Fordham Hosts Panel on Black Lives Matter and Politics

Isabel Danzis, Assistant News Editor

As a part of Black History Month, the Department of African American Studies hosted a virtual panel discussion last Thursday on “Black Lives Matter and the American Political Landscape.” 

Laurie Lambert, an associate professor in the African & African American Studies department, moderated the event and was joined by three experts who spoke on a variety of topics related to the current political climate for Black people in the United States. The panel included Catharine Powell, a law professor; Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science and Michele Prettyman, a scholar of African American cinema, visual and popular culture. Each moderator spoke for roughly 15 minutes on a specific subject, and the whole event ended with a Q&A with the audience. 

Powell’s section was called “The Color of Covid and the Gender of Covid.” Powell said she coined the phrase “the Color of Covid,” which was cited in a CNN series by Don Lemon and Van Jones about the racial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Powell said that in the United States, “we seem to have interlocking pandemics.” “One is a pandemic of racism, sexism and poverty, while the other is COVID-19,” she said. Powell explained that most essential jobs, such as grocery store clerks and delivery drivers, are held by Black and Latinx people. This puts these groups at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than other races, so these communities tend to have higher transmission rates, said Powell. Black and Latinx people also have the highest rates of unemployment and are most likely to have a lost job due to the pandemic, said Powell. 

Powell also examined how vaccine distribution has been inequitable to the Black community. She explained that over 60% of vaccines have gone to white people. “There are two viruses spreading and killing and destroying people: the coronavirus and discrimination,” said Powell. 

Powell also explained how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. Women are extremely overrepresented in the “invisible workforce,” which consists of people who stay home to take care of children and the elderly, she said. Consequently, women became more likely to quit their jobs when the pandemic began in order to stay home with children and help them with online school. 

Greer began her section of the evening, “Black in Biden’s America,” by outlining the “four legs of American democracy: White Supremacy, Antiblack Racism, Patriarchy and Capitalism.” 

“Every single policy in America has a racial undertone,” said Greer. 

Greer said she felt President Joe Biden’s new diverse cabinet is a step in the right direction for the United States. Greer also said she believes last year’s Black Lives Matter protests taught Americans about the power of protest and its ability to affect policy. Public acts of care show politicians that there is an issue and can help convince them to do something about it, Greer explained. 

Prettyman’s presentation focused on the film industry and how films can affect the way that people view others. She used the famous and controversial D.W. Griffith film, “The Birth of a Nation,” as an example of this effect. 

The film is an “extremely racist” and “disgusting” work from 1915, said Prettyman. In its time, it was very popular despite its offensive nature. It was so popular, explained Prettyman, that former President Woodrow Wilson screened it at the White House. 

“The Birth of a Nation” is a seminal work in American cinema because it has such great social and societal implications, said Prettyman. She explained that the film had a direct effect on the resurgence of the KKK in the 20th century along with an increase in anti-Black racism and hatred. 

New movies can help to change the way that Black people are portrayed, said Prettyman. For example, in the 2012 movie “The Middle of Nowhere,” Black people are portrayed as “very calm and chill,” she said. This movie and others like it can have a positive impact for the Black community beyond the world of film, said Prettyman. Works of art can have “ripple effects” on the rest of society.