George Floyd’s death in May has drawn the world’s attention to racist police violence in the U.S. Galvanized by Floyd’s death, people worldwide have protested the deaths and honored the memories of other African American people killed by police violence, raising up especially those lost in the past few months but keeping in view the many, many other African Americans and other people of color who have been killed or harmed by police.
The structural violence of white supremacy is longstanding. It operates every day, not only in police violence but also in myriad forms of physical, psychological, symbolic, and institutional violence. As we have learned from the tradition of intersectional analysis developed by Black feminists, white supremacy operates in combination with other structural oppressions, such as the oppression of women and the oppression of LGBTQIA+ people. These intersecting oppressions make Black women, especially Black transwomen, and everyone Black in the LGBTQIA+ community particularly vulnerable to violence. White supremacy also converges with certain ideologies of masculinity to put Black men and boys at risk. Other people of color and minoritized communities are equally threatened and harmed by white supremacy, in ways shaped by their specific histories and the roles they are made to occupy in the imaginary landscape of white supremacy.
Understanding these intersecting oppressions is crucial to our work in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, but our work can’t stop there. It’s hard to know how much it means for an organization or a corporation to denounce white supremacy, although GSWS joins wholeheartedly in that denunciation. As many people have pointed out, what’s crucial is not just denouncing white supremacy but committing to anti-racist work. The GSWS Program has, through discussions in the past year, made our commitment to this work central to our mission. In solidarity with the powerful forms of activism and analysis offered by Black Lives Matter, the Say Her Name campaign, and other anti-racist movements, I want to register the program’s commitment to combatting white supremacy in every dimension of our work.
Our program is made up of faculty with various racial identities, so the individuals who represent our program and participate in it take up anti-racist work in different ways. However, as a program we are located in a historically white institution, and the disciplines that underlie our work (originally women’s studies, now also gender studies and sexuality studies) have been disproportionately shaped by white scholars and by the influence of historically white institutions. As a program, then, we have in-house anti-racist work to do, in addition to the important work of educating our students and continuing to educate ourselves about the ways in which race and racism have been involved in the operations and histories of gender and sexuality.
Most of all, we are committed to working toward making this university and our larger communities sites in which people of all races are safe, supported, and jointly in charge of shaping the world and creating knowledge. Here’s hoping that the powerful stirrings in the world today can help us all make the vital changes we need to make.