BSA hosts Dr. Marc Lamont Hill

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Hill: Professor on the state of the black community, how Americans address poverty and social issues

Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

On Wednesday, Feb. 25, as part of SLU’s recognition of Black History Month, the Black Student Alliance, in collaboration with the Great Issues Committee and the Cross Cultural Center, hosted speaker Dr. Marc Lamont Hill in the Center for Global Citizenship.
Hill, who is a professor of African American studies at Morehouse College – and a political analyst for organizations like Huffington Post and CNN – gave a talk titled “The State of the Black Community: Discussing the state of the black community in light of the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and the challenges America faces in the post-Obama era.”
In fact, Hill referred to the current state of American social and political affairs – namely those dealing with race relations – as the “age of Obama.”
“When I say ‘age of Obama,’” he said, “I’m talking about the entire arrangement of power that we’re negotiating right now. I’m talking about the organizations that are running things … I’m talking about the ways in which black folk are arrayed and aligned in American life right now … I’m talking about a particular moment when I say ‘age of  Obama.’”

Hill emphasized that this “age of Obama” is seductive; we do – and should – feel good about his election, he said. But, as a country, we still face myriad problems: ignorance of poor people, racial discrimination, violence because of sexual orientation, and poverty, among others.

“The richest empire in human history and children go to bed hungry every single night,” Hill said in reference to some of the challenges America faces in the “age of Obama.”

And, Hill said, a gauge of this age is one that hits close to home for people in St. Louis and the surrounding area: the death of Michael Brown.

“What’s more representative of the ‘age of Obama’ than Michael Brown?” he said. “That image is not just the image of one particular person who was occasioned by state violence. That’s a metaphor for America, how we render populations disposable.”

To fight these destructive forces, Hill admitted, is challenging; oftentimes people who fight for change find themselves alone, without support, and burdened by what Hill called an obsession with self-reference that doesn’t allow people to hear the voices of others – especially the most vulnerable.

“We’ve created a world where poor voices are not being heard,” Hill said.

“The biggest problem in the world today is that there are too many people who don’t do anything,” he added later.

As an academic, though, Hill sees part of his job as examining, understanding and fighting the deeply entrenched forces that perpetuate both cultural problems and social indifference.

One such area of his professional work is the country’s justice system. If we can reimagine what justice is, Hill said, then we can begin to work against socially destructive problems that are not solved by incarceration alone.

“My work as a scholar,” he said, “and my work as an activist, ultimately hovers around this commitment to making a world that is more just, more fair, more whole by offering dangerous, at times, and hopefully counterintuitive, analyses and solutions to the public and its problems.”

This being said, Hill emphasized that society should not be afraid to imagine a world where things like prison do not exist. If we can rethink how we go about working for justice, then we can live in an entirely new world, he said.

“What I’m saying is there might be a way to imagine the world outside of prison, outside of whiteness, outside of masculinity, outside of hyper-capitalism,” he said. “There might be a way of reimagining the world that we haven’t considered and my job … is to use anything I have in the service of that because that’s my freedom dream; that’s how I see the world getting better; that’s how I see change happening; that’s how I understand justice.”