A Missed Opportunity: What Karen Bass Could Have Accomplished as VP for Communities of Color

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Christiana Verdelus. Verdelus is a Haitian-American woman, feminist, and first-generation college student studying Health Education and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida. This work was inspired by her research on women of color and substance abuse treatment approaches and was completed through the Preston Haskell Faculty and Student Award program. 

My first presidential election is right around the corner and let me tell you—I am not looking forward to it. Don’t get me wrong: making Biden and Harris the next leaders of this nation is definitely a small step (or maybe a tiptoe) in the right direction. But I’m angry that it’s only my first election and I’m already tired of settling. 
 
Within our polarized society, Republicans administrations are known to exacerbate issues that disproportionately affect people of color. But Democrats have neglected important issues. Just getting Trump out of office isn’t going to single-handedly repair black and brown communities. I am happy that history is being made with a black woman nominee for Vice President. But “representation” won’t rebuild these communities either. Every four years we spend holding onto hope that the next election will bring real change is another four years of governmental abuse and abandonment of communities of color. As a nation we cannot afford it.  And as a black woman and a feminist, I won’t stand for it.

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Teaching Points: The Urgency of History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. He contributes to our Teaching Points series, which investigates the role of alcohol and drug history in the classroom. 

Things have changed.

In February, I wrote what now seems like a rather whimsical preview of my newly fine-tuned version of a Drugs in American History course at Utica College in the Spring of 2020. About two weeks into that ill-fated semester, I highlighted the “enrollment crisis” in history programs, perhaps the central issue among academic historians in the last decade, and how the History Department at Utica College was attempting to retool its history major to appeal to students’ interest in their world. I then discussed the results of my course survey, which brought out the various issues in drug history that interested my students and that I was going to center the course on.

At the time, based on the interactions at the start of the term, I was very optimistic. My optimism rose as we explored David Courtwright’s Forces of Habit as the course’s foundational/theoretical framework over the first seven weeks of class. As the Covid-19 crisis rose to engulf us here in New York State, the class was about to make the transition from theory to research. Students had chosen a “drug category” and were preparing to use basic research tools, also introduced during the first half of the course, to create a 5 minute research presentation (and accompanying 5-7 page research paper) exploring one of the major themes from Courtwright’s book within their chosen category.[1]

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Incomparable? George Floyd, Adama Traoré, and the War on Drugs in the Sister Republics

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore.

Screenshot 2020-07-07 at 6.54.53 AM

In late May massive protests erupted in the U.S. and France in response to police brutality against people of color. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on 25 May, which compounded tensions already heightened by the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery weeks earlier, prompted demonstrations in dozens of cities across the U.S., many of them met by militarized police units deploying flashbangs, tear gas, and rubber bullets in the name of “law and order.” In France, the government’s official denial on 29 May of an appeal for justice by the family of Adama Traoré, murdered by French police in July 2016, sparked a protest at Porte de Clichy in northwest Paris, where 20,000 people chanted the shared last words of Floyd and Traoré in French, “Je n’arrive pas à respirer.” A key organizer of the protests, Assa Traoré (Adama’s sister), declared in a speech, “Today, when we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traoré (…) What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France.”

Though the similarities between the lives and deaths of Traoré and Floyd are many and striking, the French government, through its spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye, officially declared that the men’s deaths and resulting mass demonstrations were “not exactly comparable, neither in terms of history nor in terms of the organization of society.” In France, Ndiaye argued, “there is no instituted state violence.” President Emmanuel Macron also chimed in, arguing on 10 June that universities were to blame for “ethnicizing the social question” for financial gain, radicalizing students, and “breaking the Republic in two.” 

While there have been comparably fewer deaths in police custody in France in recent decades, drug policing in the Hexagon, as in the U.S., is deeply rooted in the nation’s colonial past. And the cases of Floyd and Traoré, and 1000s of others who suffered similar fates, are unfortunately the latest chapters in the still-unfolding histories of colonial policing in both republics.

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