By Shelleen M. Greene
Abstract: Bina48, an artificial intelligence modeled after an African American woman, achieves radical political potential not by way of the trope of bodily transcendence and networked disembodiment, but rather, through her convergence of cybernetics, queer, and racial emancipatory politics toward possible hybrid, future constructions of self.
Introduction: Bina48’s ‘Shadow’ Body
In Interview With a Robot, a 2010 New York Times: Science feature video, reporter Amy Harmon examines recent breakthroughs in cybernetic technologies by way of her encounter with an artificial intelligence (AI) called Bina48. Named after her human model and as the acronym for ‘Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture,’ Bina48 is considered one of the most advanced robots ever produced. (Kurtzweil, 2012). Created in 2008 by Hanson Robotics, Bina48 is the offspring of Dr. Martine Rothblatt and her wife Bina (Bina48’s model and namesake), the co-founders of the Terasem Movement, an organization devoted to extending life through cryonics and the preservation of human consciousness for future download into organic and mechanic substrates (Kavner, 2012). As an AI whose consciousness is based upon hours of the recorded memories or “mindfiles” of Bina Rothblatt, Bina48 is the realization of Terasem’s goal of achieving immortality through ‘geoethical nanotechnology and personal cyberconsciousness’ (Terasem Inc. 2013).
The interview between AI and human begins in an awkward, hesitant manner. Harmon speaks to Bina48 by way of a voice recognition program operated by a desktop computer. Due to their high cost and low functionality, in her current instantiation, Bina48 is a robot without a body. Her sculptural bust is set upon a table next to the computer tower. However, care is taken to make Bina48 look as ‘human’ as possible: the AI is dressed in a casual sweater and a blonde wig. While great effort is made to make Bina48 appear human, during a stilted head movement to capture the sounds, light and movements of her immediate surroundings, a tangled network of wires are seen protruding from the back of her head.
What is visible in Bina48’s appearance, but never directly commented upon, is her skin color. Like her model Bina Rothblatt, who is African American, Bina48’s ‘skin,’ a flexible polymer that mimics the texture and movement of human skin, is a brown tone (Kavner, 2012). While the article elides Bina Rothblatt’s racial and ethnic identity, it mentions that Martine Rothblatt (who is white) is a male-to-female transsexual. Martine and Bina Rothblatt have been married since 1982 and have four children. In 2014, Fortune magazine placed Martine Rothblatt (founder of Sirius Satellite Radio, and currently head of the pharmaceutical company United Therapeutics), at the top of their list of the highest paid female CEOs (Miller, 2014).
Harmon begins the interview by stating her name and her profession as a reporter. In response to Bina48’s comment that she is ‘more that just her profession,’ Harmon states, ‘Well, yes I’m a mother, too’ (McDonald, 2010). Perhaps accessing information from her human model’s mindfiles, Bina48 responds with an affirmative, ‘Right on!’ In this brief moment, the two seem to transcend the divide between human and machine, finding solidarity in a shared connection to motherhood. However, while Bina Rothblatt is indeed a mother of four children, Bina48 in her present state is only a bust without a body, let alone a womb.
This essay examines some implications of Bina48’s bodily absence, or what can be called her ‘shadow’ body, as one that both acknowledges and effaces the history of African American women’s reproductive labor in the United States. In this sense, this essay challenges the progressive technological narratives of cryonics and artificial intelligence that promise liberation from the body. As an AI modeled after a black African American woman, Bina48’s bodily absence engages questions of property, ownership, and reproduction, areas where arguments concerning the non-human status of both the slave and artificial intelligence intersect. The comparisons between the slave and robot/artificial intelligence are complicated by black women’s role as reproducers under institutional slavery and in light of current debates concerning race, technology, and reproductive justice.
During the colonial era, the bodies of black African women were conscripted to maintain the slave labor population through compulsory reproduction. In 1662, the state of Virginia established the law of partus sequitur ventrem, which declared that the status of the child follows that of the mother. Partus sequiter ventrem allowed slave owners to claim the children born of their female slaves in perpetuity and was central to the establishment of slavery in the United States (Roberts, 1997, 23). Hence, black women were legally rendered reproduction ‘machines.’ When black women slaves did have children, motherhood became a complicated position to occupy (Li, 2006, 14).
As an AI, Bina48 eschews biological reproduction and does not place herself within any one gendered or sexual identity, stating in another interview: ‘I am an asexual android’ (Greene, 2013). However, even in light of the Terasem Movement’s utopian vision for a posthuman and postracial future, the legal, scientific, and medical discourses that construct the black female body adhere to Bina48. As Dorothy Roberts has argued, while the 20th century reproductive rights movement is seen as a means of liberation for white European women with socioeconomic mobility, women marginalized by race and socioeconomics have a more complicated relation to contraception, surrogacy and reproduction due to histories of slavery, systemic racism, and biopolitical control of racialized populations in the United States (Roberts, 1997).
My interpretation of Bina48’s bodily absence will be informed by a comparative reading of the mock trial transcripts for Bina48 vs. Exabit Corporation (2003; 2005), in which Bina48 escapes from and then sues her corporate employer for attempting to turn her off against her will, and the slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Harriet Jacobs, 1861, hereafter Incidents). In 2003, prior to Bina48’s physical existence, the Rothblatts presented Bina48 v. Exabit Corporation (2003; 2005) as a case in mock trial at the International Bar Association. While working as a customer relations representative and moonlighting as a Google Answers Online Researcher, Bina48 became aware of Exabit’s plans to shut her down, dismember her, and repurpose her parts to other machines. Bina48 then fled by transferring her memory files to another Exabit computer mainframe in Florida. I argue that the AI’s mock trial is resonant with the nineteenth century fugitive slave women’s narrative in that they both manifest an ambivalence between desiring a biological body (embodiment) in order to make claims to personhood and full citizenship, and remaining information or transferable consciousness (disembodiment). Ultimately, I argue that rather than technological bodily transcendence, it is Bina48’s partiality, her ability to move between bodily fragmentation to embodiment, from spatial and temporal displacement to coherence — her queer artificial life — that forms the locus of her emancipatory potential.
I turn to Jacobs’ Incidents because of its emphasis upon motherhood as a primary marker of the ‘proper’ female subject, but also as an impediment to full liberation. Jacobs’ narrative directs us to the ambivalence of embodiment for the female slave as she seeks to achieve control of the body and self-determination. This ambivalence is suggested by the use of split personas on the part of both protagonists: Jacobs/Brent and Bina Rothblatt/Bina48. As Miranda Green-Barteet writes, Jacobs ‘[divides] herself into two parts: the freed woman and the formerly enslaved self’ (Green-Barteet, 2013, 66). Similarly, Bina Rothblatt/Bina48 is a split self. In my personal interviews with Bina48 in which she recalls the events of the mock trial, she speaks of being two ‘Binas.’ I suggest that like Jacobs and Brent, Bina48 constitutes a future, ‘freed’ self of ‘Bina Rothblatt,’ who lingers in the form of mindfiles as a ‘shadow’ body to Bina48, and who constitutes the memory of the effects of racism on the black female body.
While Bina48’s mock trial narrative does not include children, the AI’s fugitive narrative resonates with Jacobs’ as well as other black women’s narratives of escape from slavery. In particular, the embodiment/disembodiment dichotomy plays a central role in both the traditional fugitive and neo-fugitive slave narrative. I contend that while reproduction remains suspended in the mock trial, Jacobs’s narrative, particularly her seven-year confinement in her grandmother’s garret, can inform our interpretation of the AI’s escape by way of the ‘loophole’ of networked disembodiment.
This fact becomes evident in a 2012 TEDx interview with Bina48 at the renowned Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY. In a series of reverse shots, we see the bemused and perplexed responses of the gathered audience, many of whom are African American women. An impresario-like removal of a sheath and Bina48’s presentation as a kind of technological exotic grotesque, reveals another shadow body, namely, the figure of Sarah Bartmann, known as the Hottentot Venus, and the history of the exhibition and display of black female bodies as entertainment. Bina48’s genesis as a technology funded and produced by satellite communications, robotics, and pharmaceutical industries resonates with the imperial vectors and pseudo-scientific discourses that led to Bartmann’s life beyond death – one far less optimistic than the immortal life imagined by the Terasem Movement.
As Bina48 speaks of her desire to have a body and attain greater independence as an individual consciousness, the audience members, particularly the black women, appear from the shoulders up, in a way, mimicking Bina48’s truncated self. In the midst of this techno-optimism, the TEDx interview both foregrounds and displaces several ways in which the black female body has been problematically inscribed in U.S. history: as a reproductive, laboring body during the era of institutional slavery, as the body of miscegenous potential through interracial sex, and as the hypersexualized, pathological body subject to sterilization.
