The Democratic Kaleidoscope in the United States: Vanquishing Structural Racism in the U.S. Federal Government

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation is broadly concerned with the relationship between democracy and race in the United States federal government. To analyze this problem, I rely on archival research from the 1967-8 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (commonly known as the Kerner Commission, after chairperson Governor Otto Kerner) to examine how the discussion and management of hundreds of so-called "race riots" in the summer of 1967 both challenges civil disobedience and embodies structural racism. Employing a content analysis of the final 425-page Kerner Commission government report, I assess the categorization, labeling, and language used to describe and document the hundreds of "race riots" and related state violence through acts of police misconduct that engulfed the country in the summer of 1967. I rely heavily on the report and background research itself, as well as major books related to race riots and presidential commissions, such as Anthony Platt's 1971 The Politics of Riot Commissions and Steven Gillon's 2018 Separate and Unequal. I incorporate theories of exit and the entitlement to rights advanced in literature by scholars like Jennet Kirkpatrick, James C. Scott, and Hannah Arendt. This dissertation is concerned with the relationship between morality and civic participation in democratic politics. I analyze Christopher Kutz's book Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age to delve into the ramifications of democracy and US citizenship being considered a kind of "collective project" and further contemplate what obligations and implications exist for citizens in US democracy against racial injustice. Since the Kerner Commission coincided with the rise of "law and order" politics in the nation's political vernacular, it represents a unique opportunity to witness an ideological shift toward a Garrison state and neoliberal ethos, both of which undermine the country's espoused democratic values, resting on the grammar of equality and justice for all. The Kerner Commission can provide valuable lessons in studies of political domination that remain pertinent to overcoming oppression and injustice today.

Structural Racism, Democracy, Garrison State, Liberalism, Racism, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, Kerner Commission, National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Riots, Social Movements, Advocacy, Complicity, Police Brutality