fat and sometimes happy

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It is well known, and the punchline to many jokes, that people in the United States are stupid,war-mongering, love our Coca-Cola and Walmart t-shirts, and (perhaps even worst, and funniest, of all!): we’re fat. Not just fat. Obese.

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We’re so obese that it’s an epidemic. Our obesity epidemic particularly burdens our working class, and it’s spread to the United Kingdom, and all other countries “in which there is significant participation in the global processed-food regime” (Berlant, 766).

It seems that as our flesh grows and expands, our aversion and disdain to fatness grows and expands. This aversion has many justified and self-righteous explanations, mostly related to health and aesthetics.

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There is nothing particularly new about fatness, but what is new is the context of the world that this flesh is living in; the way we view health, responsibility, and epidemics. The poor throughout the contemporary world are not always emaciated, obesity is now another symptom of malnourishment. And what about responsibility? Our appetites, our lack of self control: “one cannot talk about scandals of the appetite – along with food, there’s sex, smoking, shopping, and drinking as sites of moral disapprobation, social policy, and self-medication – without talking about the temporality of the workday, the debt cycle, and consumer practice and fantasy.” The epidemic concept is “inevitably part of an argument about..causality, responsibility, degeneracy” and it also justifies “moralizing against inconvenient human activity” (Berlant, 755).

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Coupling morality and health is toxic: even if you could have averted health problems by simply making “healthier choices” earlier in your life, are you suddenly a person less worthy of dignity and respect?

Is it unruly to be fat and not hate your body? Is it unruly to unapologetically and shamelessly occupy public space with your body? Unruly politics characteristically take forms that are “disruptive of the social order” or “rude”. They also “elicit a response”, and transgress the “social rules of the political game”, with a “preoccupation with social justice” (khanna, 166).

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Tess Holliday is the first fat, short model to be signed to an agency. She is “super short and super fat and breaking all the motherfucking rules” (militant baker) – however, her instagram account receives thousands of intensely hateful comments, including all kinds of vicious threats. Why do people hate happy fat people? Jes at themilitantbaker.com argues that it’s because millions of people spend their lives and money working their asses off to achieve some kind of beauty ideal. Tess Holliday didn’t try to “fix her body”, she publicly says: I’m HAPPY, and succeeded – this is breaking all those social rules.

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Gabi Gregg said, “If there is a fat person on television trying super hard to lose weight, crying about how hard life is, and talking about how they eat to cope etc, then everyone is at home crying and cheering them on. Put that same person in a crop top while they smile, and the pitchforks come out.”

Fat bodies are demonized and degraded. The fat acceptance movement says, “yeah… well, fuck all that.” Being body positive means transforming the control and hatred of your fleshiness to acceptance and love. I think that in this world, it is transgressive to not hate yourself… and, when you can manage it, to even love yourself.

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#blacklivesmatter and necropolitics

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I want to write about police brutality and the murder of unarmed Black bodies by police officers in the United States, and the relationship to biopower and necropolitics. I also want to write about the protest movements, including #blacklivesmatter #staywoke #nojusticenopeace #handsupdontshoot and #icantbreathe, and the relationship to unruly politics.

But it’s hard for me to know where to start (because this started 400+ years ago?), it’s hard for me to stay up-to-date (because new forms of violence happen daily/hourly), and it’s hard to know how to end (because this has not ended). The most recent example of a protest that I know of is centered around Martese Johnson. Martese Johnson was brutally assaulted by police officers during an arrest that he did not resist, and had to get ten stitches. Hundreds of students have gathered to protest this incident, calling for #justiceformartese. Last week nineteen year old Tony Robinson was shot and killed by a police officer.

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The United States is a country built on slavery. Black death, as well as Native American genocide, built the system. The United States became rich by exploiting, commodifying, and torturing enslaved people’s bodies, while enslaved people had to “survive, resist, or endure” (Baptist).

In the article Necropolitics by Mbembe, it is written that “slavery is one of the first instances of biopolitical experimentation” (17). What’s biopolitics? Mbembe spends time explaining Foucault’s concepts to us, writing that “biopower divides people into those who must live and those who must die” (17). Dividing people in this way “presupposes the distribution of human species into subgroups”, which is what Foucault labels with the term racism (Mbembe 17).

The United States has systematically killed Black people over the last several centuries. The U.S. Criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control (Alexander).

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In 2012, a man named George Zimmerman killed an unarmed seventeen year old boy named Trayvon Martin. In 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Protests sprang up all across the country, and a new generation of black activism was launched. “New organizations have been formed, new leaders have emerged, the spirit of resistance has been given a reboot, and a new movement has taken hold” (Smith).

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In 2014, Michael Brown was murdered by the police in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner was murdered by the police in New York City. The state did not bring charges against the police officers responsible for their deaths. After the murder of Michael Brown, the day of his memorial became unruly. Police brought in riot gear and helicopters. Since then, there have been ongoing protests, unruliness, and “civil disorder” (wikipedia).

How do we view this unruliness? Is it just looting? Just unrest and disorder? A riot? A protest? One Black activist writes on her blog that communities pushing back against the murderous police force that is terrorizing them cannot be labeled as just a ‘riot’. She writes, “It’s an uprising. It’s a rebellion… people rising up in righteous anger and rage in the face of oppression should not be dismissed as simply a ‘riot'” (McKenzie).

Activists from Palestine have reached out to the activists in the United States, using Twitter to give advice like how to wash teargas residue from their eyes and how to make a gas mask. They’ve connected using hashtags such as #Palestine2Ferguson and #CommonOpressor.

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Biopolitics (and necropolitics) help us to understand the construction of desirable and undesirable populations. Some bodies deserve a chance at life and reproduction. For Others, imprisonment or death is acceptable, “or even important for the survival of the nation” (Bassichis and Spade, 199).

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The view of the Black body as undesirable, as threat, as criminal – the Black bodies that are murdered by the police have been relegated to a category in which their “lives..are not lives worth grieving; they belong to the increasing number of those who are understood as ungrievable, whose lives are thought not to be worth preserving” (Butler). Even public mourning becomes a form of unruliness because “when lives are considered ungrievable, to grieve them openly is protest” (Butler).

In the book All About Love, bell hooks writes:

White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor.

Young boy uses sidewalk chalk to draw on a parking lot filled with memorial slogans during a demonstration to protest shooting of Michael Brown and resulting police response to protests, in Ferguson, Missouri