September 28, 2017

Civil rights activist shares his perspective on current political climate

On September 27, members of the University and Redlands community gathered in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel to hear journalist and civil rights activist Shaun King speak on the current political landscape. For the past three years, King has used social media to highlight and discuss news relating to civil rights issues, ranging from racial discrimination to police brutality. 

The event, organized by the Associated Students of the University of Redlands (ASUR), had originally been part of the 2017 Spring Political Series and was rescheduled after King sustained a shoulder injury in February. The series featured speakers from across the political spectrum, bringing a wide range of ideas and opinions to the U of R campus. 

“In establishing a series on contemporary politics in the U.S., it is vital to hear a variety of perspectives,” said Leela MadhavaRau, associate dean for Campus Diversity and Inclusion, in her introduction to the event. “In selecting the speakers, organizers attempted to bring those who enhanced the level of intellectual debate, rather than those who resort to name calling and ad hominem attacks.”

King began his talk with a personal history, explaining how he ventured back into social justice activism after working in the nonprofit sector for 15 years. In 2014, he received an email from a friend with the video of Eric Garner dying after being put in a chokehold by a New York police officer. “When I saw that video, it immediately shook me up and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days,” King said. “I thought that if I shared the video on social media, someone would be held accountable.”

King said he continued to share videos of police brutality, as these events began to define an era of American history. “It’s hard to know a moment in history when you’re in it. For example, in 1954 no one was calling it the ‘civil rights movement’—the country was in the middle of it, but no one knew it yet,” King said. 

To give people context for the current moment in history, King introduced the audience to Leopold von Ranke, the founder of modern source-based history. “Learning about Leopold von Ranke informed how I understood the election of Donald Trump and the rise of white supremacy in this country,” King said. “Von Ranke assumed that, throughout history, human beings were getting better and better. But what he actually found that as technology was getting better; humanity faced ups and downs.”

King labeled humanity’s downturns—including the transatlantic slave trade, the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, September 11th, mass incarceration, and now the election of Donald Trump—as “dips.” “Whenever there’s an introduction of innovation that disturbs the primary people in power, there is a backlash,” King said. 

Four components are necessary to get out of any dip, according to King:

  • Energy. “Think of it as riding your bike up the biggest hill of your life,” King said.
  • People. King identified gatherings such as the airport protests after the travel ban executive order and the Women’s March as examples.
  • Organization. King admitted that this component brings difficulty, saying, “I don’t think we are organized enough to find our way out of this yet.”
  • Hope. “History teaches me to be hopeful,” he said.  

In his final words, King emphasized resilience. “When humanity is in a dip, it’s hard to be hopeful,” King admitted. “But no matter what, we have always found our way out.”