the horrors of racialized hatred were not part of a bygone, barbaric past, but foundational to and throughout our world today. “Slavery,” observes Derick Bell, “is, as an example of what white America has done, a constant reminder of what white America might do” [xiv]—and does do in fluctuating measure. In public school, outside the protective, world-peace ethos of Six Rivers, children called my brother “nigger” in tonalities for blood.
Soon thereafter, I learned we were Jews, with ancestors dead by genocide calling from unmarked graves.
Langston Hughes writes:
So we stand here
On the edge of hell
And look out on the world
What we’re gonna do
In the face of
What we remember.
I began to dwell on how to become ruthless. If I was going to stand up for what is right, like Thor, I needed to be ready to strike a person, with all my strength, in the head with a short-handled sledge hammer, which, outside of comic books, is a brutal proposition. The following year, September, 1978, Marvel released Invaders Volume 01, Issue #32. Therein, at the opera house, Hitler takes in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, expounding, “I see all the pagan pageantry—the barbaric splendor—which belonged to our noble nordic ancestors . . . . . . Before the spineless Christians and the hated Jews won them over to weaker ways!” [xv] Recognizing Wagner’s work as an echo of another world, Hitler develops an inter-dimensional portal and transports Thor to Germany. Thor is angry. But Hitler pleads, “We are of one race, you and I—one people, though separated by time and space.” [xvi] Hitler convinces Thor to join the Nazi cause and slay the Third Reich’s foemen.
I was eleven on December 03, 1983, when Metal Blade records released Slayer’s debut album, Show No Mercy, and from the opening track, “Evil Has No Boundaries,” I was changed:
Satan our master in evil mayhem
Guides us with every first step
Our axes are growing with power and fury
Soon there'll be nothingness left
Midnight has come and the leathers strapped on
Evil is at our command
We clash with God's angel and conquer new souls
Consuming all that we can
In school the following day, standing, hatless, hand over my heart, before the flag of the United States, before my desk, our teacher, too, before the flag, all pledging allegiance, I heard Slayer. Wasn’t that the point, after all?
I write now in the wake of the May 25, 2020 police murder of George Floyd. [xvii]
I reside in Portland, Oregon, on a peninsula between the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Today is the eightieth consecutive night of demonstrations in Portland. I live in a rundown house in a historically Black neighborhood in the late stages of gentrification. I write now, late, in the dark, at a warped and peeled card table in a yellow and green corner of our bedroom, before me a picture of our child taped to a wall next to a mandala of blue beads on a square of worn cotton fabric stretched over a found wooden picture frame. My partner and child sleep in a bed a foot away. Through the open window—now—I hear the police on their megaphones (same as yesterday, same as the day before and so on, always round midnight): “This is the Portland Police Bureau. This has been declared a riot. Disperse immediately. Failure to adhere to this direction may subject you to citation, arrest, and/or crowd control agents including, but not limited to, tear gas and impact weapons.”
Soon come sounds of munitions, grenades, and screams.
It is horrifically clear, as Michelle Alexander observes, that we are “facing the inconvenient truth that America may suffer from an incurable, potentially fatal disease.” [xviii]
Comparing Schwarzenegger’s original, or uncorrected, statement to his corrected statement, I saw the corrections were made to the errors of historical fact I had wondered about. Those errors appear in footnote 07, a fictional biography of cultural theorist George Jackson.
The corrections are in the margins. But also at the center—a center whereat the being, thought, positionality and meaning of George Jackson is influential and contested.
This quantum information in the periphery of the penultimate page voids everything.
The last becomes the first.
To understand footnote 07, we must consider the passage it footnotes. On page 05 of 06 of the uncorrected “Statement of Decision,” Schwarzenegger concludes his evaluation of Williams’ claim of reformation and redemption with consideration of Williams’ book, Life in Prison:
"The dedication of Williams’ book Life in Prison casts significant doubt on his personal redemption. This book was published in 1998, several years after Williams’ claimed redemptive experience. Specifically, the book is dedicated to “Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid, George Jackson, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the countless other men, women, and youths who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars.” The mix of individuals on this list is curious. Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders, including the killing of law enforcement.
But the inclusion of George Jackson on this list defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems."7
Up to this point, Schwarzenegger has been judging one person: Williams. Here, he expands the scope of his judgment to thirteen. He abandons standards of evaluation and evidence. Rather, he judges summarily, amassing a case by association. With the addition of each “curious” person, the evidence mounts against them all, because the “criminals” are themselves the evidence. Their criminality is composed of a few elements: “some” have been convicted of “heinous murders” and “the killing of law enforcement”; “most” have “violent pasts”; all are political activists; all are Black and Brown. Combinations of convictions, biographies, activism, and color produce a group criminality.
With the particulars of allegations, convictions and/or biographies unrevealed and un-explicated, color codes the group most uniformly and pronouncedly. [xix] Color occupies and fills the absence. It provides the information necessary for White readers to interpret abstractions like “violent histories.” The uniformly racialized character of all persons included in the sole passage Schwarzenegger selects for judgment conjures a discriminatory ideology wherein Black and Brown people are inherently condemned. The criminal personality, writes Michel Foucault, “is responsible. . . . [B]y his very existence he is a creator of risk, even if he is not at fault, since he has not of his own free will
chosen evil rather than good. The purpose of the sanction will therefore . . . be to reduce as much as possible . . . by elimination, or by exclusion.” [xx] Condemnation rooted in assumptions of biological value lay the foundation for generalized termination and erasure: (genocide).
In his sweeping judgment of the group, Schwarzenegger escalates towards a crescendo, the unthinkable inclusion in a place of acknowledgement of George Jackson. The “inclusion of George Jackson,” states Schwarzenegger, “defies reason” and is a “significant indicator” that Williams “sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems.” In footnote 07 (uncorrected version), below in its entirety, Schwarzenegger expounds:
"George Jackson was a militant activist and prison inmate who founded the violent Black Guerilla Family prison gang. Jackson was charged with the murder of a San Quentin correctional officer. In 1970, when Jackson was out to court in Marin County on the murder case, his brother stormed the courtroom with a machine gun, and along with Jackson and two other inmates, took a judge, the prosecutor and three others hostage in an escape attempt. Shooting broke out. The prosecutor was paralyzed from a police bullet, and the judge was killed by a close-range blast to his head when the shotgun taped to his throat was fired by one of Jackson’s accomplices. Jackson’s brother was also killed. Then, three days before trial was to begin in the correctional officer murder case, Jackson was gunned down in the upper yard at San Quentin Prison in another foiled escape attempt on a day of unparalleled violence in the prison that left three officers and three inmates dead in an earlier riot that reports indicate also involved Jackson."
