American Studies Association Calls for Renewed Focus on Racial Justice, Strengthened Solidarity Among Activist and Scholars at the Forefront of Social Change October 9, 2015

The American Studies Association called today at its annual meeting in Toronto for a renewed focus on racial justice following more than a year of high-profile deaths of people of color by increasingly militarized American law enforcement. In his address to the 5,000-member organization, ASA President and Foundation Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas historian David Roediger also appealed for a continued strengthening of solidarity among those at the forefront of social change.

As Roediger argues in his 2015 Byron Caldwell Smith Award book Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All, there are often important and unrecognized connections between the struggles of the oppressed. After Emancipation, unexpected solidarities developed between slave liberation activists and the struggles of Northern laborers and feminists. Similarly, after the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, new connections have been fostered between the Black Lives Matter movement, immigrant rights organizations, LGBT groups and Palestinian activists

“The impressive solidarities that emerged and matured in and beyond Ferguson among a diverse group of activists are to be commended,” Roediger said. “However, history shows us that these solidarities do not come easily and must be deeply interrogated and struggled over in a continual search for new insights into better ways to support social justice movements.”

Roediger reminded the audience of the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “All good causes are mutually helpful.”

Finally, Roediger acknowledged the work of the two past ASA presidents Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez on academic freedom and the academic boycott of Israel respectively, noting: “Recent events concerning the University of California Board of Regents, as well as a report released last week by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal remind us that serious threats to freedom of speech and academic freedom for students and professors at American universities have become even more urgent in the past few years. Moving forward, we renew our commitment to actively speak out and engage our members and the public on these issues.”