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Contextualizing BLM in the History of Slavery and Segregation

For the 2020-21 academic year, the International Institute will host a thematic series that highlights global perspectives on Black Lives Matter, involving quarterly events organized in conjunction with the International Institute’s IDPs in Global Studies, International Development Studies and Global Health to highlight key cross-cutting themes.

The series aims to provide a platform for scholars, students and activists to deepen our collective understanding of the structure and experience of racial oppression and the long struggle for racial justice, as well as to draw connections among unique, but interlinked anti-racist struggles in the context of global histories of colonialism, imperialism and internationalism.”

The events will be held virtually, and are free and open to all in the US and internationally.


Register for this event here.

Brenda Stevenson: "Black Lives Matter: Historical Roots"

Brenda Stevenson is a Professor and Nickoll Family Endowed Chair in History at UCLA.
Her book length publications include: The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke (Oxford 1988); Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South (Oxford 1996); The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender and the Origins of the L.A. Riots (Oxford 2013); and, What is Slavery? (Polity 2015). Professor Stevenson’s research has garnered numerous prizes including the James A. Rawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians for the best book in race relations (U.S.) for The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins, the Ida B. Wells Barnett Award for Bravery in Journalism, and the Gustavus Meyer Outstanding Book Prize for Life in Black and White. Her research has been supported by, among others, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center and the American Academy in Berlin. She also is the recipient of the 2014 UCLA Gold Shield Award for outstanding scholarship, teaching and service and the John Blassingame Award for Mentorship and Scholarship from the Southern Historical Society.

 Deborah Thomas: “Can Black Lives Matter in a Black Country? Notes from Jamaica.”

Deborah Thomas is an R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center of Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is core faculty in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and holds a secondary appointment with the Graduate School of Education. She is the author of Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Entanglement, Witnessing, Repair (2019), Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (2011), and Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica(2004), and is co-editor of Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness (2006). She is also co-director and co-producer of two films: BAD FRIDAY: RASTAFARI AFTER CORAL GARDENS (with John L. Jackson, Jr. and Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn), a documentary that chronicles the history of violence in Jamaica through the eyes of its most iconic community – Rastafari – and shows how people use their how people use their recollections of the Coral Gardens “incident” in 1963 to imagine new possibilities for the future; and FOUR DAYS IN MAY (with Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn and Deanne M. Bell), an experimental documentary that juxtaposes archives related to the “Tivoli Incursion” in May 2010, when Jamaican security forces entered West Kingston to arrest Christopher Coke, wanted for extradition to the United States, and killed at least 75 civilians.

Moderator: Jenny Sharpe, Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Gender Studies, UCLA

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Duration: 01:53:11



Robin Derby 0:00

My name is Robin Derby and it's my great pleasure to welcome you to this inaugural event which commences a year long exploration and celebration of Black Lives Matter across the world, hosted by the International Institute at UCLA. This complex series has been an unprecedented collaboration across many of the centers and programs within the International Institute. Many people have come together to make this series possible. But we would like to give thanks in particular to Senior Associate Vice Provost and Director of the International Institute Chris Erickson, and Vice Provost for International Studies and Global Engagement Cindy Fan, who believed in this project from the beginning and got the ball rolling, Jennifer Chun, key organizer, organizer extraordinare, as well as enthusiastic co-conspirators Jorge Marturano, Jenny Sharpe, Laurie Hart, Shaina Potts, Erica Anjum, as well as Ippolytos Kalofonos, Alden Young, Kathryn Paul, Peggy McInerny, Chloe Hiuga, Steven Acosta, Oliver Chien, Kaya Mentesoglu, and Alex Zhu, as well as our co-sponsors the Atlantic History Seminar and the Program on Caribbean Studies of the Latin American Institute. Our format for today is that each speaker will have 20 minutes to present, which should leave ample time for questions. But the questions should be sent to the moderator via the Q&A forum, not the chat function. I'm thrilled to announce, to introduce my colleague Brenda Stevenson, who holds the Nichols Family Endowed Chair in the Department of History at UCLA. She's a social historian whose work centers on gender, race, family, and social conflict in America and the Atlantic world from the colonial period through the late 20th century. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a PhD in American History from Yale University. Her publications include the award winning books Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South, and The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots, along with What is Slavery?, The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké, and numerous other co-authored, co-edited journal articles and book chapters. She has served on the executive board of the Organization of American Historians on campus, she served as chair of both the Department of History and the Program in African American Studies. She's a member of several editorial boards, scholarly journals, and a Distinguished Lecturer for the the Organization of American Historians. Brenda is often heard on local NPR affiliates and quoted in the press, and she's contributed to numerous documentaries. She's currently collaborating with local artist Carla J. on a five-year, five-part mixed media installation entitled Bitter Earth: The History of African American Women. Professor Stevenson's many scholarly awards include the Raleigh Prize for the best book in the history in the history of race relations from the Organization of American Historians, the Gustavus Meyer Book Prize, the Carter G. Woodson Scholars Medallion from the Association for the Study of African American Life in History, the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale Graduate School, the John Blassingame Award from the Southern Historical Association, the Ida B. Wells Award by the Women's eNews media organization, UCLA's Gold Shield Faculty Award, as well as UCLA's Faculty Research Lectureship, and the Williams, Andrew Clark Library Professorship. The title of her talk today is Black Lives Matter: Historical Roots.

Brenda Stevenson 3:50

Well, hello, and thank you, Robin, for that really nice introduction. And thank you everyone for coming out. Well, at least remotely to participate in this first event, one of many wonderful ones that are to, to come. I'm very thankful for everyone who helped to organize this event and everyone who is present today. I also would like to recognize that, you know, UCLA is on Indigenous lands and particularly the lands of the Tonga peoples, and very, very thankful that we are able to use that land. I want to take today to talk about Black Lives Matter in a way that historicize is it to a certain extent, and because as I was asking early on, if you heard me if you came in early, was I going to be talking specifically to academics or to people in the public, I want to apologize for those persons who are already experts in this particular field, but I will, you know, be talking very generally about these processes of resistance, on these processes of revolution and these processes of recognizing and protecting Black life, across the generations. Since I particularly work on the areas and the topic of slavery for much of the work that I do, I will begin in that particular era. And so what I'm going to do with you all, first is share my screen, because I have a few slides that I'd like to show as I talk with you. Okay, so, um, alright, um, so I'm going to be looking at a few case studies, actually one big case study, and then a couple beforehand, to just talk about this practice of resistance and caring for and deciding that Black life is important and that Black lives should be protected. One of the things that I always tell my students when they ask about Black resistance and Black revolution, and I say to them, you know, in terms of people who are living in the Americas who are Black, or descended from Africa, the first African who said, No, I will not be enslaved, either by someone who looks like me, or someone who does not look like me, is really the beginning of Black Lives Matter. You know, it is at that moment that this determination that I am valuable, that I am a person, that I deserved, I deserve to live and to enjoy my life and have family and have community and have my spirituality, etc, and use my body for myself not for someone else's benefit, that is the beginning of Black Lives Matter. And this is a very, very, very long trajectory. And of course, it is, it is human, to resist and to, and to protect oneself, this factor is more than human, iT's animal, you know. And so we are created to protect ourselves to value ourselves, to move forward in the world in that way. And so this is really the root of the roots of Black Lives Matter. So I just want to see if I can move forward.

Brenda Stevenson 7:24

Okay. So I begin actually, with something that I just pulled off of, you know, the website from Black Lives Matter, because I think it's very important for us to be, let me just make sure I do this properly. Okay. I want to make sure if I do it this way, where am I? Right, I want to make sure that we understand, you know, I'm not an expert in Black Lives Matter the movement. And so I spent a lot of time thinking about it and reading about it and participating in IT, etc. But it is such a diverse movement. It is, there's so many stakeholders in it. But it's also a wonderful movement, but it's also a movement that has been, you know, people have said lots of things about it that perhaps are not true. So let's just start with the source. And so as it says here, "Black Lives Matter emerged from the hearts and minds of our three co-founders Patrice Colores, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. It came to life right here in Los Angeles, where the first chapter was birthed out Herstory is an important telling of the emergence of Black Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles specifically, as a reclamation of and recommitment to Black radical organizing, and Black freedom struggle." And so what I'm going to focus on particularly is Black freedom struggle. Okay, so as I said, I'm particularly a scholar of persons who were enslaved in the Americas, particularly in the part of the Americas that became the United States of America. And so in terms of Black revolutionary practice, there are many, many, many examples. So in the era of slavery, of enslavement, whether we're looking at marronage, whether or not we're looking at fugitivity, of an individual sort, whether or not we're looking at slave revolt, and we see this happening, as I said, from the very beginning, as Africans were seized or whether or not we see it as suicide as whether we see it, as you know, murdering one's captor, etc. There are many, many expressions of Black revolutionary action with protection of Black lives as a part of it, but I'll start with the the abolitionists, and I took again this image off of the internet because it has a mixed, a mixture of various peoples and various processes. Whether you have people like Sojourner Truth or many of the people, Frederick Douglass, of course, that you can see the first two images that are there on the first row are persons who hit the lecture trail, who wrote about enslavement and, and were very much important in organizing revolutionary action that would have released and did release enslaved people from their enslavement, their bondage. William Steele is the next person, if you know, he's one of the people very much involved in the Underground Railroad. The next line of people that we see here are people who are lecturers with Charlotte Forten, for example, who is a writer and teacher and scholar etc. involved in the movement since early life and then Charles Lenox Remond and his sister, who are on the next two. And so we as we see, there are many, many ways in which people approached, approached Black Lives Matter at the very bottom, in the left of the right hand corner. We see this picture of Olaudah Equiano, for example, the famous autobiographist to at least biographist. And then at the very end, Martin Delaney, who was invested in colonization, as well as revolutionary practices. So there was a lot of people who were involved in the abolitionist movement. And one of the--what I like about talking about the abolitionist movement, when we look at what we call the formal abolitionist movement, when we look at when, for example, an American anti-slavery society was founded, or the Liberator magazine was first published, of course, the abolitionist movement begins much earlier than that. But if we look at what we think of is one of the founding moments of it, which was in 1830, in some ways, it's very similar to Black Lives Matter, because in 1830, no one, even though England was about to abolish slavery, to a certain extent, gradually, in the Caribbean,

Brenda Stevenson 12:20

people would not have thought that slavery would have ended in 35 years in the United States, that it's legally ended at any rate, to separate those persons who were found to be guilty of a crime. And so with Black Lives Matter when it was founded, no one would have thought that it would be what it is now. Okay, no one thought that, I mean, if you remember, Black Lives Matter, was and still is criminalized, it's thought of as a radical group. And radical is always dubbed as inappropriate, it's said, criminal to a certain extent. And so the same was said about these abolitionists, the same thing was said, first of all, of the persons like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, who took their own freedom, were considered criminals, because they had quote, unquote, broken the property, law of a person being able to own a person of color at the time period. And so abolitionists were thought as radical as criminals, as you know, trying to steal people's property away from them the same way that we talk about, you know, people who, in some of the protests, who damage material goods, or who may even take some material goods, and we, we talk about them as not having the right to these goods and destroying the property, etc. First of all, I'm not saying that there is a people associated with Black Lives Matter, we know that a lot of people who are not well allied with this organization or with the movements that they, that, that, that they sponsor, I have been doing these--taking these kinds of actions, but the criminalization of radical, of Black revolutionary praxis is something that we see happening, you know, as early as the 19th century--earlier than that, from from the very beginning of Africans being taken. I mean, who was considered who was the first person to die in the Boston Massacre? Crispus Attucks. Crispus Attucks was considered a criminal. Why? Because he had taken his own freedom. He had, quote, unquote, run away from enslavement, because he stood up to the British. You know, so no matter where we we see this activity happening, in some ways, you know, people will criminalize it, they would denigrate it. And so the same thing was happening with the Black abolitionists and with the White abolitionists as well. Well, it started off as a small, as small groups of people as individuals who came together, and within 35 years slavery ended in what became, what was the, at the time the largest slave society, 4 million people on the ground enslaved in the Americas. All right? So, and it came about it from many different from many different perspectives, in terms of what exactly were the actions that they invested themselves in. Some were scholarly, some were political, some were legal, some were in the streets, in terms of having protests, in the street, parades, books that were published, poems that were written, songs that were sang, and, and, of course, newspapers, so the media, etc. And this kind of comprehensive attack on the evil cruelty of slavery. All right, so that's sort of my first very quick case study. Um,

Brenda Stevenson 16:09

The next

Brenda Stevenson 16:12

case study that I want to talk about is really during the Jim Crow era. The Jim Crow era, which we usually date and starting around 1876 or so. But I think Jim Crow, it's existed in the country from the very beginning, races were separated, that was racial, Apartheid, you know, from the 16th century forward, but we think about it really as beginning after the--after Reconstruction, after the period after the Civil War, where, after the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, and then a response to that, of Black people gaining certain rights, freedom for one, supposedly for the 14th Amendment. Also, equality before the law, of course, this never happened. And then with the 15th Amendment with men who were born in this country, whether you were Black or not being able to vote. So during this time period, there was a lot of activity, the time period of Jim Crow, 1876 through the 1960s. And many women were involved. And I'm just using these pictures because again, it reminds us, of the four mothers, of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, those three women in Los Angeles. And so we can see here up in the right left hand corner, is this is a photograph of women who were involved in the Black Women's Club movement, which was called the Negro Women's Club movement of the 1920s. They still exist today, as well, who are very much involved in anti-Jim Crow legislation and activities for particularly anti-lynching activities, as well as expansion of education, expansion of the center of suffrage, etc. Up in the right hand corner here, this beautiful photograph of Nanny Barrows, who was a teacher at the time, but also a scholar, but also was an anti-lynching advocate, and pro-Black life, pro-Black equality. advocate, and the left hand corner at the bottom, you will probably notice this woman because it is Ida B. Wells, who really championed the cause of lynchings, she is really the mother of anti-lynching activity. Her newspaper, her political activity, her legal activities, putting herself and her family all in danger to to show the world what lynching, how Black people were being lynched in the South, and not just Black men, but also Black women and Black youth, and other peoples as well. And then this is the sign from this period and Jim Crow, in terms of Black Lives Matter, activity, praxis. This is a sign which is hanging outside of, in New York, offices for the NAACP, the NAACP being found in the first decade of the 20th century coming out of the Niagara Movement. And so the focus was on not only Black people really being able to take advantage of what are called Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, the 13th Amendment with ending slavery, the 14th Amendment, which gave citizenship as well as which said that Black people were equal under the law, and the 15th Amendment which allowed Black male suffrage. All of these things were meant, of course, to protect Black lives. Okay? To indicate the equality of Black people, but something which had not at all been embraced, and indeed was eroded during this time period. So all of these, see this movement, this moment, and all its different iterations also are foundational to what we see happening not only in this country, but globally with regard to Black Lives Matter. Okay, and the last and third and last,

Brenda Stevenson 20:35

actually I haven't gotten to yet. This is one more, one of the things that I'm really interested in, and I think it's very important to look at Black Lives Matter is the way in which youth, people who young Black people are at the root of much of what happens, which starts with my dog in the background, with regard to Black revolutionary activity. And so oftentimes, when we look at the sparks that lead to unrest, what's happening on the streets. We see it today with the Black Lives Matter movement, from the summer into even today, because very little has been done to address the issues. In 1919, Eugene Williams was a young man who drowned, he was stoned while swimming.

Brenda Stevenson 21:29

And off in the lake in Chicago. And, and it was there that, you know, because the beach was segregated, people started throwing rocks at him, and he eventually actually drowned. And there was a race riot, what was called a race riot, it was actually a Black Lives Matter moment, movement occurring at this time period. Two, this is a photograph of him. And you can see at the top of it in this newspaper, it said this boy's death caused the race riot, alright? In the middle, you'll also see something that happened in the 1930s. And this is in New York City, 4,000 riot in Harlem, one killed. Well if you look at the picture, that's very, that's much, that's in the middle, it says right underneath this boy started a riot. Well the boy didn't start a riot. But he had been, this was a Puerto Rican young man, 16 years old, who had worked in the his or department store. And what we see happening here is that it was, it was a rumor that he was hurt in the store, he was accused of stealing, he was hurt. And, and he basically, um, you know, hid himself. And, but as a result of him hiding himself, there was a rumor started that he had been killed. And when the rumors started, that he had been killed, Black people on the street, both Black and Latin, Latinx people decided to, you know, pursue this parades and protest against the police because policing, police then were, were thought of as having harmed this young man. So oftentimes, we see even today with Black Lives Matter, the spark really is how young people are treated, how the future of the Black community how the future of any community is treated, and how the most vulnerable in our society, which tend to be youth, how they're treated by the most powerful, which are policing agencies and the forces behind them. And this sits really at the base of movements, of Black revolutionary movements, how to protect the most vulnerable, the young, the next generations, etc, within our society. So we have happening in the 1920s, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, for example, it's really a focus on Black people trying to be protected as equally protected before the law, in the law, having the right to vote, having the right to education, equal education, having the right to healthcare, the same kinds of things that we see. Equal employment employment, for equal wages, etc, that we see that has taken hold or is being implemented by Black Lives Matter movements we see happening all through this time period. In this period that we call Jim Crow, there was no case that was more influential than that of Emmett Till. And this is a photograph, a beautiful photograph of a beautiful young Emmett Till prior to 1955 when he was murdered. Now, as I said, all these cases are important, all of this, you know, focus on protection of Black life and Black equality, etc. is important, from the colonial period of our history forward. But we're now in the middle of the 20th century. And, you know, this, the Civil Rights Movement, as we currently think about it, it's taking off. 1954 was Brown v. Board of Education, but there was still a great focus on the harm that was done in the law and outside the law to Black people, and that Black people could not find protection by policing agencies, but just on the end, that Black people could not find justice once harm had been done to them. Alright, so um, you know the story, I hope you know some of the story, where Emmett Till like many teenagers and young people who lived in cities outside of the South, but whose families had migrated

