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SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease known as COVID19, ripped the frayed band-aid off of an America that we have refused to collectively recognize. In the wake of our early and wholly inadequate federal response to the virus, and the widely varied stay-at-home orders that followed, essential workers – those in the medical fields and food systems – continued to go to work. Words like “safety” and “home” for those who are housing insecure, food insecure, and threatened in what should be a “safe” space, came to us bundled in a kind of privilege available to so few in this nation.

In this season of fear, death, and mourning, one public health crisis met another ongoing crisis: racism. Videos and media outlets depicted and/or reported the deaths of Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Chantel Moore, and Rayshard Brooks. The names are legion and join a history of violence – quotidian, legal and extra-legal – particularly against African-descended, Indigenous, Asian-descended and Latinx persons in this country. Centuries of inequity now stare us down and we are humbled and shamed by the persistent not-looking that has gotten us to this moment of seeing so very clearly what anti-Black racism is and does and where white supremacy lives and breathes. Black Lives Matter to us. Black Living Matters to us.

As educators and scholars, we believe it is our duty to say the names of those victimized by racist state violence. And more importantly, as we say their names, we do what we do best to stop that particular tide of violence. Especially at this time, we stand as and with POC and Indigenous members of our department, our communities, and in this nation as they survive and live through this moment.

The Department of American Studies promotes and dignifies ethical leadership in the 21st century and pursuant to our goals of respect, courage and working together for everyone’s mutual benefit – a practice that works against utilitarian impulses – here are five current actions we are taking. We expect to add to this list.

  1. We commit to supporting courses that tell the full story of the project of America. American Studies is a field that works to examine structural and interlocking violences of racism, misogyny, queer- and transantagonisms. Our department offers UNC students courses taught by content-experts and scholars trained in Black Studies, Latinx Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian-American Studies and Queer and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies. We endeavor to reframe existing courses in service to this moment (AMST 101/Intersectionality and Southern Studies 375/Food & Race). We commit to adding a spring 2021 undergraduate course in critical ethnic studies that focuses on anti-Black racism and forms of colonialism.
  2. We commit to recruiting and retaining Black undergraduate majors/minors, Black graduate students, Black staff, and Black faculty. We commit to supporting the Black members of our community by advocating for fair and equitable compensation and an environment in which they may thrive.
  3. We commit to actively offering ourlabor and our expertise to support demands to remove honorifics and monuments to racism on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, including buildings and landmarks named for enslavers, segregationists and opponents of Black citizenship.
  4. We recommit ourselves to mentoring our faculty at all ranks with TEAMAdvance guidelines in place to focus our efforts.
  5. We commit to offering intersectional training to faculty and graduate students so that we can continue and, yes, challenge the conversations we are already having among ourselves during this moment. We commit to partnering with like-minded departments in this ongoing training and consciousness-raising
  6. We commit to seeking sustainable and justice-oriented ways to reduce the role and increased militarization of police.

Why is this important? Because two of the officers involved in the taking of George Floyd’s life were once students at the University in Minnesota, and we clearly need to do so much more for our students when they pass through our gates. Because George Floyd was a native son and we do his memory no great service if we don’t commit ourselves to structural change that can and does save lives.

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