This semester has been extraordinary for everyone. Amidst a global pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting communities of color, the last couple of weeks are extremely difficult to describe, particularly the range of emotions they are stirring in each of us. For our students, staff, and faculty of color, these past two weeks have been acutely trying.
The protests that have been taking place for over a week are giving voice to the pain, suffering, and silence that has been enacted (unchecked) on our communities of color in the United States for more than four centuries. Many of our students and colleagues have (and continue to) experience countless acts of racial discrimination, xenophobia, violence, harassment, and daily microaggressions that exact a toll on them for simply trying to live life.
While the unjust and horrific murder of George Floyd has been the catalyst for these protests, they also encapsulate the frustration born from the deeper racial disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, public health, nutrition, and the ability to live day-to-day free of constant threat. These historical and contemporary disparities have been all too easy to perpetuate in a political system premised on white supremacy.
As many of you intimately know firsthand, these disparities and systems of oppression are replicated in numerous countries. The legacy of European colonialism has resulted in indigenous communities being oppressed for the benefit of white wealth around the world. Black Lives Matter rings true across the globe.
In the past week many organizations, corporations, and public officials have released eloquent statements of support for protestors and calls for reform, including the University of Kansas. Rather than simply add to this incredible chorus of public support, we want to use this extraordinary moment to critically reflect on, and interrogate, our department's contribution and role in maintaining systemic oppression. While we cannot solve systemic racism, we can commit to taking concrete steps to help dismantle institutionalized racism at our own institution, beginning with making sure our stated actions align with our departmental institutional values:
“to promote diversity to provide a positive environment for teaching and learning while promoting the value of cultural understanding, equity, and inclusion at the University of Kansas and the broader world.”
We are committed to strengthening our institutional environment to ensure that all of our students and colleagues can move through the department without the fear of encountering microaggressions resulting from their outward-facing identity -- nationality, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Individually and collectively, we can work toward creating a more just institution that interrogates white privilege, acknowledges, and respects different lived experiences, and seeks to understand the complexities and impacts of multiple oppressed or marginalized identities.
Toward this end, in the coming academic year, we will continue to implement cultural change in the department using resources that educate us about micro-aggressive behavior. We will be working on building interpersonal skills so that we have the tools to challenge, disrupt and change detrimental interactions that harm our colleagues and students. By engaging this, we will model the change that we wish to see and prepare ourselves to be better mentors to the generation that follows to help propagate and sustain anti-racist change.
For those of you who may be wondering what you can do in this moment to hasten the change we want to see in the world, the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies has compiled a list of strategies and related resources for this moment and for the near future, which we share with you below.
KU Department of Spanish & Portuguese
Strategy: Learn how to better navigate difficult conversations about race and structural inequality. This is a moment of cross-racial collaboration and outrage, but it is also an incredibly important moment to initiate, continue, and double down on intra-racial conversations about race and white supremacy, particularly in white communities. White folks, it is not the job of communities of color to teach you about their lived oppression while also surviving that oppression; you must do the work of educating yourself with the many resources that exist already.
Resources: There are so many here that we have given just a handful of a wide range of sources in the hopes that we can support you to move forward from wherever you are in your exploration and discussion of racial inequalities: a STARTER reading list, some conversation tools, and hundreds of blog posts and articles.
Strategy: Read works written by people of color: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, and theory.
Strategy: Read works about white privilege and intersection of class and race
Strategy: Learn more about ways to reform policing in the United States, particularly the movement “8 Can’t Wait,” which advocates for eight crucial policy changes that could be instituted right now.
Strategy: Protest. WGSS programs, and in fact, the United States, were born from protest and we believe in its power to create community, catalyze change, and move public opinions.
Resources: Black Lives Matter in Lawrence is here.
Strategy: Strengthen your anti-racist networks and communities.
Resources: Call your friends, make new friends, and acknowledge that this is a time filled with grief, rage, hopelessness, hopefulness, excitement, exhaustion, all of it, and LISTEN to each other.
Strategy: Contact government officials who represent you. Voicing your support and opposition to policies--whether county, municipal, state, or federal--can change the minds of elected officials. When enough people write and call, officials are sometimes forced to change their positions.
Resource: The League of Women Voters of Kansas helpfully details KS elected officials and how to get in touch with them here.
Strategy: Understand how we got here and the many forms that structural racism takes. Racism is insidious and deadly. Simply deciding it is a problem is just the first of many necessary steps in doing a lot of anti-racist work required to dismantle white supremacy. Knowing the complexity of the problem is required to dismantle it.