sociologists against systemic racism and anti-black police violence

Today, the graduate students of the Brown Sociology department, with support from faculty and staff, put out a statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the ongoing protests against police violence. The text of the statement is reproduced below; the full statement including signatures is available here. This statement joins those from the American Sociological Association, Sociologists for Women in Society, and other sociology departments including Temple University, UCSD (in the comments below), University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, and Wake Forest University. Please post links to any other statements by sociology associations or departments that you come across in the comments below, and I’ll add them to this list.

Brown Sociology Statement in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter

June 2, 2020

We as graduate student workers (with support of faculty and staff) in the sociology department at Brown University are in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the protests for justice around the country. We condemn the state-sanctioned murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, David McAtee, and all Black lives lost to ongoing state violence. Given our privileged position as scholars, professionals, and researchers at an elite private university – which has benefited from this country’s history of white supremacy in the forms of settler colonialism, slavery, and ongoing US imperialism – we cannot and will not stay silent.[1]

The history of police and policing in the United States can be traced back to slave patrols[2] and white rioting against neighborhood racial integration at the turn of the twentieth century. From Reconstruction to the mid-twentieth century, the installation of state-sanctioned racial segregation used policing as a means of ensuring the safety of property while enforcing a racial order founded on anti-blackness.[3] These racial logics continue to show themselves in how we treat and value Black life. This history of policing and anti-blackness is deeply intertwined with ongoing racial capitalism, increasing militarization, and white nationalism, which have formed the conditions that we are experiencing and fighting against today.

We have a responsibility to engage with those in our professional, linguistic, and cultural communities, given our commitment to anti-racism and access to our own and the university’s resources, knowledge, and skills. We must initiate urgent conversations within our networks, especially with people who do not normally engage these issues. This includes all those we have relationships with, such as family, friends, students, academic colleagues, administrators, research centers, athletic coaches, neighbors, librarians, and faith community members. It also means that we must reach beyond our networks to financially and materially support the communities and individuals who are directly targeted through structural and interpersonal racism.[4]

We understand that this engagement may be uncomfortable for those who have not previously participated in conversations around race and white supremacy, but we value Black life over our personal comfort. We believe raising consciousness about anti-black racism is more important than the relative ease of silence. This statement is our commitment to not ignore these systemic forms of violence, to not be silent about injustice, and to always aim to do better even when we fail. We commit to continuous education, of ourselves and of others, and to learning from our mistakes with humility. While we educate ourselves, it is also our responsibility to actively seek out information and not expect to always be educated by those who have been, and continue to be, targeted. As sociologists, we are committed to learning about society in order to change it.

We ask scholars in sociology and across other academic fields in the U.S. and globally to think creatively about what they can do to affirm Black life. No act is too small as it can set the stage for others to build on–often in unexpected and generative ways. Change happens whenever all of us get involved using our positions, resources, and experiences to cultivate a willingness to transform while being transformed. Involvement can take many forms: departmental statements; course design[5]; speaker series, and workshops and teach-ins[6] that think with, center, and compensate those directly affected. Any form of intellectual life on campus needs to grapple with, or at least recognize, the need to dismantle anti-blackness. This can also take the form of off-campus action in the community, such as university divestment from and/or disbandment of formal partnerships with campus, town, and/or city police[7] in response to anti-black racism.[8] At a minimum, any effort towards transformation involves rejecting both the comfort of willful ignorance and the practice of censoring ourselves into silence.

In working toward defunding and demilitarization of the police, we as members of the Brown community ask Brown University to cut all ties with Warren Kanders ‘79, the CEO of Safariland. Safariland is a supplier of teargas that is being deployed against protestors and others in the U.S. and around the world, including those fighting for justice right now – a violation of human rights that is banned in warfare by the Geneva Convention.[9] [10]

As sociologists, we support the American Sociological Association’s statement[11] and ask sociology departments across the world to join us with their own condemnations of the state-sanctioned murder of Black people and racist policing. It is well past time to say Black Lives Matter.

[1] Slavery and Justice: a Report by The Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice documents how the use of slave labor and the Atlantic Slave Trade built the University. Similarly, historical scholarship (Harris et al 2019) consistently reveals the Ivy League’s and higher education institutions’ long-term dependence on slavery and the displacement of indigenous nations. Like many private universities, Brown is embedded within a minority-majority city. Thus, part of ending silence must mean making and paying appropriate reparations to the local community who have experienced the University’s corporate shadow.

[2] The historic development of policing in the United States can be traced through legal and sociological scholarship (see Vitale 2017).

[3] For example, race and property were fused together within US jurisprudence and it influences the modes of policing used to protect property. Furthermore, Du Bois (1935) studied the role of the police in enforcing racial segregation and regulating Black, especially Freedman, labor in constituting the racial state during the late nineteenth century.