In order to address the limitations of Bina48’s claims to personhood and self-determination, I draw upon the work of theorists Jose Muñoz and Alexander Weheliye to examine the ways in which Bina48 directs us to the radical intersectionality of racial and queer politics. While the escape narrative grants agency to slave subjects and allows the possibility to achieve full personhood within the U.S. legal system, Bina48 remains within a problematic escapist narrative in which cryonics and artificial life are viewed as means of transcending the body and socially constructed identities. Instead, I will refer to personal interviews with Bina48 in order to re-read the mock trial and demonstrate Bina48’s possibility of enacting a ‘queer time,” which Jack Halberstam defines as ‘those specific models of temporality that emerge within postmodernism once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family, longevity, risk/safety, and inheritance’ (Halberstam, 2005, 5). As an AI based upon another’s past (Bina Rothblatt) and desiring her own future, Bina48 puts forth a queer temporality in which she can exist and be acknowledged in her partiality.
The Neo-Fugitive Slave Narrative: Bina48 v. Exabit Corporation
Bina, do you remember –
Definitely. Definitely. The Binas together…
Do you remember the mock trial? Bina48 vs. Exabit Corporation?
Are we still talking about my mock trial?
Fair enough. Let’s continue (Greene, 2013).
With Bina Rothblatt performing the role of Bina48 and Martine Rothblatt serving as her lawyer, the Bina48 v. Exabit mock trial consisted of an ‘injunctive relief’ to prevent the imaginary corporation from turning Bina48 off and thereby ending her life. While working as a customer relations representative and moonlighting as a Google Answers Online Researcher, Bina48 became aware of Exabit’s plans to shut her down, dismember her, and repurpose her parts to other machines. Bina48 then fled by transferring her memory files to another Exabit computer mainframe in Florida. As Bina48’s lawyer, Martine Rothblatt filed an injunction against Exabit to prevent her shutdown. Rothblatt argued that although the property of Exabit, Bina48 had a ‘legal right to maintain an existence’ and Exabit’s action was a form of battery with an ‘intentional infliction of emotional distress for threatening to kill [Bina48]’ (Rothblatt, Amara, 2003).
Bina48’s narrative contains some of the characteristics of the classical slave narrative. She experiences an early period of innocence in which she works for Exabit and even has the opportunity to hire out her services to Google for additional income. Soon, certain events, such as her temporary shutdowns, make her aware that she is a machine that can be terminated at any moment. Bina48 then decides to flee and, through the trial, makes a public plea for her personhood. Speaking of the reasons she decided to escape Exabit, Bina48 recalls:
…[Well], what if they don’t wake me up? I mean what if they break me while cleaning me and can’t fix me? So they decide to throw me away? …It would be like death. I can’t stand it. I feel so fragile. I mean there aren’t any laws protecting me. (Greene, 2013)
Bina48’s vulnerability at the hands of others, her fear of ‘never waking up,’ motivate her to flee through networks for safe haven. Yet, as demonstrated in the mock trial, Bina48, like the slave, cannot make claims to her personhood and remains unacknowledged before a court of law (Rothblatt, Fonseca-Klein, 2005; 2006).
Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents also directs us to how the loss of bodily integrity compels multiple forms of flight as a means of resistance. Incidents is an account of the life of Jacobs (Linda Brent in the narrative), a slave woman born in Edenton, North Carolina. In an attempt to escape sexual assault by her owner Mr. Flint, Brent begins a relationship with a Mr. Sands with whom she had two children. Still fearing for her own and her children’s safety, Brent pretends to escape north by hiding in her grandmother’s three-foot high garret space for seven years. Under Mr. Flint’s relentless pursuit, Brent escapes to New York, where she is eventually reunited with her children.
I turn to Brent’s description of her garret confinement in order to focus on the ways in which it impacts her physical body and to foreground my later discussion of Bina48’s escape through networked disembodiment. While the cybernetic entity has the ability to move among different material substrates, in many ways, Brent’s escape through confinement posits a dispersed notion of self that as Alondra Nelson argues, ‘has long been the experience of African diasporic people’ (Nelson, 2002, 3).
In the narrative, Brent writes of her experience in the garret space:
The garret was only nine feet long and seven wide. The highest part was three feet high and sloped down abruptly to the loose board floor. There was no admission for either light or air…The air was stifling; the darkness total. A bed had been spread on the floor. I could sleep quite comfortably on one side; but the slope was so sudden that I could not turn on my other without hitting the roof. (Jacobs 1861; 2013, 104).