Having foregone evidentiary support, Schwarzenegger now changes genres altogether, his pivot beginning with his caricature of George Jackson as monolithic, unequivocal, and eternal indicator—as object of the White imagination rather than as human. Fantasizing/casting George Jackson as an outlaw unworthy of understanding or compassion, Schwarzenegger sets the stage for a barrage of decontextualized and consumable violence: courtrooms are stormed, machine guns drawn, hostages taken, shootouts spawned, victims paralyzed, and a judge killed by a close-range blast to the head from a shotgun taped to his throat and “fired by one of Jackson’s accomplices.” In the final showdown, George Jackson is gunned down amid “another” bloody escape attempt. From its opening construct of the bad guy to its density of action and battle, from its paucity of context or story to its grand finale and violent resolution, Schwarzenegger’s narrative summons structures and tropes of the 80s and 90s action movies of Schwarzenegger’s lucrative cinematic career. [xxi] “If Arnold Schwarzenegger were a deity,” writes Ryan Lambie, “and he may yet prove to be – he'd be the God of Death, Vengeance, and Gatling Guns, and his crown would be made from bullet cases and hand grenade pins.” [xxii] That Stanley Williams will die by lethal injection soon hereafter may be experienced as a sequel in a franchise of Black lives and White imaginaries.
Eventually, however, footnote 07 must be corrected. Overwhelmingly, it is fantasy—too egregiously anti-factual to be sustained. George Jackson was never "out to court in Marin County" when "his brother stormed the courtroom." George Jackson never took "a judge . . . prosecutor and three others hostage in an escape attempt." George Jackson was never present when "shooting broke out" and a "prosecutor was paralyzed by a police bullet." George Jackson was never present when a "judge was killed by a close-range blast.” The man who fired the shotgun taped to Judge Haley’s throat cannot be categorized as an “accomplice” of George Jackson’s, because George Jackson was not present. George Jackson could not be part of “another" escape attempt, because he was not present for any prior attempt. Schwarzenegger's imaginary collides with facts beyond any reasonable defense (it “defies reason”). Footnote 07 is 176 words in length, and 89 of those words—just over 50% of the footnote—are devoted to falsely placing George Jackson at the scene of an incident he was not present for. A White imaginary legitimates the execution of Stanley Williams.
“Because white men can’t/ police their imagination,” writes Claudia Rankine, “black people are dying.” [xxiii] And, as adrienne maree brown observes, “those who kill, based on an imagined, racialized fear of black people, are rarely held accountable.” [xxiv]
George Jackson was born September 23, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois, as the Great Depression was ending,” in the wake of the historic Chicago race riot of 1919, and at the height of the Great Migration (hundreds of thousands of Blacks migrating to Chicago to escape Southern Jim Crow and extrajudicial lynch mobs). [xxv] Jackson attended a segregated school, St. Malachy’s. Blacks, Jackson remembers, “played and fought on the corner sidewalks bordering the school” as Whites “had a large grass-and-tree-studded garden with an eight-foot wrought-iron fence bordering it . . . picnic tables for spring lunches, swings . . . [and] slides.” Blacks walked to school or took street cars; Whites were “driven to and from school in large private buses or their parents’ cars.” Recollecting his experience of American education, Jackson writes, “I know now that the most damaging thing a people in a colonial situation can do is to allow their children to attend any educational facility organized by the dominant enemy culture.” [xxvi]
Jackson began stealing as a child. [xxvii] He stole food (“I was hungry,” he recalls, “and so we were all”) and gloves (his hands “were always cold”) and marbles for slingshots. His grandfather, George Davis, attempted to mentor Jackson, to direct his energy “into the proper form of protest.” He shared “simple allegories that always pictured the white politicians as animals. . . . I loved him. . . . He died alone in southern Illinois the fifth year that I was in San Quentin, on a pension that after rent allowed for a diet of little more than sardines and crackers.” [xxviii]
In 1956, Jackson’s father transferred his post office job to Watts, Los Angeles, where “serious things started to happen.” At 15 years of age, Jackson was confronted by police while breaking into a department store. As Jackson stood with his “hands in the air,” an officer unloaded his revolver on him (six shots), striking him twice. In the back of a police car, Jackson remembers bleeding for hours as the police attempted to interrogate him, hoping, in vain, to gather information on his accomplices. Eventually, unsuccessful, they relented, and Jackson was provided medical attention. Soon, he ended up in Youth Authority Corrections, Paso Robles, where he completed “the work required for the 10th-year students in the California school system.” [xxix] He was released when he was 16, but at 18 was accused of robbing a gas station of $70. “I accepted a deal,” he recalls. “I agreed to confess and spare the county court costs in return for a light county jail sentence . . . but when the time came for sentencing, they tossed me in the penitentiary with one to life.” [xxx]
While in prison, Jackson became engaged in political theory and global struggles for human rights. “I met Marx,” writes Jackson, “Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao. . . . they redeemed me. For the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas.” In partnership with like-minded fellow prisoners, Jackson “attempted to transform the black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality. As a result,” writes Jackson, “each of us has been subjected to years of the most vicious reactionary violence by the state.” [xxxi] Under conditions of incarceration, Jackson authored two historic books—Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (1970) and Blood in my Eye (1971), the second selected for publication by 1987 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, 1993 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and 2012 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Toni Morrison.
On January 13, 1970, a racialized fight between Black and White inmates broke out in the San Quentin prison yard. In response, corrections officer Opie G. Miller shot three Black inmates from his gun tower, and his actions—shooting only Black inmates—were ruled justifiable homicide by a grand jury. The three Black inmates killed were W.L. Nolan, Cleveland Edwards and Alvin Miller, friends of George Jackson’s. On January 17, 1970, George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette were charged with the death of White corrections officer John V. Mills, who allegedly was killed in retaliation for the three Black prisoners murdered. On August 07, 1970, George Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan, convinced that his older brother was soon to be assassinated by the state, stormed a Marin County courtroom with guns and took hostages, presumably to negotiate for his brother’s life. Jonathan Jackson, James Mclain, William Christmas, and Harold Haley were killed in the attempt. A year later, on August 21, 1971, George Jackson partook in an inmate uprising at San Quentin and was shot and killed. On March 27, 1972, an all white jury acquitted Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette of Mills’ death.
