TORTURE, PLAY AND BLACK EXPERIENCE
Translation by Alena Voronko
This essay considers how the experience of Black folk descended from slaves in North America helps us to rethink a definition of play that has been largely informed by scholars and philosophers working within a White European tradition. This tradition of play, theorized most famously by Dutch Art Historian Johan Huizinga, French Sociologist Roger Caillois, Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget, and New Zealander Brian Sutton-Smith reads play in a mostly positive sense and asserts that certain practices, namely torture, are taboo and thus cannot be play. I argue that this approach to play is short-sighted and linked to a troubling global discourse that renders the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) invisible. In other words, by defining play only through its pleasurable connotations, the term holds an epistemic bias towards people with access to the conditions of leisure. Indeed, torture helps to paint a more complete picture where the most heinous potentials of play are addressed alongside the most pleasant, yet in so doing the trauma of slavery is remembered. In rethinking this phenomenology, I aim to detail the more insidious ways that play functions as a tool of subjugation. One that hurts as much as it heals and one that has been complicit in the systemic erasure of BIPOC people from the domain of leisure.
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