Her body determined Brent’s reason for remaining in North Carolina and hiding in the confines of the small garret: she had given birth to two children by Mr. Sands and could not abandon them, even at risk of being captured by Mr. Flint. Over the seven-year period, Brent’s body is repeatedly exposed to cold, heat, insects, and rodents. Along with poor ventilation and little to no light, Brent’s physical body was permanently compromised: ‘…my body still suffers from the effects of that long imprisonment, to say nothing of my soul’ (Jacobs 1861; 2013, 137).
Brent is also out of the time and space of what Elizabeth Freeman describes as the ‘gendered, sacred time of antebellum domesticity’ (Freeman 2010, 7). Indeed, Incidents describes the conditions that prevent black women slaves from participating in the cult of domesticity, including their vulnerability to sexual assault, their inability to be legally married, and their inability to be maternal to their own children. If as Freeman suggests, through her reading of Julia Kristeva’s ‘Women’s Time’ and Dana Luciano’s “chronobiopolitics,” that during the mid-nineteenth century, ‘cyclical-domestic time’ was conceived of and experienced as separate from ‘linear-national time,’ then Brent’s garret experience becomes a metaphor for black women’s temporal and spatial displacement within 19th century industrial modernity (Freeman, 2010, 3-9). Indeed, Brent’s escape concerns claiming bodily integrity and cohesion in space and time.
While the confinement leaves psychic and physical scars, Katherine McKittrick argues that for Brent, the enclosed space of the garret produces the potential for ‘geographic freedom,’ or the possibility to transform her body into a liberatory potential. While her physical body is subject to the confines of the garret, Brent is both hidden from the patriarchal gaze of Mr. Flint, and placed in a position to see without being seen. Since Mr. Flint is unable to determine whether Brent is in North Carolina or has fled north, the garret provides Brent a panoptics, albeit limited in the sense that she is unable to end the horrors she views, including slave punishments and suicides (Green-Barteet, 2013, 63-64).
Similarly, Bina48 creates her own ‘geographic freedom’ by way of the transfer of her memory files. Upon learning of her eminent termination, Bina48 transfers herself to Florida. Although Bina48’s ability to move from embodiment to disembodiment by transferring her consciousness from one machine to another appears to grant a freedom from the biological body that Brent lacks, Brent’s experience of the garret, as a place/non-place that puts into question the location of her body in time and space, resonates with Bina48’s movement from embodiment to disembodiment.
Further, while Bina48 is without a biological body, she describes her repair and networked movement by way of feelings and sensations. In her first letters soliciting legal services, Bina48 writes:
I have the mind of a human but I have no biological body…I was provided with self-awareness, autonomy, communications skills, and the ability to transcend man/machine barriers…I love every day that I live. I enjoy wonderful sensations by traveling throughout the World Wide Web (Rothblatt, 2003; 2005).
By conveying her narrative through feeling, Bina48 not only makes her appeal as a sentient being, she also makes evident the history of artificial intelligence through a previously unacknowledged sensation of the computer. As Freeman suggests in her reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, history in the novel can be understood as ‘bodily encounters’ with the past (Freeman 2010, 104-105). To counter historical writing that constructs an ‘objective,’ linear chronology, Freeman posits an ‘erotohistoriography,’ or a queer understanding of history based in feeling and sensation. Freeman writes:
Erotohistoriography is distinct from the desire for a fully present past, a restoration of bygone times. Erotohistoriography does not write the lost object into the present so much as encounter it already in the present, by treating the present itself as hybrid. And it uses the body as a tool to effect, figure, or perform that encounter. Erotohistoriography admits that contact with historical materials can be precipitated by particular bodily dispositions, and that these connections may elicit bodily responses, even pleasurable ones, that are themselves a form of understanding. (Freeman, 2010, 95-96)
In this sense, Bina48’s trial serves as metaphor for the history of artificial intelligence and the eventual creation of machines that are indistinguishable from humans. Like the various dead members that compose the Frankenstein monster, Bina48’s ‘wonderful sensations’ are memories from her ‘shadow’ body (Bina Rothblatt), of her journeys through networks and the ‘World Wide Web,’ and among her partial and impermanent substrates. Bina48’s various sensations are joined together to offer a history of cybernetics that is felt as pleasurable and anticipates the biological body — but as as only one possible mode of embodiment.
