Critical Questions

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You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time. -Angela Davis

This week, I have had a barrage of people in my DMs, text messages, and inbox with questions about how I am doing and questions about how they should react and respond.

A few things.

First, ya’ll I am exhausted. I am mourning. I am working my day job. I wake up Black and go to bed Black. I am making art. I am screaming. I am having nightmares. I am remaining hopeful. I am calling people in.

James Baldwin says, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Zora Neale Hurston says that “Black women are de mule of the world. And the God that I serve says, “I love you, Bonita. I see you. Come to me with your heavy burdens and let me carry you for a little while and give you rest.” So I am allowing myself to heal and to rage and to rest.

The work that I have been doing this week has been cultivated through years of practice, education, support, strategizing, and activating for the long-term goals. I appreciate the love and light, but ultimately I am not responsible for white people’s work.

Second, as an antiracist educator, I prepare people to invest in assessing the macro-situations so that they can actively understand how every micro-situation is a perpetuation of the macro. I provide some questions to help you think holistically in the 8-week digital racial justice journal which will drop tomorrow.

Lastly, consider this:

  • If your antiracism does not require engaging and disrupting racist behavior, then it is performative.
  • If your antiracism does not require critical conversations with family and community members, then it is performative.
  • If your antiracism does not require reviewing your organizations D&I strategies, hiring practices, payroll, or overall company culture, then it is performative.
  • If your antiracism does not involve activating your church to assess how they can support or create long-term strategies to invest in antiracism work, then it is performative. A friend shared on Facebook – if you are willing to give your testimony about the Lord, then surely you are also willing to share how the Lord has opened your eyes to white supremacy and racism.

What is your long-term strategy? How are you activating?

This week, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel released this statement:

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

Our hearts are broken after watching the appalling video capturing the actions of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers against George Floyd leading to his tragic death. As a community, we are outraged and grief-stricken. I do not have the words to fully express my pain and anger and I know that many in our community share those feelings, but also fear for their own safety. This will not stand.

Today I am announcing two immediate changes regarding our relationship with MPD.

First, I have directed Senior Vice President Brian Burnett to no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for additional law enforcement support needed for large events, such as football games, concerts, and ceremonies.

Second, I have directed University Police Chief Matt Clark to no longer use the Minneapolis Police Department when specialized services are needed for University events, such as K-9 Explosive detection units.

We have a responsibility to uphold our values and a duty to honor them. We will limit our collaboration with the MPD to joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of our community or that allow us to investigate and apprehend those who put our students, faculty, and staff at risk.

I write to you to express our overwhelming sadness, and our demands for accountability and justice. Our campuses and facilities are a part of the communities in which they reside. University students, staff, and faculty are day-to-day participants in the life of every community in this state, and we must act when our neighbors are harmed and in pain.

My heart is heavy and my thoughts are with the loved ones and friends of George Floyd.

Let our voices be heard and please take care,

Joan Gabel

I like this statement because it explicitly expresses grief (*I wish it would explicitly condemn racism), it centers community, it invites community, and it shares the explict actions in which the university is taking to distance themselves from the MPD. Sharing our actions invites accountability. Our work was never meant to be done alone. I think we often forget that. Our work is most effective when done together.

Often after viral racialized acts of murder, I am asked by white people if they should make a statement, and how often they should do this.

Here’s how I usually respond – what is the purpose of a statement if it is not inherently rooted in and aligned with actions which create an intentionally antiracist environment?

1st Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

Statements show solidarity. But statements without action are meaningless. Make a statement and then share about what you are doing. Invite people to come to xyz.

Personally, I believe that if you are a PWI and you are invested in antiracist actions, then an antiracist supportive action is to make a statement because perhaps you can engage in new conversations within your white community.

Statements have this ability to show support. Statements are an invitation and an opportunity to engage in critical conversations. Statements can signal to other people to pay attention: Look. Watch. Something important is happening here.

Sit with these questions. Move beyond the hashtag activism and transform. You can do it. You need you to do it. I need you to do it. Ask the critical questions. Discover thoughtful answers. Work for the world we need.

Upward & Onward Together

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