When Whites Riot: An author talk with HNU's Dr. Sheila Smith McKoy
(April 20, 2021) — Holy Names University’s Cushing Library hosted an author talk with HNU’s Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, Dr. Sheila Smith McKoy, author of When Whites Riot: Writing Race and Violence in American and South African Cultures.
To open the discussion, Dr. Smith McKoy explained how “riots” are portrayed through a racist lens in the media as, “montages of people of color, and in particular, Black people who become dangerous abstractions when racial violence erupts.” Dr. Smith McKoy noted that at the center of racialized violence there is always a person of color, and often that person is defined with dehumanizing characteristics. She used the George Floyd case as an example, noting that the prosecution’s opening statements included many references to the simple fact that George Floyd was a human.
Dr. Smith McKoy detailed examples from her book, When Whites Riot: Writing Race and Violence in American and South African Cultures, about racialized violence in the Wilmington race riot in 1898, Detroit riots of 1943, Soweto in 1976, and the LA uprising in 1992. She stated that these riots were prompted by a “social urgency to preserve white order, white rule, and white supremacy … Racial violence involving whites is never identified as a riot event even in the face of historical documentary evidence that exposes them as such. The cultural tempers of the United States and South Africa have already prefigured racial violence as a Black act.”
While discussing resistance and reclamation, and the important role of citizen documentarians. Dr. Smith McKoy presented a picture of a mural that resides in the city of Oakland. The mural is a memorial to the murder of George Floyd and many others, “if I were to show you a close up of this particular mural you would notice the faces and names of many of the fallen, many whose names are not called regularly in these protests, but who are remembered in these murals.”
The event concluded with a Q&A session, where the conversations focused on the differences in how bodies are depicted under the law, the role of citizen documentarians, and strategies for avoiding despair. When Whites Riot is available as an eBook through the HNU Cushing Library.