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Violence, racialization and resistances in an anti-black world

July 1 to 3, 2019, 09h00-18h00, Braço de Prata Factory (Lisboa)

This workshop aims to put in dialogue analytical perspectives coming from academia, legal professions and political activism for debating the relationship between violence and racialization in different contexts (e.g.: Brazil, Spain, France or Portugal). The link between violence and racialization should be understood as a genocide process (John Vargas 2008; Ana Luiza Flauzina 2014) producing forms of legitimacy based on the colonial/modern framing of "necessity" and the capitalist political economy, which are at the centre of the formation of sovereignty and the rule of law. Following Alexander Weheliye (2014), we consider necessary and urgent, in the current political moment, to rethink “politically motivated acts of aggression in relational terms rather than through the passages of comparison, deviation, exception, or peculiarity, since they fail to adequately describe how specific instances of the relations that compose political violence realize articulations of an ontological totality”.

White and western(ized) men and women continue to over-represent the political-legal definitions of humanity (Sylvia Wynter 2003) and to regulate the universalization of onto-colonial gender-sex categories (Maria Lugones 2008). We continue to witness the prevalence of a political and cultural logic that condemns black existence to the zone of non-being (Frantz Fanon, 1952). All those processes take place in a context of consolidation of supposedly emancipatory hegemonic discursive fields referring to human rights and feminism. In the debate about violence, policing, justice and the prison system, it is imperative to re-centre the analytical category of race to decolonize the knowledge production on the complex system that makes possible and legitimizes daily violence perpetrated against racialized bodies.

The organization of the Workshop:

 

Theme 1: The production of the justice system and the rule of law in an anti-black world

The "re-production" of "death worlds" is only possible thanks to the existence of a structure that bureaucratically regulates the physical, psychological, economic destruction of the black people and makes possible the murderous functions of the state (MBEMBE, 2016). In this sense, reflecting on the limits of the grammar of the justice apparatus and human rights and the possibilities of radicalizing their fissures is an urgent task because if "white America [and the modern Western world] is a corporation designed to protect their exclusive right to dominate and control our bodies [black, whether by the exercise of] direct power (lynchings) or insidious (by relining) "(CATES COATES, 2016, 50), the confrontation of the limits of the right to the anti-black world, has been configured as a powerful field of contention.

The aim of this Bureau is to support reflections on the "Justice System and the production of the rule of law in an anti-black world" that can, on the one hand, reflect on the obstacles of the grammar of human rights and, on the other hand, political horizons such as those proposed by Du Bois (1995) with the "democracy of abolition" or by Lélia Gonzalez (1988) with "Afro-Americanism". In this sense, some questions may offer starting points for discussion: 1. Thinking from the current language of law, regarding the treatment of crimes of racism at the individual (inter-relations) and collective levels (crime of genocide, for example), there are normative instruments or even normative 'gaps' that: a) criminalize institutional racism; b) can be mobilized to challenge the need to prove intentionality in the characterization of racism cases, or even dismantle the narrative of (historically) 'suspect' subjects - widely used by security forces and reinforced by political representatives from right to left ?; 2. What is the potential (and limits) in the mobilization of international treaties and human rights bodies in relation to tackling racism ?; 3. From the current legal norms, what are the possibilities of confronting laws that reproduce the dehumanization of black populations such as the Nationality Law (in Portugal) or the Anti-drug Law (in Brazil)?

Theme 2: “Security” policies, war on drugs and policing

The way police act in black communities makes explicit the predominance of the exercise of power in such a way that only reforming or improving policing is insufficient. Police action takes place with discretion and extreme violence in the most diverse contexts. In countries like Brazil, Peru, the United States or Portugal, police are systematically acquitted by the justice system, even when they commit crimes against life and even in the face of clear evidence. The justification for this pattern of racist state violence is the need to wage a "war on drugs" on peripheral areas and favelas.  

 

Therefore, decriminalizing and legalizing different types of currently illicit drugs are choices that may result in reducing police violence and its devastating effects. However, countries that have already changed their drug policy continue to have serious cases of racist police violence, since policing and their racial selectivity are part of colonial and penal structures that go beyond the limits of police institutions and drug policies. 

 

Some questions to guide the debate during this session:  

- Given the different experiences of legislation changes in the world, how does the decriminalization or legalization of substances currently considered illicit affect the predominant pattern of racial selectivity in both the justice system and policing?  

- When considering the difference between decriminalization and legalization, to what extent does the choice of one path or another change the violence affecting racialized communities? 

