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Professor Parker's Perspective on the George Floyd Protests

Prof. Christopher Sebastian Parker

Chris Parker

Could THIS time Be different?

This time could be different, but the jury—at least for me, remains out. It’s easy for one to believe that the sum of recent events will lead to more enduring racial progress. Race-based health disparities rendered visible by the current pandemic. Check. Blue on black violence. Check. The election of a racist president. Check. By virtue of the sheer weight of these combined events, how could one possibly gainsay the proposition that the current moment will result in more permanent racial progress? Here’s how. Race-based health disparities have always existed; the pandemic merely reminds us of this. Blue on black violence is as old as the republic; in fact, this isn’t even the first time police brutality catalyzed nationwide unrest. The latter half of the 1960s attests to this. And, of course, racist presidents have long existed, too (does Woodrow Wilson ring a bell?).

Nonetheless, I think it’s possible that the present conflagration may well represent an inflection point. The potential to make this moment different is, I submit, the so-called "white moderate," a term deployed by Martin Luther King Jr. in his dispatch from a Birmingham Jail in 1963. Moderate white people assumed a perch in no man’s land during the Civil Rights Movement; they weren’t practicing white supremacists, but they weren’t racial progressives, either. Basically, the refused to take a side, yet benefited from white supremacy. For this reason, King suggested that if they weren't part of the solution, they were part of the problem. In the present context, moderate white people are those who recognize that racism is wrong but choose to do nothing about it. This is the case even though they, like their forebears, are better off thanks to the persistence of white supremacy. However, recent evidence suggests that moderate whites might be ready to break with President Trump’s blatant racism. Not only Democrats, but a majority of political independents in the United States say they are repulsed by Trump’s racism. This represents a shift, for 46% of independents supported Trump in 2016.

Only time will tell whether Trump will continue to alienate white folks in the middle. If he does, Americans finally might move toward an anti-racist majority.

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