Oct 31, 2016
In Episode 12 of The Rights Track, Todd talks to
Dr Karen Salt and
Dr Christopher Phelps from the University of Nottingham about
human rights in America through the lens of race. He asks his
guests whether a Truth Commission might play a positive role in
giving Americans the opportunity to pause for thought about some of
the underlying problems facing American Society today.
- Todd introduces this special final episode of Series 1 of The
Rights Track by introducing his two guests and by explaining a
little about why he wanted to take some time to discuss recent
events in US in respect of violence against African Americans. He
references two articles he has written - one on the statistical
evidence surrounding the disproportionate levels of violence
towards Black Americans and the second on his belief that America
ought to consider setting up a Truth Commission to examine some of
the underlying problems facing American society. He goes on to
explain what a Truth Commission might look like.
- Todd references a recent UN report by the
Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent which
also recommends a human rights commission .
- Karen talks about the importance of finding the right way to
talk about race, violence and related issues. She mentions her
research project, The Trust
Map, which is looking at how trust can be repaired within
minority communities. She says it’s important to think not just
about a Commission, but about what would follow on from it.
- Todd mentions President
Obama’s Commission on Police Violence - Dallas Police being
held up as exemplar and yet violence happening on the city’s
streets in recent months.
- Karen points out that problems like these are not solved
overnight and the unrealistic expectations placed on Obama as a
black President to achieve more because they assumed that America
was “post racial” as soon as a black President was elected. She
says she values the idea of people having the opportunity to share
their experiences and knowledge about relevant events without
necessarily having to quantify it.
- Christopher Phelps talks about America’s history of slavery and
Jim Crow racial segregation and the challenges of modern day in
spite of civil and political rights developments. He mentions
earlier Commissions including the Kerner
Commission looking at riots in the 1960s and the Commission
that looked at the Watts Riot in 1965.
He thinks a Truth Commission might be useful in gathering
information and helping to get people talking about these issues in
a constructive way but expresses concern that the circumstances and
conditions for it, unlike in South Africa, may not lend themselves
to it being effective.
- Todd talks about how a Truth Commission might work and where
the data might come from and what he would want to see emerge from
it by way of serious reform and a hard look at the relevant
- Karen reflects on the place where she grew up and the impact of
issues like drugs and violence on the local community and the ways
in which the community was acknowledged but not integrated.
- Christopher explains a little more about his thoughts on the
South African Truth Commission and how the political and social
inequality in South Africa differs from that in the United States
making him suggest that a process of reconciliation would be
fraught. He points out how civil rights issues specific to a
country become intertwined with international human rights and how
civil rights groups use international laws around human rights a.s
a lever to change a situation in a particular country
- Todd reflects on his own work showing the gap between the legal
changes improving the rights of Black American i.e. right to vote,
access to education etc. and the lived reality of persistent
social, political and legal inequalities. He says this gap is often
used to lobby for change.
- The discussion turns to the Black Lives Matter campaign and
Todd’s view that statistics clearly show disproportionate violence
towards African Americans. Karen comments that there has been a
continuous process of resistance through people’s day to day lives.
She refers to US congressman John Lewis’s (she mistakenly says John
Conyers’ but means Lewis’) use of the hashtag #goodtrouble on
account and a book called Necessary Trouble by Sarah
Jaffe and the idea of what happens when you need to protest in
a certain way to “trouble” the way certain issues are discussed.
She points out that Black Lives Matter covers a wide and diverse
range of groups not just groups looking at violence towards African
Americans. She goes on to reference some of the sexual harassment
allegations made against Donald Trump in the run up to the 2016
Presidential election and how that has prompted interesting and
- Todd compares the Black Lives Matter movement to the Occupy
movementand the similar strategies they employed. The
discussion moves to how founding documents like the Declaration of
Independence are used in ongoing lobbies for change. Christopher
Phelps talks about the interaction of economic and social rights
with political and legal rights and the need to balance both. He
says he hopes the protest movements that have erupted in recent
years manage to effect changes to policy. Karen mentions the flaws
that exist in some of the original ‘founding’ documents used in the
States and goes on to talk about her work on
Haiti and the challenges that America’s history with slavery
pose for modern discussions on racial equality.
- Todd reflects on the discussion and what it might mean for
American history and for the future. He talks a little more about
the role a Truth Commission might play. Christopher says that what
could be happening in the States is a sort of ‘last gasp’ of people
who don’t want to let go of the way things were. He says he’s
optimistic about the attitudes of young people.
- Todd talks about the positive stories and ideas that have
emerged across Series 1 of The Rights Track and how Series 2 will
talk to people using academic evidence on human rights in their
work to make the world a better place.