In her interview with the New York Times, philosopher Judith Butler responds to some Americans' concerns about the Black Lives Matter movement using an argument similar to W.E.B. DuBois's criticism of the American "color line." Dubois wrote that "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea."
DuBois thought that the color-line persisted even after slavery was abolished, because black Americans were still perceived as Other in some fundamental way (and so experienced themselves as Other, too, in the "peculiar" sensation DuBois called "double consciousness"). In the same vein, Butler says, "When we are talking about [the history of] anti-black racism in the U.S., we have to remember that under slavery black lives were considered only a fraction of a human life, so the prevailing way of valuing lives assumed that some lives mattered more, were more human, more worthy... But when and where did black lives ever really get free of coercive [violence]? One reason is that it states the obvious, but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint. [It] also links the the history of slavery, of debt peonage, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, [plus] a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash, all because some officer perceives a threat..."
Before you give your opinion on Butler's statement, you might want to re-watch these videos from class:
-DuBois Biography (3 minutes - consider his debate with Booker T. Washington's "accomodationist" ideas)
-Butler's Philosophy of Gender (4 minutes - is her point about "social constructs" a. true? b. applicable to race?)
You might also want to check out any of these videos which provide additional background on the issue:
-An interview with the Black Lives Matter movement's co-founder
-Report on the Tamir Rice shooting that Butler mentions - is the forensic expert
And here are two pieces of commentary, one against and one defending Butler's view:
-Black Seahawks player Richard Sherman criticizes the BLM movement
-ESPN's "His and Hers" hosts criticize Sherman's comments as harmful to black Americans
Mr. Justin Biggs