Published June 10, 2020
The protests that have emerged across the country in response to the death of George Floyd are demonstrations that speak to and illustrate a flawed notion of citizenship in the United States, a societal defect that demands the creation of “a new morality,” according to Cecil Foster, professor of transnational studies.
“As a black man who has been reporting on and studying these issues for decades, I can say that this is a lived experience for me,” says Foster, a novelist, essayist, journalist and scholar. “I’m not a casual observer, but part of the communities affected by what’s happening.
“I have taught these issues in the classroom and encountered them in the world.”
From Foster’s perspective, the frustration is fundamentally about citizenship and fairness.
“Citizenship is a question of who gets to be treated fairly and respectfully in society,” he says. “Diversity has to be at the core of America’s notion of citizenship. We’re seeing this being acted out now in every street demonstration and in every political protest.
“It’s a collective demand for human dignity.”
Although the Constitution’s citizenship clause should articulate a universal concept, Foster says history has instead heartbreakingly demonstrated “that certain people are entitled and others are not; certain people are disposable and others are not.”
The solution to correcting the injustice rests in answering Foster’s call for “a new morality.”
“My notion of a new morality recognizes that we can no longer implicitly accept a system of values and principles that prioritizes some people over others,” he says. “This begins by ignoring the morality offered by President Trump ─ which is even worse than what we have evolved into.”
Foster says the rush to reopen the economy illustrates his point by putting essential workers at risk, many of whom are black and brown. It is captured in the suggestion in some quarters that older Americans, particularly grandparents, should be willing to sacrifice themselves for a greater good.
“Returning now to a pre-COVID-19 world will cost lives, but our current morality accepts that certain lives are disposable for economic gain,” he says. “George Floyd died at the knee of a police officer who likely assumed he could get away with his actions because certain lives are expendable.”
But the painfully gnawing reality of the current historical moment is that it represents another turn in a familiar cycle, of which George Floyd is the latest fatality.
“This has to stop,” Foster says. “It’s the same tragic narrative that has us caught up in a morality play that must finally be re-written.”
We are very fortunate to have such an insightful thinker at UB. Thank you, Dr. Foster, for your eloquence and relevance.
Kenton Bruce Anderson