Q&A with ‘Black Lives Matter’ seminar professor Daniel HoSang

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A memorial for Michael Brown. (Creative Commons).

This interview is part of a larger story about the unique courses offered at the University of Oregon, which can be read here.

Political Science 407: “Black Lives Matter”

What goes on: Centered around Michael Brown’s death and the riots that followed in Ferguson, Missouri, this seminar will focus on the social movement and connect its principles to the multiple instances of police abuse, redlining, income inequality, student activism and the history of segregation in America.

When it’s offered: begins Winter 2016.

Credits: 4.

Hours in class per week: 2 hours 40 minutes.

Course fees or prerequisites: None.

Emerald: What do you have planned for the seminar?

Daniel HoSang: A lot of it is going to be putting the last year and a half of events into context for students, from “Hands up” to [Michael Brown’s death and the following riots in] Ferguson to [Freddie Gray’s death in] Baltimore. It’s just police abuse, but also segregation, income inequality. The last part of the course will connect it to student activism and in particular, the way racial justice activists have viewed college campuses and higher education as an important site for their work. It’s about making connections between Ferguson, Black Lives Matter and larger movements for racial justice.

When the Black Lives Matter representatives met with Hillary Clinton, it seemed like both sides were telling each other that they needed the other one to tell them what to do. Mainstream democrats and white liberals, in particular, have quite intentionally shied away from race and racial inequality. That’s where the sentiment comes from the BLM activist, which is ‘You have to take initiative and figure out why it’s important and what role it’s going to take in your platform.’ And that’s the same thing they said to Bernie Sanders. That’s part of what challenged him. If you’re really going to represent everyone and be a progressive leader, you have to have something to say about this.

It was a much more aggressive way they confronted Bernie. It was a much more cordial exchange with Clinton, overall. I think that’s more a product of the kind of access they had. The Bernie event in Seattle was planned by activists. Whereas Clinton handlers, when they saw that developing knew they had to engage the Black Lives Matters out in the open. They’re not operating from one national office, so they’re actually quite autonomous from one another.

What is the homework going to look like? We’re going to read. It’s going to be centered in Ferguson, starting with Michael Brown’s shooting, looking at its history of education segregation, redlining, income inequality and unwinding back from that. The rich set of documents and analysis about St. Louis [from the Department of Justice] will be used as a case study.

There will be a chance for students to develop their own research projects related to BLM. The course is trying to show students’ relationships between these events so we don’t just see it as an individual conflict between two people, but it’s connected to different structures. Together with students, we figure out what the connections are between why this happened and what can be done to address it.

What implications did the Department of Justice’s investigation have for Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown? It might be easier to understand if he were a rogue officer operating outside the law. But the more damning part is that [Wilson] was not just acting within the law, but within a really coordinated approach to public policy that continually reinforces racial segregation and exploitation. Ticketing people for very minor infractions who couldn’t pay, and using the money to keep the city government going. That sets that context for why Darren Wilson would so aggressively confront Michael Brown.

This story was originally published for The Daily Emerald on Sept. 30, 2015 at http://www.dailyemerald.com/2015/09/30/qa-with-black-lives-matter-seminar-professor-daniel-hosang/

More stories I’ve written for the Emerald can be found here.

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