When actions meet words
In my last post, I talked about the origins of Black History Month as well as the opportunities we have to learn about the ongoing struggles of Black people, celebrate their achievements, and support the fight for justice.
Where to begin learning, celebrating, and supporting
As I think back on the past year and how so many people were able to bear witness to countless public demonstrations of injustice toward Black people such as Amy Cooper’s false 911 calls and the killing of George Floyd by the police, there began a renewed recognition and acknowledgement of the devastating impact of deliberate, systemic racism.
With suggestions on how to support Black colleagues this month (and every day) showing up in major publications as well as tangible changes, such as the introduction of the CAREN Act in San Francisco to the CROWN Act in California, Colorado and other states to the several publicly announced commitments to diversity from companies around the world, I’m beginning to see some progress.
But is it enough?
As part of DU’s 20th annual Diversity Summit, I attended a panel discussion with four faculty members of color: Art Jones, clinical psychologist and interdisciplinary teacher, scholar, and singer, currently Professor Emeritus of Music, Culture and Psychology in the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (CAHSS); Apryl Alexander, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP); Lolita Tabron, who serves as an assistant professor in DU’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies; and Travis Heath, new to DU and a licensed psychologist and visiting clinical associate professor in GSPP.
The session was one of five scheduled “Community Conversations” with various groups for people of color. Each of the panelists articulated their shared reality that words are not action and more accountability for change is needed at the individual and institutional levels.
After spending some time reflecting on the session, I was reminded of an African proverb quoted by notable Nigerian author, professor, and poet Chinua Achebe. It reads, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
This proverb articulates the consequences of dominant groups inscribing power through historical narrative. I see it as a treatise of sorts. I still see the legacy of subjugation and the resulting inequities and injustices that have been perpetuated by the “hunter.”
Our actions must match our words. This past week, I was struck by the Black History Month letter shared with the DU community as a part of our Heritage Month series. It was not as much the content of the letter that caught my attention as it was the signatories. Perhaps for the first time, every Dean and Vice Chancellor, in addition the Provost and Chancellor, signed onto the letter—a letter that closes with the words “in solidarity.”
To be in solidarity means to be united behind a common purpose. The letter affirmed the “uncomplicated refrain ‘Black Lives Matter’ even as others have questioned and rejected it,” and acknowledged that “Anti-Black racism is real,” while celebrating achievements of past and current African Americans. Reading about the University’s commitment to “listen with empathy, learn with purpose and create with inclusion at the center of our thinking” is laudable. It is my hope and has been the hope of so many for so long that this sentiment truly drives the change that we all need and can become.
Source: King, LaGarrett J. "When lions write history." Multicultural Education, vol. 22, no. 1, 2014, p. 2+. Gale Academic OneFile.