June 19, 2020  /  View this email in your browser
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Dear friend,

Today we're observing the anniversary of Juneteenth—the day in 1865 when enslaved Africans in Texas learned that their enslavement was formally over. Yet they would exist in a world not quite enslaved, and not quite free. They then, as us now, would inhabit a space that is both deeply troublesome, but also hopeful. Troublesome because so many of the legacies of slavery remain embedded in our institutions whose foundations are rigid. But hopeful because institutions can change or be dismantled with the demands of the human spirit’s refusal to be only half free.

Juneteenth has always been a day of celebration, education, and remembrance in Black communities. It is one of the sacred symbols that Blacks, especially from the South and from Texas specifically, have held onto for over 150 years. One of the lessons of this historic day is that the struggle for freedom requires persistence. Despite President Lincoln issuing Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, African Americans’ bondage was extended for more than two years.

It was then, and is now, a strange time. At best, America has always been deeply ambivalent about the freedom and humanity of Black people. I recently went back and read some of the debates about the institution of slavery from that era. It is as illuminating as it is disturbing. Whites argued that Blacks were not persons, and could not speak or have ideas. Christians were split. Some argued for abolition while others insisted Blacks were meant to be enslaved and did not have souls. One of the great freedoms and important rights asserted by slaveholders was the right to enslave and dominate. These were not just attitudes, these were laws, institutions and norms. US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote in an opinion in 1857 that Blacks, free or enslaved, could never be part of the American polity and were not persons. Talk about othering.

Some will argue that we should not judge what people did over 100 years ago by today's standards. And while that assertion carries legitimacy in some instances, in this case it misses the mark. The founders of the country and the settlers who came before them were very much aware of the tensions and contradictions of white men clamoring for freedom while demanding the protection of the institution of slavery. Think about it. There are several references to slavery in the Constitution without explicitly naming the word. There was concern that even including the word in the Constitution would taint the document. The drafters of the Constitution were ambivalent and split. Whites had the right to kill enslaved Blacks with impunity. In most cases it was not even a crime. Sound familiar?

But I want to return to and acknowledge the celebration of Juneteenth. Like much of American history dealing with Blacks, there are problems with the way the country, meaning whites and in particular the elites, approached Black freedom. There were too many conditions and caveats. There was too much concern for not making whites uncomfortable. "Reasonable" progress meant maintaining as much of white domination as possible. All of these tensions were reflected in Lincoln, and more often than not, found expression in law. And yes, Black freedom does require the end to white domination, meaning that those who are still gripping onto white domination and white supremacy will feel threatened.

But Black freedom is also tied to freedom for all, and the foundation of a real democracy as W.E.B. Du Bois asserted nearly a century ago. So Juneteenth represents a small step, but a giant symbol in the struggle for full freedom. And to my Black brothers and sisters, I know you get tired, and yet we must keep on pushing for our freedom and for the freedom of the entire country. We hold onto this memory on the journey from enslavement to half freedom, to fully belonging. We belong to a world not yet born, nor even fully imagined.

What we are witnessing today is encouraging for many reasons, among them the fact that we're seeing a new generation of Americans from all races and backgrounds standing with us to demand our freedom. Many institutions that actively or quietly benefited from our lack of freedom are finding the voice to speak out. Of course speaking out is not enough, but it shouldn't be dismissed either.

Now several weeks into these protests, we're seeing some victories in policy (although not enough), but it remains up to us to ensure those policies are enforced, and that we resist the inevitable backlashes to progress. Where does this backlash come from? It does not come from the fear of Black people as it is so often portrayed. It comes from the fear of equality and dignity for all people. That fear is derived, in part, from the notion that equality for Black people would come at a cost to those who are more privileged. But that perception appears to be changing.

The protests ignited by the murder of George Floyd have revealed an incredible consciousness not only to the persistence of anti-Black racism that underlies many of our institutions, but also to the realization that this racism doesn't only affect Black people. It harms all of us. These represent remarkable shifts in public opinion over a period of only a few weeks, and I see this as evidence that after more than 400 years since slavery took root in this country, a critical mass wants to build new structures and a new identity in which all of us belong.

Whether or not we will succeed is another question. I do know that what you and I and millions like us choose to do now may very well determine the fate of our country, our world and that of future generations. We must work ceaselessly to turn this historic moment, both a reckoning and an awakening, into a permanent shift towards justice. This is why our institute has been pushing so hard and for so many years to bring about transformative change, and moments such as the one we're living through open up new opportunities to pursue those changes with increased energy and momentum.

I want to briefly share some of the work we've been doing over the past few weeks that has been catalyzed by the events surrounding us. Our institute's many faculty and staff researchers with expertise on structural racism have been engaged in dozens of media appearances, online talks, and publishing articles and research that help provide roadmaps to build a country where each of us belongs. Many of our members have been reaching huge local, national and even international audiences with interviews in Time Magazine, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, CBS, the BBC, Bustle Magazine, and many more.

Several thousand people joined us for our first conversation on belonging in Europe earlier this week, and before that, some 17,000 people tuned in to our Rise Up for Justice event, which was the first of what we hope to be many national conversations that focus on Black lives. Below you will find short summaries of our recent work on these topics.

In addition to what you'll find below, we've also compiled and will continue to add relevant resources (new and old) to our website about the underlying issues that led to the insurrections we're witnessing across the country and much of the world. Our Uprising 2020 resource page includes articles, interviews, videos, research, and media coverage that highlight our Institute's work toward justice, equality and belonging.

Finally, our public-facing work is only one part of what we do. For years we've been building deep relationships with grassroots and community organizations, having conversations with influential people around the world, and developing myriad creative ways to use research to rise to this moment.

