As people slowly filtered in through the doors of the chapel at the University of Redlands on Sept. 27, the crowd was abuzz with chatter. Once the influential social justice activist, Shaun King, walked onto the stage the audience came alive, cheering and applauding. King is known for his use of social media as a platform to highlight and amplify cases of police brutality, racial discrimination, sparking discussions on civil rights and shaping the way people understand racial injustice today.
“It is hard to understand where we are in the scheme of history,” King explained. “[But] all of you have a gut feeling that something is wrong in our country.”
In July of 2014, King received an email from an old college friend that ignited his life towards work as a social influencer. The email contained a link to what would become the viral video known as the unjust death of the unarmed black man, Eric Garner. King explained that watching footage of police brutality led to his passion for the issue, “that latched itself on, till [the point] where I couldn’t let go,” Within a few weeks, he received another email containing livestream video footage of Michael Brown.
“Imagine someone just killed the person who matters most to you,” described King. “The pain I saw in the streets was [that] tangible.”
Before long, King began to realize that these killings are not happening as infrequently as we may know. He was stunned to discover that unarmed black men, women and children weren’t just killed by the police a few times a year, but on a bad dad, up to ten times a day. By sharing videos that demonstrated clear cases of police brutality on his social media, King thought someone would be held responsible. But by December of 2014, he realized that “there would be no justice, no matter how many protests or retweets.” During that moment of his life, King described himself as in a “funk,” never having worked so hard without any reward.
After sharing the genesis of his activism, King continued to teach the audience a lesson he learned from the father of history, Leopold von Ranke; alesson that cultivated King’s understanding of the growth of humanity. Ranke found that, after mapping human beings throughout history, that we do not get better and better over time– technology certainly does, but humanity does not. Instead, throughout history, humanity has moments where we peak and moments where we dip.
The lesson King learned from Ranke sparked a study of his own. During the Charlottesville white supremacy demonstrations, King used twitter as a way to research sociological trends.
“Twitter is an amazing tool,” King continued. “Because you can see millions of thoughts at particular moments of history.”
King found a recurring question among twitter users: “how can we be going back in time?” King explains that this comes from the notion that human beings are consistently getting better. Pointing to the climax of an exponential bar graph, King joked, “that would make Donald Trump peak humanity.”
By referencing events such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Holocaust or Rwanda genocide, King exemplified that humanity does not just ripen with age.
“If we are getting better and better, how do we explain that?” King asked.
“Last year 121 unarmed black men, women and children were killed by American policemen,” shares King. “We would have to go back to 1902 to find that many black people lynched in a year.” King goes on to define “unarmed” by sharing with the audience that he had to remove an instance of police brutality where a black man was killed carrying just a spoon, because that was considered to be a weapon, emphasizing the idea that these deaths aren’t justified by a self-defense claim.
“Somehow we like to look back at injustice and say it is wrong,” shares King. “But struggle to find injustice in front of us.” King further explains that if we do not understand what stage humanity is in, society cannot begin to move forward.
“It is easy as hell to find yourself in a dip, but hard as hell to get out of it,” shared King. With that being said, King described to the audience how to predict when a dip will occur and how humanity can get out of the dip.
The dip occurs when the status quo is challenged. King further elaborates that whenever there is an innovation that disrupts or threatens those in power, humanity plunges. The most modern innovation was the election of America’s first black President, Barack Obama. King explained that this innovation resulted in a steady increase of hate crimes during the Obama administration, and ultimately the election of Donald Trump.
“One, it’s gonna take an enormous amount of energy and two, it’s gonna take people,” explains King. “Three, it’s gonna take organization, something we are struggling with, and four, it’s gonna take hope.”
Often people wonder what role they would play in the Civil Rights Movement, but King reveals that we “don’t have to wonder who [we] would have been in a previous time, because we are in a time that requires just as much energy, people, organization, and hope, now.”
With that thought in mind, the entire audience rose in applause.
still images courtesy of Halie West, Redlands Bulldog photographer,
360 photography courtesy of George Watson, Redlands Bulldog advisor