This morning, I woke up in Paris to the terrible news that yet another unarmed black man, Walter Scott, had been shot to death by a white police officer in the United States. While the killing happened over the weekend, it took several days for the story to traverse the Atlantic and reach my consciousness here in France, where I am currently completing a book on French racism and the legacies of slavery.
As I watched the traumatic video of officer Michael Slager shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott — a father and Coast Guard veteran — two questions immediately came to mind:
What kind of a person shoots an unarmed human being in the back, then handcuffs them as they lay dying?
Even more to the point:
What kind of society allows black people to be routinely violated and killed by the state?
While I don’t have an answer to the first question, the second query is more straightforward. Anti-racist scholars have demonstrated that we are still living in a white supremacist society. As historian George Lipsitz (2006: xviii) writes in his brilliant book The Possessive Investment in Whiteness “the power, property and politics of race in our society continue to contain unacknowledged and unacceptable allegiances to white supremacy”. Continue reading “The Black Precedents of a Black President: White Supremacy and the Killing of Walter Scott”