Public Statement on Anti-Black violence*
Africana Studies Institute (ASI), UConn, Storrs
We live, seemingly, in unprecedented times. People face daily crises and agitation because of pandemic, economic insecurity, and floundering national leadership whose institutions and actions lean as much toward violence and inhumanity as they do ineptitude. Yet, as Africana Studies scholars who for decades have thought critically about the politics of race, culture, history, economy, and Black life in North America, there is very little new for us about the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. We know these murders are not an “escalation” of anti-Black violence. Rather, they represent the status quo because our research and that of so many others, and our life experiences bear this out. In fact, we are clear that the only novel aspect of these police-sponsored murders is their visual capture on cell phones and public release of the footage. Thus, we stand in complete solidarity with protesters across the country demanding justice and an end to police terror and wanton disregard for human lives–especially Black lives. So how do we as scholars challenge the silences and violence embedded in America’s record on race?
We propose the UConn community re-dedicate itself to end White supremacy, systemic racism, and anti-Black violence. We believe a first step is to shift clusters of Africana courses from electives to required curricula for most if not all of UConn’s academic programs. We believe without this essential first step the university will continue to intimate that racial aggression in its myriad forms is no more concrete than an innocuous difference of opinion. Without the university’s systematic effort to shift policies and world views on campus and beyond we enable the practice of racism among our students and some colleagues to our community’s detriment. Without forthright, university-sponsored anti-racist pedagogy we fortify a national legacy of racist violence that is the tailwind of so many recurrent, deadly acts. Our choice is stark: lay bare the symbiosis between racist assumptions and anti-black violence or, be indifferent to the deaths of many, many more Mr. Floyds.
UConn’s race scholars within and outside of ASI must be called on to ply campus initiatives and pedagogies with expertise and leadership because any serious intellectual goal for social justice and equity studies on campus utterly depends on our input. We believe ASI’s curriculum and programming, designed to explore the depth of African-descended experiences and influences in our society should always be tapped to critically engage race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, poverty and other analytics fundamental to the university’s research and teaching missions. This fall, for example, ASI’s faculty roundtable will center Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist; this and scholarship of similar focus should be required reading for our entire community and a touchstone for permanent university-wide discussion on how our campus can work to dismantle the machinations of racism and its intersections. And faculty expertise in Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies; Asian and Asian American Studies; and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and Hebrew and Judaic Studies, to name a few, also must have meaningful integration on campus. We must respect and showcase the scholarly rigor and intellectual force behind these fields, their specificity, depth of perspective, and multi-disciplinary approaches. We enthusiastically embrace the collaborations, cross-pollination, project overlap, and solidarities within and among our institutes yet insist they not be homogenized or treated interchangeably. Each should occupy more, not less space in campus programs, curriculum, and research. The stakes for unraveling the human condition are far too high to not do so.
We also believe that a real commitment to change is made through action not words. We insist that the university partner with faculty to maintain an investment in wholistic growth as well as anti-racist commitments as much now as when the cameras are gone, and the protests and headlines subside. As ASI faculty we do this work every day, every semester, and every year, with or without a high-profile event. And we will continue to do so because the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and thousands of others are not aberrations. Sandra Bland’s 2015 arrest for not using her turn signal and subsequent death in jail has a time-honored place on the continuum of racial aggression that people of color expect. To repeat the familiar, these are deeply rooted attacks on Black lives, only a tiny fraction of which are captured by cell phone memory for the world to see in plain view.
Africana Studies Institute Faculty
*A lengthy assessment of racism and anti-racism in the country as well as our strategies for our campus is available to read now.