Call for Proposals: M4BL and the Critical Matter of Black Lives–A Special Issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly

Call for Proposals

M4BL and the Critical Matter of Black Lives: A Special Issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly

Guest Editors: Brittney Cooper (Rutgers University) and Treva Lindsey (Ohio State University)

Submit: Abstracts of 300-500 words in length by November 1, 2016 to

In July 2016, the Movement for Black Lives, a collective of over fifty organizations “representing Black people” from across the United States formally released its vision and agenda. The comprehensive platform articulated demands for economic justice, political power, community control, reparations, investment/divestment, and ending the war on Black people. Detailed and pointed, the platform implicitly “clapped back” at detractors who mischaracterized M4BL as a moment or as leaderless movement with no tangible goals. The release of the platform also occurred in the middle of one of the most explosive, racially violent summers in recent history. The Movement continues to grow not only because of its consistent and visually compelling use of protest, but also because of something more intangible: the way that we are drawn into the lives of Black people slain by police and feel like these are people we “know.” Most of us don’t know those who have been killed, but often in the aftermath of another person being memorialized by a hashtag, Black people take to social media to say, “it could have been me. I could have been Michael Brown, or Trayvon Martin, or Sandra Bland.” In 2013, President Barack Obama famously declared that “Trayvon Martin could have been me thirty-five years ago.”

Employing the lens of life-writing and the particular way that the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has represented Black lives singularly and collectively, this special issue will explore the history, current state, and future of the Movement for Black Lives. What is it about the stories of people slain by police and vigilantes since 2012 that has compelled a new movement? What does “life” mean in the context of M4BL? What is the fundamental meaning of “lives” when centering those on the margins?  What does it mean to politicize and narrate the life stories of people whom we’ve never met but feel like we know? What happens when the desires and needs of families push back against the political demands and inclinations of a broader movement? Who controls the life stories and dictates the political utility of those no longer here? Why has this form of empathy and connection to slain Black people become the affective context for the Movement for Black Lives? Which Black lives have become most compelling in this context of the Movement and why? How are the stories of Black lives slain by police or otherwise racially subjugated being told? Which stories haven’t been told? And how has technology shaped the way we tell the stories of individual and collective Black lives?

As the most recent iteration of Black freedom struggles in the United States, what is the story of #blacklivesmatter? How have the individual life stories of Black people harmed or slain by police shaped the biography of a movement? This special issue is interested both in the political life of the M4BL and in the stories of those who made this movement possible. We are interested in the critical moment of encounter, when because someone’s life was taken, a community’s life, an activist’s life, or our collective lives changed.

How do representations of maternal or familial grief serve to engender empathy or identification and what are the pitfalls and possibilities of utilizing such a strategy to forward MB4L objectives? What are the sexual and gender politics that attend which individual Black lives are represented in the insistence that Black lives matter? What are the class politics embedded in how we engage the lives of those killed by police? How does a focus on the goodness or innocence or intelligence of those executed by the police impede or complicate the push for structural change? How do celebrity calls for BLM (i.e., Jesse Williams) or endorsements by politicians or at elections rallies and conventions energize and/or curtail the M4BL? How do we understand and interrogate the politics of Black life and Black living, in a moment where liberal humanist conceptions of “the human” fail to compel broad empathy and structural protection for the value of Black people? How do we articulate the relationship between the lack of structural empathy and care for Black lives and the radical forms of empathy and identity with those killed that animate the Movement for Black Lives?  How does M4BL work to create broad empathy and identification with individuals victimized by state violence? What can the proliferation of Black death at the hands of the state and the necropolitics which inhere in the accretion of Black bodies offer to us in the mode of understanding Black lives? How does the Movement’s insistence on acknowledging trauma and prioritizing a healing justice framework challenge the death-grip our current system has on the quality of Black lives? What tools does the Movement for Black Lives offer up to us, not only for reconceptualizing the social structures which shape Black living, but also for reconceptualizing our current understandings of Black life in the first place?

In asking these questions, we seek to understand the life contexts and livelihoods of Black people living at the beginning of the 21st century. Although contemporary realities are deeply rooted in historical lived experiences, we have entered a unique era in anti-Black racial terror. These living stories must be told. Understanding the stories as simultaneously about violence, resistance, (in)justice, and freedom, we seek by way of centering interrogations and representations of individual and collective Black lives to unearth both the possibilities and potential challenges for the Movement for Black Lives. Additionally, we seek to understand what it means to inhabit and embody a free Black life at the dawn of the 21st century. We propose to understand this question using the lens of M4BL together with life-writing criticism and theory.

Beyond a hashtag or minor and significant misconceptions, how do we understand the Movement for Black Lives, its purpose, its goals, and the people who comprise the Movement? How do we account for fissures, differences, and tensions within the movement and the way these differences affect both individual Black lives and Black life as a collectivity? To cover both the breadth and depth of M4BL, we seek contributions that bring a life-writing focus—one that carries with it some of the questions and approaches outlined in the previous paragraphs—to bear on topics including (but not limited to):

  • #SayHerName, the gender and sexual politics of the Movement for Black Lives
  • Uprisings, Rebellions, Riots? How do we chronicle violent resistance to anti-Black state violence?
  • Whose Black Lives Matter?
  • Cross-racial, cross-gender and transnational solidarities
  • Conceptualizing and Actualizing a “LeaderFull” Movement
  • Global Perspectives on M4BL (#FergusontoPalestine, #BLMToronto, #BLMLondon)
  • Understanding the complicated role of social media in M4BL
  • The role of mass media in documenting and shaping M4BL
  • How the Movement Changed Your Life (Politically, Culturally, Spiritually, Communally)
  • Conceptualizing the life of a leader in a leaderfull movement?v
  • Intergenerational Collaboration and Tensions within M4BL
  • How Trauma Shapes Black Lives
  • How Healing Justice Reshapes Black Lives
  • Anti-M4BL Organizing and Mobilization
  • Interrogating the role of faith, spirituality, religion, and the sacred in M4BL
  • What is state-sanctioned anti-Black violence?
  • Black Life Matters or Black Lives Matter?
  • The Biopolitics/Necropolitics of Black Lives

We invite potential contributors to submit abstracts of 300-500 words in length by November 1, 2016. First drafts of articles will be submitted in June 2016. Please note that contributors will be invited to present drafts of their final papers at the University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu at the end of August 2017, and the issue will be published in summer 2018. Articles should be between 6,000-8,000 words including bibliography and notes.




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