Statement by the Editors of Third Text, 18 June 2020
(The views expressed in the following statement are solely those of the Editors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Trustees, Advisory Board, or the registered charity Third Text Ltd.)
As Editors of Third Text, we want to express our gratitude and admiration to all those who have risen up in pursuit of racial justice against the public lynching of George Floyd on 25 May 2020, by white police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is just the latest murder of an African American by a white police officer.*
George Floyd’s pained words ‘I can’t breathe’, repeated sixteen times, videoed on her purple iPhone 11 by seventeen-year-old Darnella Frazier, have rightly become a rallying cry for redress and repair against the systemic oppression and structural exploitation of black and brown peoples within and beyond the borders of the US. The same phrase was uttered by other black and brown men, women and gender non-conforming people killed by police in the USA: Eric Garner, in July 2014, by police officer Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, New York; Javier Ambler II, in March 2019, in Austin, Texas, by several police deputies; and Manuel Ellis, in March 2020 in Tacoma, Washington, by four police officers – to name just three murders in an ongoing, compounded, cumulative seriality of execution at the hands and the weapons of white police.
We are aware that this rallying cry, ‘I can’t breathe’, is at once a cry against systematic police brutality, environmental injustice and health care inequality – all of which enact devastating racialised exclusions. ‘I can’t breathe’ has come to unite social movements across countries and continents at a critical moment of political conjuncture in which the anti-Black cultures of white supremacy are spreading and multiplying through online platforms, print media, city streets and town squares within, across and beyond the Western world.
We recognise the depth of the oppression of African American people. We acknowledge its accumulated weight in the afterlives of slavery that create and maintain the global North’s ongoing economic extraction of the global South. This is why the decapitation, desecration and disposal of the statues of imperial monuments has become an urgent expression of the collective desire for decolonisation through deWesternisation. How much longer will the West – which we define as those institutions that covertly or openly promote the colonial past and propagate imperialist violence and extraction – continue to function as a fortress that excludes and a prison that incarcerates its disenfranchised and oppressed? For as long as the erasure, the devaluation and the expropriation of histories, presents and futures are tolerated; for as long as racism remains a ‘useful’, necessary apparatus for reproducing the continuous transfer of wealth to the privileged by justifying capitalism’s hegemony. Racism, in short, serves a ‘purpose’. The cultivation of anti-blackness serves a purpose. State violence against the George Floyds of the world serves a purpose: the preservation of infrastructures of whiteness as property, possession and economic domination.
Underlying this structural violence are the systems of hierarchy and status prestige that lubricate the art institutions of the white West, the museums that house its ‘great’ artworks, the art fairs, the biennales, the galleries, the auction-houses, the art-schools, the media and the curricula that elevate and exceptionalise individuals at the expense of the aesthetic sociality of black and brown peoples. Decades of liberal demands for ‘diversity’ have failed to change the artworld’s devotion to the civilisational accomplishments of the West or undo the mechanisms of exclusion. The artworld’s dependency on developmentalist, evolutionist, racial teleology mirrors the propagation of a labour aristocracy in a world ruled by imperialism. This global state of affairs justifies precarity and wages that impoverish, immiserate and expose racially differentiated workers to duress, distress and death. And not least, it recruits workers for fascisms, old and new. We have watched as ‘diversity’ became an emollient for the globalisation of art markets according to geographically partitioned ‘regions’ rather than the basis for ending its reliance upon philanthrocapitalism.
We stand in need of a critique that participates in an ongoing movement of, and for, intersectional political transformation. A movement that recognises that the eradication of racial inequality within the artworlds of the white West will not be achieved without the abolition of racial capitalism’s enduring, pliable infrastructures. The authoritarian tendencies of femicide, homicide and ecocide, that these infrastructures sustain, must be defeated. We stand in solidarity with the revolutionary uprisings of the Movement for Black Lives whose courage and fearlessness astonishes the world, braving the adverse conditions of the global COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately impacts black and brown working peoples, laying bare the pre-existing conditions of dispossession and enclosure. We fully recognise that these uprisings require us to commit ourselves with renewed energy to the critique of racial injustice, of its roots, and of its aim – which is nothing but the propagation of capitalism as a system of harrowing, intersecting inequalities, manifest globally and locally, for the benefit of the privileged.
The Editors of Third Text
18 June 2020
* See Al Jazeera for a comprehensive and detailed account of black people murdered by white US police: Alia Chughtai, ‘Know their Names: Black People Killed by the Police in the US’ https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2020/know-their-names/index.html