On Not Standing a Chance: Black Life and (the Problem of) the Object | Biko Mandela Gray

Biko Mandela Gray delivers the Fall 2018 Ferris E. Reynolds Lecture in Philosophy. Gray offered the following overview of his lecture:

Tamir Rice never stood a chance— in life or death. Timothy Loehmann’s statement demonstrates, the 9-1-1 call’s “description was of a black male,” who, once Loehmann saw Rice, “appeared to be over 18 years old and about 185 pounds.” This description, which served as an implicit justification for the officers’ actions, raises critical philosophical, and more specifically, ontological questions — particularly about black bodies: what does it mean that one’s body is the justification of one’s own murder?

What I will suggest in this lecture is that, phenomenologically, the black body appears and maintains itself as Cartesian extended substance: it is that which needs an external agent to determine the meaning of its being. In other words, the black body — handed down to us through slavery, and maintained through various scientific, mathematical and sensory discourses — is constructed and sustained through what Husserl called “context-dependence.” The meaning of the black body is (wholly) dependent upon external circumstances, such that it has not, cannot and will not speak for itself. In other words, the black body, like Tamir Rice, does not stand a chance in our contemporary world.

But through not standing a chance, the black body — as “context-dependent,” as extended substance — is both the animating condition of Western subjective thought, as well as a portal to another modality of subjectivity: blackness as living matter. I conclude the lecture with brief remarks on what it means to be living matter, to live as matter; in other words, I conclude the lecture with a brief reflection upon black-life-matter, upon the black life that matters.

Recorded 2018-10-04 at Elon University


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