“hands up, don’t shoot”

To paraphrase Goffman, all institutions replicate themselves. The police will always defend their legitimate right to use violence. Wrong or right, doesn’t come into it. Institutions are like gods, infallible, even when they’re proven wrong. Police are largely unarmed in Scotland. But black is shorthand for poor, easy pickings and a moving target. If class was a colour bind everything would be black and white. It’s not as simple as that. Poor people always get smeared with shit and told they smell. The officers of the law know where and when to find there victims. I’m white. It’s not my war. Does saying it’s wrong make me right?


We all know that hands raised in the air at a moment of conflict indicate surrender. They say, “I’m unarmed” or “I’ve laid down my arms” and “please, do not harm me” and “I am in your power.” At least, those of us who watch tv and films, read cartoons and novels, track newspapers and magazines. This “I surrender” sign is a global vernacular, taught and circulated by children’s cartoons. (We might need to ask why children’s cartoons teach this vernacular.) And so, what is striking about “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as a chanted slogan and as printed words on handmade, often homemade, signs is that it indexes the failure of this bodily vernacular when performed by a black body, by a killable body. Blackness becomes the break in this global bodily vernacular, the error that makes this bodily action illegible, the disposability that renders the gesture irrelevant.

Blackness, after…

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