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9526 - THE GRIND: BLACK BODIES AND INVERTED PERCEPTIONS OF FEAR

‘ [Burge] put it on my fingers,’ torture victim, Andrew Wilson explained , ‘and I was hollering and screaming…My teeth was grinding. Flickering in my head. Pain…‘It hurts,’ Wilson continued . ‘But it stays in your head, okay? It stays in your head and it grinds your teeth…it grinds, constantly grinds, constantly. The pain just stays in your head…And your teeth constantly grinds, and grinds, and grinds, and grinds, and grinds, and grinds.’  

My paper uses descriptions of violence to examine the presuppositions and cultural entailments embedded in perceptions of fear. Going back and forth between town hall meetings in Chicago (from 2007 to 2010) and the affidavits that police torture victims have filed in civil suits (from 1986 to 2010), I use a combination of ethnographic methods and theoretical engagements with ‘the black body’ to explain why Police Commander Jon Burge was acquitted of torture in 1986, despite overwhelming evidence, and why his legacy is still so frequently invoked when a young, black resident is injured by the police .  

The investigation of injury in my paper details the process by which testimonies by black police torture victims are used as evidence that their bodies—the bodies being injured—are themselves the source of danger. Building on Fanon, I borrow from a number of scholars who have all discussed the ways in which the black body is constituted through fear, through naming, through seeing. This pointing does not merely mark, what Goffman once called, “the tribal stigma of race,” but foreshadows an accusation about who should be feared and who should be protected from that fear. In this way, my work describes how perceptions and fear and white paranoia help to interpret the actions of black urban residents in advance of any moral or legal transgression. My main argument is that, in Chicago, black bodies are used to support the claim that they themselves are producing violence, or they are about to produce violence, and are, therefore, responsible for the violence they receive.                  

Keywords: The Black Body, Fear, Violence, Torture

Author: Ralph, Laurence (Harvard University, Ud States of Am / USA)

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