VIEWS ON THE NEWS: The death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement
On May 25, a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, killed Minneapolis resident George Floyd by pressing his knees into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. On June 3, Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s death has sparked protests all across America and the world. While the majority of protests have been peaceful, violence on both sides of the protests has only exacerbated the tensions between the police and the Black community. With protests taking place all over the nation, and people of all races speaking out against the racial injustices experienced by the Black community, do you believe that this time real change will occur to prevent future deaths by police brutality? Now that race has become part of a national conversation regarding injustices towards Black Americans, what steps can non-Black people take to address the prejudices they may hold? Are these conversations regarding race just a trendy hashtag, or are they here to stay?
Prof. Rajesh Sampath (Heller)
In the early twentieth century we witnessed the emergence of the towering genius of W.E.B. Dubois. In “The Souls of Black Folk” we were introduced to his seminal ideas of the “veil,” or “seeing oneself through the world of the other,” and being a “stranger in one’s home.” And with the legacy of slavery in the heart of Jim Crow segregation, Black people have a “double-consciousness,” one as Black and the other American, “separate but equal,” the two seemingly “irreconcilable,” yielding a special “second sight”’ that no other human being has: that is yearning to be treated like every other human being in the midst of the most heinous oppression even unto death, to carry that burden of suffering from one generation to the next but with a special genius to find new ways to endure, hope and inspire. With the great Derrick Bell’s work, “Race, Racism, and the American Law,” which pioneered the study of racism in law schools in the 1970s, we confront his startlingly and seemingly pessimistic conclusion — “racism is permanent.” What does all this mean? Racism will never go away? From Rodney King to Breonna Taylor to Eric Garner to George Floyd and many others it would seem so. Most egregious of all is that the state in the form of the law, which is supposed to guarantee equal protection for all as a constitutional fixture, is the perpetrator of a sadistic, chromatic terror: whereby just being Black is a death sentence itself and justice is impossible for a people who have had to endure the longest standing evil in the most unimaginable ways. Police killing innocent Black people while society watches — a double atrocity where both the right to life and freedom from humiliation are eroded. Some say that social protests over these police homicides should take the form of traditional civil disobedience through nonviolence and passive resistance of the citizenry, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. A gospel of love can save. And anything beyond that, like violence and lootings, is not only unjustifiable, it is abhorrent. This may be a truism for many, but let us take a step back. It is 2020… The first African slaves came here in 1619. That is over 400 years ago. Yes, things have changed, but how? Enslaved, tortured labor unto death in an incomprehensible system of total control to instantaneous state execution for the innocent public eye? All for one thing, being born Black? Deep thinking must begin with this singularity to further the Duboisian “second sight,” then only can we consider how “reconciliatory” dialogues will begin, let alone a permanent peace and real justice. Everything else is just an ongoing nightmare for Black people living with the “veil.”
Rajesh Sampath is an associate professor of the Philosophy of Justice, Rights, and Social Change at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.
Prof. Emile Diouf (ENG)
What protesters offer us is a map of the gaze on Black bodies in two senses: a political, economic and sociocultural landscape characterized by centuries of state-sanctioned violence, and an invitation to locate ourselves as individuals within institutions that sustain anti-Blackness. Recent protest has broken the clay figurine into which the white gaze has for so long molded and fixed Blackness. Consequently, the focal point of that gaze has shifted to the space between the onlookers and those who have been examined, named, surveilled and suffocated — the space of breath. Breath is therefore condensed, existing at the point where racism, protest and resistance come into contact to crystalize new ways of perceiving Blackness. I would like to end by challenging each member of the Brandeis community to reflect on how to redirect their gaze to Black bodies with special care to Black breath, and the material and psychosocial conditions that dictate its rhythm.
This hashtag has been circulating for years. It has solid policy and steps behind it to dismantle violent white supremacy: https://www.8toabolition.com.
Emile Diouf is an assistant professor of English at Brandeis University.
Prof. Faith Smith (AAAS)
Dubious as I am about our commitment to digging in for the long haul to press for structural transformation, I draw inspiration from the incredible organizational, theoretical and ethical imagination of protesters in the past two weeks. Our earliest lessons in this and other post-slavery societies include the requirement that Blackness needs to be disciplined, and we learn to position ourselves to benefit from this disciplining (or to redirect it away from ourselves by proving that we too are worth cherishing). We have to face squarely the pleasures afforded by white supremacy and anti-Blackness: the opportunity for accumulation, access and protection framed as available only to the deserving. What do we stand to lose if there is genuine structural and material equity? Maintaining privilege in the face of presumed vulnerability by wielding or threatening the violent weight of the law is easier (and also legal): this contradiction undermines well-meaning rhetoric.
Faith Smith is an associate professor of African and African American Studies and English and American Literature at Brandeis University.
Vandita Malviya Wilson
Sadly, I am too old to think that things will change. Each moment that I wait to pen my response, something more egregious happens. Now, the other three officers in Minneapolis have been charged, but at what cost to our society? Tens of thousands of arrests, and a president only seeking a photo op. I remember Rodney King's beating, and the aftermath of the officers in that case being acquitted. Those who join law enforcement and those who engage in criminal endeavors are often two sides of the same coin. Brutality will not stop now, but body cameras will be turned off, and brave journalists and everyday citizens will be charged with policing the police. This past week, a few hashtags emerged as things to do, and then not to do, eventually I just couldn't keep up. But, since social media is designed to help us meet others like us, there is little hope of these hashtags doing anything other than creating a kerfuffle among online friends and creating additional divisions. I hope that I am wrong.
Vandita Malviya Wilson is a senior staff writer at the Justice.
–Editor’s note: When the prompt was given to respondents, it reflected the fact that Chauvin faced lesser charges at the time and the three other officers had not yet been charged. The charges have since changed and have been updated in the prompt.