History & Political Science

Worcester State University | June 2020

Making Sense of Policing, Racism, and Protest

A Note from the Chair of the Department

The month of June has been an incredible time to be a student of history and politics. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we have seen an unprecedented scope of protests against racism and police violence. Polling suggests that white Americans, in particular, have had dramatic, though not universal, shifts in opinion favoring Black Lives Matter. Formerly radical positions such as "defund the police" have become more mainstream. Comparisons to the 1960s abound, but the backlash against protestors in the 1960s around "law and order" does not appear - at least yet - to have mobilized a "silent majority" of people who despise the protestors, support the police, and resist change. As I have been watching these events unfold, and participating in some myself, I felt the need to speak to us all collectively as a department and to offer some paths to think about what is happening. I reached out to all faculty and staff in the History and Political Science department, asking for suggestions for resources, broader perspectives, and things to read or watch or listen to. Our recommendations are listed below.

I am deliberately sending this newsletter on the eve of Juneteenth, an African American holiday that celebrates black freedom more generally the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 (more on that below) in particular. At time when we are confronting the long history of racism in the United States, I also urge you all to celebrate the fullness and joy of African American life in the United States. For some, this may be about celebrating yourselves (in which case, know that you are joined in that celebration by many), and for others, this may be about broadening your perspectives (and maybe trying a new recipe or two).

As exhaustive as this resource guide might seem, it is only the beginning. I would love to expand this list of resources, so please share anything you've found resonant with me. And I would also love to open up spaces for discussion of these topics. Please reach out if that is something you would like to do, and we'll figure out how to make it happen.

Be well, find joy, be brave, and stay safe,

Charlotte Haller

Big picture


There are a lot of resources here, and we are just scratching the surface. A couple of notes:

I've tried to arrange things thematically to make it easy to find the things most interesting and useful to you.

These are issues and topics that people have been talking about, researching, theorizing, and writing about for a long time.

As you seek to educate yourself, try to find voices and perspectives you don't normally encounter. As you do, read (or watch or listen) from a position of empathy, respect, and understanding.

I've tried to link to free resources as possible (you may need to sign into your Worcester State library account to access some of them). If you run into a paywall, let me know and I'll try to find an alternative.

Big picture


This holiday, which marks the announcement of emancipation, and the end of slavery, in Texas, on June 19, 1865 (note that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863), is a time for celebration, good food, barbecue, and picnics. The color red is often prominently featured in the food - watermelon, red soda pop, and others. It's an opportunity to celebrate the creativity of African American cooks and soul food. Ben and Jerry's has a great explanation geared towards kids.

Big picture


Tanya Mears recommends, "In this time, people are also exploring and promoting “Black Joy”— celebrating Black people as a way of staying sane in an insane time. DJ D- Nice did an excellent live set using the theme of “Black Joy” on Instagram last night on his show Club Quarantine. He and his music has been a real refuge for me."

Both Amber Vayo and Tanya Mears specifically recommended "Dear White People" and Dr. Mears wrote, "Although the show is called 'Dear White People,' White people are tangential to the program. It explores the ups and downs of the Black experience with the magic of colorism, classism, systemic, and institutional racism sprinkled in."

Tanya Mears also highly recommends “Professional Black Girl,” a web series created by Yaba Blay who spoke at WSU a few years back. . . This is a program that celebrates Black (ADOS) women—their achievements and their lives. It’s really up-lifting."


Alison Okuda brings us home by reminding us that "Worcester has a legacy of welcoming and persecuting African Americans. There's WAM's past exhibition on Bullard's photographs of "Communities of Color" and the Clark University site dedicated to this research project: http://www.bullardphotos.org/ The co-curator of the exhibit is Clark's Janette Thomas Greenwood, who published the book First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862-1900 (2010)." (Link to a free ebook through Worcester State's library).

Mindy Marchand shared a spreadsheet sponsored by Yankee magazine, for black-owned businesses to support in New England. It has a great Worcester section!! And it is continuously updated.

Here is another list, shared by Joe Cullon, of black-owned Worcester restaurants and groceries specifically.

Big picture


Alison Okuda shared a new website that some of her friends have made: https://www.notariot.com/: "It offers a ton of resources for us and for our students to gain a better understanding of the history of racism in the US/world, Black Lives Matter, the protests, and how to move forward. Please share it widely!"

Michelle Alexander has a piece in the New York Times with lots of recommendations, all of which speak to the fact that questions of racism, policing, and black lives have been discussed, theorized, and chronicled for a long time.

Tona Hangen "appreciated and would recommend . . . Ibram X. Kendi's anti-racist reading list recently published in NYT Review of Books."

Amber Vayo reminds us that "Netflix, Amazon, and (I think) Hulu have all curated some great collections of fiction and nonfiction that relate to BLM and the longer and structural history of inequality, particularly racism. It's a great way for people to learn a lot."