Brenda Stevenson 26:10

from the South and the great migration, but they send the children back home to visit with their grandparents, their Southern cousins and aunties, etc, and to also, to work and as a way that their parents could continue to work in the city when they were out of school. And these little kids, or young people or adolescents would learn and be close to their family members, would learn about, you know, their cultural, the roots, etc. So this is his grandfather's home. And this is what Emmett Till and his cousin, who accompanied him, were staying that summer, in 1955, with their grandparents and with the other cousins who were staying there, who came from different places, all right. And they had come not only to spend time with their relatives, and to enjoy each other as cousins often do, who are about the same age, but also to pick cotton. That was another thing that also people did in the, in the, during the summertime, they send their kids home. And if you were big enough and willing to do so, you would earn a few dollars a week. I think his cousin said he earned $4 a week, the first few days he was there, which was a lot of money at the time for a teenager whose parents were getting very, very low wages. So you could pick cotton, and of course, Money, Mississippi, which is where they were staying right in the Black Belt, where cotton is grown. Today it's still grown there, but it's certainly in the 1950s it was the major crop that was being grown. And Black people were the major bodies that were being used to harvest and to grow and care for this crop. All right, so this is the Bryant, this is the store in which Emmett Till went into, whistled at a young white woman whose family owned the store, the Bryants. And immediately, everyone knew that he had crossed a line of racial etiquette that was that was deeply drawn throughout the United States, but certainly, in the American South, and certainly in the Deep South as Mississippi is. This is what happens to him as a result of it. And so I'll, they're going to be several really, really difficult images. But if you know the story of Emmett Till, you know that her, the woman's husband and, and, and one of his relatives were out of town, they were in Texas, at the time that it happened, when they got back to money, Mississippi, they heard that some Black boy from the North has, had, had sexually assaulted, because I mean, it was a whistle, but the story had grown to, that he had actually gotten very close to her and he had put his arm around her waist. He had oked her in the face, and he has said that he had kissed a White girl before etc, etc. That's not at all what happened. But that's what they were told. And it really wouldn't have mattered too much. I mean, oftentimes people argue about whether or not the whistle itself was alone to have him lynched, was enough to have him lynched, and it was, but at any rate, the woman who was at the center of this problem, did say that indeed he had touched her, that he had whistled at her. It was years later, actually in the 1980s, when she finally told the truth and said none of that had happened. But at any rate, he is beaten to death and shot in the head and thrown in the river. And it's a few days later that his body is found. This was a lynching that really, really, really was at the bedrock of the next 10 years in terms of the Civil Rights Movement.

Brenda Stevenson 30:18

All right, so this is Emmett Till's mother Mamie Till. And she decided and she, she makes a very brave decision, which is, first of all, she claims, she talks of the innocence of her son. She told the world that her son was a sweet, innocent, fun loving young man obviously meant no harm, that she has sent him to his grandparents, for him to have a fun loving, productive summer with his family, that he was not a criminal, he had done, he had done anything wrong and that, you know, his life, his young life had been destroyed. And she makes the decision not to have the undertakers, when they receive his body, alter his face at all, not to do anything to make his face look better. And she made the decision as well to have an open coffin. She said, I want the world to see what they did to my baby, I want the world to see what they did to my child. It is the same same face cry, that Black Lives Matter answered to the many, many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, etc. who have gone through what Mamie Till went through, to see the young people in their lives destroyed. Now this is a picture of, this is this is a weighted, I can't remember what it is now. I think it's a scale or engine from a cotton gin that was, actually you can see the wire at the top of it, once Emmett Till had been beaten beyond recognition and shot in the head in the middle of the night, the two men who had done it put this around him and threw him into the river. Okay, and so when he was found, this was hanging around his neck, if you might imagine. These, if you see the two men who were here, this is a courtroom scene, you can see that the wives of the men are allowed to sit with them at the table where they are, that they looked very relaxed, that is almost a kind of party mood that is there. And this is often what we see in lynchings too, oftentimes there's a huge crowd, people have gathered to see that justice is done to save those people who have imposed racial etiquette within the society. And so as you can see, it's not being taken seriously by the men, and their wives are there to get them, give them support. Okay, these are the three principal people who are involved. This is the wife on the right hand side, Mrs. Bryant, who was supposedly whistled at, and this is her husband right beside her and his cousin who is beside him. And these two men are the men that we know killed Emmett Till, lynched Emmett Till. How do we know that they lynched Emmett Till? First of all, there was a lot of evidence to that fact, they came, they told me Till's mother that they were going to kill, I mean grandmother, that they were going to kill him, and if she said anything to anybody that they would kill her too. So there was lots of evidence to that effect. But also we know, because a few months after they were acquitted, they were paid $4,000 by Time, Life magazine, can't remember which one it is now, one of the most popular magazines to give their story. And they bragged about the fact that they killed him, that they've taught him, you know, a lesson and that they made him suffer, etc, that he had no right to, you know, approach a White woman in that way and that they were doing this for all the right way. And they laughed about it, and they, you know, they were very happy to get their $4,000 and of course, not ever have to face any kind of punishment for what they had done.

Brenda Stevenson 34:33

Okay, again, this is the picture of Emmett Till.

Brenda Stevenson 34:37

Now, right, this is what this 14-year-old boy looked like when his mother received his body back from Money, Mississippi. And you can see on this page, this is from Jet magazine, which published a photograph. You can see his mother and father, who, this is the first time they see his body and this is when they receive the body at the undertaker's. Okay. And again, Mrs. Till's response to the taking of her son. That's so important, so core to what Black Lives Matter and these other, other, this long history of Black revolution in protection of Black life, is part of. This is her actually leading a rally who are people, there are many rallies after the Emmett Till murder and trial where these people were found not guilty by all White male jury. Okay.

Brenda Stevenson 35:43

This actually, there actually is,

Brenda Stevenson 35:48

there's a place that he is, he is taken very seriously. There's a memorial of him in Money, Mississippi. This is a marker with a spot where he was found. And of course people still in Mississippi and other places on the drive by, they still shoot at it. They still try to destroy it. They still are saying it was okay to lynch Emmett Till. All right, and this is something that just happened two days ago, as you can see, October 22, I believe, and a young man was killed by the, by the police in Waukegan. And this is the protest that resulted from it. Oh, I'm gonna stop my share now. And I know my time is up. So I'm going to I'm going to end here and I'll take questions later.

Jorge Marturano 36:46

Thank you very much, Brenda, for your presentation. And now I am delighted to introduce you to Deborah Thomas and, and after that, our moderator.

Jorge Marturano 37:09

Deborah Thomas is a renowned scholar, author, filmmaker, and artist who is the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania. She's also a core faculty of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies at the Alice Paul Center and holds appointments in the Graduate School of Education, the School of Social Policy and Practice and in the Department of Africana Studies. Professor Thomas has published extensively across disciplines on topics relating to Jamaica and the Caribbean on race and gender and community confronting systemic violence, on performance and culture, on political economy and the plight of imperialism. She's the author of Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair, now from 2019, also of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica, and of Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica, and she is the co-editor of the volume Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. She's the co-director and co-producer of two films. Now, the first one is BAD FRIDAY: RASTAFARI AFTER CORAL GARDENS, a documentary that chronicles this history of violence in Jamaica, from the perspective of the Rastafarian community, and the director and co-producer for FOUR DAYS IN MAY, an experimental documentary that addresses the May 2010 mass killing of dozens of civilians committed by Jamaican security forces in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston. Related to this last film, Professor Thomas is also the co-curator of a multimedia installation entitled Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston, which opened at the Penn Museum in November 2017. Finally, let me add that among her sweeping involvement in professional journals, Professor Thomas was during the last, these last four years the Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the fly shy, sorry, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. And before that she was co-editor of the journal Transforming Anthropology from 2007 to 2010. Her presentation today is entitled, Can Black Life Matter in a Black Country? Notes from Jamaica. After, no, they are finished, no, ah, we will invite the audience to make a question through the Q&A section, and our moderator, Professor Jenny Sharpe, will raise the question. Professor Jenny Sharpe is professor in the Department of English, the Department Comparative Literature, and in Gender Studies at UCLA, and has published widely on gender, the Black Atlantic among cultural circles of globalization. Professor Sharpe is the author of Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text, Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archeology of Black Women's Lives, and the recent, very recent Immaterial Archives: An African Diaspora Poetics of Loss of this year. Thank you very much. And you have, no, the,

Jorge Marturano 40:39

the, this, this screen, Deborah.

Deborah Thomas 40:44

We have the screen. Thank you very much, Jorge, and thank you to all of you for inviting me to participate in what is going to be, I'm sure, a fantastic year of conversations coming out of some of the things that went on this summer. If you hear things in the background, it's because I live on a main street, and it can be quite loud sometimes. So I'm hearing the engines revving right now. Um, Brenda provided a really nice kind of encapsulation of the historical trajectory of what we might think about as a Black Lives Matter, prehistory in a way, and a long Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. And I want to use my time today to think a little bit about how we conceptualize the possibility of Black lives mattering in other spaces outside of the United States, and how we think about that, especially in a majority Black country like Jamaica. So I'm going to talk a bit and then I'm going to share my screen. And I'll be showing you, without audio, some images, right, from a version of the experimental film that I'll talk about a little bit. Not the version I'm talking about, but a different one and and then I'll end up with some more dialogue. Okay, so the answer to the question of whether Black lives matter in majority Black spaces would seem to many Americans and especially to many African Americans to be a foregone conclusion. Without a history of de facto apartheid, a Black country like Jamaica could certainly not be structured by the same racial dynamics that plagued the United States. That this is far from the case occasionally becomes clear when we screen our film FOUR DAYS IN MAY in Jamaica. The film features narratives we recorded with residents of West Kingston after the Tivoli incursion in 2010, when Jamaican security forces supported by the United States entered the Tivoli Gardens community in search of Christopher "Dudus" Koch, who had been ordered for extradition to the U.S. to stand trial for gun and drug running charges. The search for Coke resulted in the deaths of at least 74 civilians at the hands of the police and the army, though community members put this number closer to 200. In the film, mothers describe watching their sons being executed. A brother mourns the killing of a sibling shot execution style next to his stepfather. An aunt talks about having to identify her nephew's body, part of which had been burned beyond recognition. Other young men described being taunted by soldiers, made to run while shots were fired after them, being tied to other men and kept in a leaky bathroom overnight, not knowing whether they were going to live or die. Tivoli Gardens has always been what one resident called the flagship community for the Jamaica Labour Party, which is one of the political parties, the mother of all so-called garrisons. And garrison communities are territorially rooted homogenous voting neighborhoods in downtown Kingston, where political support has been exchanged for contracts and other social welfare benefits, and that these exchanges have been mediated through the relationship between an elected politician, the Member of Parliament for the district, and a local don, a local leader. While the partisanship of garrison communities has been enduring, the relationship between elected politicians and community leaders became part of a more general ideological struggle during the 1970s and transformed again as the elaboration of the transnational trades in cocaine and weapons supplanted a previously smaller scale trafficking in ganja. The latter phenomenon strengthened the role of the dons vis-a-vis the politicians as dons' increasing involvement in both innocent and legitimate businesses provided politicians with financial support in addition to the militia-like support offered during election periods. Garrisons therefore exist as the primary loci of political corruption historically and in the present.

Deborah Thomas 45:36

Tivoli Gardens, downtown, garrison, ghetto. These terms mark the slot of blackness insofar as blackness refers to that position that both instantiates and potentially undermines and undoes the liberal order, the position that makes it insecure. And to say that geography mediates the experience of racialized abjection connects the question of the value of Black life to a question about security and corruption. Just as some Black lives seem to matter more than others, some ghetto lives do as well. Those living in what have been termed garrison communities often remain outside the realm of public empathy, because they're seen to destabilize the security of liberal governance more generally, even as the broader phenomena that contextualize their existence remain obscured. In a context in which the promise of sovereignty has been rooted in the nominal extension of the rights of citizenship and the limited elaboration of subjectivity for those who accepted a particular policing of gendered and racialized respectability, garrison dwellers have not always been seen as worthy of protection, their deaths not always worthy of mourning. During one post-screening discussion of our film in Kingston, a woman who had been a political representative for the People's National Party, which was during the 70s a kind of Democratic Socialist Party, and this was during the height of the political turf wars, also exacerbated by the United States and the anti-communism fervor that was going on at the time. This woman spoke of being terrorized by the dawn of Tivoli Gardens during that period. She shook with rage as she asked, what has Tivoli learned from their experiences in 2010. As the COVID-19 curfews were on through May 2020, the 10th anniversary of the Tivoli incursion, which began the 24th of May 2010, threatened to pass without remembrance. The evening of the 24th of May, we received a phone call from a relative who works at one of the national television stations. She asked if they could screen our documentary the following day, since they had neglected to organize commemorative programming related to the anniversary. As FOUR DAYS IN MAY aired on TV Jamaica the evening of May 25, George Floyd was being killed by police in Minneapolis. And as Jamaicans decried this act of police violence across various media, the police and army incursion into Tivoli Gardens was rarely mentioned, generating allowed and resonant silence. "I guess people are still conflicted about Tivoli," a friend remarked. So with my brief remarks today, I want to interrogate a relation. I want to probe the project of security, which I, which I'm defining as the protection of liberal postcoloniality that sanctions whiteness, class hierarchy, and hetero patriarchy in relation to a desire for safety. In probing this relation within a context in which police violence and extrajudicial killing are not typically seen as part of the global phenomenon of anti-Black racism, I seek to contribute to a conversation in which ratiality is not tethered to physicality, but instead is grounded in both historical ideological and onto-epistemological phenomena that produce whiteness as the apex of humanity. This production presumes not only transparency and universality, but also determination and causality, and there I'm drawing from Denise Ferreira da Silva's work. In other words, having defined itself as universal reason and absolute prospectivity, the interior of humanity against which all exterior others are compared and measured and found wanting, Western European empire inhabits the expression of liberal sovereignty not only within Europe, but throughout the postcolonial world. This sovereignty is obsessed with security, which Laurence Ralph has defined as, quote, "both the nostalgic yearning for a previous era and the regulation and surveillance of bodies." This is because its conquest, cannibalism, and, and disavowal of exteriority is never seamless or complete. It's always potentially undone by that which fails to recognize it, by that which refuses it in intentional and unconscious ways.

Deborah Thomas 50:38

In Jamaica, in fact, transformations of policing have typically occurred in response to instances of Black rebellion. The first attempt to establish a permanent all-island police force was in 1832, the year following the general strikes organized by slaves that occurred during the Christmas holidays in 1831, ultimately developing into the Baptist War, the largest slave rebellion in Jamaica, that led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British West Indies. It was not until the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, however, that the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the GCF, was established. In October of that year, several hundred land starved Black men and women marched to the courthouse in Morant Bay to protest their excruciating economic conditions. When the governor was made aware of the march, he sent troops to hunt down the protesters. Over 400 Black Jamaicans were directly killed by soldiers, an additional 350 were arrested and later executed, and hundreds more were subjected to corporal punishment. Local elected political representatives used the experience of Morant Bay to vote themselves out of direct political participation, opting instead for Crown colony rule, a form of governance by which British territories overseas exist directly under the authority of the crown. It should be, but ultimately isn't, shocking that the fear of Black Jamaicans acting politically in their own interest would prompt local elites to willingly give up representative politics. Nonetheless, Crown colony rule held in Jamaica without significant constitutional change until 1944, the date that saw universal suffrage become law. As political parties were developing locally, there was some concern on the part of the colonial government that officers within the police forces were developing a degree of political partisanship that would influence the ways they carried out their policing duties. In fact, Jamaica was singled out within the West Indies as a place where officers should not be sent for instruction, because quote, "earlier experiences have shown that they came away with a political consciousness and bias, which tends to prejudice and impartial performance of the duties required within a discipline police force," end quote. And that's from the JCF archives. In the post-independence period, the pattern of institutionalizing security in response to Black Jamaicans' expressions of discontent and the emergent concern regarding partisan policing continued. The first joint police military operation emerged in response to the Coral Gardens incident, a series of events that took place over Easter weekend in 1963, during which a Rastafarian who was involved in a land dispute near the Rose Hall plantation organized some of his friends to avenge the estate manager's attempt to run him off the property he was cultivating. The Prime Minister capitalized on the paranoia regarding Rastafari at the time and send police from all over the island to Montego Bay, asking that civilians also join the police to hunt down every Rastafari they could find. Hundreds were rounded up and jailed, some were tortured, at least eight were killed. This link between the police and the military eventually led to the development of a joint command system for use in emergencies. And the Tivoli incursion in 2010 was one such emergency. During the commission of inquiry that was convened to investigate the conduct of the security forces during this operation. former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington reminded Jamaicans that the Jamaica Constabulary Force, though a civil police force, is organized and trained along military lines and thus also contains paramilitary elements.

Deborah Thomas 54:49

After Jamaica's independence from Britain in 1962, the United States also took on a stronger role in the development and maintenance of the local police and military forces by providing funds through the military assistance program, and by training and equipping personnel through the USAID safety program. Between 1953 and 1969, the United States committed over $50 million in aid to the Jamaican security forces. And this amount likely does not account for total expenditures from the CIA and the DEA at that same period. As one pillar of Ronald Reagan's war on drugs and to promote more general bilateral cooperation with respect to drug and illegal arms trafficking, the government of Jamaica developed an extradition treaty with the United States government. This treaty, which went into effect in 1991, was the first within the Caribbean region and was technically bilateral. But as with other post-Cold War, multilateral agreements, many in this region see this treaty not as a guarantor of reciprocity and equality between and among nations, but as another domain through which the United States is able to assert influence and to ignore the constitutional rights of Jamaicans and therefore, to engage in economic and political bullying. Today, some argue that we're turning toward a risk oriented secure security strategy of policing, one that is tied to agendas related to urban renewal, itself a racialized project. Central to this agenda is speculation, which requires a temporal shift toward a future oriented form of policing, geared toward preventing rather than solving crimes and toward mitigating loss over punishing wrongdoing, and there underlying from Rivka Jaffe's work. This future orientation, like all shifts from disciplinary to biopolitical power, also diminishes the level of engagement and quality of relationship between those in authority and those in community, in part because it's been accompanied by a turn toward intensified authoritarianism and the militarization of policing through the current proliferation of states of emergency. In 2018 in Jamaica, prolonged states of emergency came into effect in the parishes of St. James, St. Catherine, and Kingston. And by June of this year, states of emergency and zones of special operation were operative in nearly half of the country's 19 police divisions. Zones of special operation or "zosos," as they're locally termed, constitute a new legislative designation in which extreme police powers are allowed in areas where there are, quote, "reasonable grounds to believe that due to rampant criminality, gang warfare, escalating violence and murder and the threat to the rule of law and public order, normal policing is not enough." In theory, zoso designation lasts for an initial 60-day period with the possibility of extension, and it's meant to entail some sort of focus on social and economic development alongside extraordinary policing. While there have been public discussions within the media about how and why zosos and states of emergency now seem to regularly suspend normal police operation and thereby undermining civilian security, and while questions have been raised about how the government will transition back from extraordinary powers to normal policing as zosos end, there's widespread popular support for these tactics in many spaces throughout Jamaica due to exhaustion and fear. The reliance on totalizing police actions like states of emergency have led many Jamaicans, including those in diaspora, to question whether the government has a comprehensive crime plan. In December 2016, as one result of activism from the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation, among other organizations, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 114 291, which is titled the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act. This law stipulates that the United States government can and should engage with government, civil society, and the private sector throughout the Caribbean region to quote, "reduce levels of crime and violence, curb the trafficking of illicit drugs, strengthen the rule of law, and improve citizen security," end quote.

Deborah Thomas 59:34

Indeed, the Jamaican Diaspora Crime Intervention and Prevention Task Force, which is part of the Jamaican Diaspora Foundation, has taken on a number of projects geared toward transnational cooperation in relation to security. They've championed cybersecurity, the development of an intelligence fusion center, a safer cities initiative, and youth mentorship programs, and in the view that, quote, "The United States needs stronger security cooperation with the region in order to detect, deter and deny support to terrorism, terrorist activities and encroachment by narcoterrorists into the Caribbean," end quote, the task force seeks to bring the expertise of Jamaicans living in diaspora to bear on security issues within Jamaica. Toward this end, they're developing plans for engaged in ongoing collaboration with the security forces, the state and NGOs in Jamaica. We might read the efforts of the JDC IPT as an example of how transnational migrants have maintained their ties to their homelands and through those ties have remained active participants in the range of discussions that affect Caribbean nationals wherever they're living. This is a view that positions diasporic Jamaicans in a helping relationship to nationals on the rock, professionals too because of their professed distance from the partisan corruption and political violence that compromises both security and safety in Jamaica, can offer their expertise and advice to transform the problem of crime. An alternative read would be that the Diaspora Crime Intervention and Prevention Task Force is enacting a version of what Savannah Shange has called carceral progressivism. This is a progressivism that laments the, quote, "systemic racism of the penal system," only to call upon police as collaborators in protecting their vision of community. My own sense is that the JDC IPT's activism is an attempt to make both the US and Jamaican states accountable to Jamaican citizens. But without tethering this accountability to a more foundational rearrangement of the infrastructures that reproduce insecurity in the lives of poor Black Jamaicans, even as they also champion local, local development and mentorship initiatives. The Diaspora Foundation wants the state to work better. They want intelligence gathering and policing to be more cooperative, efficient and disinterested. The security they imagine does not therefore fundamentally rearrange the parameters of value placed upon Black life, or the normative dimensions of partisan life that continue to shape electoral politics. This is also the case when ordinary people defend the extraordinary measures characterized by states of emergency, zosos, or other related programs. They're seeking an accountability that measures their value through the lens of the state. So when we think about the relation between the project of this -- of security and a desire for safety, we need to remember that while the former is imagined and enacted transnationally and globally, but is nevertheless authorized through and in the name of the state, the latter is grounded locally, and requires the intimacy of trusting relationships. Analyzing this relation within a majority Black postcolonial context allows us to more obviously reframe the problems of legitimacy and accountability outside a dialectic in which blackness signifies a contradiction within liberal democratic humanism and instead in relation to an understanding that the violences of native dispossession and African slavery are foundational to modern liberal political, economic and social organization globally. Undoing this violence requires a formulation of accountability that resides outside of the normative parameters of perfectible governance, and an elaboration of sovereignty that is not rooted in the seizure of the state, but in nonlinear temporality, intimate care and nonutility.

Deborah Thomas 1:03:52

Following the high profile deaths of Black Jamaicans beginning in January of this year, and subsequent to the outrage expressed by Jamaicans across the class spectrum over the police killing of George Floyd, a number of columnists for The Gleaner, which is the daily newspaper, publicly opined about the value of Black life in Jamaica. Daniel Fleets, for example, crunched some comparative numbers, and argued the following, and this is a quote from one of the columns he wrote: "If the police in the US killed proportionately the same number of people as the Jamaican police, they would have killed nearly 30,000 in 2013 instead of 1,100. If the US police were to kill at Jamaica's rate during the period from 2014 to 2018, they would have killed around 65,000 more people. And if Jamaicans were killed at the rate that us Blacks are killed by US law enforcement, there would be about 20 such deaths annually, which is roughly a seventh of those that have actually occurred in Jamaica." Fleets and other commentators were pointing out that while it's important that middle class and upper class Jamaicans recognize the ongoing travesty of police violence against African Americans, they should not turn a blind eye to the same violence occurring in Jamaica. So I want to conclude by taking us back to our film screening and to the woman who asked, what has Tivoli learned from the incursion. When she said this, she was not met with derision even though her rage was palpable. The Tivoli Gardens community residents who were also at the screening did not attempt to shout her down. Instead, the woman who -- who had identified her nephew's burned body said, there are good and bad within Tivoli like everywhere else. One of the youth who had described his experiences in the film stood up and sincerely thanked everyone for coming, especially all the Uptown people, saying that he never would have thought so many people cared about what happened to him. And the longtime community activists responded gently. I think another way to ask that question is to wonder what Jamaica has learned from the incursion. Our film audience, in other words, was reckoning with how to generate safety from insecurity, with the cyclical quotidianity of forms of violence that comprise complex relations of scale and our complicities with them, and with the ways their embodiments are marked by -- by their geographies. "The security state," as Achille Mbembe argues, "thrives on a state of insecurity, itself a kind of passion or rather an effect, a condition, even a force of desire," end quote. Safety, too, is a kind of passion. And a safe world is one in which people feel, quote, "connected to and cared for by others," and there I'm quoting from Stevie, a prison activist, one in which they have somebody, not one in which, quote, "the police keep Black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence, and death," and that's Miriame Kaba. If, when people want safety, what they end up getting is security, then we need to cultivate different kinds of accountability. There are local models for this, models that include the practice of reasoning amongst Rastafari and the community based problem solving of groups like Sistren Theatre Collective or the Violence Prevention Alliance. These kinds of practices do not replicate the colonial love of governance, regulation and tutelage, but instead seek to generate mature, responsible love, love with accountability, as Aishah Shahidah Simmons has termed it. If blackness in its negation of law and juridical norms, unsettles colonial sovereignty and its afterlives, then we must cultivate a sovereignty that is not merely oriented towards seizing the state. We must activate a sovereignty that engulfs rather than one that differs and disavows. And we must also claim a form of accountability that nullifies the normative relations that uphold Being with a capital B as the ground of subjectivity, and governance. Then Black lives matter in a Black country, or anywhere. I'll leave it there.

Jorge Marturano 1:08:28

Thank you very much, Deborah.

Jenny Sharpe 1:08:31

Okay. Yes, thank you. Thank you to both our speakers for these very thoughtful and thought provoking presentations. We will, the Q&A is now open for questions, you can type your question in. I'm speaking to the audience now. And you can direct your question to either one, either one of the speakers or both of them. So while we're waiting for you to formulate your questions, let me see if anything's popping up. Question for both. Can you type your question, please? Arlene Pesajen. Oh, sorry, I thought... "With BML, does security have to look different than safety?" And that's for both speakers.

Jenny Sharpe 1:09:24

Anyone who wants to take it first?

Deborah Thomas 1:09:30

I can -- I can start, I guess, and then I'll pass it off to Brenda. Um, yes. I mean, I think the, the, the point that I was trying to make is that security and safety occur at sort of opposite ends of the continuum. Security is about the state. It's about policing. It's about regulation. It's about carcerality, right? It's about keeping the world safe for a particular kind of economic production, a particular kind of sociality, which is one that's built on the backs of violence, violence against African Americans and Black people worldwide and violence against Indigenous communities across the world as well. Right. So safety has to be something else. Safety is something that we develop through relationship and through dialogue and through community problem solving outside of the boundaries of policing, right? And so I do believe they require they, they come out of two different worldviews, and they require two different forms of action.

Brenda Stevenson 1:10:43

I just add that I think the ways in which people look at Black revolutionary praxis is the notion of safety becomes very, very important, but it's safety with regard to home. And so it's not, it's, it's in some way it's safety against policing forces and the kinds of economic and political and cultural structures and institutions that rely on police to provide security, okay, for them. But it's also this notion that there will be a kind of communal appreciation of each other, that we will look at Black life as being valuable, that we will act as if Black life is valuable, and not just in relationship to the way in which security forces may interact with Black people, but the ways in which Black people interact with Black people, as well. And so while there is an, this desire to have a kind of, to have, to really have a sense of community and, and that everyone is on the same page at the same spot. With regard to the Black community and how we are treated and how we treat one another, there is recognition, as well, that there was a diversity within Black, you know, the Black community with regard to how we relate to the state, to security, and to our own personal and familial and smaller community safeties.

Jenny Sharpe 1:12:46

Okay, there's, we've got a number of questions in, I'm going to choose Rudy Acevedo, because it's for both speakers, or any of the two speakers, may answer. So what are some ways that we can be allies with the Black Lives Matter movement in ways that are meaningful and not merely performative?

Brenda Stevenson 1:13:12

Well, I think that the Black Lives Matter movement, um, they typically put up, you know, on their websites, they pick, they put up many different ways in which you can be supportive. And so, and I think that they realize that people have different things to bring to a revolutionary moment. And so they will provide lots of different opportunities for people to be invested in the movement. And they will, so that is available for you to do so. Now, there is a big debate, of course, about allyship and exactly what that means and how that happens. And whether or not it's mere performative versus something that is more meaningful to the person who is the ally, to those people that you're trying to ally with. I think that, you know, we all have to start at the beginning, which is to look at our own consciousness to our look at our own conscience and decide, you know, whether or not we take on the basic philosophical ideals of Black Lives Matter movement, which, of course, is equality, broadly cast. And so I'll stop right there and see if Deborah has something to add.

Deborah Thomas 1:14:38

I mean, I think what so many organizations have asked for is that everybody looks at their own spaces, and identifies the ways that White privilege are perpetuated and violence against Black people are perpetuated within their own spaces. You know, what about, what are your, what does your curriculum look like? You know, what do your classes look like? What does your department look like, what's going on in hiring decisions, etc, etc. Just, you know if academia is your scene. Um, one of the things, one of the reasons that we made the film that we made, FOUR DAYS IN MAY, which in the longer version features narratives of people talking about their experiences during the Tivoli incursion, and also publicly naming and memorializing loved ones they lost, that was important to us, because there had not to that point yet been a list of the dead released, there had not been an inquiry or even a motion toward an inquiry where there was an investigation of what had happened. And we felt that it was important for people to hear what happened, you know, because this community is like a boogeyman for so many people in Jamaica. They don't necessarily feel that people in Tivoli Gardens have the same humanity as other Jamaicans because of the political partisanship and because of how strongly that community is associated with one of the political parties and with particular histories of violence, right? So it was important to us to create the conditions in how we filmed it, how we edited it, for people to really hear, you know, what people experienced, and -- and we wanted to do that in order to create the conditions for people to see Tivoli Gardens residents as humans like themselves, and also, ultimately, possibly, to think through their own complicity in the maintenance of this kind of political war that creates a situation in which poor Black people are fighting against each other for resources. What is it that you do in your day to day world, in your day to day life in which you profit from this kind of political, what we have called tribal war, you know? That's a harder thing to assess whether that's happening or not. But ultimately, that's the aim, right? Because in order to recognize a situation as constantly and perpetually toxic, you have to see yourself as part of it. And then you have to act in a way that's different from supporting what that system enacts constantly. So, I mean, I think people do that in very different ways.

Jenny Sharpe 1:17:38

This is from Fred Daguov. Thank you, both speakers for your clarity and many insights, how to gender and class figure in the killing of Black people by state agencies in the Caribbean and at the hands of white supremacists here in the US? How do the arts figure in peace and love? And I think there's another question also about love and accounting from Gregory Esparza. My question about love and accountability and about police reform is for either speakers, and I think they're related. So I'm going to read both those because you can answer them together.

Brenda Stevenson 1:18:21

Well, I'm not going to talk so much about Jamaica, because that's not my expertise. But I will say in terms of looking at gender, and, and class in the United States, in terms of the way in which people are victimized or become victimized, one of the, lots of things do happen. One of the things I think we're all aware of is that people who tend to be marginalized economically, who are seen as poor, are often seen as criminals and are treated as such. And so this is an intersection or convergence not only up just, you know, of race and class together and also gender. And while Black men tend to be victimized very significantly, Black women do as well, particularly poor Black women, and then poor Black men, too. And so one of the things that we see happening is that there is a lot of focus on the Black males who are victimized by policing agencies in the criminal justice system in general, but not so much of Black females, that this happens to them and we've, you know, of course, there's movement #SayHerName, etc. But still, the emphasis is on males. And this is because we still live in a patriarchal society, and we still basically see things with regard to how male men are affected by versus men and women. But when we think about the ways in which women are impacted by racist, classist and also gendered abuses, what we also see is that women are, again, victimized because there is not focus on what happens to them. Okay? And women are expected, there's still an expectation that we will always lead off by talking about men, that that will become really the focus of our attention. And this is not just within the community, it's in the larger society, it's in the media, it is the way history is written, etc. And so we do see that, you know, race, gender, and class, of course, as well as generation, whether or not you're older, or whether you're younger, will, will have some impact on the ways in which you are treated. One of the things I think that African Americans historically think about in this country is that it hasn't mattered what class you were, to a certain extent, and so that, you know, we have the famous examples of the, you know, the athletes, or the movie stars, or the, you know, the businessman or etc, who are also, you know, knocked down by the police or, you know, etc. And so, and if we look at the long history, of course, of African descended people in this country, the ways in which the law has been imposed against, not as a protected but as a way to criminalize Black people really hasn't mattered, whether your gender or whether or not your class, either. And so, you know, there are lots of, I think, there are lots of layers to this environment, there are lots of layers to the ways in which Black people are treated by the criminal justice system in the larger society and within the community, because the Black community still tends also to be fairly patriarchal. And, you know, and with that, the focus, and I'm not saying Black Lives Matter are like that, because I don't think that it is. But nonetheless, they have an audience, and they have a group of people who participate with them, where, you know, the male is centered, and the young male in particular.

Deborah Thomas 1:22:29

The only thing I would add, I guess, just picks up on something that Brenda said, which is the added violence of the event not being about the woman, but the event being about a more generalized violence. There were a number of, during the quarantines, especially during the COVID quarantines, there were a number of women who died or were killed by the police from, really from, I guess, March to September this year in Jamaica, one of whom lived in a community that is seen as being one of these communities that's always wracked by violence, right? And in the aftermath of her killing, when the political representative for that community went to the community to meet with the family and, you know, do all of those things, the political representative framed the death of the woman, Susan Bogle, as a kind of casualty of, of a broader war. So framed it like, well, if all of this violence weren't happening in Augustown, that's the name of the community where she was from, then she wouldn't have died. So it's a way to kind of blame. It's a familiar narrative of blaming the victim, blaming the community for a death that is actually attributable to police. And, you know, their story was that, you know, gunmen were running through the house, and they shot after the gunman and accidentally hit her and therefore, she was just a casualty rather than an event, a life, an incident in her own right, right? And the family was very upset about that, because they felt that it sort of obliterated her subjectivity because it just framed her in this broader war, instead of seeing her death as an important death and her life as an important life in and of itself.

Brenda Stevenson 1:24:34

I just want to pick up on that, of course, that's exactly what people have been talking about with regard to Breonna Taylor, okay, that Brianna Taylor is killed is an accident, it's something that happened because they were, you know, trying to find her ex-boyfriend who was a criminal. All right. Exactly. And so it became actually you know, her fault because why did she have a boyfriend who had been a criminal? Alright? And so, so that is exactly what I'm talking about. Is it's kind of focused on the male who was, even who was absent, you know, he's not even there anymore. But the other thing, too, one of the things that happens with Black women and with Black girls and young children to address sexual assaults by policing agencies, the sexual assaults by policing agencies that don't get reported, that don't get focused on, that you don't read about in the newspapers, etc, which it's always been, you know, sexual assault has always been a way of dehumanizing, of destroying people, families, communities, and of course, the individual. And so when we talk about, I mean oftentimes will find, you know, when Black males are sodomized, for example, by the police,

Brenda Stevenson 1:25:51

We will,

Brenda Stevenson 1:25:54

there'll be a lot of news coverage of that, there will, you know, be lots of things that we hear, there'll be protests about, as well there should be, okay, and people put in jail and etc, for that, but there are just hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of women and girls who are sexually assaulted, who are forced to give sexual favors, etc, by the police. Um, and, and this is not something that, you know, that we publicly acknowledge, that we publicly protest, that we publicly work against, etc. So, and again, this is across class lines, um, too is not just something that is going to affect very poor, marginalized people, although poor, marginalized people economically and politically, because, been disfranchised also are really at the center of often what does happen across gender lines.

Jenny Sharpe 1:26:57

I want to read Gregory Esparza's entire question because I just sort of tagged it on at the end somewhat. How does love and accountability look like in terms of what Black Lives Matter has in mind for a better future to work toward and to build upon? Is this a notion about how people will organize only after police reform and defunding?

Deborah Thomas 1:27:24

Um, so, when I'm using that phrase, I'm really drawing from Aishah Shahidah Simmons' formulation, right, and her, her work on child sexual abuse and child sexual assault. And what she is talking about when she uses that phrase, and she has a volume, actually, that came out either earlier this year or last fall, also called Love with Accountability, that includes many narratives, poetry, different writings about these issues. what she means when she used that -- uses that term is that love is not enough to create a political future, that in fact, we have to own up to the various forms of violence we perpetuate within our communities, within our families. And that's the accountability that she's looking for at the most intimate level of the household, the family's face, to the broadest meta level of the, you know, the political scene, elections, etc, etc. So she's really trying to identify a process through which we examine the ways we are complicit in the perpetuation of the forms of violence into which we have entered in the United States, in Jamaica, all over the world, right? If we understand White supremacy to be global, and that we then seek to account for these ways in which we have perpetuated or participated in these forms of violence in order to do something different. And, you know, she's found this incredibly important in terms of her own healing and her own coming to terms with child sexual abuse. But of course, it's not limited to that context. So that's, that's what I mean when I say accountability. And it means, you know, accounting for the patriarchy within, you know, Black social movements, revolutionary movements, etc. Not just that, but that's one of the things.

Brenda Stevenson 1:29:37

I think that for, for many people who are associated with Black revolutionary movements or just, you know, change in Black life change, that love really means respect. You know, it means equality. I mean, it's not a romantic love. It's not a, you know, idealistic love. It is a love of people being the same as you. Okay? If you could approach a Black person with the same kind of intent, sense of this person having dreams, having a family, having a life that's worthwhile. That, for Black people, is the love that we need, that's the love. Because once you can do that, and you can then place yourself within the shoes, within the spirit, within the mindset, the perspective of that particular person, and there isn't this huge divide between them and me. And so, you know, the reduction of that divide is what brings you closer to a kind of love that Black people, um, that all people need to have towards other people in order to accept them. It's the kind of acceptance versus them love, but I do want to, for a moment, get back to this question about art. Okay, because, you know, Professor Thomas has shown us are wonderful film. And, and we're both involved in in art curatorships and, and production and all of that. And, you know, it's racism, and classism, and sexism, and all the isms that caused the kinds of problems that Black Lives Matter and other movements have tried to address. It's, those problems emerge out of a kind of denial of realities, of a kind of blindsightedness with regard to what our world is all about. And, and that blindness is, um, it's instilled in us, we're socialized towards it from the moment of, that we can recognize what's going on around us, or even before -- even before that, and so art, the media, um, you know, what we see, what we hear, whether or not we're in an art space, you know, or we're watching a billboard, or watching TV or whatever, plays a huge role, and socializing us to the other, to people outside of us, outside of our household, outside of our family, outside of our church, community, mosque, whatever, okay? And in order for us, this void between them and us to shrink, you know, the kinds of socializations that we have been repeatedly, um, victimized by our being a part of or being drawn into have to be, they have to interact with a different kind of so-socialization, a different kind of vision, a different kind of sound, you know, and so I think art is key, as are all other aspects of our lives, we have to invest in changing that narrative, in changing that vision. In changing that perspective. And art is a magnificent way to contribute to that change.

Jenny Sharpe 1:33:29

Sorry. Oh, go ahead. Go ahead. And I was just asking a question that kind of follows up on that. But if you'd like to add to what Brenda said.

Deborah Thomas 1:33:39

I was just gonna say the only thing I would add is that, um, you know, I came into academia very haphazardly and very circuitously and I had been a professional dancer for many years before I ended up in grad school. And I think art also is like, how we get free, you know, it's like, anybody who is a dancer knows that, at some point, everything comes together, the music, the movement, the sight of others, you know, and you actually are transported to a different plane. And I think once you have that experience, you want to always have that experience, because he knows what it feels like, you know, and I think on, you know, I agree with Professor Stevenson, everything that you said about the power of art to really hit people viscerally, effectively, help them to come to a different kind of understanding of the situation that they wouldn't necessarily come to by reading a text or something like that. But I think also internally for us, it also allows us to reach that, that other plane, you know, not every day, not all the time, but enough to make you keep looking for it.

Brenda Stevenson 1:34:59

Well, certainly if you look at the ways in which Black people across time have resisted, you know, our expression, you know, dance, music, dress, you know, speech, all of that -- gardening, you know, it's all been, you know, a way of not only gaining freedom, you know, just freeing ourselves from what, what bondages we have, but also of, you know, expressing who we are internally, expressing -- not allowing, you know, every form of oppression to erase what we are internally. Expression, artistically, speaks that, even when we are silenced in other ways.

Jenny Sharpe 1:35:43

So Tenille Warren asks, "Do you think Jamaicans or the Caribbean community as a whole will get to a place of acknowledging, exploring and addressing anti-blackness in a majority Black space?"

Deborah Thomas 1:36:00

Um, you know, I think historically, there have been many, many reckonings and coming to terms with that, it's just not always framed in that language. The ideology in Jamaica is, you know, we don't have that American racial problem, you know, for us, it's not a race, it's class, you know, but then, people don't say that, of course, class is racialized, and the same people who are poor are also darker, you know, or are working the kinds of jobs that a middle class person wouldn't want to work, or are the ones called upon at elections to fight against each other. So obviously, as was said earlier, these are intersectional categories of, of being, and it's a -- it's that,

Deborah Thomas 1:36:51

that amalgamation of

Deborah Thomas 1:36:54

racialized, classed, and gendered forms of oppression are not unique to the United States or Brazil or South Africa, or, you know, but they are, in fact, global. It's just that, you know, many people are socialized into thinking something else, you know, is thinking that something else is more important. And part of that is to sort of resist the kind of hegemony of the United States, I think, and also to resist an experience that many people have. Middle class people often, you know, when they migrate to the United States, and perhaps find out that they're Black, you know, for the first time in a way that they never experienced in Jamaica, and I think that's, you know, an eye opener for people, and either they reject it, or they embrace it and try to learn something about it. But every movement of the 20th century, and of course, far before that, has been a movement attempting to get people to come to terms with anti-Black racism in the Caribbean as well. Garveyism, Rastafari, no, these are all movements that explicitly condemn anti-Black violence in the terms of racism, but they're not often formulated -- now, they're not often thought about in that way. And so sometimes the -- the racial force of the argumentation is lost, as, as instead, people are kind of enveloped into sort of revolutionary, you know, oh, Jamaicans you know, we're very rebellious and revolutionary, and change things, etc, etc. But in fact, they were calling out, you know, these same individuals were calling out racism in their own society, and were vilified for it. Were persecuted for it. Were deported for it, right?

Jenny Sharpe 1:38:55

This is a question from Andrew Apter for Brenda. "Given that the Black Panther Party was originally founded for self defense, why is it so rarely referenced or invoked by the Black Lives Matter movement?"

