Assistant Professor of Political Science
B.A. University of Texas; M.A., Ph.D. University of Washington. Annie Menzel’s research and teaching interests center on Africana political thought; feminist political theory and queer theory; biopolitics; race, gender, and reproductive politics in the United States; and the intersection of political theory and public health and medicine.
Current book project: The Political Life of Black Infant Mortality
In the US, African American infants have died at two to three times the rate of white infants since the first comparative statistics appeared in the late 19th century: a staggeringly disproportionate visitation of death on Black families and communities. My book project tracks the logics, rhetoric, and practices that have both rationalized and contested this longstanding, albeit unspectacular, manifestation of institutionalized anti-black violence since the mid-19th century. It brings to bear three powerful conceptual approaches to racism in contemporary political thought: Black feminism, biopolitics, and Black Studies scholarship on what Saidiya Hartman calls “the afterlife of slavery.” Using this frame, this account traces two distinct yet overlapping trajectories. First, the three theoretical approaches enter into critical conversation with recent considerations of race, “the human,” and the archive in order to reconstruct the sequence of official rationales and practices that have framed black infant mortality as a political problem (or markedly neglected to do so) and the interventions (or non-interventions) this has entailed. I argue that apparently anti-racist post-Civil-Rights approaches to what is now called the “racial disparity in infant mortality” —including an emerging emphasis on epigenetics—bear traces of previous framings, explicitly or implicitly blaming Black mothers for their infants’ deaths, even as they offer grounds for a powerful indictment of the material impacts of anti-Black racism. Second, it offers novel readings of texts by and about key Black political thinkers and actors in relation to infant mortality, including Harriet Jacobs, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Black midwives and reproductive activists. These readings reveal a rich continuity of appropriations and contestations, both rhetorical and practical, of the prevailing logics of white supremacy, refusing the devaluation of Black infant and maternal life and in some cases creating alternative environments to foster survival.