Benjamin Rasmussen


V.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins: “We the People of the United States.” But who that statement includes is not a static concept. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited naturalization to “free white persons,” one of a series of foundational laws and texts that established a legal basis for white privilege. Since then, the courts have been at the forefront of both protecting that privilege and, in recent years, challenging it.

V explores the contemporary ripples of landmark Supreme Court decisions. Tracing Dred Scott v. Sanford to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., the xenophobia of Korematsu v. United States and Japanese internment to the appropriation of Japanese culture today, V uses legal texts to examine the evolving definition of "We the People." The case law serves not only as historical document, but as a literary point of departure.
This is a preview of the first 3 chapters of V.

1


“A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution... and are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States. For if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted, and instead of the sympathy of mankind to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.”
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
Dred Scott died one year after losing his case and is buried in the Calvary Cemetery on West Florissant Avenue in Saint Lvouis, Missouri. When an 18-year-old unarmed black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer 156 years later, protestors poured out onto West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, just four miles north of Scott’s grave.