Calmly walking up and down the stage in Kemper Auditorium last Thursday, Professor David Canton discussed the history of racial and sexual violence in America to help give perspective to the events in Ferguson and across America. Canton said, “There is something much deeper than just Darren Wilson, Zimmerman and Pantaleo… It’s culture… We kill each other over our culture.”
According to Canton, racism did not exist for ancient civilizations, even those that employed the use of slavery. Racism, a social construct, he reiterated, came after slavery, as a means of slavery’s justification.
“[Ancient] people knew differences, but there wasn’t a system with advantages based on race. The Greeks enslaved everybody. Africans enslaved folks not in their ethnic group. So we’re black that didn’t matter. The Ashantians enslaved Non-Ashanti. The Arabs enslaved everybody– they didn’t care,” said Canton.
“Stereotypes were constructed to rationalize hierarchies, to rationalize inequality, to justify superiority. I have to justify why I’m dominating somebody. If I see you as my equal, it’s hard for me to stab a knife in your face, ” continued Canton.
Racism against black people, he said, arose after the institution of African slavery in the Americas.
“The criminalization of Black men started in 1790. As the free black population expanded in the north black men became criminalized by elite white men. [White men] saw these guys as a threat to their economic security and privilege… So [they] constructed a criminal… the black beast rapist,” said Canton.
This is reflected now in the recent discussions about race resulting from the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of white police officers, said Canton.
“Darren Wilson. Mike Brown. White police officers, big black hulks. They aren’t human beings, [people think.] They are animals. Black guys are strong, they’re fast, they are known for their physical prowess… They’re not thinkers. They’re not smart… We are in a rigidly segregated nation,” said Canton.
Canton said that the task of correcting the racist and sexist systems that reside in America lies on the shoulders of younger generations. He pushed students to read books and educate themselves on the history of racism and its profound and subtle effects on society, and create counternarratives about minorities to those portrayed in media.
“It’s really the millennials, folks 14 to 21 that are the future. [They] can do better, but it takes sacrifice,” said Canton, “[Students should begin] building a counter-narrative, a counter discourse, which explains how these things originated, how they reproduced and how they prevent this country from being what it is supposed to be.”
Canton is an associate professor at Connecticut College with a PhD in history from Temple University and a MA in black studies from Ohio State. Canton authored Raymond Pace Alexander: A New Negro Lawyer Fights for Civil Rights in Philadelphia, a winner of the 2011 W.E.B. DuBois book award, and is currently working on a new book project titled What Are You Going to Do About It.
He has recently released written an article in Building Knowledge (BK) Nation titled “We are Not Brutus Jones: Confronting Stereotypes and Eradicating White Police Violence against Black Men” discussing the criminalization of black men in detail. Canton has working with Andover since 2010 for its annual Martin Luther King Jr. workshops.