The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, 2002

Contemporary Race Relations in the US – “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” or “Post-Racial Society”?

In the summer of 2014, three crises gripped the world’s attention: Ukraine, Iraq/Syria, and Ferguson, Missouri. There, the protests over the police shooting of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown were escalating. In subsequent months, several more police shootings of African Americans made headlines. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a rallying cry for protesters against perceived police brutality against African Americans and other minorities. At the same time, in New York city – which had seen both the death of Eric Garner while being arrested and the murder of two policemen in apparent revenge – police officers protested against liberal mayor Bill de Blasio for what they perceived as unfair criticism. The debate over these and other controversies is still going on, and the Black Lives Matter movement has emerged as a young, angry protest movement against what its activists feel is the persistence of systemic and violent racism in the United States. To make matters even more complicated, all of this happened during the administration of the first African American president, when some hoped that America would finally become a post-racial society.

This talk examines race relations in the United States today with a specific focus on the situation of African Americans and the recent controversies over police violence. Were the great achievements of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in vain? What is the social and economic situation of racial minorities in the early 21st century? Is class as much a factor in today’s problems as race? What role does the extremely fragmented organization of police forces in the US play? What are the political implications and consequences of recent conflicts? We will look at these and other questions. As much as possible, political humor and satire will help lighten up these grim topics.

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