* Professor at Washington State University
* Condemns America as a nation awash in white racism
David Leonard holds a bachelor’s degree (1995) in Black Studies from UC Santa Barbara, as well as a master’s degree (1998) and doctorate (2001)—both in Comparative Ethnic Studies—from UC Berkeley. He has worked as a teaching assistant in UC Berkeley’s Department of Ethnic & African American Studies (1996-2002); a Sociology lecturer at Holy Names College (1999); an assistant professor in Comparative Ethnic Studies at Washington State University (2002-08); and an associate professor in Washington State University’s Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies (2008-present), where he currently serves as chairman.
Leonard identifies the late Cedric Robinson, a Marxist who taught Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara, as a “brilliant political theorist” who served as his “mentor” during Leonard’s undergraduate years.
Leonard regularly writes about the “anti-black racism” and “inequality” that allegedly pervade American culture at large, and the criminal justice system in particular. He harbors a deep contempt for the United States, not only for its “history of racist violence, evident in slavery, Native American genocide, Jim Crow, forced sterilization, racist immigration laws, the conquest of Southwest and other crimes against humanity,” but also for what he characterizes as its enduring, present-day inequities. He complains that white Americans in particular exhibit “an almost pathological refusal to look at racism within our legal, political, and cultural institutions,” and direct an inappropriately “overwhelming focus … to the Jewish Holocaust.” “White privilege,” says Leonard, “allows whites to be blind to racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, redlining, housing discrimination, and the myriad of examples of institutional racism.” “Racism, racial inequality, and persistent segregation,” he adds, “are as American as apple pie.”
Asserting that “white financial and political success [historically] has been predicated on white racism,” Leonard calls for “reparations,” in the form of “financial restitution,” to compensate nonwhites for having been denied a fair share of the “wealth generated through white supremacy.” Such restitution, he says, would be “a necessary step” along any path toward “racial reconciliation.” Likewise a supporter of racial preferences as a means of counterbalancing the purportedly ubiquitous “racism and discrimination” that “remain in operation,” Leonard believes that “affirmative action is working” in “profound ways.”
In a September 2012 article titled “Got Solutions? Beyond Denial and Toward Transformation,” Leonard writes that “America’s history of racism, violence, segregation, wealth disparity, and inequality” has life-and-death consequences in terms of “life expectancy, infant mortality, and countless illness[es]” that afflict nonwhites disproportionately. “In other words,” he says, “racism kills.” “To combat the health consequences of American Apartheid” and its “Jim Crow system of ‘health care’,” adds Leonard, the U.S. “must adopt a single-payer national health system” administered by the federal government.
As additional means of promoting “equality, justice, and racial reconciliation,” Leonard, in the same piece, advocates an increase in the minimum wage, “free [taxpayer-funded] childcare for all,” and the passage of DREAM Act legislation that would lay out a path-to-citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and are still younger than 35. The most expedient way to achieve social justice, he summarizes, would be to “simply fulfill the demands of the Black Panther Party: ‘We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and people’s community control of modern technology.’”
In a January 2012 piece titled “Whistling Dixie (the remix): The Southern Strategy in the Age of Color-Blind Racism,” Leonard contends that the Republican Party routinely engages in “racial demagoguery” and the “demonization of people of color.”
Leonard maintains that “America’s … addiction to incarcerating people of color, particularly the poor,” not only “continues a history of systematically breaking apart families and communities,” but also represents “a betrayal of the principles of equality, fairness, and democracy.” Endorsing wholesale “prison abolition,” Leonard lauds the Communist Angela Davis for advocating “a world without prisons—or at least a social landscape no longer dominated by the prison”—and for condemning “the many ways in which punishment is linked to poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other modes of dominance.”