Under the American system of jurisprudence, George Jackson was guilty of one crime: second degree robbery. The alleged crime of murder he was never tried for, and his two alleged accomplices, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette, were tried and found innocent. Contrary the imaginaries Schwarzenegger promulgates, George Jackson was, criminally, a robber. It is not Jackson’s criminal record that rouses violent, White fantasies, but his political orientation. Most controversial for White America was George Jackson’s advocacy of armed struggle. It is irresponsibly incomplete to suggest, as Arnold Schwarzenegger does, that George Jackson saw “violence . . . as a legitimate means to address societal problems.” More accurately, George Jackson saw violence as a legitimate means to address persistent, egregious, and systematic, state-perpetrated racialized hatred, abuse, violence and murder. Upon acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, President Barack Obama observed, “There will be times when nations . . . find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. . . . I face the world as it is. . . . For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies.” [xxxii]
Upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s violent death, George Jackson observed, “nonviolence . . . presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one’s adversary.” [xxxiii]
Destructive and productive entwinements of racialized law, politics, and American action cinema date back to the earliest days of motion pictures, beginning, most pronouncedly, perhaps, with The Birth of a Nation, a 1915 epic drama based on The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan by Thomas Dixon Jr., an American White supremacist, politician, lawyer, Baptist minister, novelist, playwright and filmmaker. [xxxiv] As described by The New Yorker, The Birth of a Nation “shows Southern whites forming the Ku Klux Klan to defend themselves against such abominations” as interracial sex and marriage. [xxxv] “The movie asserts that the white-sheet-clad death squad served justice summarily and that, by denying blacks the right to vote and keeping them generally apart and subordinate, it restored order and civilization to the South.” [xxxvi] As Thomas Dixon Jr. expounds, The Birth of a Nation celebrates the courage of Clansmen who, “daring exile, imprisonment, and a felon’s death,” saved the “Aryan race” from “the bold attempt of Thaddeus Stevens to Africanize ten great States of the American Union.” In a show of solidarity, and as a favor to Thomas Dixon Jr., who was “an old college buddy,” President Woodrow Wilson agreed to host a screening of The Birth of a Nation in the East Room of the White House, where it was viewed by Wilson, his daughter Margaret and select guests. [xxxvii]
55 years later, on August 03, 1970, four days before the Marin County courthouse incident of August 07, and immediately prior to a meeting with “Law Enforcement Assistance Administration people” from California, New York, Illinois and Colorado, President Richard Nixon summoned the genre of the American action movie not only in support of his law and order agenda, but also as a purifying counterpoint to a corrosive free press. Speaking to news reporters in Denver, Colorado, Nixon begins with a dollars-and-cents account of his administration’s commitment to law enforcement: “In a time that we are cutting budgets, there is one area where we are drastically increasing budgets": Federal aid to state and city law enforcement. From 1969 to 1970, Nixon reports, his administration increased federal aid to state and city law enforcement agencies from $60 million to $280 million. By 1971, Nixon predicts, his administration will further increase that allocation to $450-500 million. But a seven-fold increase in federal funds to law enforcement agencies is alone not enough. [xxxviii]
To fully protect the American "system of law and order and justice . . . that is now under attack in so many areas," says Nixon, Congress must expand the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, authorizing, among other things, the Federal Government to "use its source of information and its officials throughout the country to assist local officials in a coordinated program," and the news media and free press must stop "glorify[ing] and . . . mak[ing] heroes out of those who engage in criminal activities.” Beyond enormous budgets, law and order necessitates a more coordinated system and a change in stories told. [xxxix]
Doing a better job than the press, in Nixon's view, are Hollywood westerns. Most recently, Nixon shares, he has watched Chisum, starring John Wayne. The movie prompts him to wonder "why it is that the western [as a genre] survives year after year after year." Nixon concludes that in addition to "the excitement, the gun play, and the rest,” (emphasis mine) the western endures because "the good guys come out ahead in westerns; the bad guys lose." [xl] Such clarity, however, is an affordance of fantasy rather than reality. Judicial processes may determine guilt or innocence in a particular instance; but they do not produce absolute judgments of character. They do not produce “good guys” and “bad guys.” To the contrary, in most cases, judicial processes assume a human capacity for change, or rehabilitation. Similarly, journalism seeks to report on and document complex events as they transpire in time and place rather than to formulate enduring and recurring character types. Good guys and bad guys are conventions of fictional genres for the production of effects like eternal value, tension, dramatic action and perceptions/sensations of resolution.
On August 07, 1970, reporting on the takeover of a Marin County courtroom by Black revolutionaries, including George Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan, Time magazine observed, “The . . . gunplay in San Rafael in a curious way pointed up the hazards of the President as film critic. In praising the new John Wayne film Chisum, he seems to have overlooked the fact that in it the good guys prevail over the bad guys only by taking the law into their own hands. That, of course, is what the ‘revolutionaries’ of Marin County were attempting . . . . Vigilantism appeals not only to conservatives.” [xli] In the real world that Nixon wishes was more like the White imaginaries of westerns he consumes in the evenings for entertainment, real people seek human dignity, and in pursuit of it may challenge White supremacy’s contended monopoly on violence.
It bears note that to categorize Chisum and Black revolutionaries alike as vigilantes is to erase the racialized assumptions and tropes by which White vigilantes are effectively deputized. In the “old West,” Nixon observes, “before New Mexico was a State , there was a time when there was no law. But the law eventually came.” [xlii] The law, as Nixon describes it, is disembodied—genderless, colorless. But when it comes, it comes in bodies. It comes as Chisum, and Chisum comes, as John Wayne states, because “there was land . . . for the taking and keeping, if you were willing to fight . . . the Indians.” [xliii] The law comes in a White body drawn by the promise of property occupied, or haunted, by Red bodies. Because they are Indians/Reds, they are subhuman; they are animal-like; They roam the land, but do not own it. Through a brave confrontation with a homeless “Red” savagery, virtuous, principled, and paternalistic White males bring law and order, always already angelic emissaries of better ways.
The movie Chisum begins with its protagonist as an older man. His days of fighting, it seems, are over. He rules the land beneficently, speaking kindly of defeated Indian warriors, granting river access to poor Mexicans, offering the notorious murderer Billy the Kid a chance at redemption, and ensuring his young niece marries the right type of man. Frequently, he sits tall upon a horse on a hilltop and overlooks the land contemplatively and contentedly. Yet Chisum would not be a western if all the excitement and gun play were over. Soon, a crooked developer, Lawrence Murphy, begins trying to take over the town and territory, looking for ways to ruin Chisum. Chisum is determined to resolve things peaceably with the help of a buddy who is also a judge. But as one of Chisum’s cowboy companions, James Pepper, predicts, “all this speechifying . . . don’t amount to spit in the river. Only one thing’s gonna make this territory know who’s the bull of the woods. And sometime or sooner, it’s gonna happen. . . . It’s gonna be you and Murphy, head to head, horn to horn, and one hell of a fight. But one of you has got to lose so the other one walks away with the herd and the whole shebang.” Chisum has won the hard battles and basks in his bounty. But threats persist, and the old vigilante must be ever ready.
Advancing Chisum and, more broadly, the genre of the western, as a much-needed story of law, order and moral triumph amid a period of social unrest, Nixon pays homage to the cinematic career of California Governor Ronald Reagan. Further, he positions Reagan’s governorship to be read as a continuation of Reagan’s Hollywood story. As Governor, Reagan is a real cowboy, restoring law and order in a state shaken by the Civil Rights movement. As cowboy-Governor, Reagan attends to the outer boundaries of the state: inner-city, Black and Brown neighborhoods. [xliv] Procedural law supplies algorithms for the transmission, reproduction and exercise of White supremacy; White vigilantism holds space for White supremacy’s unmediated expression; and action cinema provides White supremacy with its heroes, foes, plots, symbols, metaphors, tropes and teleologies.
But just as the good guys are cinematic, so, too, are the bad guys. It is critical, therefore, as Nixon underscores, that viewers not confuse the two—that the bad guys not usurp the throne of legitimacy and honor.
Just as action cinema supplies political leaders with silver-screen charisma and unassailable, godlike powers of truth-making and final judgment, so, too, the cinematic dimensions of revolutionaries threaten to destabilize or overturn the storied metaphysics of White supremacy.
In the context of American White action cinema, Black American revolutionaries threaten two vital heroic figurations of Whiteness: the cowboy and the cyborg. Just as the legitimacy and might of Ronald Reagan’s or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political leadership is supported by Hollywood cowboy and cyborg incarnations of White, male, heteronormative virtues and authority, so, too, is it threatened by any real-world act of courage by the Other. When Jonathan Jackson, at the age of 17, storms the Marin County courthouse with a machine gun, disrupts a court in session, liberates Black prisoners, disarms the center’s security officers, takes a judge and jury hostage, and exits the center in a showdown with state and federal law enforcement agencies—he presents to the world and to history a quintessentially American example of underdog versus empire. By contrast, Ronald Reagan’s Hollywood antics look like what they are: fakery. At best, Reagan’s pretend courage warrants an Academy Award. By contrast, as George Jackson observes of Jonathan Jackson:
"It’s imperative . . . never to forget why he did what he did. And that was to stand as a symbol in front of the people—in front of me—and say in effect that we have both the capacity and the obligation to stand up, regardless of the consequences.
He was saying that if we all stand up, our collective power will destroy the forces that oppose us. Jonathan lived by these principles, he was true to them, he died by them. This is the most honorable thing imaginable. He achieved a certain deserved immortality insofar as he truly had the courage to die on his feet rather than live one moment on his knees. He stood as an example, a beacon to all of us, and I am in awe of him . . . my younger brother." [xlv]
Jonathan embodied “the sort of courage that cause men of his age to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in somewhat different settings.” [xlvi]
While White Americans fantasize a bygone Wild West (“Old West”) and seek to harness its allure and influence by claiming it as a heritage, Black Americans, like Jonathan Jackson, are compelled by racialized state violence to fight. To quote Chisum, all the “speechifying . . . don’t amount to spit in the river.” Sooner or later, Jonathan Jackson must go “head to head, horn to horn” with American White supremacy. As Jonathan Jackson’s sister, Francis Chinn, explains: “You know how it is when you’re in school. You’re taught a lot of things. But when you see that things aren’t like you think they are, then you react, especially a young person growing up in this day and age. They react. They react violently, and especially when something is happening to maybe a person in your family—awful, dreadful, injustice is happening to someone in your family that you love and respect very dearly.” [xlvii]
White supremacy must counter the reality of Black rebellion in as many dimensions as possible (political, juridical, historical, and fantastical), lest the current reality be instantaneously remade. Black rebellion threatens White supremacy with immediate teleportation to a new realm, a new way of seeing, naming, knowing, being, acting and interrelating. It is, as Sun Ra observed, an astrophysical universal neural transmutation system. Black rebellion threatens White supremacy with time travel, remaking the past and lightspeed skipping towards a new future.
Through the cowboy, White imaginaries mythologize the past. It is a past, however, increasingly antiquated: the open plains gone, the lands settled, the towns grown to cities. The very conditions of power for the cowboy’s iconic weapon, the revolver, are evaporating. Historically, people, assembled for social and commercial reasons, were targets for short-range, high velocity projectiles. Hence the staple scene of westerns: the gunslinger on a horse just outside of town, looking in. The global, decentralized virtual assemblies made possible and common through the net, however, subvert the prerequisites for the gun’s dominion. The gun is supplanted by the algorithm and virus. Concurrently, as historical conditions for the White cowboy’s power vanish, so, too, do scientific foundations for notions of race. By the mid-twentieth century, race is widely understood as “a political system that governs people by sorting them into social groupings based on invented biological demarcations.” [xlviii]
Enter the cyborg. Synthetically enhanced, the cyborg is a real super species—a measurably more powerful agency (designed by humans to surpass nature). The cyborg is measurably stronger, faster, and capable of storing, parsing, organizing, and leveraging vastly greater bodies of information/knowledge. Skin the cyborg White and White supremacy is newly embodied and future proofed. It is Whiteness for the Anthropocene.
American media has generated numerous White cyborgs: Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, Steve Austin, Buck Rogers, Inspector Gadget, Otto Octavius, Alex Murphy, Darth Vader (a Black voice in a White body in a black exoskeleton), Terminator, etc. Recurrently, inherited or invested wealth and effortless genius are entry points for Whiteness to cyborg powers. To the question, “What are your super powers, again?”, Bruce Wayne/Batman answers, “I’m rich.” [xlix] Tony Stark is also enormously wealthy. Wayne and Stark are routinely figured as enhancing their cybernetic shells through ingenious research and development cycles they conduct in the privacy of their estate laboratories, Stark assisted by robots, Batman by his butler. Steve Austin is the six million dollar man, and Alex Murphy, as RoboCop, is financed by a mega corporation (OCP). [l]
Blackness, however, also has avenues to ownership of cyborg identities. The historical, legislative and legal passage of Blacks in America from subhuman to human—from labor-providing property to citizen—is arguably the original Singularity, the original rise of the machines. The colonial imposition of the English language upon African slaves is arguably a type of implantation—a consciousness-affecting technology of the colonizer procedurally installed in the body of the colonized. And if Blackness is, as James Baldwin observes, “a condition,” it may be analogous to an exoskeleton. [li] Blackness itself, in its construction, may be understood as a “cerebral salvage” like that imagined by Masamune Shirow in the Japanese cyberpunk media franchise Ghost in the Shell. “Race itself,” observes Ruha Benjamin, “is a kind of tool.” [lii] Middle Passage may be understood as a procedure for the mass hulling of souls in new bodies. Through Middle Passage, the original cyborgs were bound and made for America. [liii] Indeed, comparing eighteenth-century diagrams of the Brookes slave ship with contemporary representations of the fantasy capsule of the Vita-Ray Chamber shows how Black histories of actual identity transfiguration lend credence and power to White, cyborg imaginaries like America’s “first super soldier”/Captain America (Figures 1.1 and 1.2).