[4] A resource guide that contextualizes the Minneapolis uprising and provides guidance on some potential forms of support.

[5] Those engaged with the movement have created multiple Black Lives Matter syllabi.

[6] For example, UC Berkeley students held teach-ins protesting the 45th presidential inauguration, including events on anti-black racism, using story strategies to reach people, and facilitating difficult conversations.

[7] For example, the University of Minnesota (UMN) decided to limit involvement with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). University President Gabel made the decision after Jael Kerandi, Black UMN student and the student body president, wrote a widely circulated letter urging the university to cease its relationship with MPD.

[8] Further suggestions for actions: Court Watching, Bailout and Legal Funds (RI; national) Community Defense funds (RI; national) and projects.

[9] For example, despite being banned in warfare, tear gas is used against protestors globally.

[10] In particular, this demand has precedent, as Kanders resigned from the Whitney Board due to his lucrative investments, as a manufacturer, in tear gas, which has been used at the Mexico-U.S. border against migrants.

[11] The ASA’s June 1, 2020 statement is here.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

4 thoughts on “sociologists against systemic racism and anti-black police violence”

  1. Hi Dan,

    The following is the statement we wrote at UC San Diego.


    Amy J. Binder
    Professor and Chair
    Department of Sociology
    UC San Diego


    The members of the Department of Sociology stand in solidarity with our Black students, faculty, staff, and all others who are hurting, grieving, and outraged by the tragic murders of George Floyd and so many others at the hands of racism and organized brutality. As sociologists, we know that these heinous, anti-Black crimes are not anomalous, but endemic to a racist system that affects the daily experiences and opportunities of Black Americans and other communities of color through physical, economic, structural, and psychological forms of violence. These recent acts of racial violence and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on communities of color are acute reminders that equality is a racialized privilege available to the very few. We stand in solidarity with all who seek to make fundamental and lasting change to our shared, collective future.

    This is an extraordinarily difficult time. We were already living through a pandemic when searing racial violence convulsed the nation. The wishes that many of us had in earlier days of this pandemic for everything to return to “normal” have been replaced by the realization — and not for the first time — that even that “normal” reality is terrible for so many. It’s no wonder that people are choosing to risk their safety, both in the face of this virus and with the threat of physical violence, to take a stand against that “normal.”

    In advocating and building a common, anti-racist future, we must forever bear in mind that racism is not unavoidable but is animated by the countless actions, expectations, and decisions we take in our everyday lives. In times like these, every single one of us must actively oppose forms of racism that often dominate the lives of too many. Here, we invite our colleagues, friends, and allies to think of specific and concrete ways in which they can contribute.

    1. We encourage faculty, graduate students, and staff to consider the effects of the current environment on the mental, emotional, and physical health of students, particularly those that are more likely to be directly exposed to racial violence. As we head into finals week, we will take into account the immense trauma that our students are experiencing. We believe it is particularly important to rethink how we deal with changes to the evaluations and assessments, bearing in mind that apparently color-blind policies (for example, extensions and interruptions) can and will have racialized consequences. In offering support, we urgently ask our colleagues to err on the side of compassion and generosity.

    1. We invite faculty, graduate students, and staff to actively vocalize support for Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements in the classroom and in their communications with students. This involves being proactive and recognizing that the social agendas of these movements involve a critical defense of people whom the system has failed. Now more than ever, students need to be exposed to principled, informed views on the depth of systemic racism in contemporary societies. Skirting around discussions of racism does not help. On the contrary, as a phenomenon that cuts across most aspects of social life, there are ample opportunities to discuss these topics with our students in ways that are consistent with both our educational objectives and our social goals. When possible, we also invite colleagues, allies and friends to support financially and logistically the efforts of anti-racist movements.

    1. We recognize the importance of valuing the difficulties faced by everyone in these troubling times, but we urge faculty, staff, and students to avoid generalizing arguments and policies in ways that amount to “all-lives-matter-isms” that avoid concrete solutions and interventions. We should be solidary, but remember that particular communities are routinely exposed to overwhelming levels of injustice, exploitation, and violence and that these individuals are likely to suffer disproportionately from the current crisis.

    1. We encourage our friends, colleagues, and allies to see this moment for what it is. The mass uprising in the streets has given us a rare historical moment. We sense that we stand on the hinges of history. A post-segregationist racial order is closing. Brave activists in the streets have given us the gift of re-examination and pose the questions: “What should racial democracy in America look like and how can we get there?” As professional sociologists who value public sociology, the moment is ripe to ask a series of additional questions: How may we re-think the relationship between sociology and the social change that activists are demanding? How should we reconsider our role as individual sociologists? How should we proceed from this point forward?

    Liked by 2 people

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