The upheaval of 2020 has laid bare the racial tensions and systemic oppression of people of color that undergird American society.
“American exceptionalism allows us to contain our ugliness.” — Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Princeton University.
The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the civil unrest that has filled the streets of our cities for months, the mainstreaming of and backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement and a global pandemic that has decimated communities of color have all brought issues of race and systemic racism to the fore. So has an election that has resulted in a Republican effort to throw away hundreds of thousands of mostly Black and Brown votes from cities including Detroit.
Although these issues are harder to ignore in 2020, they are not new, says Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. of Princeton University.
Listen: Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. talks about race and racism in 2020 and his new book on the life and writings of James Baldwin.
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. is chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and the author of the new book “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.” A 2019 clip of him speaking on MSNBC, where he’s a regular contributor on issues of race, politics, and religion, began circulating again in the wake of the November election, highlighting the through lines of racial injustice in our society.
Glaude talks with host Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today about “the efficiency of American exceptionalism as an ideology,” and says it’s important to recognize that the racism we’ve seen in the Trump era is not new — it’s simply louder.
“Part of our work is to not allow Americans to be ahistorical, not allow us to decontextualize the moment, to see it as a one-off instance, but really to try to map as best we can the context that produces this,” says Glaude.
“The American ideology consistently allows us to let ourselves off the hook.” — Eddie S. Glaude, Princeton University.
“American exceptionalism… allows us to contain our ugliness, to always narrate it in terms of the inevitable progress toward a more perfect union,” he continues. “So, the American ideology consistently allows us to let ourselves off the hook. The question is a perennial question of ‘is this America?’ because of that aspirational claim that is built into the very self-understanding of who we are as Americans.”
“If we’re already the shining city on the hill, if we’re the redeemer nation, an example of democracy achieved, then the idea of a more perfect union involves in some ways our ongoing march to perfection. We might never achieve it, but it’s destiny,” says Glaude. “And so, in that sense, America’s special charge protects us from the actual evidence to suggest otherwise. And so, part of what we have to do is deconstruct this exceptionalism.”