Thank you all for playing your part.


john a. powell
Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute
Professor of Law, African-American, & Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley

Click to view this letter on our website.
Image grab showing the participants in the Toward Belonging online event
On Tuesday we kicked off our new Europe-based initiative called Toward Belonging with the first in a series of online dialogues about pathways toward belonging in Europe. Participants discussed how Covid-19 is shaping new community responses, the global movement for racial justice, and where we can go from here. Clockwise from top left: Abdul-Rehman Malik (moderator): journalist, educator, and cultural organizer; john a. powell, Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute; Mathieu Lefevre, CEO and a co-founder of More in Common; Catherine Fieschi, Director of Counterpoint UK. Click for a video of the event.

All lives can't matter until Black lives matter too

Director john a. powell published a new blog post this week that addresses a misunderstanding of the term Black Lives Matter, which provokes many whites to respond with "all lives matter." john explains that saying "Black Lives Matter" does not mean other lives don't matter. But it acknowledges that we're still struggling to transform institutions designed to benefit certain groups, and harm or exclude others. He writes: "When you say 'all lives matter,' you are making a statement based on the false perception of a post-racial society, which means we’re free from racism. We know that’s not true. And by denying the reality of where racial groups are situated, that statement in effect maintains structures built on a foundation of white supremacy." Access the article here.
Thousands of viewers tuned in last week for a live stream of our "Rise up for Justice: Black Lives and our Collective Future" event organized in the wake of George Floyd's murder and the ensuing international movements for social and racial justice. The event featured about a dozen prominent community organizers, faith leaders and social change advocates from cities across the country who shared stories about the social justice work happening on the ground and their visions for the future. They included Pastor Michael McBride of Live Free USA and Faith in Action, Linda Sarsour of Until Freedom, Glenn Harris of Race Forward, and moderator Emira Woods of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity. Click for a video recording and write up about this event.
Map showing the cities that experienced uprising in 1967

The 2020 uprisings and the Kerner report: Measures to address racial inequity

Earlier this month we re-released a report originally published last year on government failures to address the recommendations of the 1968 Kerner Commission report. The decision to re-release "The Road Not Taken" report, which features our updated name and logo, was prompted by the current wave of protests sweeping through the United States and much of the world, causing a surge in interest among the public for answers about the underlying causes of the rebellions, and remedies to racism and inequality. The Road Not Taken presented a list of policy changes concerning policing and criminal justice, including an end to aggressive policing, the creation of independent, civilian-led agencies to investigate and remediate accusations of police misconduct, shifting to community policing, and many others. Read more about our re-release of this report here.

As a supplement to the re-release of that report we also published a new blog by Assistant Director Stephen Menendian that calls for moving beyond policy reform to addressing structural racism. He writes: "Policing needs top to bottom re-structuring ... but even if we succeed in that, the background conditions that give way to these uprising may find new triggers." Read Stephen's blog post.

Our report was also cited in a recent op-ed by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in the New York Times.

Poem: Once Again

By Gerald Lenoir

Once again, a brother lies dead in the street
Once again, he screams, “I can’t breathe” with no relief
Once again, policemen stand idly by
Once again, a man in blue condemns a Black man to die

Once again, Black lives really don’t matter
Once again, a Black body is crushed and shattered
Once again, Black lives are under attack
Once again, a man dies because he’s Black

Once again, we pray, we march, we dissent
Once again, we rage, we cry, we vent
Once again, we ask: how can this still be?
Once again, we answer: white supremacy

America has never paid for its original sin
Not for what is or what has always been
So, we continue to pay for the color of our skin

Not once, but again, and again, and again

Elsadig Elsheikh, director of our Global Justice program, participated in an online symposium last week on "Race, Racism, and Racialization in History: An Ethnic Studies Perspective." He said: "What we are witnessing in the streets of many US cities is a revolt against structural racism and racialization. It is a genuine popular revolt that set out mainly to challenge state-sponsored racial violence against Black lives and other communities of color." Watch a video recording of the event.

News & Media

Faculty scholar Osagie Obasogie was interviewed on CBS News about why police violence against Black people is a pandemic too, after publishing this op-ed in the Washington Post about the same topic.
Institute Director john a. powell appeared on several recent shows, including this interview with KTVU about the decision to change the "Aunt Jemima" brand name, this podcast by the Greater Good Magazine on racial justice, well-being, and widening our circles of human connection and concern, KALW's Your Call program on how we can use this moment to create systemic change, KALW's City Visions program on the missed opportunities of the Kerner Report for racial justice, on KTVU talking about George Floyd's murder, as well as on the Pat Thurston Show. He was also quoted in this article in Global News about calls to defund the police, this TIME article about why describing the George Floyd protests as "riots" is problematic, as well as in a Bustle article on the problem with "All lives matter."
Faculty scholar Erin Kerrison was quoted in this San Francisco Chronicle article on "Why Vallejo is now the center of unrest in Bay Area over police treatment of blacks," as well as in this SF Weekly article about defunding the police, and in this Sacramento Bee article.
Assistant Director Stephen Menendian appeared on the Ryan Jespersen show to talk about next steps in the fight for racial equality.
Staff researcher EJ Toppin engaged in an Instagram live conversation this week with influencer Sean Bradford about systemic racism and how it permeates the areas of housing and policing.
Associate Director Denise Herd participated in this Cambridge Union panel on "Police Violence and Racism Panel." Separately, her research was featured in an article published by The Politic entitled "Our Carceral System is a Plague Too."
Faculty scholar Cristina Mora recently authored an op-ed in the country's biggest Spanish language newspaper on Black Lives Matter and Latinxs.
Faculty scholar Henry Brady, who is also the Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy, spoke on KCBS Radio about why the issue of policing is becoming a political issue.

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