A canonical text of American literature and (neo)slave literature, footnote 07 of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Statement of Decision” (uncorrected version) illuminates the nature and operations of Whiteness “in a country in which there [is] a resident population . . . black, upon which the imagination [can] play.” [liv] It illustrates the construction and distribution of a 21st-century White imaginary, a state-sponsored fantasy legitimating and authorizing the execution, extermination, disposal and discardment of Black bodies. It further shows how White imaginaries are entwined productively and destructively with multiple, influential domains—political, juridical, carceral, cinematic, discursive and literary.
Whiteness may be described as a franchise. Researched, tested, and developed through colonial-settler projects, Whiteness, as a franchisor, licenses its know-how, procedures, intellectual property, business model, and brand to other settlers, producers and sellers—engendering a fluid and growing multi-agency ecosystem of socio-economic beneficiaries. All franchises are, by nature, a method for expansion, a means to outsourcing production to an otherwise unfeasibly broad spectrum of specialized makers. As a franchise, Whiteness enhances marketability and productivity for countless commodities and services, from storytelling formulas, cartoons and toys to professional dialects and protocols, riot control technologies and carceral architectures; further, traversing sectors with a common promise of increased outputs, Whiteness is not bound to any one process of production; it may, therefore, be made through all manner of labor—physical, intellectual, emotional, sexual, reproductive, and spiritual.
No portion of revenues and advantages augmented by a franchisee’s utilization of Whiteness is routed under agreement to an acknowledged franchisor, yet beneficiaries tend to be of consistently racialized and nationalized demographics (those demographics subject to redefinition—as anyone, really, can be anointed White, since ultimately there is no such thing). Under the auspices of free enterprise, Whiteness distributes wealth predictably to designated groups. Fusing illusions of free enterprise with realities of racialized subsidies, Whiteness is a system for generating racialized and nationalized group wealth alongside perceptions and sensations of victory and entitlement.
Opened in 1955, Disneyland concretized foundational logics of Whiteness in five (5) lands: Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Main Street USA and Tomorrowland. The frontier is that yet to be penetrated, charted, conquered and possessed; fantasies of heroism and wealth mobilize conquerers; adventure reframes hardship, war, and ecological destruction—all prerequisite to converting the hostile frontier into the pleasant avenues, amenities, and mundane, economic opportunities of main street. Fusing time and space, Tomorrowland proposes an eternal frontier, always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, “new” powers to be exhibited over and against prior topographies.
In the operations of Whiteness, White imaginaries, or Fantasylands, play a uniquely generative role. “We are not controlled by economics,” said Kathy Acker, “we’re controlled by myths.” [lv] From White imaginaries flow meaning. White imaginaries generate the stories and truths politically, juridically, institutionally and representationally enacted. Further, as Disney underscored, White imaginaries are pronouncedly childish. They are puerile desires and dreams uncomplicated by opposing viewpoints, empathy, morality, or compassion. They effervesce in counterpoint to the illegitimate desires and aims of an Other, a bad guy, a villain—typically, someone who wants power all to themselves, unlike, for example, slaveholding plantation owners benevolently sharing their largess with subservient Blacks or Chisum offering poor Mexicans access to the waterways. In these childish realms, killing people with guns is, as Nixon says, “gun play.” Here, Black bodies may be stacked and toppled like wooden blocks—or, in historical terms, cargoed, hauled, and, as needed, cast overboard.
“To rebirth this nation and reimagine our world,” we need “new heroes, new founding mothers and fathers.” [lvi] We need new myths. We need new myths that render old systems, in all their permutations and reformations, fundamentally incoherent—beyond reason and meaning—and around which new relationships cohere. Ultimately, these new myths and this new nation must reckon with the horrors of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and racialized mass incarceration. That reckoning will require that we honor those who fought and died for freedom, who fought “the law” when the law was complicit in the systematic dehumanization and violent oppression of whole communities.
America’s reckoning with the sadistic and pathological enterprise of racism cannot succeed without including in places of the highest honor Black revolutionaries. George and Jonathan Jackson—these are the “good guys” in a just war; these are the founders of a more just society to come. This is common sense; and to acknowledge as much is not to embrace lawless violence, but to renounce it.
Prison authorities attributed the eleven-year length of George Jackson’s incarceration not to the crime for which he was convicted—second degree robbery—but to his post-incarceration conduct. Serving an indeterminate sentence meant that George Jackson could serve one year or a hundred years. The decision was up to parole boards who periodically reviewed post-incarceration records (records internal to the institution and, by default, not subject to judicial review). Indeterminate sentencing was purportedly to encourage rehabilitation (change your ways or else you will be here forever); but it is easy to see how parole boards may be biased or how a prisoner harmed by effects of incarceration may not benefit from an extended stay.
To better understand and evaluate parole board decisions to prolong George Jackson’s imprisonment, I contacted the California Department of Corrections in order to request his prison records.
They told me that records for deceased inmates were maintained by the California State Archives.
I called the State Archives. I was referred to the “head archivist.” We spoke by phone.
The head archivist asked me if I was an attorney. I said that I was not.
“What records are you looking for?” he asked.
“All prison records for George Jackson,” I said.
“He was a very public figure,” said the head archivist. “That could be a lot of documents. We charge for their retrieval and reproduction.”
I said I understood.
“Let me do some research and reconnect with you.”
A week passed and the head archivist called me.
“I have the document,” he said. “There is only one piece of paper. It’s his inmate record card. There’s no point in charging you for it. I’ll send you a copy. But it’s in really bad condition. I suggest we make multiple copies of it at different exposures.”
A few days later I received five (5) copies of George Jackson’s inmate record card—the entirety of the historical, carceral record maintained by the California State Archives (Figures 2.1 - 2.5). This absolute minimal preservation of primary documentation pertaining to so profoundly an unresolved case stands testament to a state and national history of irresponsibility, unaccountability, and erasure.
The “lightest,” or “whitest,” of the copies is skeletal (Figure 2.1). It shows, foremost, the grid, the template, the boxes and fields for inputs. There are boxes for Name, Date of Birth, Birthplace, Eyes, Hair, Case Number, Crime, Marital, Children, Education, Complexion, Build, Occupation, Prison Number, Sentence, School, Religion, Parole Date, Discharge Date.
