Africology and African American Studies Seeks to Redefine the Social Contract
By: Nick Santangelo
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Rayshard Brooks.
These are just three of the most recent black Americans killed by police, three in a list of names that is almost incomprehensibly long. Today at 1 p.m., the Department of Africology and African American Studies will host a virtual seminar addressing that issue titled Race, Racism and Anti-Racism: Redefining the Social Contract. Department Chair Molefi Kete Asante will moderate the event, which will welcome speakers from across the College of Liberal Arts and Temple University at large as well as from schools such as California State University, Boston University, Georgia State University and Howard University.
“The social contract theory was based upon whiteness,” explains Dr. Asante. “It was a contract made between whites, and that's part of the difficulty we're having in this society, that it was not being inclusive of the Native Americans. It was not being inclusive of the Africans. That's then the reason why we now get, beginning to have sort of a contract. So, this social contract makes us ask, ‘What is the United States? What is the American society? What is its future?’
“Part of what we're seeing is a real audience, particularly with people who were even questioning, what are the monuments, what are the symbols of the progressive American nation, what constitutes a society that believes in humanity and equality of humanity? That is basically not one where racism is the principle discourse. That's what it has to be. And I think that that's where we're going. And I think that's the beauty of it.”
Dr. Asante, who says he’s optimistic that real, lasting change could come as a result of the massive civil rights protests that have been taking place over the past month, says he felt “devastated” by the death of George Floyd that inspired those protests. The department chair, however, points out that this is anything but a new problem.
What is the United States? What is the American society? What is its future?
America’s history, he says, is blanketed with physical, mental and spiritual abuse of Africans. As examples, he points to the country’s history of lynchings, white mobs attacking black Americans and the 1921 bombing of Black Wall Street. So deep and disturbing is the history of hate crimes and racism that Dr. Asante says African Americans have to suppress some of it just to function.
What then is the professor’s cause for optimism? He sees a broader group of people responding with outrage over systemic racism and police brutality towards black Americans than in the past. Specifically, he sees a crowd of whiter and younger outraged citizens. Dr. Asante believes that white racial supremacy is a white problem, not a black problem, so the young white people protesting give him great hope for the future.
“The reason we keep having these sessions and sort of leaping from crisis to crisis is because of the fundamental idea that of the ranking of people on the basis of their physical, biological origins itself,” explains Dr. Asante. “So, this notion of ranking humans, rather than seeing all humans as humans, but seeing a black person and assuming that maybe that person is a criminal or a white person and assuming maybe that person is not a criminal. There’s this distortion that created this false ranking of people on the basis of physical attributes.”
This “ranking” has led to the United States have the world’s highest prison population and of black people being killed simply for being seen as threatening while out jogging, while sitting in their homes, while handcuffed, while their backs are turned to police officers, etc.
This time, perhaps the movement is strong enough to fix these problems.
“I think it has helped to open up the consciousness of this society,” Dr. Asante says of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests. “What we’re seeing with the young people is that they know certain things now that they didn't know before. I think the more we open up structure, opening the door for people, they will begin to see these differences and how these differences don't really matter in terms of humanity.”
It’s not too late—please register to join Africology and African American Studies’ Race, Racism and Anti-Racism: Redefining the Social Contract virtual seminar today, June 30, at 1 p.m.