Weekend Reading

I’m traveling this weekend, so enjoy whatever I scrounged together earlier in the week or in my spare time here in Milwaukee:

The claim that someone who is not a racial minority cannot evaluate racism is a too-convenient alibi that makes the detection of racism into a minority affair. To ask a racial minority to examine whether or not something is racist, to refuse, in fact, to put yourself on the line for calling out something as racist, is massively, massively unfair. Because it is to return those minoritized through race to the experience of that minoritization: to ask them to risk hurt in the name of some experience-based empiricism.

I’ve written this before, but it’s worth repeating: to describe something as racist, to describe an experience as racist, is to name, inadequately, a deep, persistent hurting, to try to capture, inadequately, how it feels to be deemed less than. It is to risk ridicule, disavowal, and the ever-condescending “maybe it’s all in your head.” It is to risk something.

For those who live with status updates, check-ins, likes, retweets, and ubiquitous photography, such an understanding is near inescapable. Social media have invited users to adopt a sort of documentary vision, through which the present is always apprehended as a potential past. This is most triumphantly exemplified by Instagram’s faux-vintage filters.

There’s always tension between experience-for-itself and experience-for-documentation, but social media have brought that strain to its breaking point. Temporary photography is in part a response to social-media users’ feeling saddled with the distraction of documentary vision. It rejects the burden of creating durable proof that you are here and you did that. And because temporary photographs are not made to be collected or archived, they are elusive, resisting other museal gestures of systemization and taxonomization, the modern impulse to classify life according to rubrics. By leaving the present where you found it, temporary photographs feel more like life and less like its collection.

Dorner’s reaction is partly rooted in a corrosive version of American masculinity — his response to institutional corruption is uniquely Jack Bauer and John Wayne. Gratuitous violence included. Dorner is a wholesale product of a society gone mad on racism and war, of a state that aggressively punishes dissent, of an intellectual milieu where telling the truth has become a dangerous act. There was no internal institutional outlet for him to address injustices against him: the blue line prevented that.


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