Department Statement of Solidarity
We, the faculty of the Department of History at UNC Charlotte, reacting with grief and anger at the recent killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, combined with subsequent events, feel compelled to offer the following statement to our faculty and staff, as well as to our students, friends, and the broader community. We do not habitually issue such statements in response to specific episodes of tragedy and injustice. However, we believe that the current situation is so overwhelmingly serious that this time is ripe for heightened reflection, dialogue, and action. As historians, we fundamentally grasp that Floyd’s killing is only part and parcel of a long history of the racialized murder of unarmed African Americans.
Again, as historians, we are all too familiar with the many deep causes of the current crisis, including 246 years of slavery and institutionalized white racism expressed in disrespect for black lives and violence against their person. One aspect of this has been state-sanctioned racialized violence carried out by police forces and other state actors. The current crisis has also been fueled by long-standing racial disparities in health care, housing, education, economic opportunities, and the denial of political rights. These centuries-old problems have been exacerbated not only by the present pandemic and the economic downturn of 2020, but also by a set of relatively recent public policies and private initiatives that have been enacted by people in power over the last half century. These actions have perversely resulted in class inequality, visible excesses in race-based incarceration, environmental degradation, instability, and rule by wealthy elites. We observe, furthermore, that the current crisis has become more serious because it has evolved under a national leadership that is willing to meet lawful protest and free expression with militarized oppression. We historians cannot but view the current moment as a highly dangerous one; it requires vigilant attention and a firm stand against racial injustice, and indeed, any form of injustice.
Especially as history educators, we thus pledge to redouble our efforts in our teaching—defined broadly—to document, highlight, discuss, interpret, reflect on, and reckon with the long historical record of racial injustice and racial violence that have marred societies over the long run of human history. We recognize that it is essential to push ourselves, as well as our students and others, to connect the past and present in ways that will compel us all to do more than merely understand past tragedies and systems of oppression. Instead, we also must find ways to use our knowledge of the past to identify and find more creative and concrete solutions to current crises and injustices. We intend to take additional steps to advocate for the importance of the study of history, a subject often denigrated today as one without practical value, but one, as recent events demonstrate, is in fact essential for the formation of engaged citizenship and a functioning, just society. We pledge to do even more of this work, not only in our teaching and writing, but also by re-doubling our efforts to speak and to listen to a diverse set of communities outside the university. We are also committed to doing even more to recognize the ways that economic and social inequalities have affected our diverse population of students: to strive to address the unique educational needs of each student as well as the needs of the collective. We welcome suggestions and criticism from colleagues, staff, and students as we undertake this work.
As professional educators, we pledge to do more in our own lives to confront and dismantle systems of racial domination and privilege. We remain committed to promoting justice, sustainability, shared prosperity, and peace as essential to our lives as citizens and scholars. We know from our study of history, and as has long been known by the most astute activists for reform and racial justice—including Frederick Douglass, Henry McNeal Turner, Mary Ann Shadd, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., plus such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and, more recently, Black Lives Matter—that we should never assume that the mere passage of time will improve things. As history teaches us, it takes consistent hard work, in solidarity with others, to preserve past gains and to fight for essential future reforms.
As historians, we understand the difficulties in achieving legal, social, and political change. Nevertheless, we must commit ourselves and urge others to pursue this hard work. There is no acceptable alternative to the present crisis that concerns all individuals seriously committed to fighting injustice.