Race and Citizenship After Ferguson

“Race and Citizenship After Ferguson” Panel & Presentation,
2016 APSA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA

Amidst seismic transformations in American society, the problems of the color line seem intransigent and enduring. The recent killings of unarmed black citizens in Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island and elsewhere have added urgency to long-standing questions surrounding race and citizenship. What does it mean to be a citizen in the era of Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter? What are the appropriate practical responses to the killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Grey and the systemic violence and racial injustice their deaths represent, and how can political scientists contribute to these painful conversations and imperative movements? Authors on this panel turn events in Ferguson and elsewhere in order to consider questions of accountability, recognition, responsiveness, and affect generated by police violence directed towards black bodies. Laura Grattan and David McIvor identify the value of ambivalence both in regarding these events and responding to them if citizens are to avoid oversimplifying the obstacles that stand in the path of genuine understanding and change. Grattan traces a dialectical relationship between love and anger in the black organizing tradition to argue that the tension between them helps keep one from overtaking the other and, in turn, offering a false view of the political world and its possibilities. Turning to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, McIvor reads these authors as offering readers “a structure of encouragement” that does not disavow citizenship—despite its historical association with racial privilege—while at the same time recognizing how citizenship has been rendered in exclusive terms. Rankine’s Citizen is also the focus of Ali Aslam’s paper. Aslam argues that Rankine presents readers a way of identifying how racial injustice is reproduced through the actions of ordinary individuals who feel angered by the killings of Martin, Brown, and others, yet feel innocent because they know they are not racists. Specifically, by pairing encounters between citizens that whites wish to disavow as moments of misunderstanding or oversensitivity to a verifiable archive that centers on the treatment of tennis star Serena Williams, Rankine documents the cumulative effect such social conditions have on the possibilities for racial equality and justice. Finally, Amy Hondo examines the scenic elements that define the status of “the event” such as a police killing. In the case of Michael Brown and his killer, Darren Wilson, she argues that how “we” define their identities—as son, student, above or within the law—has implications for the broader codes of citizen accountability and responsiveness elicited by Brown’s murder.

Neil Roberts, Williams College

Candis Watts Smith, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill