To Be “Nobody” Is to Be Considered Disposable

Students stage a Students stage a “die-in” to protest police violence against Black people during a demonstration in Washington, DC, December 2, 2014. (Photo: Jamelle Bouie)

When neoliberalism and white supremacy hold sway, those marked as poor, Black, Brown, immigrant, queer and/or trans are easily abandoned or vindictively targeted by the state. They become what Marc Lamont Hill calls Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. According to Melissa Harris-Perry, “This is the book we needed to understand how we got here and to understand what it means to be here.” Order your copy today by making a donation to Truthout!

In the following excerpt from Nobody, Marc Lamont Hill lays out the thinking and history that has led to so many people being deemed disposable today in the United States.

To be Nobody is to be subject to State violence. In recent years, thousands of Americans have died at the hands of law enforcement, a reality made even more shameful when we consider how many of these victims were young, poor, mentally ill, Black, or unarmed. The cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York City; Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta; Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; Freddie Gray in Baltimore; and Sandra Bland in Hempstead, Texas, have forced a stubborn nation to come to terms with the realities of police corruption, brutality, and deeply entrenched racism….

To be Nobody is to also confront systemic forms of State violence. Long before he was standing in front of the barrel of Darren Wilson’s gun, Michael Brown was the victim of broken schools and evaporated labor markets. Prior to being choked to death by Daniel Pantaleo, Eric Garner lived in a community terrorized by policing practices that transform neighborhoods into occupied territories and citizens into enemy combatants. Sandra Bland’s tragic death sequence did not begin with a negligent jailer or an unreasonable cop but with a criminal justice system that has consistently neglected the emotional, physical, and psychological well-being of Black women and girls. For the vulnerable, it is the violence of the ordinary, the terrorism of the quotidian, the injustice of the everyday, that produces the most profound and intractable social misery.

To be Nobody is to be abandoned by the State. For decades now, we have witnessed a radical transformation in the role and function of government in America. An obsession with free-market logic and culture has led the political class to craft policies that promote private interests over the public good. As a result, our schools, our criminal justice system, our military, our police departments, our public policy, and virtually every other entity engineered to protect life and enhance prosperity have been at least partially relocated to the private sector. At the same time, the private sector has kept its natural commitment to maximizing profits rather than investing in people. This arrangement has left the nation’s vulnerable wedged between the Scylla of negligent government and the Charybdis of corporate greed, trapped in a historically unprecedented state of precarity.

To be Nobody is to be considered disposable. In New Orleans, we saw the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina followed by a grossly unnatural government response, one that killed thousands of vulnerable citizens and consigned many more to refugee status. In Flint, Michigan, we are witnessing this young century’s most profound illustration of civic evil, an entire city collectively punished with lead-poisoned water for the crime of being poor, Black, and politically disempowered….

Truthout Progressive Pick

Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond

“An essential primer on the relationship between anti-Black racism and State-sanctioned violence.” – Alicia Garza

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Without question, Nobodyness is largely indebted to race, as White supremacy is foundational to the American democratic experiment. The belief that White lives are worth more than others — what Princeton University scholar Eddie Glaude calls the “value gap” — continues to color every aspect of our public and private lives. This belief likewise compromises the lives of vulnerable White citizens, many of whom support political movements and policies that close ranks around Whiteness rather than ones that enhance their own social and economic interests.

While Nobodyness is strongly tethered to race, it cannot be divorced from other forms of social injustice. Instead, it must be understood through the lens of “intersectionality,” the ways that multiple forms of oppression operate simultaneously against the vulnerable. It would be impossible to examine the 2015 killing of Mya Hall by National Security Agency police without understanding how sexism and transphobia conspire with structural racism to endanger Black trans bodies. We cannot make sense of Sandra Bland’s tragic death without recognizing the impact of gender and poverty in shaping the current carceral state. To understand the complexity of oppression, we must avoid simple solutions and singular answers.

Despite the centrality of race within American life, Nobodyness cannot be understood without an equally thorough analysis of class. Unlike other forms of difference, class creates the material conditions and relations through which racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression are produced, sustained, and lived. This does not mean that all forms of injustice are due to class antagonism, nor does it mean that all forms of domination can be automatically fixed through universal class struggle. Rather, it means that we cannot begin to address the various forms of oppression experienced by America’s vulnerable without radically changing a system that defends class at all costs.

Copyright (2016) by Marc Lamont Hill. Not to reprinted without permission of Atria Books.