"Breonna Taylor! Say Her Name!" Black Religious Essays on Necropolitics and the Novel Coronavirus in America
Special Issue Information
In March of 2020, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year old Black woman, was killed in her own apartment, by the Louisville Metro Police Department. Taylor, an EMT, was an essential worker during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Taylor’s death, at the hands of law enforcement, during a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black communities, raises critical questions concerning the necropolitics involved at the crossroads of the pandemic and the policing of Black, and other bodies deemed disposable. According to Achille Mbembe, necropolitics can be understood as “the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die” (Mbembe, Necropolitics, 2019). Moreover, necropolitics involves the ways performances of power not only determine death, but also adversely affect the memory, meaning, and mattering of persons’ lives, after death.
Professor Brittany Cooper, who described government responses to COVID-19 as a series of “necropolitical calculations,” recently argued that the killing of Breonna Taylor underscores the problematic silences (indeed, erasures of memory) around state (and other forms of violence) leading to Black women’s deaths (Cooper, Time Magazine, June 15 2020). Professor Cooper stands in a long tradition of Black feminist and womanist scholars, who have demanded and demonstrated an intersectional analysis and critique of anti-Black violence that centers the experiences of Black women. Contemporary Black feminist and womanist scholars, activists, and artists insist that the killing of Black men and boys, like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, or Trayvon Martin cannot be the singular, or even primary, focus of public protests and activism. This has led to the #SayHerName Campaign, launched in 2014, by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS). #SayHerName resists necropolitical erasures of memory and meaning by calling for the public recognition of, and pursuit of justice for, Black women and girls who have fallen victim to state-sponsored and other forms of anti-Black violence, femicide, or misogynoir. As Professor Cooper reminds us, these slain Black women, girls, and femmes “are worthy of care, love and outrage too.” Significantly, Breonna Taylor’s death has increasingly garnered local, national, and international attention, provoking ongoing demonstrations and calls for justice from activists, intellectuals, artists, celebrities, religious leaders, and everyday folks who speak her name, as an act of remembrance, reverence, and resistance.
This special issue seeks essays that critically reflect upon the state-sponsored killing of Breonna Taylor, and the challenges her premature death present to the study of Black religion and culture. Essays might consider how theorizing, praxis, or pedagogy at the intersections of Black religion and culture address the gendered and intersectional dynamics of necropolitics, the religious significance of such performances of power over Black (women’s) lives and deaths, or the spiritual resources Black women access in order to navigate and resist the necropolitical effects of policing, the pandemic, or other potential deathscapes. Likewise, essays might examine the influences of religion on the ways Black men, have or have not, "shown up" for Black women who have been victims of state-sponsored and other forms of anti-Black violence, femicide, or misogynoir. Essays might also consider how Black religio-cultural discourses and practices contribute to, or challenge, various issues of erasure, including erasures of memory, and erasures of humanity that occur when Black women are turned into scapegoats, saints, memes, afterthoughts or hashtags. More constructively, essays might offer critical or creative approaches to Black religious or spiritual practices of resistance, healing, lament, or joy for communities living in the wake of Black deaths caused by the pandemic, and/or the policing of Black bodies. What distinctive perspectives or resources might Black religion (whether conceived as academic discipline or socio-cultural performance/praxis) offer in light of (or to) those (across lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality) risking their lives in protest, during a global pandemic, as a call for justice, through a constant demand that we, “Say Her Name”?
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