In various posts, I ave written about surveillance in African American literature and music in the works of Ernest J. Gaines, Lecrae, and Arna Bontemps. Drawing upon Jeremy Bentham’s “Panopticon,” Michel Foucault argues that individuals, in various settings, experience surveillance whether they know it or not. As well, that surveillance creates within the subject a feeling of policing him or herself, thus becoming both object and subject in the act. In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault posits, “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.”
During an interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Steve McQueen commented on the juxtaposition between beauty and horror in his film adaptation of Twelve Years a Slave (2013). I have written about this before in regards to the scene where Tibeats attempts to lynch Nortup. Today, I want to expand upon that discussion some more, especially after recently rereading Northup’s narrative. This time around, I noticed specific passages that present the landscape of central and south Louisiana as beautiful while the specter of slavery and brutality lurks just beneath the surface.
Last weekend, I took a trip to Montgomery to visit the SPLC’s Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks Museum and Library. While at the Civil Rights Memorial, I came across an image that made me think about a lot of the recent posts I have been writing. Specifically, it made me think about my last post that seeks to explain why the past is not the past, it remains with us. The photograph, taken in 1992 by Todd Robertson at a KKK rally in Georgia, shows a young boy, dressed in a miniature Klan robe, pointing at his reflection in a police riot shield. The African American officer holds the shield with two hands and looks down at the young boy.