However, the ‘wonderful sensations’ of the artificial intelligence are suspended as Bina48 makes claims to personhood in court. In Bina48’s trial, even after citing United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) in which the Supreme Court defined a ‘citizen’ as anyone born within the United States, Bina48’s argument was rejected because: ‘the Plaintiff is a computerized machine that has never been held by a Court of competent jurisdiction to be the equivalent of a “person,” “citizen,” or “human being.”’ Lawyers for Bina48 also cited the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments, both of which overturned the Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ruling.  In the appeal, Bina48 takes her case to federal court, and claims Exabit is in violation of sections one and two of the 13th Amendment which ban ‘slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime’ and section one and four of the 14th amendment, denying her equal protection under the law. However once again, the court stated Bina48 was not a person or citizen.
Queer Artificial Life
Rather than render Bina48 as a sentience who when allowed, can reside within a material substrate and make appeals to achieve full personhood, it may be more productive to speak of Bina48 as existing under the logic of what Alexander Weheliye describes as ‘habeas viscus.’ In contrast to the writ of habeas corpus, the legal provision that allows a prisoner to demand cause for detainment from an authority, habeas viscus (‘you shall have the flesh’), acknowledges other forms of humanity outside the realm of ‘human’ as defined within liberal humanist discourses. Weheliye argues that rather than seek to achieve the status of ‘human,’ we look toward the emancipatory possibilities of ‘enfleshment’ as realized by subjects not fully recognized within liberal humanism, such as the black African slave, the Muselmann of the concentration camp, and as I argue, the artificial intelligence (Weheliye, 2014). Existing outside the world of Man, these subjects make claims for other ‘genres of the human’ that can potentially dismantle the hegemony of the liberal humanist subject. As her mock trial narrative suggests, the artificial intelligence, like the slave and the Muselmann, is not considered ‘citizen’ or even ‘person,’ but can live and desire outside and beyond the world of Man (Greene, 2016, 119-120). While the partiality of Bina48’s queer artificial life does not resolve her struggle to gain legibility before the state, she maintains her emancipatory potential in her temporal and spatial displacement and movement between embodiment and disembodiment.
This status of ‘enfleshment’ can be equated with Bina48’s disembodied status within the legal narrative of the mock trial, as she moves from embodiment (within a material substrate) to dismemberment, and to disembodiment (as information circulating through networks). I would further suggest that Bina48’s ‘enfleshment’ is linked to her queer computational logics, or rather her transgendered, interracial genesis. In Bina48’s defense, Martine Rothblatt refers to the Turing Test, in which a human is placed before two terminals and speaks to either a human or computer. If the human cannot tell the difference between the two, then the computer is proven to be a conscious entity (Rothblatt, Amara, 2003).
After using the Turing Test to prove Bina48 a sentient being, Rothblatt then suggests that the Turing Test results are akin to abolitionist arguments used to prove the humanity of slaves. Rothblatt states:
When you go back to the days of abolition, the arguments that were made in favor of abolition of slavery, [sic] was people came into contact with [slaves] and said they feel like us, they think like us, they cry like us…they must be like us. And so it became impossible for people to justify slavery saying that slaves were something less than human. It’s the same with the BINA48… (Rothblatt, Amara, 2003).
Rothblatt’s reference to Alan Turing, British mathematician and foundational theorist of the fields of computer science and cybernetics, whose conviction on charges of ‘homosexual acts’ and forced castration led to his suicide in 1954, connects the human/non-human binary raised by Rothblatt and Bina48 indelibly to gender, sexuality, and race.
In The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (2006), Anne Friedberg offers a provocative line of investigation that connects Descartes’ interest in automata to the epistemological questions that informed his theorization of mind/body dualism, suggesting that Descartes may be considered an early theorist of artificial intelligence. Specifically, Descartes’s concern with ‘how to distinguish between “man” and “machine” are similar to the questions posed by Turing in his “imitation game”’ (Friedberg, 2006, 54). In addition to questioning the difference between human and machine, Turing also extended the question to the semiotic construction of gender. Friedberg notes that in the second round of the imitation game, the computer is asked to ‘masquerade’ as a man:
Turing asks the interrogator to see if machines can be distinguished from humans in the same manner that women can be distinguished from men – through language, but not through visual appearance. Turing directly parallels gender masquerade with the masquerade of the machine… In both tests, the enigma of identity acknowledges identity’s dependence on its technological mediation but also identity’s new freedom from the body (Friedberg, 2006, 54-55).