In December 2014, Leonard co-authored “Everyone But Us,” an article denouncing a St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri who had recently shot and killed an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown in an altercation in which Brown, who had just perpetrated a strong-armed robbery of a local convenience store, tried to steal the officer’s handgun. But in Leonard’s calculus, the grand jury’s decision was “yet another reminder” of “America’s creed, where justice for African Americans remains a dream deferred and where politically, culturally, and morally black lives don’t matter”; a manifestation of the “white supremacy [that] renders black bodies as inherently suspect and criminal”; “yet another exoneration of white America and its rotten system”; and an example of “a cultural refusal to see the possibility of black innocence.”
In a piece titled “Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix,” Leonard claims that “the often-cited statistics that 72% of African American children were born to unwed mothers, which is significantly higher than the national average of 40%,” are intentionally “misleading and misused as part of a historically defined white racial project” that aims to portray blacks as irresponsible and immoral. He contends, for instance, that “while black fathers are the least likely to be living with or married to the mother, they are much more likely to be involved and engaged with their children.” He also attributes the phenomenon of absent black fathers to “a criminal-justice system that has systemically broken up black families.”
In an article published by the Huffington Post titled “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”, Leonard asserts that in order to “change America’s racial path” in the ways that are necessary, the nation would have to implement wholesale changes to the “Eurocentric American curriculum” that, by his telling, dominates college classrooms nationwide. Specifically, he suggests that all students should be required to take multiple “black studies and ethnic studies” classes over the course of their academic careers, so they can gain a deeper “understanding [of] the ongoing history of racism.”
A particularly revealing look into Leonard’s low regard for both the United States and its close ally Israel, was provided by a project which he never actually succeeded in getting off the ground: In the early 2000s, Leonard and then-UC Berkeley American Studies Ph.D. candidate Robert Soza worked together as co-editors of a proposed Critical Holocaust Anthology, whose objectives were: (a) to expose the U.S. government’s “spinelessness in dealing with its own state-organized campaigns of slavery and murder” against blacks and American Indians; and (b) to offset, as Leonard put it, America’s “obsession” with, and “overwhelming focus” on, “the Jewish Holocaust” as “the essential example of a holocaust/genocide.” Among the other individuals who submitted entries for the Leonard-Soza anthology was University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. When various publishing houses ultimately rejected the Leonard-Soza project, Leonard blamed “a powerful hegemonic resistance to any sort of critique of the ways that the Jewish Holocaust is talked about in and out [of] the academy.”
In August 2017, Leonard praised the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for having had the courage to kneel during the pre-game national anthem as a gesture of protest against the racist “mass incarceration” and “police brutality” that “remain fixtures of contemporary … life” in “a country where everything from sports to law enforcement is shaped by masculinity and whiteness, racism, misogyny, and homophobia.” Moreover, Leonard blamed racism for the fact that no NFL team had yet offered Kaepernick a contract since he had officially opted out of his existing contract with the San Francisco 49ers and become a free agent five months earlier: “As a prominent American institution and corporate behemoth, the NFL has been and remains an instrument of anti-Black racism…. Football is inherently political. It’s an American pastime. Like racism, it is as American as processed apple pie…. It’s shaped by nationalism and Americans’ fetishization of a masculinity based in violence and conquest.”
For additional information on David Leonard, click here.
Further Reading: “David Leonard” (DrDavidjLeonard.com, ); “About Me” (DrDavidjLeonard.com); “‘A Brilliant Political Theorist’: David Leonard Reflects on Cedric Robinson” (Black Perspectives, 6-8-2016); “Got Solutions? Beyond Denial and Toward Transformation” (by David Leonard, Huffington Post, 9-7-2012); “Whistling Dixie (the remix): The Southern Strategy in the Age of Color-Blind Racism” (by David Leonard, January 2012); “Everyone But Us” (by David Leonard, Huffington Post, 12-4-2014); “Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix” (by David Leonard, January 2012); “Can’t We All Just Get Along? Learning to Become an Ally of Change and Justice” (by David Leonard, 11-17-2012); “Did Uncle Sam Play the Role of Hitler in Killing Blacks and Indians?” (by Lisa Makson, 1-27-2003, re: Critical Holocaust Anthology); “Kaepernick, Apathy, And White America” (by David Leonard, 8-11-2017).