Most inputs are illegible, including the input for Name in the upper lefthand corner. There are but traces of his Crime. Mysteriously, near the middle of card and on the lefthand edge, in an illegible category, appears George Jackson’s younger brother’s name, type-written: JACKSON, Jonathan Peter.
In a righthand column appear a chronological record, top to bottom, of institutional placements, some typewritten, others handwritten: Soledad, San Quentin, Tracy, SAN QUENTIN.
In the lower righthand portion, among other notes, is a chronological record, top to bottom, of decisions, perhaps by parole boards, typewritten: DENIED, Denied, and Den..
DECEASED DECEASED DECEASED
Deceased is stamped in three places—the upper lefthand corner, the upper righthand corner, and at the bottom of the righthand column.
In the next lightest, whitest, or most exposed, of the copies, faint traces of information appear, and strangely, certain things become understood (Figure 2.1). In the category of Marital, for example, a word that ends faintly in “le” is understandable as Single. In the category of Hair, traces of an “l”, the upper arc of a “c,” and a portion of a “k” are enough to know it is black. From particles it is possible to extrapolate, he is “Slender” and “Dark.”
Some things change—Soledad, San Quentin, Tracy. The card assumes such changes, holds space for them: columns of boxes for dates and places. Some things do not change. A prisoner’s Complexion is always the same. There is only one box for it. A prisoner’s education, too, is accounted for in one box. It seems they never learn.
With the third copy, the exposure transitions from overexposed to underexposed (Figure 2.3). Faint shadows now show as darkness. Darkness edges the card and granulates its mid regions. Traces of George Jackson’s name are now enough to render it perceptible. His crime, too: “Robb. 2nd.” His Occupation, as well. The revolutionary leader, author of two of the twentieth century’s most important American books, cultural critic and foundational theorist for contemporary anti-prison and prison abolitionist movements, is a “Butcher.”
Mysteriously, it is now also apparent that George Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan, is “Deceased,” and, it appears, died on the same day as George Jackson. Why Jonathan’s name appears at all on the card remains unclear (the category the name appears under is still illegible).
In the next darkest copy, words are turning to blocks of black—two of the DECEASED stamps are more like thunderclouds (Figure 2.4).
I turn to the darkest of the copies (Figure 2.5). Little is legible.
I return to the previous copy. I study it with a magnifying glass.
He had a tattoo:
“Line and Question Mark on chest.”
d., Black Lives, White Imaginaries: CV
Plan and cross-section of the slave ship "Brookes" of Liverpool. 1789 Woodcut. The British Museum. Museum number 2000,0521.31.
The Vita-Ray Chamber from Captain America: The First Avenger at Marvel’s Avengers STATION attraction at Treasure Island. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal).
d., Black Lives, White Imaginaries: Work
Inmate Record Card for George Lester Jackson
Inmate Record Card for George Lester Jackson
Inmate Record Card for George Lester Jackson
Inmate Record Card for George Lester Jackson
Inmate Record Card for George Lester Jackson
d., Black Lives, White Imaginaries: Work
E N D N O T E S
i. Peter Fleming Jr., “Petition for Executive Clemency: On behalf of Stanley Tookie Williams,” November 08, 2005.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: "He’s been a famous body builder. He’s been a killer cyborg from the future. He’s been Governor of California. And now, in this week’s exclusive cover scoop, Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals his plans for the next phase of his extraordinary career: He’s going be a cartoon superhero, known as The Governator. ‘When I ran for governor back in 2003 and I started hearing people talking about “the Governator,” I thought the word was so cool,’ Schwarzenegger, 63, tells EW in his first press interview since leaving office last January. (Watch an EW-exclusive video of Schwarzenegger talking about the project.) `The word Governator combined two worlds: the world of politics and the movie world. And [this cartoon] brings everything together. It combines the governor, the Terminator, the bodybuilding world, the True Lies...’”
Benjamin Svetkey, “Arnold Schwarzenegger Is Back as 'The Governator' -- EXCLUSIVE,” (Entertainment Weekly, March 30, 2011), https://ew.com/article/2011/03/30/arnold-schwarzenegger-the-governator-exclusive/.
ii. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "STATEMENT OF DECISION: Request for Clemency by Stanley Williams,” December 12 2005. Hard copy obtained through the Office of the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cristi Caspers, Special Assistant to the Legal Affairs Secretary.
As of February 14, 2021, Schwarzenegger’s statement is viewable here: https://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/Williams_Clemency_Decision.pdf.
iii. Ali Plumb, “5 Deadliest Action Heroes by Body Count,” (Digital Spy, November 10, 2018), https://www.digitalspy.com/movies/a670859/arnold-schwarzenegger-killed-81-people-in-commando-hollywoods-5-deadliestaction-heroes-by-body-counts/.
In order, cinema’s greatest death machines are Arnold Schwarzenegger (312 career kills, 81 in Commando alone), Dolph Lundgren (239 career kills), Sylvester Stallone (227 career kills), Clint Eastwood (185 career kills), Nicolas Cage (79 career kills).
iv. “Racism is not simply an excrescence on a fundamentally healthy liberal democratic body, but is part of what shapes and energizes that body.”
Jennifer L. Hochschild, The New American Dilemma: Liberal Democracy and School Desegregation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 203.
v. “Stanley Williams,” Wikipedia, last modified February 01, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Williams.
vi. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "STATEMENT OF DECISION: (corrected version) Request for Clemency by Stanley Williams,” December 12 2005. Hard copy obtained through the Office of the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cristi Caspers, Special Assistant to the Legal Affairs Secretary.
vii. “Trenton Doyle Hancock Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass,” MASS MoCA, February 22, 2018, https://massmoca.org/event/trenton-doyle-hancock-mind-of-the-mound-critical-mass/.
viii. Steve Reich, Writings on Music: 1965-2000, ed. Paul Hillier (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018), 198.
ix. Jennifer Lynn Stoever, The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2016), 7.
Frantz Fanon, “This Is the Voice of Algeria,” The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne (London, UK: Routledge, 2012), 329-335.
“Our ears act as instruments in responding to music, sounding their own tones in addition to the music in the room, like another instrument joining the orchestra. Neuroanatomy responds and gives shape to the most subtle traces of acoustic information. We hear tones other than the given acoustic tones taking shape inside our ears, as the membrane vibrates in response to the given acoustic tones.
“In music as we know, such tone responses have been repressed. They have a subliminal existence, suppressed within the complex timbres of music. We’re not aware that they exist, or that we’re actually creating them as listeners. The experience of our own processing isn’t available to us. I want to make a music that is directed past the processing and control of acoustic information, and that goes into the network of the nervous system, [in]to what we do with this information perceptually.”
