Uncivil Speech: Ferguson, Anti-Black Violence, and the Sound of a Scream

uncivilspeech-keynote-2Join CFA members for a lecture by Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson, Assistant Professor in the School of Communication at Northwestern University, this Friday, May 1 at 4 p.m. at Red Herring (1209 W. Oregon, Urbana).

Below please find an abstract of Prof. Chambers-Letson’s talk, which is entitled “Uncivil Speech: Ferguson, Anti-Black Violence, and the Sound of a Scream”:

“In December 2014, and in response to the Ferguson uprisings, soul singer D’Angelo dropped his LP Black Messiah months before its scheduled release. The album situated itself within the tradition of popular protest albums responding to the brutality and ongoing history of anti- black violence in the state, works that include Nina Simone’s 1964 In Concert, Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On, and The Fugees 1996 The Score. While these albums have long been celebrated for their incisive and forceful critiques of the injustice of white supremacy, from Simone to D’Angelo, dominant receptions of these works have often refused to hear reciprocal threats of insurgent violence that flow beneath these albums. Indeed, in the contemporary moment the very call for, threat to use, or even invocation of violence is condemned and rendered impossible. As such, people brutalized by the legally sanctioned violence of the state are given a limited range of means for expressing discontent. The allowable means include most especially the turn to the law for remedy, despite the fact that the law is itself the source of injustice, or engagement in non-violent protest (which is sanctioned and heavily regulated by the state vis- à-vis the police). This talk brings a performance studies perspective to bear on the analysis of anti-black violence, asking how we might begin to listen to forms of “uncivil speech” – that is, threats of violence or the performance of violence itself as a kind of expressive, communicative gesture, or speech act. Working with thinkers that include Franz Fanon, Carl Schmitt, Saidiya Hartman, and Thomas Hobbes, I trace the measures through which the law claims a monop- oly of violence, in turn foreclosing and neutralizing the people’s right of resistance. Thinking alongside the work of the artists mentioned above, I ask how we might learn to hear the threat and performance of insurgent violence in places like Ferguson as articulating both a refusal of the ongoing brutality of legally sanctioned anti-black violence, but also critical alternatives for being in the world together.”

Chambers-Letson is appearing off campus in support of the international boycott of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is volunteering his time and paying his own expenses in support of the struggle for academic freedom and for justice for Steven Salaita.