To All Our Religion Students, Especially Students of Color,
Our department is grieving and angry—in fact, our hearts are torn apart—by the murder of George Floyd by the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department one week ago today. We say his name, along with those of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Rodney King…the list goes on. And on.
A week ago, Covid-19 was laying bare preexisting injustices in our country. Now, the racist murder of George Floyd just 45 minutes north has brought to light additional injustices of which black, brown, and poor people have always been aware. His murder, and the structural violence that led to it, is part of a long history of generational trauma inflicted on black bodies in the United States. As James Cone wrote in 1969, “It is this fact that most whites seem to overlook—the fact that violence already exists.”
We are proud that so many of you have not overlooked that violence. You are taking part in protests, participating in collective actions for those who are suffering most right now, and caring for one another personally: here in Minnesota and across the country. You are doing all this while juggling a demanding course load in the very stressful situation of online learning—a situation that magnifies inequalities even as it lets us connect across vast distances.
We stand in solidarity with Carleton’s Black Student Alliance and Africana Studies Program, whose members have long been promoting the flourishing of black people and other people of color by creating spaces that celebrate blackness and diversity, and by educating all of us on the history of antiblack racism and black activism, political theory, and social organizing. Doing this work is crucial. We know it is also exhausting, and so we want to express our admiration as a department for the unseen labor you perform daily, and for the uncommon grace you display in living and learning on a predominately white campus.
We acknowledge that our own department is predominately white and that students of color are far outnumbered in our classes. We know that, among other painful challenges, you often have to discuss issues that relate to religion, race, and social justice—as the sole voices of color. And now, you have had to do that over the internet and phone lines, where your connection is not always reliable—and this puts you at a further disadvantage.
While we strive to address these issues in our course readings, discussions, and assignments, the events of this past week reveal in stark terms that there is much more work to do. We remain committed to engaging and altering the range of issues studied and discussed in the religious studies community and in our classrooms. We want always to be more attentive to the blatant injustices and violence in the histories and traditions we study, as well as to the resilience and sources of creativity and scholarship coming out of communities of color and poor communities. We want always to be attentive to you. While we ourselves, as faculty, come from a range of backgrounds, we acknowledge that we stand in positions of privilege that have been produced by a broken system infused with white supremacy. This white privilege means that we often ask questions—and fail to ask questions—that reflect our own positionality. We stand committed to fight white supremacy, to join with allies who make Black lives really matter, and to work to uncover and expose the political, economic, and military structures that reduce so many to lives that don’t matter.
We move forward, doing our very best to act with intentionality and dedication for change and justice in our community. We are very grateful to you, our students, who teach us more about this every day. We call on others in our community—from the College President to our local mayors and to all of our neighbors who live on this Dakota land—also to stand for justice, challenge white supremacy, and question the violent forces of police in our neighborhoods.
Ahoo, Asuka, Daniel, Kristin, Lori, Michael, Sonja, and Tanzeen
Carleton College Department of Religion