Since the Ferguson decision concerning Officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of Michael Brown, there has been a lot of talk about Meri Nana-Ama Danquah's book The Black Body. With respect to Danquah's book, what are ways in which the black body has been used in matters of systematic institutional racism and oppression from the twentieth century to the present?
The Ferguson decision refers to the very unfortunate occurrence of a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury making the decision not to indite white Police Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting black unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Since Meri Nana-Ama Danquah's book The Black Body, written by many contributors, connects racism to body type, we can easily see how Danquah's book can be related to the terrible decision made by Ferguson's grand jury. Due to limited online access to Danquah's book, below are a couple of ideas to help get you started.
In her introduction, Danquah speaks of all the ways in which the black body has been "ized(it)," particularly "racialized ... and ... prized" (p. 14). She goes on further to relay a couple of stories in which Africans were mistreated simply because of how they looked. One story in particular is that of Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy. Ota Benga was brought to the States and "put on display in the St. Louis World's fair" (p. 16). After that, he was taken to the Bronx Zoo, along with his hammock and bow-and-arrow, and put on display in the Monkey House, where he resided with an orangutan and a parrot. Danquah even quotes the zoo director as having said, "there was no difference 'between a wild beast and a little black man'" (p. 17). Since the pygmy was mistreated due to the way he looked, we can easily relate the story to what happened to Michael Brown and his friend in Ferguson, Missouri. While there are differing accounts of the story, if we can believe Michael's friend Dorian Johnson's eye-witness account, the two young black men were accosted by Officer Darren Wilson for simply walking down the middle of the street. If we can further believe Johnson's, Crenshaw's, and Mitchell's eye-witness version of the story, Michael was physically accosted by the officer and tried to escape from the officer while the officer was shooting; he even made it 20 feet away from the officer when several more fatal shots were fired (CNN, "Dueling Narratives in Michael Brown Shooting"). If these accounts are true, we can relate Michael's mistreatment to Danquah's story of Ota Benga because it can be said the officer treated Michael in this way due to mistrust that can be tied to Michael's physical appearance, particularly the color of his skin.
A second story that appears in Danquah's book of many stories is Nzingha Clarke's "Hands." In "Hands," Clarke reflects on the memory of her father's hands and how hands tell the story of any person. She particularly reflects how the hands of her family were hard laborers, both as sharecroppers and as domestic servants. She also reflects on how her father's hands were the first to break the cycle by moving to New York to become a writer. More importantly, despite being of the "diverse" generation, the generation that accepts blacks as equally as whites, she reflects on the following about herself:
When I returned to live in Los Angeles, I was appalled to observe that in stores, I walk with my hands behind my back as I shop. (p. 96)
The reason is to hide her blackness to escape being followed in stores as she shops; yet, even in this day, she frequently hears stories of fellow blacks being followed around in major department stores as they shop because store employees associate their blackness with the risk of theft. Hence, we can also easily see how this story about appearance connects to the story of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.