Statement of Solidarity: Black Lives Matter
The Department of Communication at Pacific Lutheran University stands in solidarity with those demonstrating and protesting both here and around the country against the state violence repeatedly enacted against people of color generally, and Black Americans specifically. