Cascading Crises: Race, COVID-19, and the Matter of Life and Death

Thu, Mar 25, 2021, 4:30 pm
via Zoom
Public / Open To All
Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies

Cascading Crises: Race, Covid-19, and the Matter of Life and Death

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and its particularly devastating effects on Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, served to increase the urgency of research I was already undertaking to situate contemporary racialized health disparities "in the wake" of slavery, as well as to nudge it in new directions. 

In this talk, I will discuss two new threads of this work after a brief review of this larger project, The Matter of Black Life and Death. The first of these threads explores the COVID-19 pandemic, and responses to it beginning with early ant-mask protests, the armed protest at the Michigan Capitol in April 2020, and culminating in the "Capitol Siege" on January 6, 2021, as revelatory with regards to whiteness. Specifically, I will provide a critical, intersectional analysis of the actions, signs, and discourse associated with these events that draws on Michel Foucault's often dismissed claims regarding the "absolutely" murderous, and suicidal features of "an absolutely racist State." I will argue that these events are revelatory with regards to the contours, investments and apocalyptic fantasies of a particularly cissexist, heteronormative and racially supremacist form of whiteness which has become increasingly visible in response to COVID-19. The second thread explores the ways in which increased public discourse regarding the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on marginalized BIPOC communities serves to obfuscate their continued structural disadvantage and the cascading crises to which they are exposed. Eschewing traditional essentializing narratives, contemporary discussions emphasize the social determination of risk, and of health, and acknowledge the historical injustices that mitigate some BIPOC interest in vaccination. These discourses and their prominence, I argue, serve to soothe racial anxieties after the "long hot summer" of 2020. However, they also obfuscate the ways in which the lives of BIPOC individuals continue to be constituted "near death, as deathliness" — such as through their underrepresentation in vaccine trials, inaccessible tools for vaccine access, a lack of access to health insurance, and overexposure to risk of medical bankruptcy.

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Catherine Clune-TaylorCatherine Clune-Taylor (she/her/hers) is an Assistant Professor of Feminist Science and Technology Studies in the Department of Women's Studies at San Diego State University. In addition to a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Alberta (2016), Clune-Taylor holds a BA and MA in Philosophy, as well as a BMSc in Microbiology and Immunology, all from the University of Western Ontario. She has published articles in Hypatia, PhaenEx: Journal of Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture, and The American Journal of Public Health, and is currently at work on two book-length projects. The first, Securing Cisgendered Futures: Managing Gender in the Twenty-First Century, explores medical, legal, political, and bureaucratic efforts to force a "cisgendered future" upon individuals without their consent. The second, The Matter of Black Life and Death: Race, Biopolitics, and Health Insurance in America explores the ways in which the American system of market-based health insurance tied to employment maldistributes life chances to Black folks. Prior to joining San Diego State University, Clune-Taylor was a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University. She is the chair of the organizing committee that oversees SafeZones@SDSU and the advisor for the new Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STSS) minor program that launched in Fall 2020. She was honored to take on the position of Vice President of the board of directors for InterACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth in January 2021.

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