Ferguson as a Failure of the Humanities

Professor George Lipsitz of of US Santa Barbara delivered a guest lecture in the Department of African American Studies on May 1, 2015. He was invited to campus by Jordan Camp, a postdoctoral fellow in African American Studies.

Ferguson as a Failure of the Humanities

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the events that transpired in its wake make the present time a moment of conjuncture. People who take up the cry for justice in “Ferguson” are focusing on more than one event and more than one place. Like the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927 or the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955, the killing of Michael Brown has become a signifier that crystalizes the experiences of an entire era. It exposes the mendacity of power and reveals the urgency of popular resistance to the unlivable destinies that racialized capitalism metes out. This “Ferguson” demonstrates a failure of the criminal justice system, the political system and the economic system, but it also illuminates a grievous failure of the humanities.  The realm of knowledge devoted to promoting judgment, discernment and empathy, to envisioning a creative common existence has instead generated methods of evasion, denial and disavowal grounded in methodological individualism, hostile privatism and fear laden fantasies of dehumanized others.  In the face of this failure on the part of the official institutions and academies of the humanities, however, grass roots artists and activists are authoring and authorizing ways of being and ways of knowing that interrupt habit, resist authoritarian single-mindedness and identify value in undervalued places and undervalued people.


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