On Protest, Humanities, and Race, by Pat Williamsen
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
– Ida B. Wells
Words alone cannot express our grief and outrage that fellow citizens can be murdered in their homes or on the streets of their neighborhoods. Other groups have been similarly victimized by racism and intolerance. Even as I write, after weeks of protests and calls to action, the death toll mounts. Simply put, this is unacceptable anywhere, but especially in America with our founding documents declaring “all men are created equal.”
Now, more than ever, the humanities can help us seek solutions to systemic racism. Confronting and combatting contemporary injustice by understanding our national history is a necessary first step, however uncomfortable it will seem. Ohio Humanities remains committed to helping Ohioans have thoughtful conversations about these issues. We cannot provide all the answers, but we can help facilitate asking important questions that might lead to solutions.
In a recent column published in the LA Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote “Racism in America is like dust in the air.” His perspective reminds us that we all breathe poisoned air, and when one person or race cannot draw breath, we all suffer.
Ibram X. Kendi explores the historic roots of systemic racism in Stamped from the Beginning: The History of Racist Ideas in America. His evaluation of the writings of Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis show how these thinkers contributed to or challenged racist thought
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library offers a comprehensive reading list on the Black experience. Ninety-five titles offer fiction and poetry, memoirs, and scholarship to inform current discussions about race in America.
The National Constitution Center has recorded a two-part podcast exploring “Policing, Protests, and the Constitution.” The series features scholars and jurists commenting in wide-ranging discussions about racial inequality and police practices using the perspectives of history and constitutional interpretation.
We can’t combat racism if we don’t talk about race in America. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture has compiled a toolkit Talking About Race to help community groups explore this difficult topic. Starting from the premise that “we all have an assigned racial identity, we can all benefit from learning about race.” The website offers resources, reflections, and discussion prompts.
The public humanities–sharing the human story-can help us learn and reflect on America’s destructive legacy of racism and oppression. We’ll share with you some of the resources we’ve been exploring to help illuminate our thoughts and feelings. Please consider our suggestions in your family conversations and virtual book clubs, or to simply inform personal reflections about race in America.
Let’s use the humanities to clear the “dust in the air” so that no one ever again dies after pleading “I can’t breathe.”
Pat Williamsen, Executive Director
Photographs provided by Paul Becker, who documented protest marches in Columbus. Dr. Becker is an associate professor of sociology, affiliated with the Criminal Justice Program at the University of Dayton. His research interests include hate crimes and extremism, visual sociology, and media studies. You can see more of his photographic work under the name Becker1999 on Twitter and Flickr.