As scholars of the Black Diaspora we have had little choice but to turn our attention to this current moment where a global pandemic disproportionately impacts the lives of people of African descent and others, and where social and healthcare inequalities in the United States have heightened the impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities, including Black communities across the spectrum. The on-going crisis of economic inequity, mass incarceration, and anti-Black violence has long been at the heart of the field of Black studies.
The recent state killing of George Floyd is the culmination of a particular history of anti-Blackness, reverberated in the killings of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police, Tony McDade by Tallahassee police, and the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by home-grown vigilantes. These incidents are not separate from the widely circulated video of a White woman in Central Park who deployed the power of Whiteness to call police on a Black bird watcher, an incident that could have easily ended as tragically as all the others.
If George Floyd’s killing is a culmination of something, the protests that have erupted throughout America and across the world surely represent a breaking point for communities overburdened by the presence of police in their daily lives. Their raised voices and raised fists are in the spirit of the many who have come before them that we can recall in the recent histories of Watts in 1965, Newark and Detroit in 1967, Miami in 1980, Los Angeles in 1992, Ferguson in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015.
Calls for peace and civility, and for protesters to engage in traditional forms of political expression like voting are met with disillusionment by those who have heard such rhetoric in the recent and not-so-recent past with the full knowledge that those who demand their peaceful protest have not protected their right to vote with the same vigor.
As is the case with many other African & African American Studies, Africana Studies, or Black Studies departments or programs, our department came into being as a result of earlier moments of anti-racist and Black liberatory struggle. That history and our work as scholars and teachers demands our commitment to support this moment of struggle, our acknowledgement that we came into being as a result of the light provided by those in the streets who join the many thousands gone.
As a collective we will continue to support Black lives within and beyond the university.
The Department of African & African American Studies at Duke University