In large part, Black death at the hands of law enforcement is rationalized by a set of long-held legitimizing myths about Black people, men in particular. Among these myths, the most common suggest that Black people are innately dangerous, perpetually threatening, inhumanly strong, and inherently criminal. By assigning these characteristics to Black bodies and minds, our very existence has become so deeply mythicized that it has been used to normalize state-sanctioned murder. This isn’t new: the same myths propped up systems like slavery, convict leasing, Jim Crow, and America’s wars on “crime” and “drugs.”
Constellations are collections of stars that form patterns in the sky with no astronomical significance. They are often named after their apparent form, and many are represented by some mythological figure. In part, constellations have been identified and afforded artificial significance in order to help us navigate the physical world. Much in the same way, we create and perpetuate legitimizing myths about groups of people to navigate our social environments and maintain an order that preserves control for the prevailing system of power. White Supremacy, in particular, relies on a set of myths about Black people that allow the State to murder Black citizens with impunity.
Like stars, these deaths are inscribed on our collective memories with relative permanence. We all see the same stars. All Americans witness the same deaths on our nation’s stage. But, our views of the sky vary and perspectives on who is at fault and what is justifiable inevitably differ.
This map articulates parallels between the mythical nature of constellations and the legitimizing myths undergirding White Supremacy, particularly in the context of police killings of Black people. Each star represents a death and each constellation represents a legitimizing myth leveraged to justify use of lethal force against Black citizens. The stars are plotted according to two features of each event: the date on which they occurred (indicated along the circumference of the map) and the longitudinal location of the state in which they occurred (along the radius). But, this information is just necessary to ground the map with an objective visual framework against which my more central argument can be made: that the rationale used to normalize the murder of Black people by police is rooted in mythicized perceptions about how threatening we are, which is just as arbitrary, make-believe and socially constructed as the constellations. The form is modeled after a planisphere: a rotating celestial map used to learn how to recognize stars and constellations. As you turn the central disc, you reveal the label of the myth represented by the constellation and quotes in which police (or law enforcement representatives) responsible for each killing expose the nature of the myth used to defend their use of deadly force.