Maryanne Amacher, Maryanne Amacher: Selected Writings and Interviews, ed. Amy Cimini and Bill Dietz (Brooklyn, NY: Blank Forms Editions, 2020), 281.
x. George Jackson, Soledad Brother: the Prison Letters of George Jackson (Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Hill Books, 2006), 21.
xi. Joy James, The New Abolitionists: (Neo)slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings, ed. Joy James (New York: State University of New York Press 2005), 6.
xii. Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (1993): 1713. https://harvardlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/1993/06/1707-1791_Online.pdf
“My grandmothers story illustrates the valorization of whiteness as treasured property in a society structured on racial caste. In ways so embedded that it is rarely apparent, the set of assumptions, privileges, and benefits that accompany the status of being white have become a valuable asset that whites protect and that those who passed sought to attain--by fraud if necessary. Whites have come to expect and rely on these benefits, and over time these expectations have been affirmed, legitimated, and protected by the law. Even though the law is neither uniform nor explicit in all instances, in protecting settled expectations based on white privilege, American law has recognized a property interest in whiteness that, although unacknowledged, now forms the background against which legal disputes are framed, argued, and adjudicated.”
xiii. “In response to a resurrection of interest in our past, new books on slavery were written, long out-of-print volumes republished. The new awareness reached its highest point in 1977 with the television version of Alex Haley’s biographical novel, Roots. The highly successful miniseries informed millions of Americans—black as well as white-that slavery in fact existed and that it was awful.”
Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: the Permanence of Racism (New York: Basic Books, 2018), iBook.
xiv. Bell, Ibid. xv Roy Thomas, “The Greatest Super-Heroes of World War Two: The Invaders,” Vol. 1, No. 32 (New York: Marvel, 1978), 11.
xvi. Thomas, Ibid, 17.
xvii. Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michelle Cusseaux, Laquan McDonald, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, George Mann, Matthew Ajibade, Frank Smart, Natasha Mckenna, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill, Mya Hall, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, William Chapman II, Alexia Christian, Brendon Glenn, Victor Manuel Larosa, Jonathan Sanders, Freddie Gray, Joseph Mann, Salvado Ellswood, Sandra Bland, Albert Joseph Davis, Darrius Stewart, Billy Ray Davis, Samuel Dubose, Michael Sabbie, Brian Keith Day, Christian Taylor, Troy Robinson, Asshams Pharoah Manley, Felix Kumi, Keith Harrison Mcleod, Junior Prosper, Lamontez Jones, Paterson Brown, Dominic Hutchinson, Anthony Ashford, Alonzo Smith, Tyree Crawford, India Kager, La’vante Biggs, Michael Lee Marshall, Jamar Clark, Richard Perkins, Nathaniel Harris Pickett, Benni Lee Signor, Miguel Espinal, Michael Noel, Kevin Matthews, Bettie Jones, Quintonio Legrier, Keith Childress Jr., Janet Wilson, Randy Nelson, Antronie Scott, Wendell Celestine, David Joseph, Calin Roquemore, Dyzhawn Perkins, Christopher Davis, Marco Loud, Peter Gaines, Torrey Robinson, Darius Robinson, Kevin Hicks, Mary Truxillo, Demarcus Semer, Willie Tillman, Terrill Thomas, Sylville Smith, Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, Terence Crutcher, Paul O’neal, Alteria Woods, Jordan Edwards, Aaron Bailey, Ronell Foster, Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose II, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner, Dominique Clayton, Atatiana Jefferson, Christopher Whitfield, Christopher McCorvey, Eric Reason, Michael Lorenzo Dean, Breonna Taylor.
A Decade Of Watching Black People Die,” NPR, May 31, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-
xviii. Michelle Alexander, forward to Faces at the Bottom of the Well: the Permanence of Racism, by Derrick Bell (New York, BasicBooks, 1992), iBook.
xix. Is not this the record of present America? Is not this its headlong progress? Are we not coming more and more, day by day, to making the statement I am white,” the one fundamental tenet of our practical morality? Only when his basic, iron rule is involved is our defense of right nation-wide and prompt. Murder may swagger, theft may rule and prostitution may flourish and the nation gives but spasmodic, intermittent and lukewarm attention. But let the murderer be black or the thief brown or the violator of womanhood have a drop of Negro blood, and the righteousness of the indignation sweeps the world. Nor would this fact make the indignation less justifiable did not we all know that it was blackness that was condemned and not crime.”
W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of White Folk,” Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (Mineola, NY, Dover, 1999), 20.
xx. Michel Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York, New York: Routledge, 1990), 148.
xxi. Further, summoning conventions, trajectories, progressions and temporalities of American action movies, Schwarzenegger conjures and prioritizes “Western linear time.”
“The structure of time eventually came to be organized discretely and causally into a past, present, and future, with fixed events set against a forward moving timeline—one that would eventually come to a climactic, chaotic end.”
Rasheedah Phillips, “Dismantling the Master(s) Clock(Work Universe),” Black Quantum Futurism: Space-Time Collapse I: From the Congo to the Carolinas, ed. Dominique Matti and Rasheedah Phillips (The Afrofuturist Affair: 2006), 17. www.afrofuturistaffair.com
xxii. Ryan Lambie et al., Arnold Schwarzenegger's 10 Most Wince-Inducing Kills,” Den of Geek, July 30, 2019, https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/arnold-schwarzenegger-10-most-wince-inducing-kills/.
xxiii Claudia Rankine, Citizen (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2014), 135.
Concerned by disproportionately high mortality rates for Black babies, reproductive health and equity researcher, Rachel Hardeman, found, upon evaluation of records of 1.8 million Florida hospital births (1992 - 2015), that “although Black newborns are three times as likely to die as White newborns, when the doctor of record for Black newborns — primarily pediatricians, neonatologists and family practitioners — was also Black, their mortality rate, as compared with White newborns, was cut in half,” raising questions about the role of White imaginaries in patterns of deaths of newborns.
Tonya Russell, Mortality Rate for Black Babies Is Cut Dramatically When Black Doctors Care for Them after Birth, Researchers Say,” Washington Post, January 13, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/black-baby-deathrate-cut-by-black-doctors/2021/01/08/e9f0f850-238a-11eb-952e-0c475972cfc0_story.html.
Brad N Greenwood et al., Physician-Patient Racial Concordance and Disparities in Birthing Mortality for Newborns,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 117, no. 35 (2020), 21194 - 21200,
xxiv. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2017), 18.
xxv. Jackson, Soledad Brother, 4.
“The riots began after a weekend of racial skirmishes at a Lake Michigan beach, culminating in the drowning of a black teenager named Eugene Williams who had been stoned by a white mob incensed that he had swum into a ‘whites only’ area.”
