Top Five in Bad Times (+ Bonus Track)

Patrick Melon / Baton Rouge protests
Photo Credit: Patrick Melon (IG: @melontao), snapped at the Baton Rouge rally for Alton Sterling

This has been an especially difficult few weeks for those with any investment in social justice, black families and black lives, and ending state violence against communities of color in this country and beyond. Around the country, organizations and communities have been mobilizing to protest and heal after the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and others, less well known, like Eric Harris, who was killed last February in Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans. These protests have been met, in more than one instance, with police aggression. Those who taped the murders have been detained or arrested. Those protesting have been detained or arrested. In Dallas, police used a robot bomb to blow up a man they believe was targeting and killed five police officers during a rally. This week is also the one year anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death in police custody in Texas. The search continues for Goddess Diamond’s killer, the 14th trans person killed in the United States this year. She was killed in New Orleans. And all of this has occurred in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, where a man in Orlando killed 49 (almost all Latinxs or AfrxLatinxs, nearly half were Puerto Rican) and wounded another fifty people in an attack on a gay nightclub.

When bad things happen, people turn to what moves them, what their instincts are, and where their work is. This past weekend, in Baltimore, Exit the Apple Art Space hosted a community event to process, feel, and “Say it With Your Work.” In New Orleans, StudioBE hosted a similar event at their location in New Orleans, an “Invitation to Create” protest signs and posters for the rally in Baton Rouge. Activists organized—rallies, protests, marches, but also and especially in the immediate aftermath of the news and release of the videos, organized yoga, dances, parties, and music events to create space for community members to feel and heal. Healers did the work of healing in these spaces and facilitated their own. Artists created. Patrick Melon (NOLA/IG @melontao) and Taylor DeClue (NOLA/IG @tayphoto72) were just a few of the photographers snapping expressions of resistance and movement-making over the weekend. Langston Allston, a Baton Rouge based artist, painted a mural for Alton Sterling and his family.

My first instinct is to write, to curate, and to read. I am not alone in doing this. I do this although, at the moment, writing/curating/reading seems inadequate to the task at hand. I do this although I am an advocate for civil disobedience. I do this even as I advocate for showing up at the local council and committee meetings over and over again, with signs, megaphones, and demands. We must make it a priority to show up for each other and for justice in all of these spaces. We’ve discussed such things before: Black folks’ infinite literacies and the impossible things we do and are, including doing and being more than one kind of work and holding more than one kind of space at the same time.

This, then, is a love note to the writers, the curators, the readers, the researchers—from internet denziens who are here for justice and become data miners when the shit hits the fan to academics building hashtag syllabi and teaching summer courses. These are five texts (black intellectual work in the midst of black death and precarity) that I found helped me make sense of the world these last seven days.

Development Arrested is a major reinterpretation of the two-centuries-old conflict between the African Americans and planters in the Mississippi Delta. In a definitive study of the history and social structures of the plantation system, Clyde Woods examines both planter domination of politics and economy in the region and the continuing resistance of the African American working class to the system’s depredations. Development Arrested traces the decline and resurrection of plantation ideology in national public policy discourse from Thomas Jefferson to Bill Clinton. Woods documents the unceasing attacks on the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and how, despite having suffered countless defeats at the hands of the planet regime, African Americans in the Delta have continued to push forward their agenda for social, economic, and cultural justice. He examines the role of the Blues in sustaining their efforts, surveying a musical tradition-including Jazz, Rock and Roll, Soul and Rap-that has embraced a radical vision of social change. This is an important contribution to the current political debates involving Mississippi politics, the presidency and Congress, and to our understanding of Black, US, and Southern history.
Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.
In Dark Matters Simone Browne locates the conditions of blackness as a key site through which surveillance is practiced, narrated, and resisted. She shows how contemporary surveillance technologies and practices are informed by the long history of racial formation and by the methods of policing black life under slavery, such as branding, runaway slave notices, and lantern laws. Placing surveillance studies into conversation with the archive of transatlantic slavery and its afterlife, Browne draws from black feminist theory, sociology, and cultural studies to analyze texts as diverse as the methods of surveilling blackness she discusses: from the design of the eighteenth-century slave ship Brooks, Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, and The Book of Negroes, to contemporary art, literature, biometrics, and post-9/11 airport security practices. Surveillance, Browne asserts, is both a discursive and material practice that reifies boundaries, borders, and bodies around racial lines, so much so that the surveillance of blackness has long been, and continues to be, a social and political norm.
VIDEO: “Historian Gerald Horne: Police Killings Won’t Stop Until U.S. Comes to Grips with Its Racist Foundations | NewBlackMan (in Exile). New Black Man (in Exile), July 8, 2016.
‘Gerald Horne and Paul Jay discuss the roots of police killing people of color in the American history of slavery, the elite policy that produces poverty and racism, and the laws that police officers are expected to enforce in order to maintain superexploitation and economic inequality.’

QUOTE: Lynnée Denise on Philando Castile, Lavish “Diamond” Reynolds, and Diamond’s daughter on Facebook:
“And just how gendered the conversation remains. That was a terroristic attack on an entire black family.”

DOC: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Issues Travel Advisory for Bahamians traveling to United States of America

For Immediate Release

8 July 2016

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration has taken a note of the recent tensions in some American cities over shootings of young black males by police officers.

At the commencement of the Independence holiday weekend, many Bahamians will no doubt use the opportunity to travel, in particular to destinations in the United States.

We wish to advise all Bahamians traveling to the US but especially to the affected cities to exercise appropriate caution generally. In particular young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police. Do not be confrontational and cooperate.

If there is any issue please allow consular offices for The Bahamas to deal with the issues. Do not get involved in political or other demonstrations under any circumstances and avoid crowds.

The Bahamas has consular offices in New York, Washington, Miami and Atlanta and honorary consuls in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago and Houston.

Their addresses are on the Ministry’s website –

Pay attention to the public notices and news announcements in the city that you are visiting.

Be safe, enjoy the holiday weekend and be sensible.

 *Bonus Track:
Saul Williams dropped this over the weekend:


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Jessica Marie Johnson

Jessica Marie Johnson is an Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Her research interests include women, gender, and sexuality in the African diaspora; histories of slavery and the slave trade; and digital history and new media and has appeared in Slavery & Abolition and Meridians: Feminism, Race and Transnationalism. Follow her on Twitter @jmjafrx.