Statement composed by graduate students of U.C. Berkeley Philosophy condemning racism and committing to change
Without any qualification or hesitation, we affirm that Black Lives Matter. As members of the U.C. Berkeley Department of Philosophy, we resoundingly condemn the ongoing police brutality against Black people in our country. This untempered violence has led to the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others. This violence has been made all the more salient by the ongoing pandemic, which disproportionately affects communities of color. The racist status quo in the United States is unacceptable and must change.
We realize that a statement of solidarity is not enough. As academics and educators, we must use our positions of power and influence to work towards racial justice and equity. We cannot shy away from responsibility at this critical time.
We call on U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ to begin an effort to defund and demilitarize the U.C. Police Department and reallocate funds to community-based organizations that help better the lives of students and other peoples of color, in line with the proposal endorsed by our graduate-student workers union, UAW Local 2865, and those which are being considered at a citywide level in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In addition, we stand with U.C. Berkeley’s Law Students of African Descent in the demand that U.C. Berkeley immediately cut ties with the Berkeley Police Department.
We also recognize that now is the time to hold ourselves accountable and change our own practices. As a department, we have not done enough to support our Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students, along with all other students of color, who face additional stressors on a daily basis both in and out of the classroom. For example, as teachers of philosophy, we have not done enough to critically interrogate stereotypes, particularly about "natural talent" for philosophy, that favor students in the dominant cultural group. We have also not done enough to recognize and challenge microaggressions. Moreover, we have not paid enough attention to the effects of a canon that is overwhelmingly white, and of passing over in complicit silence the racism voiced by some of its main figures. All of these inadequacies can alienate students from underrepresented groups and burden them with draining and distracting psychic work of overcoming alienation. This is made all the more salient by the fact that the racial diversity among our faculty and graduate students is unsatisfactory. We feel a profound sense of regret and responsibility at the thought of how these failures may have turned off or driven out students who would otherwise have excelled in our discipline.
Further, we have failed to properly intellectually engage with the work of philosophers of color and with work that is especially relevant to communities of color. Our course offerings and invited speaker lists rarely include this valuable work. This has been a disservice to our students and to philosophy as a whole, and has left us with a parochial understanding of our own discipline.
We must do better. The signatories of this letter are committed to doing the work to understand the role that we have played in perpetuating this status quo, and what steps we can take to change it.
In particular, we will take active steps to promote the following goals:
- Restructuring our syllabi to include a larger number of philosophers of color
- Inviting philosophers of color as colloquium speakers every academic year
- Improving racial diversity in faculty hiring and graduate admissions by employing practices that increase equity
- Cross-listing courses from other departments, introducing new courses, and using other means to make room for discussions of racism and intersecting social justice issues
- Engaging in conversations on philosophical pedagogy that critically interrogate our own assumptions, and those of our colleagues (e.g. about "natural talent" in philosophy) and that help us to recognize and foster the diverse kinds of excellence that characterize a healthy intellectual community
We recognize that these changes will not come easily, and that this list is not exhaustive. Nevertheless, we commit to finding solutions and will not create excuses to justify our failure to act. We also commit to ongoing dialogue about these issues with people of color in our community.