Black Meme: A History of the Images That Make Us

Regular price $ 19.95

by Legacy Russell


5/7/2024, hardcover

SKU: 9781839762802


A history of Black imagery that recasts our understanding of visual culture and technology

In Black Meme, Legacy Russell, award-winning author of the groundbreaking Glitch Feminism, explores the "meme" as mapped to Black visual culture from 1900 to the present, mining both archival and contemporary media.

Russell argues that without the contributions of Black people, digital culture would not exist in its current form. These meditations include the circulation of lynching postcards; why a mother allowed Jet magazine to publish a picture of her dead son, Emmett Till; and how the televised broadcast of protesters in Selma changed the debate on civil rights.

Questions of the media representation of Blackness come to the fore as Russell considers how a citizen-recorded footage of the LAPD beating Rodney King became the first viral video. And the Anita Hill hearings shed light on the media's creation of the Black icon. The ownership of Black imagery and death is considered in the story of Tamara Lanier's fight to reclaim the daguerreotypes of her enslaved ancestors from Harvard. Meanwhile the live broadcast on Facebook of the murder of Philando Castile by the police after he was stopped for a broken taillight forces us to bear witness to the persistent legacy of the Black meme.

Through imagery, memory and technology Black Meme shows us how images of Blackness have always been central to our understanding of the modern world.


"A riveting history of the images that have made and maimed Black people in an omnivorous white culture, one that stretches across centuries and technologies, from street to cyberspace; from the violence we suffer to the virtuosity we invent. You will be galvanized by Legacy Russell's analytic brilliance and visceral eloquence." -- Margo Jefferson, author of Constructing a Nervous System

"Unsettles, expands and deepens our understanding of the black meme. At the center of this book is work. How black bodies, divorced from context and circulating, are made to do all kinds of cultural work in perpetuity. Throughout, Russell stays with black/ness as viral material, encourages us to consider memes with "slowness," and wonders what might intervene in and end this perpetual labor. Black Meme is necessary reading; brilliant and utterly convincing" -- Christina Sharpe, author of Ordinary Notes

"What is a meme? Legacy Russell's provocative answer takes readers on an unexpected journey that loops back to the early twentieth century, then propels us forward to see our hyper-digitized twenty-first century through new eyes. Mapping the trajectory of pivotal conjunctures in the history of digital media and visual culture, her incisive insights and compelling prose show us that Black virality is fundamentally constitutive of the internet, as well as the ongoing predicament of Black life past, present and future." -- Tina Campt, author of Listening to Images

About the Author:

Legacy Russell was born and raised in New York City. She is the Executive Director & Chief Curator of The Kitchen. Formerly she was the Associate Curator of Exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Russell holds an MRes with Distinction in Art History from Goldsmiths, University of London with a focus in Visual Culture. She is the recipient of the Thoma Foundation 2019 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency Fellow, a recipient of the 2021 Creative Capital Award, a 2022 Pompeii Commitment Digital Fellow and a 2023 Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellow. Russell's written work, interviews, and essays have been published internationally. Her first book is Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto.