June 11, 2020
The killing of George Floyd is only the latest instance in a long and painful history of Black deaths in police custody, and the resulting global protests have fixed our attention on the continuing violence of the carceral state against Black bodies. This is not simply a US problem: Abdirahman Abdi, Orlando Brown, D’Andre Campbell, Sophia Cook, Nicholas Gibbs, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Machuar Madut, and Alloura Wells are only a few of the many Black people who have died by police action in Canada.*
Anti-Black violence is not only realized in police killings, but in the pervasive and systemic devaluation of Black people. Here at UBC, it operates when a Black scholar is racially profiled while participating in the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and in the continuing under-representation of Black colleagues in university leadership. Here in our Department, it is realized in courses and curricula that erase Black literary voices, presence, and history; it is experienced in classrooms that dismiss or marginalize the ideas and perspectives of Black students; it is reiterated by policies that place exponential burdens of labour and representation on Black and other racialized faculty members, and by inadequate and inequitable hiring, promotion, and retention processes; it is perpetuated in scholarship that still valourizes whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization and exceptionalism as standards for intellectual and creative achievement. And while we are, today, focused on the grief and action of Black communities in the US, Canada, and around the world, we recognize that these questions and concerns extend well beyond Black contexts to those of Indigenous, Asian, Arab, South-Asian, African, and other People of Colour communities who are also experiencing ongoing violence, racism, erasure, and disenfranchisement.
Statements such as these have many purposes, including burnishing institutional reputations and standing in for substantive actions. In most departments, including ours, they are written by non-Black faculty to address a primarily non-Black audience even as they rely primarily on the labor of racialized and non-tenured faculty, and presume to speak for Black colleagues. If, as a Department, we say that we believe Black lives matter, what are we all doing to realize it? How do we make a statement of solidarity meaningful even as staff, students, and faculty are experiencing the visceral burden of their racialization?
As a step towards addressing the concerns, the Department of English Language and Literatures publicly commits to undertake a comprehensive and systematic audit of its policies, procedures, and practices with regard to equity, diversity, and inclusion. This audit, which will take place over the course of the next 18 months, will engage faculty, students, staff, alumni, community members, and other constituencies in order to identify shortcomings and formulate a concrete plan of action with clear goals and benchmarks. We commit ourselves to full transparency and ongoing accountability as we work together to actively make this Department, this University, and our disciplines places where Black, Indigenous, Asian, and other racialized learners, artists, and scholars can thrive.
* Remembering Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Colour killed by Canadian police: https://www.pyriscence.ca/home/2020/5/29/cdnpolice