Brenda Stevenson 1:39:11

Well, I'm not certain what, certain -- I'm not certain why the Black Lives movement doesn't call on the Black Panther Party or have their agenda, which was actually you know, all their points of reference and what they were hoping to improve is really, you know, beautiful and, you know, we're dealing with improving the community from the community outward. For example, I think that the Black Lives Matter movement, like many movements that deal with you know, Black, Black revolution, are somewhat reticent to talk about self defense because Black revolutionary movements are almost always criminalized, almost always thought as being a threat to society, of being dangerous, gun toting, you know, etc. And the notion that you align yourself with the Black Panther Party, which is still -- it plays out in the imagination of many people as being a violent organization that, you know, that was criminalized, etc. People tend to feel like, "That will even mark me even more as being, you know, not only revolutionary, but revolutionary equal criminal, revolutionary equal dangerous, a threat to larger society." And I also think that a lot of people don't understand the Black Power movement as being a movement that was inclusive, a lot of people think about the Black Power movement as being something that was exclusive, but there was a lot of cooperation between the, you know, the Black Panther movement, sorry, I said power, but the Black Panther movement, and other, you know, freedom movements at the time, you know, antiwar movement, for example, peace movement, etc. So, um, a lot of people still think of it as just being very isolated, and being very focused on a particular place. The same for, I might say, about the Garvey movement, a lot of people still think of the Garvey movement in that way, that it was very exclusive and not inclusive, and, and all of that. And so when in a time, when, you know, people have decided that revolution means allyship, it means inclusiveness, inclusive -- inclusivity, if you're not clear on your history, and you really don't know what the reality of these organizations were, and what their mandates were, and their agendas were, etc, you, again, you were influenced by the mythologies about, you know, Black revolutionary praxis, and those organizations associated with it. So even the most astute and well meaning organizations may decide that, "That's too much baggage for us." Okay. I'm not saying this is what Black Lives Matter thinks. But I know that other organizations have felt this way, have felt, you know, the Gaveyism represented something that was anti-Dubois, for example, anti-NAACP, or Urban League, or whatever, and the Black Panthers represent something that was anti-Martin Luther King, or the SNCC or, you know, other comes out saying, um, you know, etc. So that's what I would offer Professor Apter but that's, um, there may -- I'm sure there's much more to it than that.

Jenny Sharpe 1:42:40

Um, so, since I guess you mentioned sort of coalitions, I'm going to ask this question from Abraham Adnan. "There are many non-black leaders who understand and advocate for the course of BLM, what would be the best way to bring the non-black powerful voices and personalities to form a powerful coalition?"

Brenda Stevenson 1:43:09

Well, I think that, you know, we look at coalition building, we have lots of examples of it, you know, if you go back, as I said, to the Abolitionist Movement, if you go, you know, to the Civil Rights Movement as well, I think that in both of these movements, what the Black people involved wanted, indeed, to have allies and to build coalitions, but they also wanted to set the agenda, okay? As, you know, feeling as, you know, and rightfully so that these, this movement is particularly to impact, positive move, or positively my life, the life of Black people. You know, we really understand what needs to happen, we really need, we really understand, you know, what kinds of sacrifices other people, you know, have to be made and those kinds of things. And so I think people really want to have allies, should -- people really want to have collaboration with other people. But I think oftentimes, people who have initiated the movement, who are at the center of that movement, I mean, the movement is going to impact their lives so substantially -- they also want to have control over that movement. And a lot of times there is a sense for, as it was in the Civil Rights Movement, for example, and the Abolitionist Movement, that when other people get involved, that the agenda gets shifted, you know, and the kinds of ways in which people other people approach you know, getting to this point, that doesn't feel as if it is the correct way to move, that it's too much compromise. There's too much, you know, that has to be given up and, and you shift the focus away from what are the basic desires of the group that's mostly impacted by the wrong.

Jenny Sharpe 1:45:00

As we're approaching six o'clock, Robin and Jorge, do we have time for one more question?

Jorge Marturano 1:45:07

Yes. Yeah. Jenny, I would say yeah, one question.

Jenny Sharpe 1:45:12

Let -- we'll make it the last question. It's an interesting one. It's talking about the current moment in time. And this is from Jovante Anderson. "I'm interested in how race as an affective force is also operating in the moment moment in Jamaica and America to securitize space. For example, people in the garrison are thought to be disobedient and unwilling to follow social distancing rules. Just last week, dozens and dozens of non-compliant people were rounded up and thrown into vans without any protection. How do you see the carceral and atomizing strat-strategies of social distancing extending the reach of state violence? If so, I would love to hear from both speakers."

Brenda Stevenson 1:46:01

Well, I think that in the United States, there's been some focus in the media with regard to the ways in which Black people have been treated in communities that are considered -- that are poor, for example, with regard to COVID-19 regulations. And so as usual, there's a lot more surveillance, there's a lot more stopping of these people, questioning of people in these communities, arresting the people, citations for these people, etc. So I think that when we see the kinds of biases, the kinds of biases that you see in the law, in general, with regard to surveillance and criminality and incarceration, you see being played out in the ways in which COVID regulations are being designed and enforced. And so I think if we were to look at for, and I think The New York Times actually had an article that did look to a certain extent, on the percentages of people being stopped, and, you know, and given citations, etc, that they were, you know, the large numbers of persons were people of color versus, you know, people who were Caucasian or European descent, etc. So, I can say that in the United States, you know, there's been a lot of focus on, as usual, what are Black people doing or not doing correctly, or Latinx people. There's also this notion that, you know, of course, that Black people and Latinx people are driving the, after it was focused so much on people of Asian descent, and Chinese people in particular, that this was their disease, then it became that oh, Black people and Latinx people, and Indigenous people are dying at higher rates because they won't do what's correct. They are, you know, living in -- either they're being around each other, they're staying in crowded houses, they are not washing their hands. And so this whole notion that people of color, that marginalized people spread disease, are diseased, are unhealthy, also plays into the ways in which -- and are just, not going to follow the rules, you know, have played, I think, into the ways in which people of color have been approached and secured in COVID-19.

Deborah Thomas 1:48:32


Deborah Thomas 1:48:33

Um, hi, Jovante. Good to see you, or, well, I'm not seeing you, but it's good to hear from you. Um, yeah, you answered your own question, really. Um, you know, and I guess what I would add to what has just been said is that it is, it is akin to any other phenomenon of containment in Jamaica, that if middle class or elite Jamaicans are doing it, they're doing it in their homes and privately, and if poor or working class Jamaicans are doing it, they're doing it publicly, and because they're doing it publicly, they're more susceptible to being incarcerated for it in whatever way that incarceration happens, right? So whatever the, whatever the deviant behavior is, whether it's flouting a curfew, or it's something else, that scene is outside the boundaries of respectable citizenship. It's it's not that these, these things don't happen across class, as you know, it's that among upper classes, it's privatized. And it's happening in full view of everybody downtown. And you know, we see that also obviously, and you know, who is more affected by storms, for example, this week, what's happening with landslides downtown versus how beautiful it looks from you know, the hills. So I think those are -- those, those distinctions play out in every kind of phenomenon. And you know, COVID is just one of many others in that regard.

Jorge Marturano 1:50:17

Do you -- do you want to do, eh, one question more? Or we wrap up here?

Jenny Sharpe 1:50:25

Well, I think we should. Should -- I wish we could all informally assemble. I know that there were some questions having to do with where to find the films and things, I think you made -- did you answer it in the chat, Deborah, because I was looking for it and the question disappeared, from Shereen, asking, you know, where your film was available. And...

Deborah Thomas 1:50:47

I think that was where Aishah's book was available.

Jenny Sharpe 1:50:52

Okay. And

Jenny Sharpe 1:50:55

yeah, I think we've, we've kind of -- I noticed people are leaving. I, yeah. Do

Jenny Sharpe 1:51:01

you want to -- should I say the farewell, or you?

Jorge Marturano 1:51:06

Well, first of all, no, from Robin and me, thank you so much, no, Brenda, Deborah, and Jenny, no, was a fantastic panel, no? And we are very happy with so many people following this, eh, this talk. So thank you so much. Robin?

Jorge Marturano 1:51:29

You are on mute, Robin.

Robin Derby 1:51:32

Thank you, it was an incredibly -- an incredible start to, you know, a long conversation we'll be having the whole year, and it will be available on the International Institute website for those of you who had to miss part of it.

Brenda Stevenson 1:51:46

Robin, did you want to talk about the programming that's coming?

Robin Derby 1:51:50

Um, yeah. Well, we have, there's a enormous number of talks coming up, that are -- that represent various corners of the world. So I urge you to take a look at the International Institute website. Because we've got just a lot going on. There's just so many I can't even mention them all. But there is a very exciting series, so I urge you to take a look. Thanks, Brenda.

Jorge Marturano 1:52:11

There are, the-there will be, eh, on November, no, a talk on racial capitalism. No? Comparing, no, the Pacific and the Atlantic. No. And there will be an, I want to highlight this, no, eh, an event at the Latin American Institute organized by the Center for Brazilian Studies on Black Lives Matter in Brazil. No? That I think, no, it should. Interesting everybody.

Jenny Sharpe 1:52:41

Yeah, really interesting. Well, I want to thank the organizers, thank our speakers. And thank you for inviting me and thank the audience because without you and your questions and participation, in, even in this sort of restricted, remote form, this event would not have been possible. So thank you to everyone for making this so successful.

Brenda Stevenson 1:53:04

Thank you, Jenny.

Deborah Thomas 1:53:05

Thank you so much.

Jorge Marturano 1:53:08

Thank you, everybody. And good night.

Transcribed by

Duration: 01:53:11


Download file: GlobalPerspectiveSeries-ht-3md.pdf

Sponsor(s): Program on Caribbean Studies, UCLA International Institute, African Studies Center, Department of History

23 Oct 20
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

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