How Can Local Government Address Systemic Racism?Historians in the News
tags: racism, social history, urban history, local government
Peniel E. Joseph, Ph.D., is the founder of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a joint professorship in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, as the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values, and in the History Department of the University’s College of Liberal Arts.
Dr. Joseph is the author of several award-winning books, including Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, and Stokely: A Life. His most recent book is The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
The Sword and the Shield, was published in March. He also served as editor for The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era and Neighborhood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level.
Joseph is recognized as the founder of the “Black Power Studies” subfield of American Civil Rights History. He founded the center to focus interdisciplinary research and scholarship investigating how issues around race and democracy impact the lives of Americans. In an interview with Governing, he offers thoughts on the current cultural moment and how local governments might begin to address systemic racism.
Have we reached a moment when we could start to dismantle systemic racism?
I hope we have. I do think we're asking the right questions about wealth inequality, racial disparity, white supremacy, white privilege. These questions, along with defunding the police and prison abolition, are all the right takes in terms of policy.
If you're going to dismantle systemic racism, you have to understand the pipeline and why and how it keeps reproducing inequality and marginalization, unemployment, mass incarceration, poverty and racial segregation.
You’re a historian of Black protest movements. How unusual is what we’re seeing lately?
A multiplicity of events led to the fact that this time is different. We've seen other videos of Black men being killed by the police, but we've never seen this kind of cascading series of events.
There was one protest within 24 hours. The New York Times had a breakdown of how that turned into over 4,700 separate protests, including many areas that are overwhelmingly white, where there are no Black people. States like Washington, Utah, Oregon, which we don't typically associate as headquarters or bastions for Black demographics; or Vermont or Maine, that have all taken to the streets in terms of these demonstrations.
During the largest days of protesting, you had 50,000 to 80,000 people in Philadelphia. It was just truly amazing. Unbelievable.