Faculty News

Exploring Social Movements in the Fight Against Racism

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Matthew Countryman, PhD, associate professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, History, and American Culture and chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, explores the 2020 demonstrations against systemic racism and police violence and how they compare to social movements throughout history.

Countryman’s research focuses on African American political and social movements, primarily in the second half of the 20th century. He is examining the current protests from a historical perspective, which he says helps us understand what’s happening now and how it might shape society.

“This is unprecedented in scale and scope,” he says of the recent demonstrations across the US. “We have not seen this level of mass participation cutting across all kinds of racial differences, encompassing a whole nation.”

What Countryman finds most fascinating is the way in which these demonstrations are pulling from previous protests to impact change.

“It’s as if the protesters are connecting to those traditions,” he says. “It’s interesting to see what the movements are drawing from history and how they’re trying to build on those movements.”

He adds that it is important to think about how history impacts everyone and apply that to today’s climate. He says looking at it this way will lead us to “rethink not only the present, but also to rethink our own history” to try to make sense of why things haven’t changed yet.

Learn more in this episode of Michigan Minds.

Read Countryman’s feature in The Conversation: 2020 Uprisings, Unprecedented in Scope, Join a Long River of Struggle in America