Black Meme: A History of The Images That Make Us (Hardcover)

Black Meme: A History of The Images That Make Us By Legacy Russell Cover Image

Black Meme: A History of The Images That Make Us (Hardcover)


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"Unsettles, expands and deepens our understanding of the black meme...necessary reading; brilliant and utterly convincing."
–Christina Sharpe, author of Ordinary Notes

"You will be galvanized by Legacy Russell’s analytic brilliance and visceral eloquence." 
Margo Jefferson, author of Constructing a Nervous System

A history of Black imagery that recasts our understanding of visual culture and technology

In Black Meme, Legacy Russell, award-winning author of the groundbreaking Glitch Feminism, explores the “meme” as mapped to Black visual culture from 1900 to the present, mining both archival and contemporary media.
Russell argues that without the contributions of Black people, digital culture would not exist in its current form. These meditations include the circulation of lynching postcards; why a mother allowed Jet magazine to publish a picture of her dead son, Emmett Till; and how the televised broadcast of protesters in Selma changed the debate on civil rights.

Questions of the media representation of Blackness come to the fore as Russell considers how a citizen-recorded footage of the LAPD beating Rodney King became the first viral video. And the Anita Hill hearings shed light on the media’s creation of the Black icon. The ownership of Black imagery and death is considered in the story of Tamara Lanier’s fight to reclaim the daguerreotypes of her enslaved ancestors from Harvard. Meanwhile the live broadcast on Facebook of the murder of Philando Castile by the police after he was stopped for a broken taillight forces us to bear witness to the persistent legacy of the Black meme. 

Through imagery, memory and technology Black Meme shows us how images of Blackness have always been central to our understanding of the modern world.
Legacy Russell was born and raised in New York City. She is the Executive Director & Chief Curator of The Kitchen. Formerly she was the Associate Curator of Exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Russell holds an MRes with Distinction in Art History from Goldsmiths, University of London with a focus in Visual Culture. She is the recipient of the Thoma Foundation 2019 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency Fellow, a recipient of the 2021 Creative Capital Award, a 2022 Pompeii Commitment Digital Fellow and a 2023 Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellow. Russell’s written work, interviews, and essays have been published internationally. Her first book is Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020).
Product Details ISBN: 9781839762802
ISBN-10: 1839762802
Publisher: Verso
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
Pages: 192
Language: English
"A riveting history of the images that have made and maimed Black people in an omnivorous white culture, one that stretches across centuries and technologies, from street to cyberspace; from the violence we suffer to the virtuosity we invent. You will be galvanized by Legacy Russell’s analytic brilliance and visceral eloquence."
—Margo Jefferson, author of Constructing a Nervous System

"Unsettles, expands and deepens our understanding of the black meme. At the center of this book is work. How black bodies, divorced from context and circulating, are made to do all kinds of cultural work in perpetuity. Throughout, Russell stays with black/ness as viral material, encourages us to consider memes with "slowness," and wonders what might intervene in and end this perpetual labor. Black Meme is necessary reading; brilliant and utterly convincing"
—Christina Sharpe, author of Ordinary Notes

"What is a meme? Legacy Russell's provocative answer takes readers on an unexpected journey that loops back to the early twentieth century, then propels us forward to see our hyper-digitized twenty-first century through new eyes. Mapping the trajectory of pivotal conjunctures in the history of digital media and visual culture, her incisive insights and compelling prose show us that Black virality is fundamentally constitutive of the internet, as well as the ongoing predicament of Black life past, present and future."
—Tina Campt, author of Listening to Images

"[An] innovative analysis…in addition to constructing a persuasive case that digital culture steals from Black culture even as it looks down on Black people, Russell takes care to highlight positive media depictions of Blackness."
Publishers Weekly

"An expert deconstruction of how Blackness has been presented in culture from the beginning of the twentieth century until the present day."
—Jessica White, i-D

"Legacy Russell's Black Meme is a truly critical offering for the digital age in America's racial democracy."
—Sarah Lewis, founder of Vision and Justice, and the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities and Associate Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

"I can't wait to get my hands on Russell's history of Black visual culture, from early 1900s photographs to today's memes."
—Quinci LeGardye, The 20 Most Anticipated Books of 2024, Marie Claire

"Russell's Black Meme is a history of dispossession and cultural production that have molded our evolving media landscape."
—Shanti Escalante de Mattei, Art in America

"Russell teases out how Black life and Black death shaped viral culture even before the birth of the internet."
—23 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2024, Vulture

"Russell's Black Meme is a keen study of resistance, and there's no more exciting mind to tackle a potent array of topics: Paris Is Burning, Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, Cindy Sherman, Anita Hill, Magic Johnson, and so much more"
Interview Magazine

"Timing is everything, and Black Meme's is fortuitous, arriving not too long after 2020's pivotal reconfigurations of the market's relationship to blackness-the apotheosis of 'blackness as a business model,' as Russell puts it-and not too far into the tectonic shifts that are occurring now for readers to be unfamiliar with the changing landscape."
—Aria Dean, 4Columns

"[Black Meme] - which is dedicated to figures like Saartjie Baartman and the unnamed Black jockey in Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion ('a GIF before the GIF') - is a rigorous study and tribute to 'the ways in which Black art and Black life bow to one another in a limitless and radical exchange.'"
—Naomi Elias, The Cut

"Writer and curator Legacy Russell's latest thought-provoking book forges a strong connection between Black imagery from 1900 on to the development of contemporary digital culture, as well as to our understanding of culture, race, gender, violence and more."
—Karla J. Strand, Ms. Magazine

"Russell calls for a shift in the theorization of the Black meme, reorienting our attention so that we might disrupt the present-day subjugation that drives our constant misrecognition of Black cultural expression."
—Eileen Isagon Skyers, Hyperallergic

"Toni Morrison considered ways to fight back against dehumanization in her lectures, collected as The Origin of Others. Images and language, she notes, have the power to "help us pursue the human project-which is to remain human and to block the dehumanization and estrangement of others." This recentering is what Russell proposes as a remedy: In order to address digital exploitation, she argues, we need to de- and reconstruct the conditions of digital culture, building "one predicated on new definitions of authorship.""
—Kaila Philo, The New Republic

"Transformative ... Russell reframes the conversation around race and technology."
—Sihaam Naik, Polyester