Shock, Horror, and the Role We Can Play

I feel like I’m letting my students down. I look at what is happening, and I don’t have the words. In too short a time, the list of names is far too long. I saw the video of George Floyd being pinned down, begging for his life, calling for him mother, and I wanted to reach through the screen and tear that officer off him and hold him and tell him it would be ok.

It is not ok. It is terrible, and horrible, and unthinkable, except how can it be unthinkable when it keeps happening.

So, what do we do? We demand better from our governments, our officials, our colleagues. We stand with each other and say enough. We stop using the terminology of savagery that tries to dehumanize humans and we get over our fear that our parents tried to teach us and treat people as full human beings regardless of their race, gender, orientation, or any of the other preconceived classifications we could derive to debase their humanity.

But that is not enough. In every aspect of our lives, we participate in the structures that contribute to racism. How many times have I sat in reviews where the person’s race was discussed? How many times have I heard it used to explain their failure, and how many times have I thought, what failure are they talking about? I spoke, but never loudly enough or often enough.

Women are speaking out, but too often they are speaking out against black men. I look at how Christian Cooper asked Amy Cooper to leash her dog and her response, and I can’t help but think of all the times I’ve been told to be scared of being alone with a man, especially a black man. We are finding our voices, but using them for the wrong reason too much of the time– to feed fear rather than finding a new structure where being asked to leash a dog is the legal and sane thing and an opportunity for a conversation about the space rather than a threat.

My mother gave me the greatest gift. She implored me to be brave and speak out. We all need to speak out and speak up for our students, our colleagues, and our discipline. We need to change the structures of academia that allow us to window dress our racist beliefs with structures and procedures that we claim insulate us and force us to be more inclusive.

There is nothing inclusive about a search that can’t find women or one that revels in an African American professor like a pet. The pet to threat transition is real, and we have to stop allowing it.

In music, artists began auditioning behind a screen, and it changed the makeup of orchestras. We have to find the screen to apply in academia for students, for faculty, for staff, and for ourselves, because we have for far too long pretended to care while perpetuating the same biases seen in society at large.

In the meantime, we need to listen to our students, be at their sides, and refuse bow to a government that again and again not only allows but supports people who murder citizens.

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