In conversation with Vanessa Thompson

Addressing anti-Black racism is deeper than representation

Vanessa Thompson talks impacts of BLM.
Journal File Photo

Having just arrived at Queen’s a month ago, Vanessa Thompson, assistant professor in Black Studies, is one of the first faculty members to form the newly established Black Studies minor program.

The Journal spoke with Thompson on the long-term impacts of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the summer of 2020.

“It depends on the socio-historical but also national-specific contexts,” Thompson said in an interview with The Journal.

“If we really want to talk about a kind of internationalist dimension of Black insurgence and rebellion, then 2020 is a very historic moment.”

Thompson specifically touched on demonstrations that took place in Paris, Berlin, and London, as well as those that followed the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery in the U.S.

While the reach of BLM has been monumental, there’s substantial work to be done to combat anti-Black racism.

Originally from Germany, Thompson referred to both European and North American sentiments.

“There was a kind of commitment to take in an anti-racist stance with regard to the U.S., and that’s something which we can observe quite often,” Thompson said.

“What I observed was there was a kind of promise of reckoning, but what we see now is that it’s on a rather representational dimension.”

Thompson said this increase in representation—like seeing more Black folks in advertisements—is not “forcefully bad.” However, the public needs to implement structural change instead of symbolic commitment statements to see true action.

“What we actually see increasing are, for instance, policing budgets and expansions, as well as the criminalization of Black and Indigenous movements,” she said.

“Although there is a kind of political symbolic commitment to anti-racism, at the same time, a lot of what the movements were actually calling [on is to] defund the police, reinvest in social democratic structures like social housing.”

Despite the lack of structural change, Thompson has observed deeper commitments within educational institutions.

“Universities [are] trying to grapple with the question or the problem of anti-racism, not only outside of the university but also within,” she said.

This includes questioning how course materials are taught, representation in instructors, and what a student body looks like.

“Transformation is not just a question of having more Black hires,” she said. “But [it] is in terms of tackling the colonial continuities of the university, and also the struggle against racism within and beyond the university.”

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