You see it on your social media feed: Videos of police called to investigate a Black person for doing something as simple as swimming in a pool, sitting at a café, sleeping in their car or going for a morning jog.
You see it in the racial makeup of your typical American prison and in the homogenous white population of a suburban Bay Area neighborhood. You see it in the lack of polling stations in communities of color and in the typical skin color of the political candidates on their ballots.
And, you see it in the monuments that represent Confederate leaders and slave owners throughout the country, and in the very halls and buildings at UC Berkeley named after white men who advocated and defended anti-Blackness.
Systemic racism is part of the very foundation of America, from the violent colonial conquests of indigenous lands to state-sponsored slavery that fueled the country’s burgeoning economy.
America, though, has yet to fully reconcile with its racist past, despite generations of social movements rallying against the nation’s violent foundations. Earlier this year, the death of George Floyd has once again sparked public outrage toward systemic racism and provided proof for those who didn’t know the deadly price of institutions built from white supremacy .
But today, we see a growing movement of people joining racial justice protests around the country. Protests that represent an angst and cynicism toward a system that many feel has oppressed people of color and their communities for far too long.
UC Berkeley’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs will seek to make sense of American racism through a new “Racial Justice in America” series. The Berkeley News editorial team will probe some of the world’s best minds in fields of study including social welfare, public health, education, history and law.
The series will aggressively explore the history of white supremacy and racism that is being manifested in every facet of American society.
“We find ourselves in a moment that demands deep introspection, a profound soul-searching that transcends the horrific slayings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery,” said Roqua Montez, Berkeley’s executive director of communications and media relations. “Ultimately, it’s about rectifying the very real, very pervasive and very perverse conditions that led to these killings and the violent deaths of so, so many more before them.
“To move forward, we as Americans have to dismantle these violent systems — systems that enforce inequality with a brutal efficiency — and build more just, equitable systems.”
How America and its institutions were created matters.
This is our history. It’s not anti-American to teach it. It’s incredibly American.”
– Professor Denise Herd
“This is our history,” said Denise Herd, a Berkeley professor of public health who is also associate director of the campus’s Othering and Belonging Institute. “It’s not anti-American to teach it. It’s incredibly American. I think there are a lot of people who are interested in working on racial justice issues right now, so there’s an urgency to talk about this and to write about it, and there should be, because everybody needs to really understand this history in order to tackle its contemporary effects.”
The series will also illuminate research by Berkeley scholars, including studies examining why older, unarmed Black men who suffer from mental illness are particularly vulnerable to violence during police encounters, or the psychological dynamics of racism.
While tackling anti-Blackness will be a priority for the new series, the impact of racism on all people of color will be presented, including the stories of indigenous women and girls who have gone missing near oil pipeline camps and studies about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Native populations.