Black Women as Surrogates of Liberation in James Baldwin’s
If Beale Street Could Talk
Marquita R. Smith
This essay analyzes how James Baldwin’s late novel If Beale Street
Could Talk represents Black women’s care work in the face of
social death as an example of how Black women act as surrogates for Black
liberation giving birth to a new world and possibilities of freedom for Black
(male) people. Within the politics of Black nationalism, Black women were
affective workers playing a vital role in the (re)creation of heteronormative
family structures that formed the basis of Black liberation cohered by a belief
in the power of patriarchy to make way for communal freedom. This essay
demonstrates how Beale Street’s imagining of freedom
centers not on what Black women do to support themselves or each other, but on
the needs of the community at large, with embodied sacrifice as a presumed
condition of such liberation.
This article has two aims: to examine the effects of victim proximity to crematoria ashes and ash pits both consciously and unconsciously in a subset of Holocaust survivors, those who were incarcerated at the dedicated death camps of Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau; and to contrast these effects, the subject positions they produce, with their suppression as the basis both for a strategy of survival during incarceration and for a reimagined identity after the war. Within a cohort of four survivors from Rudolf Reder (Belzec), Esther Raab (Sobibor), Jacob Wiernik (Treblinka) and Shlomo Venezia (Auschwitz), I trace the ways in which discrete memories and senses became constitutive in the formation of the subject prior to and after escape – the experience of liberation – so that essentially two kinds of subjects became visible, the subject in liberation and the subject of ashes. In conjunction with these two kinds of subjects, I introduce the compensatory notion of a third path suggested both by H. G. Adler and Anna Orenstein, also Holocaust survivors, that holds both positions together in one space, the space of literature, preventing the two positions from being stranded in dialectical opposition to each other.
ethical positioning that brings into question all forms of violence, most especially the legitimate violence constituted through the force of law. Denying the constituted embodiment of life, lawful violence is dehumanising. This in turn gives rise to claims about the universal rights of humans in international law and its associative laws of war.
Violence is the Result of Underdevelopment
Domesticated in the shadow of juridical power by the threat of incarceration, critics of the previous position might also point to our shared material gains and sense of
time when Hitler used
US race laws as a model for the Third Reich ( Whitman,
2017 ), or to slavery and genocide against Native Americans, or forward again to the use
of mass incarceration by liberals in the US more recently ( Murakawa, 2014 ). We can add torture by the British government in Aden and Northern
Ireland and more recently, as we well know, US torture in the ‘war on terror’.
These are just the examples that come to mind. There are many more.
Yet, having said all of that, it remains a core liberal belief that, broadly speaking
were a staggering 700,000 prison inmates. This increase is shocking, and its speed of growth deeply concerning.
Of these prisoners, approximately 12,000 have been incarcerated for lethal crimes, 40 per cent of whom have yet to be formally sentenced or even gone to trial. Almost a third (28 per cent) of the prison population are serving sentences for drug dealing. It is clear that incarceration for life-threatening crime and gun use is not a priority. The focus is on drug possession and drug dealing.
In Brazil, drug dealers are expected to
Bordering intimacy is a study of how borders and dominant forms of intimacy, such as family, are central to the governance of postcolonial states such as Britain. The book explores the connected history between contemporary border regimes and the policing of family with the role of borders under European and British empires. Building upon postcolonial, decolonial and black feminist theory, the investigation centres on how colonial bordering is remade in contemporary Britain through appeals to protect, sustain and make family life. Not only was family central to the making of colonial racism but claims to family continue to remake, shore up but also hide the organisation of racialised violence in liberal states. Drawing on historical investigations, the book investigates the continuity of colonial rule in numerous areas of contemporary government – family visa regimes, the policing of sham marriages, counterterror strategies, deprivation of citizenship, policing tactics, integration policy. In doing this, the book re-theorises how we think of the connection between liberal government, race, family, borders and empire. In using Britain as a case, this opens up further insights into the international/global circulations of liberal empire and its relationship to violence.
The book explores the relationship between violence against women on one hand,
and the rights to health and reproductive health on the other. It argues that
violation of the right to health is a consequence of violence, and that (state)
health policies might be a cause of – or create the conditions for – violence
against women. It significantly contributes to feminist and international human
rights legal scholarship by conceptualising a new ground-breaking idea, violence
against women’s health (VAWH), using the Hippocratic paradigm as the backbone of
the analysis. The two dimensions of violence at the core of the book – the
horizontal, ‘interpersonal’ dimension and the vertical ‘state policies’
dimension – are investigated through around 70 decisions of domestic, regional
and international judicial or quasi-judicial bodies (the anamnesis). The concept
of VAWH, drawn from the anamnesis, enriches the traditional concept of violence
against women with a human rights-based approach to autonomy and a reflection on
the pervasiveness of patterns of discrimination (diagnosis). VAWH as theorised
in the book allows the reconceptualisation of states’ obligations in an
innovative way, by identifying for both dimensions obligations of result, due
diligence obligations, and obligations to progressively take steps (treatment).
The book eventually asks whether it is not international law itself that is the
ultimate cause of VAWH (prognosis).
In May 1958, and four years into the Algerian War of Independence, a revolt again appropriated the revolutionary and republican symbolism of the French Revolution by seizing power through a Committee of Public Safety. This book explores why a repressive colonial system that had for over a century maintained the material and intellectual backwardness of Algerian women now turned to an extensive programme of 'emancipation'. After a brief background sketch of the situation of Algerian women during the post-war decade, it discusses the various factors contributed to the emergence of the first significant women's organisations in the main urban centres. It was only after the outbreak of the rebellion in 1954 and the arrival of many hundreds of wives of army officers that the model of female interventionism became dramatically activated. The French military intervention in Algeria during 1954-1962 derived its force from the Orientalist current in European colonialism and also seemed to foreshadow the revival of global Islamophobia after 1979 and the eventual moves to 'liberate' Muslim societies by US-led neo-imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the women of Bordj Okhriss, as throughout Algeria, the French army represented a dangerous and powerful force associated with mass destruction, brutality and rape. The central contradiction facing the mobile socio-medical teams teams was how to gain the trust of Algerian women and to bring them social progress and emancipation when they themselves were part of an army that had destroyed their villages and driven them into refugee camps.
History, time and temporality in development discourse
people in distant places became what Appadurai
(1988) calls ‘incarcerated’, confined, in particular locations ‘over there’. This
distancing and incarceration is informed by ideas about modernity that underpin
development discourse and is further perpetuated by the language of, for
example, the ‘local’, ‘indigenous’ and ‘grassroots’ that embeds recipients of development interventions in certain places and abstracts, excludes and separates them
from the global. While this produces geographical separations of ‘over there’, it
also creates temporal ones, as these places
women are deemed, individually and collectively, beyond care.
Beyond care? Women, criminal justice and criminalisation
The prison population continues to soar. At the time of writing, more than eleven million people are incarcerated across the globe. There is a considerable body of research detailing the political and economic imperatives for this phenomenon (Coyle et al ., 2016 ; Mauer, 2016 ). The rise in crime and sentencing reflects an expansion in the number of human behaviours identified as unlawful (particularly in relation to technology and immigration