In this post, we join the call for the Strike for Black Lives that will be taking place on Wednesday June 10th, but first, we want to give some context. The editors of the inclusion/exclusion blog join our voices to the calls for justice and action that we are hearing across the nation in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many Black people at the hands of police and white supremacists. We emphatically affirm that Black Lives Matter. But we also recognize that a message is not enough. If our majority white professional societies’ actions do not match our words, our words are empty and a form of ally theater. For our Black mathematician colleagues, it is just another reason not to trust these organizations and to be understandably angry.
We also want to make a distinction here — the problem is systemic racism, not just underrepresentation (even “underrepresented minority” is a terrible term to use). If we continue business as usual, it is disingenuous to focus only on recruiting more Black, Indigenous, Latinx students into our programs. Our goal needs to be to create an environment in which any person who WANTS to be a mathematician, can. To change mathematics itself so that it actually serves Black and Indigenous communities. White and non-Black POC don’t need to recruit people as props to make us feel better, we need to get out of the way.
We are not alone in this — many academic disciplines have been long entrenched in systems of white supremacy that have marginalized many groups, but especially Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC). Not only that, many of the structures and traditions operate as a form of “slow violence” (a term I first heard from Rochelle Gutiérrez) and cause irreparable harm.
But, as some brilliant colleagues from Physics and Astronomy have said, we can act to eradicate structural and systemic oppression at all levels in our academic disciplines. In their campaign to #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia, these organizers have called for a Strike for Black Lives on June 10th. “No research, no meetings, no classes, no business as usual.” So let’s all step up. We invite you to join the strike, and head over to the main page of Shut Down STEM to see recommendations on what non-Black mathematicians can do, and take the day to share on social media your plans using the hashtags. The main call is not, however, to just share a hashtag and then call it quits — stepping up, in this case, means sharing plans and strategies along with the hashtags. In the words of the organizers: “Use the hashtags #ShutdownSTEM and #ShutdownAcademia to show us YOUR plan to take action for Black lives!”
So yes, go to Black Lives Matter protests, donate to bail funds for protestors, use hashtags to express your outrage at police brutality, but be prepared to commit for the long haul. Donate to NAM (or better yet, get your department to become a departmental member!), donate to Mathematically Gifted and Black, donate to Data 4 Black Lives. Get your department to read anti-racism books. Design your classroom around rehumanizing principles that center your Black students. Change your hiring practices. Think about how you may be complicit in gate-keeping by accepting the status quo. And given that the current national focus is on the police state and how it’s implicated in the murder of Black people, demand that your colleagues stop contributing to the development of algorithms of oppression. Demand that we stop rewarding work that supports policing, inequality, and surveillance. Be intentional and mindful about mentoring graduate students. Read this letter in its entirety. And then do something.