In the first of a series of teach-ins on social justice, faculty members in the Department of Religion and Culture shared the ways in which their research intersects with state violence against Black people amid a global conversation about systemic racism.

The educators presented their findings through a virtual event, Teach-In on Anti-Black State Violence.

The webinar was part of a series of discussions on race relations organized by several departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. The series launched during a surge in mass protests against systemic racism following the killings of black people in the United States, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

Participating in the panel discussion were Brian Britt, a professor of religion and culture; Sylvester Johnson, a professor of religion and culture and director of the Center for Humanities; Shaily Patel, an assistant professor of religion and culture; Dominique Polanco, a research associate; and Balbir K. Singh, an assistant professor of religion and culture. Matthew Gabriele, a professor and chair of the department, served as moderator.

The panelists presented in the order of the historic periods they were discussing, beginning with Patel, an assistant professor of early Christianity. Patel discussed Christian persecution complexes, white evangelical Christianity, and anti-Blackness in her presentation. She also considered the themes of martyrdom and persecution in ancient Christian texts, and how those narratives have influenced some groups within Christianity in relation to race.

During her presentation, Polanco focused on anti-Blackness in Mexico. She discussed how the presence of Black people in Mexico has been marked by slavery and prejudice, and how scholars and politicians have largely erased Afro-Mexicans from the nation’s history. She also touched on support for Black people from the Latinx community and other communities in the fight against white supremacy in the United States.

Britt discussed intersecting ideas of people and property at the heart of contemporary anti-Black violence. He presented a brief account of the roots of this violence in John Locke’s theory of property, the use of religious traditions by racist ideologies, and the militarization of violent policing through international partnerships.  

Singh then discussed research on the abolition of policing and police. In response to the current calls for justice, she said it’s necessary to think alongside abolitionist politics to imagine a world without police and the prison-industrial complex.

Finally, Johnson explored the effects of the FBI’s counterintelligence program against organizations during the Civil Rights Movement, and the labeling of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2017 as a “Black identity extremist” movement. Johnson also discussed how patterns in policing and national security established in the 1960s persist in today’s society.

Visit the Teach-Ins on Social Justice page to learn about past and future events.

Written by Andrew Adkins