Anti-Black Violence in the US

The summer of 2020 saw a wave of protests that demanded systemic change and made our nation’s continued racially motivated violence and inequity impossible to ignore. As people across the United States gathered to protest racial inequality and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, many turned to social media in the midst of pandemic-related stay-at-home orders. 

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Young woman with a raised fist protesting in the street

In an article exploring the relationship between social movements and genocide, Aliza Luft suggests that the discipline of genocide studies has been mainly composed of historians who have largely abandoned theoretical explanations of genocide in favor of rich, historical analyses. These historical pieces have broadened the field of genocide studies, focusing on the historical moment and context of each genocide. Luft, using the theoretical perspectives developed by social movement scholars, however, demonstrates how this sociological literature could enhance genocide studies.

I want to make clear that this blog post does not seek to equate social movements with historical or contemporary genocides. It is not my intention to say that social movements are genocides. Rather, I seek to illustrate that these two phenomena operate on a spectrum of contentious politics, and both social movement scholars and genocide scholars may learn more about their respective disciplines by looking at the commonalities and differences between them. Furthermore, I seek to suggest, that maybe genocide scholars could learn a few things by turning to this contemporary moment in the US.

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Collectively, Americans have a particular idea of what constitutes genocide. Notions of the Holocaust, Cambodia, or Rwanda are generally what come to mind. Almost universally they have two things in common; they are tied to events that happen abroad, and they involve killing on a massive scale. This clear notion of what constitutes genocide can be traced back to the legal definition of genocide, found in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

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From Minneapolis to Germany to Kenya to Japan, people are crying out “I can’t breathe.” Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 people all across the globe have taken to the streets in protest to support Black Lives Matter (BLM). Although the Black liberation struggle has been ongoing for centuries, activists seem to think that this moment may be different.

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The recent protests in response to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in our own Minneapolis, coupled with the spread of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the globe, have sparked a much-needed conversation within the field of Genocide Studies. The BLM movement calls for the end of anti-Black racism in the United States (and around the globe), and the movement has shined a light on an American legacy of systemic racism — or racism that is ingrained within our social, cultural, and political institutions.

Photo of the George Floyd Memorial

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