 

Theme 3: Anti-black Cities: the racialization of urban spatiality

The modern/racial project has been largely prompted by the constructed need to inflict genocidal violence and a constant policing and re-making of racial demarcations. Racialization can be understood as a continuous practice of governance that makes racism an effective system of oppression that produces white(ned) life/existence at the expense of black life/existence (See Hesse, 2017; Amparo Alves, 2018). (Post-)Colonial cities and urban life are shaped by a dialectic of mutually constitutive discourses and political practices that promote both images and places of ethnic diversity/consumption and cosmopolitanism, and programs of urban “renovation” that enforce racial hygienisation, ghettoization, and criminalization. Urban life is promoted through the reproduction of a racial order that is structurally anti-black. 

 

As Jaime Amparo Alves proposes in his analysis of State terror in the city of São Paulo (Brazil), “police terror is a symptom of neither dysfunctional nor failed democracies; rather, anti-black policing creates conditions of possibility for making the ‘city of man’ (…), an anti-black social formation where whites exercise their civil rights”. It is also in this sense that the denunciations of police violence in different European contexts by anti-racist organisations such as the Brigade Anti-Négrophobie in France have exposed how everyday police brutality (e.g. racial profiling, stop-and-frisk practices and the “presumption of culpability”, harassment, throwing people against the wall or onto the ground) is part of a continuous exercise of an “invisible colonisation perpetrated by the armed forces of the French State, the police”, in the words of Franco Lollia. In this context, Lollia has pointed out to the need to avoid distractions from the main political issue: we do not have to question the ethnic and racial composition of the police but rather the ideological structures of the police forces: “the police’s DNA has never changed, it is deeply colonial. […] Police practices unnoticeably establish a racial order. Black and Arab people are thrown against the wall ‘for a reason’”. 

 

However, the debate in Latin American and European contexts is dominated by the grammar of “urban and (inter)national security” where racism is often absent in the analysis or it is framed in terms of identifying ‘racial discrimination’ or ‘violation of human rights’ among the police and other armed forces. Accordingly, I propose to centre the debate in this session on three interrelated issues that demand the production of counter-narratives: 

  1. a) are the colonial continuities in the racialization of urban space calling for a renovated analysis about racial segregation that locates white fears of a constant threatto the racist racial order (i.e. white supremacy) at the centreof the debate on police brutality and State terror? How can we make sense of the work of a “diffuse anti-blackness” (Amparo Alves, 2018) that permeates all political spheres, from the right to the left spectrum, including subaltern politics? What has been the role of academic and intellectual work in shaping the silencing about the racialization of urban spaces?  
  2. b) is this diffuse anti-blackness a key element to understand the mainstreaming of narratives about “security crises” and “war on drugs and organized criminality” in the urban periphery? Can we understand the work of race in this context as one that fuels the colonial classification/division between those inside and protected by the rule of law and those seen not only as outside the law but actively subverting the authority of the State in the peripheries (i.e. “lawless zones”, “no-go zones”, “sensitive zones”)?      
  3. c) what is the meaning of resistancefor black people subjected to the power of a genocidal state? What is the meaning of urban black life in cities governed by white/Western aesthetics and ideals of cultural consumption, tourism, and sociability? 

 

Theme 4: The legal/penal system and prison

In Elliott Currie's words, "[t]he prison has become a looming presence in our society to an extent unparalleled in our history or that of any other industrial democracy. Short of major wars, mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time" (Currie, 2013). “Structural racism is overlooked in discussions about crime and the rising rates of people incarcerated, therefore, racial unbalance in jails and prisons is mostly understood as a ‘contingency’ or, at best, as a product of a ‘culture of poverty’ and, at worst, as a proof of an assumed black monopoly on criminality” (Angela Davis, 1997). Thus, the high proportions of black people in the criminal justice system are being seen as a normal situation. Like in the United States, where prisons became the new plantations, prisons have also been central in controlling the Black population in Brazil (Jaime Amparo Alves, 2018). Angela Davis has pointed out how in each phase of the criminal process, it becomes evident that African Americans are not equally treated as whites (Davis, 1998). Accordingly, racial policing and imprisonment, can be considered as “expressive of a white citizenship democracy” that is, “a white democratic conviction that repeats the law of racial rule, normalized as a response to the obduracy of its Negro problem, the routine perception that black people were a criminal or political threat to white civil society (Hesse, 2017). Hence, the prison industrial complex is a set of symbiotic relationships among correctional communities, transnational corporations, media conglomerates, guards' unions, and legislative and court agendas.

