Prof. Williams speaks on the ‘Summer of Violence’
Prof. Chad Williams (AAAS) facilitated a discussion on racial violence in both its American and global contexts in a talk on Monday night at the Intercultural Center Swig Lounge. The event involved two components: Williams speaking on the uniqueness — or lack thereof — of the past summer’s violent incidences and students posing their own questions on how to move forward.
Williams stated that the rise of social media has added another layer to what he described as “racial violence as public spectacle,” though he said that the scale of violence witnessed during the summer of 2016 is nothing new. Rather, it is “reflective of America itself,” a “country that is steeped in violence,” to the extent that it becomes a staple of people’s lives. For all the political value of spreading these images and rallying people to action, he explained, they still come with psychological fallout — in Williams’ words, a “mental fatigue.”
According to Williams, one of the factors that made the summer unique was that a “bright light [was] shown on the issue of police violence,” illustrating a crisis boiling to the surface. While the police have been given extraordinary powers to use deadly force, he says, that force is mainly deployed against black people. In contrast, he added, “whiteness can be afforded the privilege of de-escalation.”
On a similar note, Williams cited the rise of Donald Trump as indicative of “white rage [having] reached a boiling point,” largely as backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement and Barack Obama’s presidency. Without either, he said, “you don’t have a Donald Trump.” Commenting on critiques of safe spaces, he said that they have long existed for white people and their rage.
As students joined the discussion, the focus shifted toward individual and collective action at universities — particularly the value of collective action, given the need for a movement to involve a massive number of people working behind the scenes.
Near the end of the event, the attendees discussed the Syrian refugee crisis. One attendee asked how individuals are supposed to discuss such heated topics, especially with family members who might have opposing viewpoints. “Part of it,” Williams answered, lies in that “there is a deep logic to racism,” given how it grants select people clear benefits, if at the expense of others. Racism also serves a “masking” purpose, he argued, explaining that it hides anxieties that are not so immediately obvious.
Williams is an associate professor of African and Afro-American Studies at the University. His recent works include the “Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence” — which he facilitated as co-editor — and “Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era.”