History Department statement on racial justice

We, members of the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis, stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with all those who are protesting white supremacy and institutionalized racism, including our students and colleagues. We mourn the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, and the many other Black people who have been killed with impunity by police officers and white civilians.

Police and white supremacist violence are deeply entrenched in a system of racist beliefs and practices that exclude Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian-American people from access to education, health care, wealth, and political and cultural representation. As historians, we are keenly aware of the long history of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism upon which US institutions were founded. This history shapes our present. The extent of and apparent tolerance for murders of Black people by the police are a testament to the continuing power of anti-Blackness in our society. Yet they also point to a longer trajectory that binds Native American genocide and slavery to Jim Crow laws and lynching, reservations and redlining to mass incarceration, and the active disenfranchisement of Black and Brown people. As historians, we are also inspired by the long history of resistance to these forms of violence, and the leading role of Black people and other people of color in demanding their abolition, and we strongly support current efforts to work toward completion of this goal.

The legacies of these systems of exclusion and destruction shape our very own institutions of higher education: our discipline, our university, and our department. Living and working as we do in St. Louis, we are especially aware of the toxic histories of slavery, enforced segregation, and violence that continue to make our region so deadly to many of its residents. Challenging racism and the power relations enabled by it can take many forms and requires sustained effort. As members of the Department of History at Washington University, we commit ourselves to identifying and interrupting the mechanisms of power that have enabled this injustice to continue for so long. As a start:

  • We commit ourselves to providing our students with the skills to understand the emergence and function of systems of power and violence that have created the conditions of the present.
  • We commit ourselves to identifying and interrupting practices that marginalize, discount, or appropriate the lives and products of Black and other subordinated people, in the classroom, in our research, and in our writing.
  • We commit ourselves to building an intellectual and professional environment that recognizes and rejects practices of exclusion and marginalization, one in which all students, faculty, and staff can thrive.