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Statement on the Present Racial Crisis

As members of Africana Studies, we support President Rowe’s statement that “[a] critical role of a university at moments of crisis is to rededicate ourselves to the propositions that sustain a pluralistic democracy.” This describes, at least in part, Africana Studies’ foundational mission to introduce students to the history, cultural traditions, politics and economics of the many countries that make up the African continent and those who make up the African diaspora, and to study the ways in which white supremacist ideology, colonization, and capitalism contribute to the institutionalization of these theories and practices. Recent events, including the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and most recently the George Floyd murder remind us of the continued relevance, value, and urgency of our work as teacher-scholars and artists. The discipline of Africana Studies, forged in the fire of protest for change and justice, grew out of the work of scholars, artists, statesmen, and the crucible of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, as well as decolonization movements in the African diaspora. For more than a century, Africana Studies has led the effort to correct the dehumanizing omissions of white supremacist education by restoring to classrooms, performance spaces, and to print accurate accounts of the histories and cultures of Africa and its diaspora. An education on the humanity of Black people is needed now more than ever, on our campus and beyond. A signature feature of Africana Studies and its founding is to challenge systemic racism, racialized sexism, and anti-black formations in and across multiple domains of knowledge and life. Africana Studies is also concerned with illuminating and interrogating the means and modes by which racialized and sexist notions of citizenship have historically operated; what it means and has meant for diverse yet conjointly oppressed Black peoples to carve out an identity within and against the oppositions of ‘industry and empire,’ as scholar Patrick Manning has described the major historical realities of modernity; and how it is that we can forge productive paths to create more just and equitable futures. Our discipline, founded in a time such as this, is historical, visionary, and multi-tiered. And it entails practical matters of collective action that require change, not merely words, but deeds that will move us into more just, equitable futures.  

The pandemic has forced us to adjust our way of living and conducting the business of the nation and the world in order to preserve our lives; it has also highlighted our nation’s cultural and historical struggle with the more insidious virus of racism and white privilege.  Provost Peggy Agouris has said, “the killing of African Americans by police, violates our shared humanity and is an affront to the relationships that are the foundation of community.” The faculty of Africana Studies stands with the rest of the William & Mary community in affirming our commitment to the work of educating our students, using our resources to generate courses, to hold seminars, forums, and performances, to sponsor and support conferences and publications that pursue the ideals of plurality and inclusiveness. For W&M and for our collective futures and world, we strive to achieve our better selves, as Dean Kate Conley has said, “combining empathy with knowledge of the history, construction, and global implications of racism, colonialism, and white privilege.” We ask that W&M now harness this opportunity for productive change through concrete action and self-reflection that addresses systemic white supremacy, anti-black racism and racialized-gendered sexism. To “hark upon the gale” is to know when to speak up and speak out in what poet Gwendolyn Brooks has named the “urgency of the whirlwind” we find ourselves in today. If we do it right, our proactive efforts will define our “blooming.

The faculty of Africana Studies