Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As we approach a new school year, it is important that we reflect on the events of this past summer. We are witnessing history, as the continued fight for Black civil rights has once again become too hard to ignore. Thousands and thousands of people have taken to the street to protest the death of countless Black people. Others have donated their time to communities. Even more have given their money to various organizations. We have chosen to present this letter.
The undersigned faculty members stand in solidarity with our Black student and colleague, and are committed to making this department, and university, an anti-racist institution. Even though anti-racism has only been in our vocabulary for the past few weeks, we fully understand how much work is needed to tackle the structural racism around us. This struggle is nothing new. It is no fad. This is why, the undersigned members of this letter have committed their time, in the form of the occasional concerned email, to creating Faculty Against Discrimination, or F.A.D. We will reclaim this term, and use it to bolster the Black student and colleague around us.
As members of F.A.D., we recognize our collective failure, as a predominately white department, at a predominately white university, in a predominately white town, in a predominately white state, to adequately support our Black colleague. Even though our department has repeatedly been ranked in the top five, across the nation, for the study of race in America, we must do better. All of us white folx need to listen and amplify the voices of our Black student and colleague. We must also take the core values of F.A.D. and implement them into our daily lives. Which is why we will also respond to F.A.D.-related emails while at home. This is a time for us to sit with our discomfort, in our home’s study, and hold ourselves accountable.
We have spent the entire summer, exchanging a dozen emails, reflecting on how F.A.D. can bring racial justice to the forefront of this department. With that in mind, we have some modest proposals. First, we call for the eventual renaming of our department’s building, the namesake of whom is known for his numerous acts of racism. Even though the undersigned members of F.A.D. were silent when undergraduate students of color petitioned to change this buildings name in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and earlier this year, we feel this is the most opportune time to do so. With that in mind, after a F.A.D. showing of Academy Award and Golden Globe Awards winning Green Book, we humbly suggest our building eventually be named after Dr. Don Shirley.
Furthermore, as various media outlets begin to capitalize the “B” in Black, we wish to take things further. We suggest that on all official department correspondents, the “W” in white, whether it is speaking about people or cake, be made smaller. We suggest on a standard 12-point font model, the “W” be shrunk to 8-point font, to represent the eight years in power Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke of. In this, the signed all white members of F.A.D. are mostly in agreement.
F.A.D. also advocates for the creation of the Committee Awaiting Universal Care And Solidarity In America Now (CAUCASIAN) to begin and continue the work needed to turn our department into an anti-racist zone. Unfortunately, as tenured faculty, we are much too busy to serve on such a committee. However, we nominate our esteemed and newly hired African-American colleague to chair this committee, and hope our African-American graduate student will join as well. Their expertise in this matter are unmatched, and shouldn’t be ignored. Even though we have not consulted with either of them on the creation of CAUCASIAN, and they did not join in signing this letter, as we have not yet presented it to them, we believe this is a crucial step towards addressing our collective failure, as an entire department. We know this may cause them to become hyper visible to the department and university, possibly resulting in unjust retaliation. However, this is a sacrifice we are willing to make for justice. Growth, after all, can be painful for all involved.
These suggestions are, by no means, meant to be the end-all and be-all of creating our anti-racist department. However, barring a shift in media coverage, it will most likely be the last time you hear from F.A.D. We trust CAUCASIAN to continue our legacy and build on our extensive and exhaustive work. With this, we leave with a solemn fist held high in the sky.
Derek Litvak is a Ph.D candidate in history at the University of Maryland – College Park. His dissertation, “The Specter of Black Citizens: Slavery, Race, and Citizenship in the Early United States,” examines how citizenship was crafted and used to strengthen the institution of slavery and exclude Black Americans from the body politic. Follow him on Twitter @TheTattooedGrad.