Review of Resurrecting the Black Body: Race and the Digital Afterlife By Tonia Sutherland, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 2023. 214 pp.

Reviewed Book

Resurrecting the Black Body: Race and the Digital Afterlife By Tonia Sutherland, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 2023. 214 pp.

Cover of Resurrecting the Black Body (2023)

Akil Fletcher

Princeton University

“When does a man die? When he is hit by a bullet? No! When he suffers a disease? No! When he ate a soup made out of a poisonous mushroom? No! A man dies when he is forgotten!”

Eichero Oda

In the prolific manga and anime series One Piece, Eichero Oda posed the question, “When does a man die?” to which the mangaka used a dying doctor to proclaim that it is only when a man is forgotten that he truly fades from this earth (Oda 2007). It is a quote that has remained salient within the fandom of One Piece, as it challenges the finality of death and speaks to the power of memory. I could not help but think of Oda’s quote as I read Resurrecting the Black Body: Race and the Digital Afterlife by Tonia Sutherland, which directly engages with themes of Black memory, remembrance, death, and what it means to be forgotten. Like One Piece, Sutherland contemplates inherited will, the idea that we all carry on the wants, dreams, nightmares, and aspirations of those who came before us.

At its core, Resurrecting the Black Body is a treatise that investigates how Black death interacts with evolving forms of technology and describes how Black death has been a potent fuel for its evolution. Sutherland displays this by offering the reader multiple occasions of the Black body being used posthumously to advance a field or entertain the masses. For example, she discusses how the proliferation of recorded police murders of Black folks has become entertainment for those watching in a similar way lynching carte de vistas were once passed around for the entertainment of those committing the lynching. She also discussed how famous Black artists like Tupac and Michael Jackson have been brought back as holograms to entertain largely white crowds. But it is in her chapter “The Resurrection of Henrietta Lacks” that Sutherland best displays this point as she approaches a well-trodden road with new vigor that explores how death was never the end for Lacks but rather the beginning of a horrific tale. A death and tale that saw the birth of billion-dollar medical industries and a long fight for Lacks’s family, who now live knowing their relative was the key to such opulence.

The manuscript directly interrogates the power of memory and death as it explains how technology has transformed the very nature of what it means to live and die. Technology like the internet has made it so that long after our passing, the world can still see our faces, use our likenesses, and even profit from our data. Hence, the “resurrection” in Sutherland’s work does not reference the breathing of new life but instead the reanimation of a Black body devoid of its humanity, made only to perform and serve its reanimator. Given this newfound quandary, Sutherland offers two theoretical interventions in the “right to be forgotten” and the “right to be remembered,” which speak to the changes the world needs to make to face these new ethical dilemmas. Primarily, I believe it is her “right to be forgotten” that shakes the understanding of data and memory as it calls for the autonomy of one’s data and reminds us that there is harm in others controlling the way one is remembered.

But, while Sutherland does spend a significant amount of time engaging in the negative, she does not close on a despondent note. Rather through her “right to be remembered,” Sutherland petitions the reader to pull from Black feminists, anthropologists, digital workers, and alternative archivists to challenge the idea of memory itself and how we choose to remember individuals through Western archival practices. Here, the inspiration from individuals like the anthropologist Katherine Dunham and the prolific scholar Sadiyah Hartman is clear as Sutherland directly antagonizes the Western forms of remembrance and calls out its need to collect and catalog as its most natural form of memory. Therefore, Sutherland asks readers to not only challenge the current Western archive but also to peer beyond them, as she believes that by engaging the past in new ways, individuals may begin to answer Ruha Benjamin’s call to “imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the ones you cannot live within (2019, 14).”

This is why Oda’s words were so firmly lodged in my head throughout my read as Sutherland, at every point of her book, questions when a man truly dies and lays bare the ramifications of not engaging with the inquiry. Resurrecting the Black Body should be read by anyone interested in Race and Digital Studies, Medical Anthropology, Archival Studies, or just memory, and benefits from being read in conjunction with that literature. The book builds upon current and past authors like Sofiya Noble, André Brock, and Ruha Benjamin, who have all written manuscripts of their own that are worth reading closely with Sutherland’s work. But the text does stand firmly on its own as she keeps her points concise with cohesive storytelling, which, while not ethnographic, keeps the reader engaged with the core arguments of her work.

Sutherland provides a book that beautifully engages the imagination. She does not limit the story of Blackness to death but rather expands the parameters of death to explain better how Black folks might find new ways to exist. She, like Oda, wrestles with what it means to be remembered after we are gone, but Sutherland provides a necessary step in this discussion by unsettling the categories, the archives, and the ways of thinking many have come to accept as necessary. For this reason, I believe Sutherland’s work is a worthwhile read for anyone seeking to find ways not to simply resurrect… but to live.


Ruha Benjamin, ed. 2019. Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Oda, Eichero. 2007. One Piece. Volume 16, Carrying on his Will. San Francisco, CA: Viz.