Race, violence and neoliberalism: crime fiction in the era of Ferguson and Black Lives Matter

Andrew Pepper

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This paper uses recent instances of police killings of African-American men, and of the retaliatory violence that has flared up in cities across the US (e.g. Ferguson, Baltimore, Baton Rouge), and of the emergence of Black Lives Matters since 2012, as a starting point to think about how well crime fiction can help us to make sense of the larger problem of political violence in the contemporary US. Crime fiction is well-placed to offer insight into the problem of race, drugs, poverty and policing but by paying close attention to The Wire, Walter Mosley’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Chester Himes’s Plan B, I argue that the issue of depicting police violence in a form where the law must also be validated and of accommodating the destructive potentiality of black political violence in a form narratively orientated towards rational explanation and resolution requires very careful consideration. What is different about our contemporary moment is not simply that young black men are being killed by the police or that violent retaliation inevitably follows but rather that these circumstances are also tied to the precariousness experienced by poor black people under neoliberalism. The issue at stake is how exemplary crime fictions make sense of, and critically interrogate, the relationship between race, violence and neoliberalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-982
Number of pages20
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number6
Early online date14 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Race, violence, neoliberalism, crime fiction, The Wire; Ferguson, Black Lives Matter


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