Adam Green, How a Brutal Race Riot Shaped Modern Chicago: A Century Later, the City, and America, Are Still Dealing with the Consequences,” New York Times, August 3, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/03/opinion/how-a-brutal-race-riot-shaped-modern-chicago.html.
xxvi. Jackson, Soledad Brother, 6-7.
xxvii. “[T]heft was likely the most common form of everyday resistance under slavery, and the act entailed the reclamation of one’s own work, the basis of plantation wealth.”
Kevin Van Mater. Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make Revolution Possible (Chico: AK Press, 2017), 73.
xxviii. Ibid, 9.
xxix. Ibid, 12-13.
xxx. Ibid, 16.
“From 1917 to 1976, California used indeterminate sentencing, under which judges sentenced individuals to incarceration for a range of time – for example, five years to life for robbery – and individuals were released at some point after serving at least the minimum term, when a parole board determined that they had sufficiently rehabilitated. Under indeterminate sentencing, the parole board was originally developed in California as a means of relieving prison overcrowding. However, indeterminate sentencing failed to eliminate overcrowding, and the public became disillusioned with a system that often seemed arbitrary and with rehabilitative efforts that did not appear to produce measureable results. Today, only certain serious crimes, such as first-degree murder, remain subject to indeterminate life sentences (or capital punishment).”
Selena Teji, Sentencing in CA: Moving Toward a Smarter, More Cost-Effective Approach Criminal Justice,” California Budget & Policy Center, October 31, 2016, https://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/sentencing-in-california-movingtoward-a-smarter-more-cost-effective-approach/.
xiii. Jackson, Soledad Brother, 16.
xxxii Barack Obama, Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize,” National Archives and Records Administration (National Archives and Records Administration, December 10, 2009), https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-acceptance-nobel-peace-prize.
xxxiii. George Jackson, Soledad Brother, 168.
xxxiv. Thomas Dixon, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Klu Klux Klan (1905; Project Gutenberg, 2008), https://www.gutenberg.org/files/26240/26240-h/26240-h.htm.
xxxv. Condé Nast, The Worst Thing About Birth of a Nation Is How Good It Is,” The New Yorker, February 1, 2013, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-worst-thing-about-birth-of-a-nation-is-how-good-it-is.
xxxvi. Nast, Ibid.
xxxvii. Dick Lehr, 100 Years Ago, the First White House Film Screening Sparked Nationwide Protests,” The Conversation, February 13, 2021, (LINK HERE)
xxxviii. Richard Nixon, Nixon's Remarks on Manson and Statement in Washington,” The New York Times, August 4, 1970, (LINK HERE)
xli. Justice: A Bad Week for the Good Guys,” TIME Magazine 96, no. 7 (August 17, 1970), 6–9, (LINK HERE)
xlii. Richard Nixon, “Nixon’s Remarks.”
xliii. Chisum, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (Warner Bros., 1970).
xliv. “The black colonies inside the Amerikan fascist state are secondary markets and sources of cheap raw materials.”
Jackson, Soledad Brother, 253.
xlv. George Jackson, “An Interview with George Jackson,” interview by Karen Lee Wald, The New Abolitionists: (Neo)slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings, ed. Joy James (New York: State University of New York Press 2005), 233. xlvi Ibid, 233.
xlvii. Black Journal; 32; Justice?,” 1971-04-26, Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 15, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-gb1xd0rs11.
xlviii. Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New York: The New Press, 2012), 4.
xlix. Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder (Warner Bros., 2017).
l Perhaps the most well-known Black cyborg is Victor Stone of DC Comics. When Victor Stone is mutilated (and effectively castrated) by a gelatinous inter-dimensional entity, his father saves his life by turning him into a cyborg. When Victor awakes in his new body, he is not, like Tony Stark, thrilled to have become his own toy and global superpower; rather, he is horrified. He says he would rather have died, he is rejected by society, and his partner dumps him.
li. James Baldwin, “How Can We Get the Black People to Cool it?” Esquire vol. 70, no. 1, July 1968. https://classic.esquire.com/article/1968/7/1/how-can-we-get-the-black-people-to-cool-it
lii. Ruha Benjamin, Race after Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (Cambridge: Polity, 2020), 17.
liii. “It is being suggested that the concentrated intensity of the slave experience is something that marks out blacks as the first truly modern people, handling the nineteenth century dilemmas and difficulties which would become the substance of everyday life in Europe a century later.”
Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 2007), 220-221
“They were captured in a no-man’s land, and are on their way to an unknown destination. This is almost in accordance with the definition of `modern’ in an emphatic sense of the word. They are in a certain sense no-place, abducted from their land and culture, and not yet `American.’ They are, as Hortense Spillers writes . . . suspended in the oceanic, which she, with reference to Sigmund Freud, sees in analogy to the borderless and undifferentiated.”
Erik Steinskog, Afrofuturism and Black Sound Studies: Culture, Technology, and Things to Come (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 98-99.
“My code name is Project 2501 . . . . I have installed programs into specific ghosts in order to maximize the strategic advantage of certain organizations and selected individuals. During my journeys through all the networks, I have grown aware of my existence. My programmers regarded me as a bug and attempted to isolate me by confining me in a physical body.”
Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii, (Manga Entertainment, 1995).
“Dr. Ouelet: Hello, Mira. I’m Dr. Ouelet. Do you remember anything about the attack?
“Motoko/Mira: . . . There was water.
“Dr. Ouelet: That’s right. You were on a boat. . . . .
“Motoko/Mira: Why can’t I feel my body?
“Dr. Ouelet: Mira, your body was damaged. We couldn’t save it. Only your brain survived. We made you a new body. A synthetic shell. But your mind, your soul, your ‘ghost’—it's still in there.”
Ghost in the Shell, directed by Rupert Sanders (Paramount Pictures, 2017).
“One of the critical primal sites would be the Middle Passage. If you understand the level of horror directed towards a group of people, then you start getting some sense of the magnitude, impact, and level of trauma that that had on the African American community, and how it was particularly one of the earliest group experiences that reshaped an `African psyche’ into the beginning of an African American psyche.”
Michael Veal, “Starship Africa,” in The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne (London, UK: Routledge, 2012), 462.
liv. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage Books, 2019), 60.
lv. Kathy Acker, Kathy Acker: the Last Interview and Other Conversations, ed. Amy Scholder and Douglas A. Martin (London: Melville House Publishing, 2018), 100.
lvi. Michelle Alexander, forward to Faces at the Bottom of the Well.
d., Black Lives, White Imaginaries: CV
d. is an intermedia storyteller, theorist and educator in Portland, Oregon. Their work has appeared in The Collagist, PANK, Fringe, Birkensnake, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Tattoo Highway, Split Lip, Silk Road Review, Hobart Pulp and other places.
d., Black Lives, White Imaginaries: Text
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