Robin D. G. Kelley is the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include the prizewinning Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009); Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (1990); Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (1994); Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (1997), which was selected one of the top ten books of the year by the Village Voice; and Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (2002). He is a coauthor of Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor’s Last Century (2001) and a coeditor of Black, Brown, and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora (2009), recipient of an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; and To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans (2005). His most recent book is Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (2012).
Beginning with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and moving back to the 17th century, this lecture examines the ways in which liberalism has long served as the legal and ideological scaffolding that promoted and protected slavery and other forms of unfree labor, Jim Crow, dispossession, and colonialism. Neoliberalism and the crisis it has engendered lay in the very origins of the nation, in a liberty defined by one’s ability to control and dispose of property, and the rise of a state whose main purpose is to arbitrate property, justice, and control a laboring class. By revisiting key moments such as the Dred Scott decision, John Brown's revolt, Reconstruction and the modern Civil Rights movement, I will argue that the most radical of these movements were informed not by liberalism but what Du Bois called abolition-democracy. And the rise of neoliberalism, mass incarceration, and the current wave of police violence, among other things, represents a defeat of abolition.