Dear graduate and undergraduate students,
As protests around the country continue in the wake of not only George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, but also the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, James Scurlock, and David McAtee we wish to express our anger, our sadness, and our solidarity with ongoing struggles against anti-Black racism. Geographer and Black Studies scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death” (2007). As her language suggests, the adverse and deadly effects of racism exact suffering universally, if also unevenly. Put simply, anti-Black racism harms all of us albeit in different ways, and thus it requires all of us to stand against it. It is not enough to be simply “not racist,” as Ibram X. Kendi argues: “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist” (2019).
As faculty in Greensboro, the choice to us is clear. This community has deep roots in the long struggle for Civil Rights (including Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins and the Greensboro Massacre), and UNCG is a designated Minority-Serving Institution situated on occupied Indigenous lands of the Eno, Shakori, Sissipahaw, Sappony, and Catawba peoples, as well as the border of a rapidly gentrifying historically Black community. In the English department, we recognize both the urgency and the limitations of our role in this work. As white and non-Black faculty of color, our position is to listen to, learn form, and uplift Black people’s voices; as experts in literary studies, our role is to engage in critical thinking, close textual analysis, narrative structures, and strong argumentation–in other words, to contribute to a toolbox for dismantling the architecture of systemic racism. Indeed, our discipline is built on the premise that language has power, and our classrooms provide space for dissecting differences between “protesters” and “thug”, or “uprising” and “riot”. Words, often subtly, express worldviews and shape them in turn; but if language is where racism becomes manifest or, more insidiously, lurks covertly, then it is also among the necessary places for the work of antiracism to unfold.
Yet for all our expertise in decoding the aesthetics of language, we, too, are still struggling to find the words to describe this moment, and we know many of you are struggling as well. We recognize that there is a range of needs among our students. To that end, we write not only in support of the movement, but especially in support of our Black students.
— UNCG Department of English