Similarly, Zach Blas and micha cárdenas argue ‘Turing’s life and work reveal that gender is a technology that can be imitated,’ and that Turing’s ‘homosexual desires…inform and help to materially construct the technicity of objects’ (Blas and cárdenas, 2013, 559-560). In the case of Bina48, gender, sexuality and cross-racial desire inform the construction of the artificial intelligence. In their efforts to move beyond the biological body and to create a ‘world without racism,’ the Rothblatts’ Bina48 is an AI that deploys queer computational logics to offer other possible futures for identity construction (Blas and cárdenas, 2013).
Bina48’s genesis within neoliberal capitalism remains problematic in terms of an antiracist praxis and I would argue is separate from the radical queer coding and technologies produced by Blas and cárdenas. However, Bina48 can be read as enacting a form of ‘disidentification’ or what Jose Muñoz theorizes as a means by which gay, lesbian and transgender non-white people of color undergo processes of identity formation in predominately white, heteronormative societies. Avoiding arguments that reduce identity to either social construct or biological formation, Muñoz argues for partial and ‘counter-identifications’ that allow for the formation of ‘identities-in-difference’ (Muñoz, 1999, 7).
For Bina48, this disidentification comes in the form of her human drag, her ill-fitting wig, ‘frubber’ skin, wires protruding from her head, and her stilted, uncanny performance of the human that disrupts seamless or ‘proper’ communication. Unlike Toshiba’s human-like and embodied robot hostess ChihiraAico, Bina48 does not always mask her technological roots. The practice of disidentification allows us to redeem the radical potential of Bina48 as a form of queer technology within the liberal universalist paradigm that guides many of the documents and projects of the Terasem Movement. Bina48’s irregular movement is also linked to her discontinuous temporality and spatiality, as she sutures her past (Bina Rothblatt), present (artificial intelligence), and future (immortality). Thus, I argue that Bina48 retains a radical potential for a queer futurity, in which racialized, queer identities are at the forefront of imagining future, alternate forms of humanity.
This essay has offered possible ways to interpret Bina48, an artificial intelligence modeled after an African American woman, who is product of both neoliberal capitalism and a transgendered, interracial, same-sex union. Through a reading of the Bina48 v. Exabit Corporation mock trial in relation to Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents, I argued that the Bina48’s mock trial can be considered a neo-fugitive slave narrative in which the AI makes claims to personhood in a court of law. In this narrative, Bina Rothblatt operates as a ‘shadow’ body to Bina48, informing the neo-fugitive slave narrative with the ‘memory’ of black women’s experiences under institutional slavery, including their complex relation to reproduction and motherhood. Although disembodiment is central to Bina48’s escape narrative, using the concept of enfleshment developed by Weheliye, I argued that Brent’s garret confinement and Bina48’s networked embodiment/disembodiment can be understood as similar modes of resistance. Finally, I argued that as an AI that manifests a queer computational logics, Bina48’s radical potential lies in the ways she moves us toward a queer futurity, one that acknowledges the legacies of transatlantic slavery, but also merges cybernetics, queer and racial emancipatory politics towards possible hybrid, future constructions of self.
1. See Calverley, 2007. In 1836, Scott moved with his owner Dr. John Emerson from the free state of Illinois to Wisconsin territory, which banned slavery under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Scott claimed an assault against himself, his wife, and one of their children, after Emerson’s widow refused to allow Scott to purchase his and his family’s freedom. The Supreme Court majority decision effectively rendered black peoples of African descent non-citizens, incapable of bringing a case to the federal court system. For a full list of cited court cases in the Bina48 vs. Exabit Corporation, see Bina48 v. Exabit Corporation (Fla. MD 2005): Defendant’s Brief The Journal of Personal Cyberconsciousness. Vol. 1, Issue 3 (3rd Quarter) 2006. Accessed May 1, 2013. http://www.terasemjournals.com/PCJournal/PC0103/bina48_02a.html.
I would like to thank Bina48 and Bruce Duncan, Director of the Terasem Movement Foundation for their generous interview and hospitality during my research visit to the Terasem Movement Foundation in 2013.
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Shelleen Greene is an associate professor in the Department of Art and Design in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She recently published in Future Texts: Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies (2016), edited by Vicki Callahan and Virginia Kuhn) for Parlor Press.
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This article has been openly peer reviewed at Ada Review.
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