From Freedom Summer to Ferguson: Has Anything Really Changed?

On Wednesday, October 1, Colgate hosted a moderated panel titled “From Freedom Summer to Ferguson: the Ongoing Civil Rights Movement” in which three panelists addressed the topic of racial discrimination in the United States from three different perspectives: a historical explanation of the association of blacks with

violence, the political roots of Ferguson and the cognitive perceptions and practices of discrimination.

Assistant Professor of English Lenora Warren focused her debate on the conditions in which blacks entered the United States in order to explain the origin of the “violent” image that modern society attaches to them. Warren explained that the institution of slavery in which blacks were brought to the New World procured this mass association with violence. Through Warren’s analysis of historical documents including The Declaration of Independence and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, she pointed to the language in both that highlight the threat of what she considers the inevitable and impending black revolution. Warren then highlighted Female Intrepidity, a painting that conveys the image of inherent black

violence and white innocence.

Associate Professor of Political Science and author of Governing Race: Politics, Policy and the Politics of Race, Nina M. Moore looked at the racial component of Ferguson from a political perspective. In her lecture, Moore highlighted quantitative data related to racial discrimination, something she labeled as “Racial Tracking.” She showed how African-Americans are

disproportionately entangled in the criminal process and believes racially discriminatory acts by police

officials and judges to be a product of the current “law and order” crime fighting policy. 

“Current policy has ballooned the ways in which we can be deemed criminal,” Moore said. She highlighted how the Supreme Court has dealt with cases similar to Ferguson on the individual level but continues to avoid creating policy.

“We talk about Ferguson and then we forget about it until the next Ferguson comes along,” Moore said.

Moore concluded her presentation by highlighting the discrepancy between the reality of crime and the rhetoric of crime. Moore pointed out that the reality of crime – African-Americans having a greater stakehold and representation in the criminal process as compared to whites – is inconsistent with the colorblind wording of current criminal policy. According to Moore, in order to change reality, the rhetoric must first be altered.

The third and final panelist, Assistant Professor of Sociology Alicia Simmons, discussed the cognitive processes involved in all types of discrimination. Simmons divided her lecture into three categories, addressing social cognition, discrimination in practice and divergent perceptions of the social world. While racial discrimination is often deliberate, what one must be aware of are the spontaneous, subconscious acts of discrimination that one learns implicitly.

According to Simmons, it is extremely difficult, yet crucial, to separate what we know

internally from what we endorse publicly. 

The three panelists looked at a current event – the shooting of 18 year-old, African-American Michael Brown in Ferguson – from many angles in this lecture in order to understand historical relevance and societal implications that such

situations can have in the United States.