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UW professor: 'Hard to be an optimist,' but this time could be different

Portrait courtesy of Christian Sebastian Parker
Composite by Parker Miles Blohm
UW political science Professor Christopher Sebastian Parker wrote an essay about whether this moment of racial reckoning is any different than those in the past.

As a country, the United States has had previous moments where race has come to the forefront of our national dialogue, and where protests have called for change.

Politico Magazine recently published takes from a handful of experts about whether this current moment of racial reckoning is any different than those previous. They included an essay from Christopher Sebastian Parker, professor of political science at the University of Washington. 

He wrote that it's possible this moment is different, and talked to KNKX about why, as well as his doubts.

“I’m a Black man in America,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to be an optimist, especially if one is educated, because one then knows the history.”

Parker also wrote on patriotism in a July 5th column in The Seattle Times.

You can listen to the conversation in the audio player above. We’ve also included an extended version of the audio at the end of this post. This is the latest in a series of conversations featuring Black voices from around our region, talking about race, social justice, police brutality and the country's moment of reckoning. Find links to some of our prior conversations, below.


On what’s new this time: “We have a racist president. COVID is really laying bare, along with what happened in the wake of George Floyd, police brutality and health disparities based on race. We’ve always had racist presidents. Most people … have known for a long time that there are race-related health disparities. This isn’t the first time police brutality has kicked off or sparked urban unrest. So what is new about this? What’s new about it is the confluence of all of these things. For Black folks, this is constant for us. But for white folks, they’re like ‘Oh my God.’ Even though we’ve had racist presidents in the past, they have mainly done it… through the use of dog whistles, like saying we need more law and order. But with Trump, he has ripped the covers off.”

On allyship: “There was a survey recently conducted by a colleague at the University of Maryland. She surveyed protesters in New York City, 61 percent of whom were white. And that’s a good thing. But the problem is these are exigent circumstances. People are confined for the most part – or they should be – to their homes, and they’re forced to watch these images of George Floyd getting murdered over and over again, and reports of Breonna Taylor, and then of Ahmaud Arbery getting killed by these white vigilantes, one of whom was a retired cop.” Parker says many of those demonstrators were sincere, but that the cynic in him worries some joined because it meant getting out of the house – and that their support will wane over time.

On defining patriotism: “You get these right-wingers that say ‘America, love it or leave it.’ That’s not patriotism, especially if the country is not realizing the values on which it was founded. The big problem with the United States isn’t about the values, it’s about the lack of universal applications of the values. You have this gap that separates social practice from beliefs and values. If these things can come into alignment, a lot of our problems would be solved. It is incumbent on the patriot to hold the country accountable to realize the promise of democracy, and in this case American democracy, which consists of freedom, equality and toleration. As long as we’re not practicing those, the patriot is obligated to criticize the country. This country was founded on dissent, period, full stop.”

EXTENDED AUDIO: UW political science Professor Christopher Sebastian Parker, talking with KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco. Producer: Geoffrey Redick.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.