Statement on Anti-Blackness and Protests

Statement from the University of Kansas’ (Lawrence) Department of African and African-American Studies (AAAS) on Anti-Blackness and Protests

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Department of African and African-American Studies.

Between 1965 and 1970, students at the University of Kansas were at the heart of protests that were spreading across the nation focused on civil rights, the Vietnam War, and gender equality. The Black Student Union (BSU) was created in 1968 to advocate for Black students’ needs on campus. In 1970, through their newspaper, Harambee, KU’s Black students, in the spirit of justice and the fight for racial equality, presented a list of demands to then Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers, advocating for a more inclusive university and for the establishment of the Department of African Studies that became in future years the Department of African and African-American Studies.

Recalling that same spirit of struggle, we decry the recent acts of state violence against Black people in the United States. Many of us have literally been unable to breathe due to COVID-19, since that pandemic has disproportionately affected African American and Native American communities. This is in large part due to the economic disparities; social inequities; and blatant racism in U.S. labor, housing, and healthcare systems.

Despite the proclamations of certain nationalists, the U.S. has never been a white nation where only white citizens’ lives matter, nor is America a place where all lives have been treated equally. What the protests have made clear is that we are all in this together, and we need to come together as a country—whether through peaceful conversations and protests, or after a very real revolution to create a better world for ALL of our children—or we will fall apart.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Therefore, we as a nation, but most directly as a community and a university, must address issues of positionality, privilege, and power that prevent Black people from bird watching, jogging, or sleeping safely within our homes.

Collectively as a department we study the African continent’s people and their descendants spread throughout the Americas. Our academic charge is to explore issues of cultural genius and production, gender, race and racisms, as well as social class disparities. As such we decry the incidents of racial violence against Black Americans as perpetuated by structural racism inside our own university and that which is supported by our national and local politicians.

As Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer stated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention over 50 years ago, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Today, in 2020, many students, faculty, and staff of color at KU, across the U.S., and around the world are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We are tired of being expected to behave as if everything is all right in our professional settings while our hearts and souls ache for our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, and grandfathers and grandmothers. We are tired!!! From Rick “Tiger” Dowdell, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, and Trayvon Martin, from Michael Brown to Sandra Bland, from Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor to Tony McDade and George Floyd, we are tired of witnessing the lynching of Black people. We are tired of asking, “When will this end?”

And yet once again we find the strength to stand up and demand that the police brutality stop, that communities have transparent review boards of local police departments, that officers found using excessive force go through due process and be held accountable, and that cities redirect some of their funds from policing to invest in sustaining impoverished Black communities. To insist that the killing of innocent Black people stop, in the U.S., and around the world.

A few days ago, Lauryn Whitney released a YouTube video titled “Ask Yourself #whendidibecomeathreat.” So many of us related to it on a deep level because it features young Black boys and teens asking how and why their laughter, their pursuit of education, their sitting behind the wheel of a car are perceived as dangerous actions. We wonder which of us are seen as threats as we walk around campus or in town. Many of us—students, staff, and faculty—in the new COVID-19 world are afraid to wear masks for protection in our own communities because we do not want to be perceived as a bigger threat than we already are. And we certainly do not want to be the next victim.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece the writer and activist Roxane Gay writes, “Eventually doctors will develop a coronavirus vaccine, but Black people will continue to wait for a cure for racism.” As a university community, we must end the entrenched and insidious forms of institutional racism that exist here. We regularly act polite and pay lip service to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” without meaningful policies, actions, or effective measures to make these values a reality. We fail to adequately fund the units that are doing the work we claim aligns with our values. Too many of us repeatedly refuse to teach our students or ourselves about systemic inequalities and how to challenge them. And too many of our colleagues hide behind white fragility. These are elements of what plagues us as a community and a nation, and we must consciously act to make a change. If not, we are part of the problem. It is our responsibility to require ourselves to do more. KU must do more!

We must revisit history to remind ourselves that this nation is not acting in accordance with its democratic ideals and its power to protect ALL of its citizens! We ask that you take some time to listen to President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address on June 11, 1963, and ask yourself what you are currently doing and what more YOU can you do in your position to fight for social justice (video):

As scholars of African, African-American, and African Diaspora Studies we denounce white supremacy and anti-Blackness in all forms, as well as official and unofficial state-sanctioned violence. We stand in solidarity with Black communities around the U.S. and around the world who continue to fight for racial justice and equality!

In peace and solidarity!

Cécile Accilien, Interim Chair & Associate Professor

On behalf of the Department of African and African-American Studies

Director, Institute of Haitian Studies

Associate Director, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

The University of Kansas

Lawrence, Kansas