Oberlin Holds Teach-in on the George Floyd Uprising
Individuals in the Oberlin College community joined the virtual presentation of “After Minneapolis: A Teach-In on the George Floyd Uprising,” led by Oberlin faculty members on June 9, 2020.
Moderated by Gina Perez, professor of comparative American studies, the cross-departmental discussion was prompted by the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and the subsequent social uprising.
The hour-long panel session included presentations by six faculty members and served as a space for faculty to share their perspectives and insights about the recent events, along with information and context for understanding the history of white supremacy in the United States, as well as the ongoing calls for justice that are currently taking place across the country. Through their presentations, the panelists demonstrated that systems of racial and social control are actually nothing new in the United States.
Using historical photographs, paintings, and images from today, Rarey challenged viewers to resist the urge to classify images from the protests as “depictions of baseless black anger,” explaining that, “Actions by black protesters and artists are often, if not always, occurring in the context of deep histories of colonial violence, directed at specific locations and memories.”
Peterson examined the concept of “militant black action” and explained that, in most cases, certain types of civil disobedience have been interwoven with militant action. “I encourage you to not fall into the idea that it’s a sign of a lack of control or is a complete contradiction to how African peoples have been fighting for their freedom for the past 400 years,” he said.
Both Renee Romano, professor of history, comparative American studies, and Africana studies, and Jenny Garcia, assistant professor of politics and comparative American studies, each see the possibility for sustained change as a result of the recent events.
Romano said that the current events feel historically familiar, but the movement also feels new and disruptive. She cited a recent striking shift in attitudes, explaining that the number of Americans who say that racism and discrimination is a big problem in the U.S. is up 26 points since 2015. “It feels like this could be a historical moment,” she says. “This is everyone’s fight for justice and a truly democratic country.”
Garcia explained that she sees possibilities for real change, citing research that examines how emotions, particularly anger, are important when it comes to participating in politics. Garcia said that political research has shown that when there are greater levels of anger among black individuals, it translates into greater political protests and demonstrations, similar to what we’re seeing now.
Assistant Professor of Politics David Forrest offered a glimpse into Floyd’s home town of Minneapolis and the city’s widespread efforts during the last 30 years to gentrify low-income neighborhoods. He also gave an overview of the city’s collective organizers who have helped bring about recent social change.
Justin Emeka, associate professor of theater and Africana studies, closed the presentations by reminding the Oberlin community that they are part of a legacy—Oberlin has essentially been part of the Black Lives Matter movement since the 19th century. He suggested that if individuals want to contribute to social change, there are some steps they should take, including studying the history of black people, examining policies for fairness, and investing in changing hearts and minds.