I want to begin by reaching out to our Black students, faculty, and staff to acknowledge your pain and anger. Any single instance of killing is too much. The deaths over the past several months have been excruciating. Four hundred years of death is unimaginable. Racial violence is deeply ingrained into the fabric of our society. We all bear responsibility for it and each and every one of us must take a stand against it. Please let me or any of us know how we can support you and listen to you.
We need to say the names of those who have been recently murdered. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Amaud Aubrey, Tony McDade. Those are just the most recent individuals. There are also the names of those who have died at the hands of police whose names we do not know. Our hearts are breaking for their families and for all of you who are suffering. Our hearts are breaking for our Black friends and colleagues, and those we have never met, who have to fear for their lives and their loved one’s lives as they go about their daily routines. And for our country’s inability to grapple with and address racism, which continues to prevent us from meeting the needs of all our people and being a nation where everyone can thrive.
As Ibram X. Kendi recently wrote in the Atlantic:
The American nightmare has everything and nothing to do with the pandemic. Ask the souls of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Step into their souls.
In this same article, Kendi draws connections between the coronavirus pandemic, and the disproportionality of deaths experienced by Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, and the current rebellions that are occurring across the country.
To be black and conscious of anti-black racism is to stare into the mirror of your own extinction. Ask the souls of the 10,000 black victims of COVID-19 who might still be living if they had been white. Ask the souls of those who were told the pandemic was the “great equalizer.” Ask the souls of those forced to choose between their low-wage jobs and their treasured life. Ask the souls of those blamed for their own death. Ask the souls of those who disproportionately lost their jobs and then their life as others disproportionately raged about losing their freedom to infect us all. Ask the souls of those ignored by the governors reopening their states.
It is clear that we need to go beyond writing statements each time there is another murder. We need to take action. My colleague and friend, Marc Lamont Hill, explains exactly why there is a need for a rebellion in this clip. His—and our—anger is palpable and real. Trevor Noah, of the Daily Show, brilliantly explains the horror of the murder and how the social contract many of us with privilege believe exists is broken every day for Black Americans. At the same time, we can draw on our strengths as scholars and educators. We can become more committed to anti-racist education that addresses anti-Blackness and other forms of racism and oppression. This work is central to why we do our work. I hope that each of us might reflect on the actions we each can take and how we might contribute to making lasting and structural changes.
At the same time that we feel despair, we need to find hope. The multiracial groups of protestors and the passion behind their protests give me hope. As bell hooks wrote, “Hope is essential to any political struggle for radical change when the overall social climate promotes disillusionment and despair.” We need to turn our anger into action. I invite us as a community to keep a conversation alive about what that action might be. We know that we are stronger together. We will need to come together to rebuild and regenerate our communities and ourselves.