Kari Winter, professor of American studies, says “400 years of white supremacy have put the American dream of democracy on life support”

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo expert and Minneapolis-area native Kari Winter is available to speak to media about the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the questions it spurs about the state of American democracy.

In recent years, Winter's work has focused on leading “Reclaiming Our Ancestors,” a national network of scholars, artists and activists that aims to promote racial justice and public history through focusing attention on 18th- and 19th-century African Americans and their descendants in the 21st century. 

Winter, PhD, is a professor of American studies in the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, part of the UB College of Arts and Sciences. She was born in Minneapolis and spent much of her childhood in the region, and later returned to the University of Minnesota for graduate school.

Winter says a long history of white supremacy led the country to this point, and that it’s “bitter irony” that many people today claim the mantle of patriotism while working to suppress the freedoms and rights of others.

“When Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck, he committed a brutal, horrific murder,” Winter says. “He had three immediate collaborators, but they are not alone in their guilt. Their behavior is enabled by the systemic rot of racism. Four hundred years of white supremacy have put the American dream of democracy on life support.”

Winter adds that President Donald Trump’s Tweets — such as one that said, in part, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — encourage violence and racism, imperiling core democratic values.

It is deeply disturbing, Winter says, “that so many Americans who proclaim their ‘patriotism’ exhibit no interest in the basic tenets of democracy. When black lives don’t matter, none of our lives matter. When black rights don’t matter, the American Constitution does not matter. Freedom of the press? Arrested. Cruel and unusual punishment? Celebrated. Right to be secure in your person and house against unreasonable search, seizure or murder? Smashed to smithereens.”

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are based on the opinions and/or research of the faculty member(s) or researcher(s) quoted, and do not represent the official positions of the University at Buffalo.