Groupe de Recherches Anglo-Américaines de Tours

Editor-in-chief: Trevor Harris

Book Review Editor: Molly O'Brien Castro

(Literature, Civilization, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Linguistics)
GRAAT: Pronounce [greit]
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GRAAT: Getting to the bone
A peer-reviewed journal of Anglophone Studies


Chandan Reddy, Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, Perverse Modernities Series, 2011), $23,95, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0822351054 —Cécile Coquet-Mokoko, Université François-Rabelais, Tours.


The starting point of Chandan Reddy’s complex reflection is the pairing by the US Congress of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 with a hate-crime prevention amendment, named after James Byrd and Matthew Shepard—two men who tragically lost their lives to, respectively, racist hatred and homophobia in 1998. This amendment expands the 1969 Civil Rights Act, which had so far covered only victims of racism, so that it now also protects LGBTQ citizens from bias-motivated crime. Reddy questions what then appeared as an unremarkable coupling and was rather hailed as a sign of undisputable progress, interrogating the association between an act strengthening federally-ordered violence abroad, and an amendment granting—but also further policing—sexual freedom for American citizens. Instead of viewing this as evidence of tactical genius, Reddy reads it as evidence of the necessity for the US state to utilize such extensions of civil rights to Americans inhabiting the ‘periphery’ of full citizenship, in order to erase, with their own consent, its history of denial of these second-class citizens, and uphold the fiction of a legitimate use of extreme violence by the US Army against non-national bodies and cultures in the name of universal democracy.


Grounding his argumentation in the first two chapters on discussions of DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, Reddy insists on the continuum between state-sanctioned practices of legal racialization of second-class citizens under Reconstruction, Congressional exclusion of migrants on racial grounds at the turn of the century, and Federal justification of the imperialistic violence exerted on foreign people of color from the Spanish-American War to this day. In Chapter 3, he convincingly makes the link with the late-twentieth-century association between neoliberalism and official recognition of multiculturalism to explain how the nation-state chose to focus on granting more individual rights to citizens and legal residents, thereby concealing the violence of policies dismantling the welfare state and depriving migrant workers of the enjoyment of family protection and entitlements, in the name of national security: ‘Since the mid-1990s, this has become a particularly salient phenomenon. The passage of the three linked federal laws in 1996—the Welfare Reform Act, the Illegal Immigration Reform Act, and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act—worked to politically and economically disenfranchise the noncitizen and simultaneously to redirect capital’s surpluses back into the economy. Each of these acts was facilitated discursively through practices of security. Moreover, these acts specifically denied immigrants the basic rights of all workers at a time when the immigrant category was primarily composed of Latino Asian, and Caribbean people. In another example, the ending of legal affirmative action in wealthy states such as California and Texas coincided with the buildup of the prison-industrial complex in these very states’ [154].


Reddy’s coupling of these apparently disconnected, often contradictory policies of inclusion and exclusion aims to demonstrate that the neoliberal state predicates American citizens’ freedoms on the stigmatization of immigrant workers and the racialized poor in its domestic policies, and ensures the safety of democracy and the preservation of civil rights at home by giving free rein to the military order abroad, in “uncivilized” spaces where the racialized ‘enemy combatant’ is always assumed to be unknowable and irrational, and hence only fit to be dealt with by torture and practices of extreme violence.


The book is particularly clear and convincing when discussing the conclusions of research conducted by the Audre Lorde project, which assessed in 2004 the effects of immigration policy on the treatment of queer people of color within their own immigrant communities. By raising family reunification quotas while lowering the numbers of visas for unskilled migrant workers, the Immigration Act of 1990 allowed the federal state to appear ‘absolved politically from having created and expanded the conditions of noncitizen life within the borders of the United States’ [159] while it simultaneously made it mandatory for petitioning families—instead of the state itself—to ensure the welfare of all relatives arriving on US territory under this category. This burden obviously has discriminatory implications for any migrant person whose sexual orientation runs counter to family traditions. Hence, by resorting to the family unit to mediate immigrant workers’ access to the labor market and impermanent social rights, ‘the state was able to produce a racialized and gendered differentiated class of workers” while it “projected immigrant communities as antiliberal and sexually conservative,’ allowing it to maintain without any apparent contradiction ‘US citizenship as a formally protective apparatus against patriarchy, homophobia, and supposed illiberal cultures’ [162]. Reddy maintains as the center of gravity of his queer critique of the state’s normative policies “the noncitizen racialized and gendered subjects that US political modernity has ... produced and hailed in uneven ways—not as derivative copies of the normative citizen subject, but as distinctly regulated subjects and objects of the political sphere’ [177-8].


Chapter 4 then discusses the racial implications of California’s voting of Proposition 8 in 2008, which denied gays and lesbians universal marriage rights and has just been invalidated, along with the Defense of Marriage Act, by the US Supreme Court. While supporters of the proposition claimed that the movement against gay marriage transcended racial fault lines, citing as evidence the fact that a majority of the voters of the most populous and racially diverse state had simultaneously elected the nation’s first African American president, many progressive LGBTQ organizations blamed the outcome of the vote on the sexual conservatism of the 10 percent of African American constituents. Quoting Siobhan Somerville and Randall Kennedy, Chandan Reddy insists that the ‘miscegenation analogy’ drawing a parallel between gay marriage and interracial marriage is warped, because the Loving decision of 1967 ultimately served to reinforce the exclusion of gay and lesbians from civil rights by extending the latter to all heterosexuals regardless of race, while portraying the state as antiracist and anti-white-supremacist.

While the receding welfare state is thus ironically challenged and further shrunk by individuals seeking inclusion into the realm of civil rights through the exclusion of racialized and sexualized Others, Reddy finally shows ‘how an epistemology of legitimate violence tethered to the nation-state creates and relies upon modern race wars’ [224] by connecting ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and its outing, shaming, and exclusion of gay members of the military with the practices of sexual torture documented in the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Bagram—legitimized by military power only because they were inflicted upon noncitizens, ‘lives devoid of value’ [246] and performed in public, thus strengthening the Army’s fantasy of omniscience and rational use of state-sanctioned violence.



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