The 1968 Kerner Report was a searing indictment of white supremacy, yet only its recommendations to expand policing survive today, Professor Eddie Glaude *97 said at a panel discussion in Robertson Hall Oct. 19.
President Lyndon Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to determine the cause of riots in the 1960s and to recommend ways of easing racial tensions. Although the commission’s report pointed out systemic racism in education, housing, and employment, most of its recommendations were not adopted, said Glaude, the chair of African American Studies.
“There is a characterization of those who were engaged in the black freedom struggle of the 20th century as law breakers [in the report],” Glaude said, contributing to conceptions that African-Americans exaggerated police brutality.
The report repeatedly characterizes African-American communities as “disordered” and “in need of control,” Professor Imani Perry said. It also claims that African Americans are less hard-working than immigrants, she added, and represents black power as dangerous.
“Even with all its limits and flaws, the report stimulates a kind of conversation about race which I can’t imagine happening today.”
Professor Julian Zelizer
Although the Commission may have had good intentions, Perry said, it reproduced narratives that drive racial disaffection. “It effectively says we can identify the depth of racial inequality without doing anything about it,” she said.
Johnson was highly aware of the political right’s resurgence in the 1960s and tried to quash the report to protect his reputation, said Professor Julian Zelizer, who wrote the introduction for Princeton’s 2016 reissue of the report.
“Even with all its limits and flaws, the report stimulates a kind of conversation about race which I can’t imagine happening today,” Zelizer said, to which Glaude and Perry agreed.
“We are constantly limiting the expression of our values because we are afraid of triggering racism, which is explicit acknowledgement that it exists, that we want to navigate it instead of uprooting it,” Glaude said. “In this country there is a fundamental belief that white people matter more than others.”