The Derrion Albert Beating: Visual Representations of Racialized Violence
Derrion Albert, an African American male, age 16, was beaten to death outside his high school on the south side of Chicago in September of 2009. His murder, recorded on a bystander’s cell phone, was widely circulated on the Internet, and his death quickly became a national spectacle. In my research, I analyze how visual representations of Albert’s murder, perpetuated racialized and gendered narratives of black masculinity1. Juxtaposing Albert’s school portraits, with the video of his beating, I show how both these images offer distinct, but interrelated symbols of blackness that buttress the formation of post-racial ideologies that simultaneously blame working class and poor African American urban communities for their lack of achievements, while embracing “exceptional” individuals of color, such as Derrion Albert, as part normative, national subjects. In my research I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how incidents of violence such as the Derrion Albert beating become national spectacles. I am interested in analyzing how “black on black” violence in particular is displayed as an ongoing narrative of “self-inflicted violence” in urban, black communities; a narrative, which according to Martita Sturkin is made to appear “replaying constantly, repeating again and again”2 Lastly, I contend that the sensationalism that surrounded Albert’s murder effectively eclipsed the devastating affects of widespread school schoolings which took place during recent educational reform.