Confronting Racism: What We’re Reading Across Disciplines Toward an Antiracist Goal

illustrations by Clare Reid

As a student, graduate associate, social justice advocate, daughter, and friend, I’ve considered the importance of antiracism from all facets of my life. Because I am in a privileged position working and studying at Georgetown, I find myself reflecting on my responsibility to educate myself and those around me, share resources, and remind my friends, family, and colleagues of the historic moment in which we are living, while also challenging myself to question the space I take up in these conversations. 

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of CNDLS for one year now, consistently engaging in dialogues around equity and inclusivity in education. As part of my experience here, I have been exposed to antiracist works from our various disciplinary backgrounds to reflect on, engage with, and learn from, particularly now, as conversations about racism gain traction throughout society. From black feminist theory and prose and performative poetry to the biological weathering hypothesis and race in public policy, CNDLS has been guided by powerful statements from distinct voices. Below you’ll find my brief reflections on just some of the resources we have interacted with, with illustrations by my colleague, Clare Reid, who has captured some of the most striking and thought-provoking moments in my favorite pieces.

Black Feminist Futurity: From Survival Rhetoric to Radical Speculation by Caitlin Gunn

The first resource is a forward-thinking, feminist theory article exploring the idea of radical speculation and the importance of Black folx imagining themselves in a world not constrained by systems of oppression. I felt a tremendous sense of empowerment thinking about how I can also imagine a world beyond racist narratives and encourage others to do the same, but I am still faced with the question of how to encourage others to interact with “speculative play,” as Gunn calls it. When does this radical speculation from me, a white-identifying person in an primarily white, elite institution, commandeer the narrative from Black voices? How can we work together to imagine a world other than our own? Who has the power to practice speculative play? 

NPR Code Switch podcast episode: This racism is killing me inside 

From the discipline of biology, resources on the weathering hypothesis have piqued my interest. In the NPR “Code Switch” podcast, Arlene Geronimus, who proposed the hypothesis, reveals that she sees it as a metaphor for Black bodies’ erosion due to their environment, but also an ability to endure lifelong oppression. Prolonged exposure to discrimination causes chronic stress, increasing risks of chronic disease, and deteriorates Black bodies over time. The story of Shalon, a young mother who died after an emergency cesarean section, is an eye-opening glimpse at the stress and endurance that black women have faced and continue to face.

 

Color Theory by Imani Davis

Next is a deep dive into a medium much more familiar to me: poetry. More specifically, a poem that stands out to me for its focus on Black women’s experience in school and society and relationships between their experiences and systems of power. A prose poem, Color Theory, reads as if the author is exhausted describing her presence in the world. When read aloud, you can feel her pain, struggle, and exasperated plea for justice. The form of this poem speaks volumes, and is perhaps one of the most impactful antiracist pieces I’ve read in my work at CNDLS. I leave the poem feeling fortunate to have read Davis’ work, but also questioning my experience in school and the professional world and how my BIPOC colleagues have felt in the spaces where I have felt safe and nurtured. This poem left me yearning to do more with my own positionality to strive for equity in such spaces. 

TEDYouth performance “Put the financial aid in the bag” by Carvens Lissaint

This 5-minute TED performance offers an impassioned metaphor for the inequities of financial aid that exist in higher education. The performer, Carvens Lissaint, stages the image of a bank robbery to describe the process of getting financial aid, intentionally re-envisioning the criminal narrative that exists about Black men. His powerful statements comparing higher education institutions to institutions of slavery are shocking but undeniably important. Because he’s right—lecture halls shouldn’t feel like cotton fields—and our system is failing Black students. In a moment where we’re facing the need for radical change in our country, it is also time to demand radical change at the institutional level. 

Campus Protests and Whiteness as Property by David Shih

A final piece that struck me looked at race in public policy, and the idea of whiteness as property, both historically and in the contemporary space of college campuses. The article delves into Professor Cheryl Harris’ 1993 article on whiteness as property that has brought a critical lens to whiteness as more than just a racial identity or racial past of the United States. Harris argues that, under the law, whiteness is inherently protected and valued, and provides the opportunity to exclude non-white persons, guaranteeing white privilege. In his piece, Shih looks at race theory as related to campus protests and explores how administrations can get by by suggesting that they cannot make unilateral decisions to enforce change, and how professors and curriculum prestige can reinforce historical narratives around race, high culture, and education. Too often, antiracist curricula are not valued in institutions of higher education and it is our job as members of this community to break down racial prejudices. Lingering questions: Who is responsible for advocating for these critical changes to college environments? Student activists? Higher education administrators? Pedagogy experts? Diversity and inclusion working groups? 

As we at CNDLS continue to unlearn the biases instilled by systemic racism ourselves, we are also looking for ways to share these conversations with others within our professional and academic communities. Having the ability to take a deep dive into such distinct perspectives has helped me to reorient my thinking on systemic oppression and the experiences of people of color and to find outlets to have these conversations in various spaces to continue the learning—and unlearning—process. This work can, and should be, done in the workplace (in our case these days, over Zoom) and at CNDLS it guides our planning for implementing more antiracist practices in our workshops, teaching resources, and scholarly research. In the spirit of collective antiracist work and learning, we at CNDLS welcome feedback, and are always eager to share resources and read sources that others have come across in their own journeys. We are far from finished (and I am far from finished) in our progress toward antiracism in our work—and beyond—but we are compelled by the calls for systemic change and justice, and are finding ways to bolster and inform the work we do every day towards a more equitable Georgetown and a more just world.