The Department of Africana Studies stands in solidarity with Black people across the country and the world, and their allies of all races, who are peacefully protesting against police brutality and the needless deaths of people like George Floyd at the hands of excessive and violent law enforcement officers. State-sanctioned violence against Black communities goes back to the era of enslavement, and our nation has long struggled to treat Black people fairly in their interactions with the criminal justice system and its representatives.
What undergirds the violence against Black bodies, the killings of Black men, women, and even children, is a basic lack of recognition of our humanity. The protests that are occurring all across the nation are a cry of rage, a plea to be seen and a call for being treated like the full citizens of this country that we are supposed to be. Yet this story is not just a national story, it is also a local one, with Pittsburgh having its own examples of deadly injustice, such as the recent killing of African American teen Antwon Rose in 2018. These unjust events are not one-off occurrences, rather they are part and parcel of a larger system of institutionalized and systemic racism where anti-Blackness is woven into every thread of our social fabric. From our educational systems, to our health care systems, to opportunities for employment, to incarceration—Black people suffer the worst outcomes over and over again in systems that operate to deny them equitable treatment and opportunity.
In his 1903 book of essays, The Souls of Black Folks, renowned sociologist W.E.B. DuBois wrote that the “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” Yet, in the twenty-first century, his observation still applies as people of African descent continue to be treated as if their lives are worthless in our democratic society. The dual crises that our nation is currently experiencing, the health pandemic of COVID-19 where Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately impacted and the now global protests against police brutality, are interrelated symptoms of a global disease of anti-Black racism. Our nation is sick, and has been for centuries. But when will the root causes of our illness be addressed so that we can heal? When will Black people be treated as full human beings?
The Department of Africana Studies remembers those who have suffered and died during this conflict, and we extend condolences and comfort to all of those affected. All of these tragic events give us an even greater fervor to continue both educating and supporting our students, campus, and larger community through these trying times. It is our sincere hope that our nation can turn a corner in moving towards equitable treatment and justice for all.
Faculty of the Department of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh
June 3, 2020