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Monday, December 28, 2020

December 28, 2020: Year in Review: Race, Memory, and Justice

[I thought about skipping my annual year in review series—who really wants to have any more 2020 vision?!—but as I wrote this past weekend’s post, I realized that the year featured significant developments on a handful of central world issues. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy those, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways, on these and any other 2020 hindsights (and 2021 foresights)!]

On two additional layers to the year’s renewed #BlackLivesMatter movement.

This is gonna be another one of those posts where I start by asking you to check out a (relatively recent) prior post. Back in October, I ended a Confederate memory series with a post on the unfolding movement to remove statues, change names, and otherwise push back against the 150-year process of Lost Cause memorialization. That’s one striking layer of the current #BLM movement I’d return to here at the year’s end, and so if you’re able to check out that post, I’d appreciate it.

Welcome back! One interesting side to the 2020 iteration of #BLM is that that emphasis on collective memory hasn’t been limited to figures and histories directly related to slavery or African American identity; one of my favorite moments from the prior year, for example, took place in August in Minneapolis, when American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Michael Forcia led a group of activists in removing the city’s statue of Christopher Columbus. AIM began in Minneapolis more than 50 years ago, and its Interpretive Center is housed there, making Forcia’s actions an extension of longstanding legacies in their own right. But it’s far from coincidence that this AIM action took place within the larger frame of the year’s #BLM protests, as these narratives of race and memory are profoundly intertwined, reflecting in particular the potency of white supremacist national narratives in silencing the voices and ignoring the stories of Americans of color from every community. As I draft this post in mid-November, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the editor of the 1619 Project, is part of a debate over a New York Times article on better remembering the indigenous histories of the “first Thanksgiving,” another reflection of the interconnections between these issues of culture and collective memory.

Obviously I think such issues are hugely important, but I’m not nearly navel-gazing enough to believe that changing our collective memories and narratives will be sufficient to achieve justice and equality. That will require a profoundly multi-faceted process, and one of the more complex facets to 2020’s debates has been how we think about the police. I’ve been very happy to see a great deal of excellent public scholarly writing tracing the evolution of the police in American history, beginning in many ways with slave-catchers and post-Civil War white supremacist vigilantes. Yet at the same time, we see sources like this August Gallup poll, revealing (among other things) significant support for the police among African Americans. Those two contexts are far from necessarily contradictory, but they do reveal a simple but crucial reality: while better understanding the histories behind policing and law enforcement remains a vital collective goal, it’s only one factor in, again, the multi-faceted question of how to address law enforcement’s systemic problems in the 21st century. No matter what, though, all these related questions have been raised anew and with renewed urgency by 2020’s movement for racial justice.

Next 2020 vision tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other 2020 reflections you’d share?

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