Enfleshing the Subject: Race and Religion in the Development of Subjectivity
Gray, Biko Mandela
Clements, Niki K; Bongmba, Elias K
Doctor of Philosophy
The spate of police-involved shootings of African Americans since 2014 has spawned protests and speak-outs, direct actions and vigils. As names like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, and Jordan Baker continue to circulate, black Americans have been constantly bombarded with images and representations of black people whose lives were lost, and whose killers went free. These events raise questions, one of which is how the presence and movement of black individual and social life in the United States shed light upon the connection between race, religion, and subjectivity. Central to this question is the meaning of the black body and its implications for subjective—that is, lived and relational—forms of engagement. Black people are often reduced to their bodies, entailing a curtailing of their subjective engagements. In this project I show how officers render black people objects of fear and danger by focusing on their embodied characteristics and/or movements; in so doing, they attempt to justify their use of violent and often lethal force through their reduction of black people to dangerous black bodies. However, beyond the threat of death through bodily subjection, African Americans continue to live, move, and exist as flesh, engaging with the world and others in expansive, relational, compassionate, and resistant modes of interaction. This project explores the conditions that shape and inform subjectivity beyond the constraints of the black body. I ultimately argue that the flesh is an indeterminate, affective, and relational space that conditions the emergence and development of subjectivity; in the space of the flesh, race and religion are intertwined as dimensions that can contribute to the either the validation or denigration of black life. Moreover, in the space of the flesh, religion and race disclose an other-oriented horizon of engagement beyond cognitive, categorical, and rational dimensions of subjective life. In this way, the beyond of the flesh speaks to an expansive context for life, movement, and being, as well as a way of living, moving, and being that speaks to ethical responsibility and communal love and care.