Robin DiAngelo was scheduled to come to Worcester State in the spring of 2020 to discuss White Fragility, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19. Mary Flibbert shares that you can watch her talk on "White Fragility" on YouTube.

Christopher Fobare notes, "I’ve found the University of Richmond’s “Mapping Inequality” project to be a particularly powerful resource. The site, which was the brainchild of former OAH President Edward Ayers, provides visitors with the ability to superimpose redlining maps onto current U.S. cities. Additionally, it offers other digital history projects on, for example, the domestic slave trade."

Catriona Standfield reminds us that the history of racism and slavery is firmly grounded in Massachusetts. One starting point is an article on an exhibition about redlining.


This recent piece in the Washington Post by Matthew Delmont provides some historical context, both of black protest against police brutality and violence and of the insufficient white response.

The podcast Reveal's episode on "The Uprising" concludes with a segment with Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Bryant Sculos provides some global perspective with "a solid editorial from The Guardian on the global manifestations of the BLM protests."

Bryant Sculos also writes that, "In what I can only imagine was an oversight due to some sort of collective acid trip, the WSJ published this great opinion piece on the history and current use of the "outside agitator" narrative. . . It is by far the best piece I've read on this specific subject." If blocked by paywall, it is also available through the Worcester State library.

Christopher Fobare recommends Raoul Peck’s film, “I Am Not Your Negro” (2016), which "focuses on James Baldwin’s life to interrogate racial inequality in American society." It's streaming for free, along with several other excellent films (check out this Rolling Stone list here).


Megan Sethi recommended the 1619 project and podcast, which is a great, wide-ranging introduction to slavery and race in American history.

The documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay is powerful and a great introduction to the problem of mass incarceration.

Bryant Sculos recommends this piece as a great primer on the possible meaning(s) of police abolition from The Boston Review (from Aug. 2017, but still very useful).

Mary Flibbert recommends, "Get your tissues ready," and watch "Just Mercy." It tells the story of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson and "is one resource we can humbly offer to those who are interested in learning more about the systemic racism that plagues our society." It is streaming free this month.

Mary Flibbert also shared a piece from FLOODLINES about how rumors and misinformation about black people almost killed the survivors of Katrina.

Alison Okuda provides greater global perspective on anti-black violence with this relevant and timely article from the Nation.

Big picture


Megan Sethi alerted us to another potentially promising initiative that a couple of psychologists from the University of Florida have started: Academics for Black Survival and Wellness. As stated on their website, "Guided by a Black feminist frame, we hope to foster accountability and growth for non-Black people and enhance healing and wellness for Black people."

Catriona Standfield recognizes the need to take care of our mental health, and points us to this article which offers a large number of mental health resources directed toward Black people.


Erika Briesacher recommends Dominique Luster's Ted Talk about archives as activism that amplifies invisible and marginalized voices, as well as reports on museums collecting materials from Black Lives Matter marches and protests in the moment. Similarly, the Museum of African American History has released resources through their "Talking About Race" portal.

Alison Okuda writes, "as for academic books on the history of Black resistance, there's always the classic by Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism!" (link to free WSU ebook)

Amanda Katz recommends another book: "Walter Johnson's newest book The Broken Heart of America, which is an excellent depiction of our very troubled past, but also one that harkens our ability to be radical and invoke change."

Amanda Katz also recommends a wonderful blog post by Patty Limerick: "she continues to inspire me with her "maverick thinking," empathy, and ability to connect the oft-underrepresented history of the American West with today's issues."

Big picture


This powerful image by Kadir Nelson is an amazing portrayal of the power of history, and the people beyond George Floyd that shape our understanding of his death and what justice might mean. It is also a largely male image. Kimberle Crenshaw's concept of intersectionality helps to understand why this happens and why it is a problem.

Mary Flibbert shared this powerful online comic, "Who Gets Called an 'Unfit' Mother".

Inspiration and Solace through Art

Alison Okuda writes, "For beautiful, vivid, heartbreaking poetry-prose, I recommend Claudia Rankine's Citizen. I'm sure many of you have read it. I'm assigning it again in African Diaspora History this fall."

Below is one of Rankine's most recent poems.

Big picture
Joe Cullon shares a clip of the incomparable Nina Simone reflecting on the meaning of freedom.
"Freedom is a feeeling! Freedom is No Fear!" - Nina Simone - New York, 1968
Which pairs beautifully with Simone's performance of "How It Feels to be Free."
nina simone-montreux 1976 - how it feels to be free
Mindy Marchand finds wisdom and purpose from historical black activists, writing, "I have always found Maya Angelou, for example, to be an amazing and inspiring role model for women activists." Angelou's poem "Equality" "addresses and confronts the persistence of racial oppression but somehow manages to leave you feeling change is possible." And below is Angelou reading "Still I Rise."
And Still I Rise

Did I miss something that resonates with you? Please send it my way!

Charlotte Haller

Professor and Chair

Department of History and Political Science

Worcester State University

Worcester, MA 01602

Stay Safe, Wear a Mask