Drawing on the above discussion, I present a series of questions for this panel: The racialized bodies/non-human bodies are considered as a “treat to race”, thus, does the notion of “naturally prompt to criminality” have also convicted racialized bodies as permanent objects of racial ruling? Is it possible to conceptualize prisons and the penal system without questioning White sovereignty? Are prisons and jails the new plantations, emerging as a way to control racialized populations across Europe? Is racism so deeply entrenched within the foundations of prisons that it is not possible to eliminate one without eliminating the other? If jails and prisons are to be abolished, then what will replace them (Angela Davis, 2011)?

Closing Table: Stocks and Resistances: Reflections on the Struggle

 

In the autobiographical oeuvre Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1993 [1861]), Harriet Jacobs portrays a system of racial and patriarchal oppression, denouncing structural forms of violence, humiliation, and dehumanization, faced and resisted by racialized Black subjects, since the beginning of racial enslavement. Memories on collective struggle were also made visible through several insurrectional processes in Haiti, Jamaica, Antigua, United States or Brazil, such as the San Domingo Revolution (1791-1803), the First Maroon War (1730-40), Stono’s Rebellion (1739), Tacky’s Revolt (1760) or the long-lasting existence of Maroon communities. Despite specific contexts or particular geographies, all these experiences reveal that “fear of death, violence, and torture was not enough to quell the spirit for freedom”, turning worldwide enslaved Africans survivors, rather than victims (Small & Walvin, 2012: 44).  

 

Still, the (White) genocidal racialized project continued. Across Europe, Roma peoples were subjected to racial enslavement in Moldova and Wallachia (Romania) or to colonial rationales and laws enforcing their physical and cultural extermination, namely in the Iberian Peninsula (Auzias, 2001; Bastos, 2007). In a context where fighting racialization, as dehumanization, was resisting disappearance (Fanon, 2008 [1952]), Roma populations fought daily. Romani Resistance Day testifies precisely the uprising of 6000 Roma, at Birkenau, on 16 May 1944. Moreover, the rising of Pan-Africanist Movements and Independence Movements from Algeria to Guinea-Bissau, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party, or the World Romani Congresses systematically unveiled and undermined the racist foundations of a persistent, structural, globalized and racialized White Eurocentric regime lingering on until nowadays. Through processes of displacement, segregation, policing, killing or imprisoning, Whiteness pursues on disciplining, exploring and ruling over the bodies and the lives of racialized people. And, as a result, several different anti-racist collectives and peoples – descent from the ones who have survived – continued to force a debate on institutional racism, memory, justice, and dignity, under the watchful eye of the Racial State.  

 

Therefore, the possibility to put in dialogue different people and movements, through the diverse and rich experiences of the invited speakers of this table, gives us an important and rare opportunity to explore different issues, such as: a) historical and transnational experiences as important influences on building an anti-racist struggle within an anti-Black-Roma world; b) main queries and challenges within present anti-racist struggles, at local and global levels; c) different approaches to globalized violence (e.g. racial segregation, persecutions, police brutality or mass incarceration); d) the pros and cons on building (strategical) alliances with white progressive organizations and parties; e) the capacity of anti-racist struggles to shake the foundations of the Nation-States and its consequences in proposing other political futures and imaginaries.  

 

Invited speakers

Ana Flauzina (Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brasil) 

Ana Rita Alves (Centro de Estudos Sociais-Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) 

Bruno Muniz (Centro de Estudos Sociais-Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) 

Cristina Roldão (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Portugal) 

Danielle Pereira de Araújo (Centro de Estudos Sociais-Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) 

Franco Lollia (Brigade Anti-Négrophobie, França) 

Jaime Amparo Alves (Department of Black Studies / University of California, Santa Barbara) 

José Semedo (Advogado) 

Kojo Koram (Birkbeck, University of London) 

Malick Gueye (Sindicato de Manteros de Madrid, Espanha) 

Mamadou Ba (SOS Racismo, Portugal) 

Piménio Ferreira (Ativista Antirracista, Portugal) 

Redy Wilson Lima (Instituto Superior de Ciências Jurídicas e Sociais, Cabo Verde) 

Sara Fernandes (Centro de Estudos Sociais-Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) 

Sebijan Fejzula (Centro de Estudos Sociais-Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) 

Sílvio Almeida (Instituto Luiz Gama, Brasil) 

Silvia Rodríguez Maeso (Centro de Estudos Sociais-Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) 

Thula Pires (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil) 

 

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Compete 2020 FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia POVT - Programa Operacional Temático Valorização do Território Universidade de Coimbra