Georgia has been on everyone’s minds. So what do we make of this devastating intersection between different modalities marking how black people die? What exactly does it mean to reopen states when the racially-disproportionate death toll is fully known and partly preventable with sheltering-in-place? Can it be merely incidental that along with the decision to unleash the not-so-invisible hand are the many systemic co-morbidities of blackness?
For this episode, we couldn't think of a better place to shine the Blacklight than Georgia, the mecca of civil rights struggle where the eternal flame still burns and the first black woman governor came to the brink of success. It's also the state where old-school voter suppression still reins, where its residents are deprived of Medicare, and where its governor competes with our own president in both his ignorance about the disease and his willingness to let people die from it. We focus on Georgia not to exceptionalize it, but to sit at the knees of those who can teach us COVID's playbook. We couldn't have assembled a better cross-section of teachers to help us do so. Joined by Crystal Feimster, Anoa Changa, Emery Wright, Talitha LeFlouria, and LaTosha Brown, we asked in our May 13th episode of Under the Blacklight “What’s the Matter with Georgia? Virus, Voting, and Vigilantism.” You can listen to the podcast episode here.
In the opening segment, Crystal Feimster connected a history of lynching in the U.S. to the modern day lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. Feimster spoke on the ways that Black women and Black men are subjected not just to white supremacist violence, but to the failure of the local authorities to act on their behalf. Historically, there’s a link between what we might think of as state-sanctioned violence and private vigilante violence, such that when we try to disentangle the two we only see white supremacists acting as vigilantes. We don't see a system and structure that is in place that allows not only vigilantes to act a certain way, but allows police officers to brutalize black people on an everyday basis.
Building off of this historicization, Anoa Changa spoke about racialized fear mongering around voter fraud and rampant voter suppression efforts both in Georgia and beyond. Georgia is a place that has had 214 polling locations closed since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act -- third after only Texas and Arizona. She called for greater civic engagement efforts, cautioning us that “we cannot wait until six weeks before an election to start talking to communities of color.”
We then heard from Emery Wright who spoke about the inequitable economic conditions that allow us to live in a public health system that is not in fact designed to ensure the public health. Emery spoke on how our current economic system leads to a callous disregard for human life -- the people who do not have access to information, healthcare, or basic needs will suffer the most. He described how mutual aid efforts have challenged this system, and how we can better organize around social emergencies and disasters to pool resources for collective financial survival.
After a quick break to hear from the conversation online, Talitha LeFlouria and LaTosha Brown brought the conversation to a historical and analytical framing. Talitha described Georgia’s long history of exploiting prison labor through the convict leasing system and how Black women’s fragility, vulnerability, and femininity are overlooked by carceral systems where they represent 13% of the general population, but 30% of the prison population and 44% of the female jail population.
Finally, LaTosha Brown “welcomed” us to the South. She cautioned us about how the South has been the center of white power in this country and how investing and aligning with folks who are doing resistance work there can positively affect all Americans. She too spoke on the importance of mutual aid to folks on the ground, and how instrumental this coalition building was to saving vulnerable lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
After a lively roundtable, LaTosha gave us a spellbinding conclusion to the conversation by singing a few bars of the spiritual “I Shall Not Be Moved.” It was a stirring reminder that we don’t need to wait for aid to come to our communities -- we can organize to provide the services we need now and envision a kind of nation that our communities deserve.