Necropolitics, Feminism & Face: Spectacular black death

Shatema Threadcraft presents her talk titled Spectacular Death: Lynching, Lethal Police Violence, and the Black Female Body in Konover auditorium Wednesday evening. Threadcraft is an assistant professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. (Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

Black feminism, the politics surrounding life and death and the wrongful deaths of black people were the focus of a talk entitled “Spectacular Black Death: Lynching, Lethal Police Violence and the Black Female Body” by Dartmouth professor Dr. Shatema Threadcraft on Wednesday.

Dr. Threadcraft is an associate professor of government at Dartmouth, and her lecture concentrated on black feminism, necropolitics and the use of the bodies of black people wrongfully killed as a means to draw attention to inequality.

The speaker noted how the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray prompted her to consider how movements like Black Lives Matter use these deaths to increase awareness about their cause.

“It was not simply a concern with the politics of death that was concerning but a focus on a very narrow subset of deceased black bodies, those rendered deceased in spectacular ways,” Threadcraft said.

When talking about people killed in “spectacular ways,” Threadcraft was referring to deaths that were often violent, brutal or public. In other words, deaths that could be considered a spectacle. She discussed how the environment in which these deaths occurred, an environment where the death was more likely to be captured on video, increased the publicity of these deaths.

She juxtaposed the publicity of these black men’s deaths with the often private and untalked-of deaths of black females, who are more likely to die at the hands of an intimate partner in a more private environment, like a home. Because of the lack of a public spectacle at black females’ deaths, the speaker said, people were less likely to hear about these deaths and perceive them as a threat to the public order. This makes it less likely that people would rally to stop these deaths from occurring, Threadcraft said.

“Women are not killed in the same context that men are, nor are they killed by the same people… They are…killed in the course of things that have come to define the private sphere in many cultures… Their deaths are unlikely to register as threats to the public order. Their deaths are unlikely to register at all,” Threadcraft said.

Towards the end of her presentation, Threadcraft made a connection between lethal police violence today and the lynching of black people in the early to mid-20th century to demonstrate how violence against black people is not just a contemporary problem. She also juxtaposed the public spectacle of lynching with the private attack of a sexual assault on a black woman.

Threadcraft said because of the private nature of a sexual assault, “sexual violence simply never had a chance to carry equal weight as a symbolic disparity between the relatively rare lynching and the far more common rape.”

Megan Fountain, a graduate student in El Instituto, said she learned about the different factors affecting the deaths of black women and men from Threadcraft’s presentation.

“When you look at gender, other things become visible that were invisible, so looking at how are black women killed compared to how are black men killed – it’s an important question,” Fountain said.  

Dr. Fiona Vernal, a history professor and member of the Africana Studies Institute noted that “these kinds of speakers can provide [students] with a sense of where there are limits to their ability to analyze what is going on… This talk did a good job of explaining where the silences are around gender and violence against women.”

“Spectacular Black Death” was sponsored by the UConn Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research on Women and Girls of Color.


Stephanie Santillo is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.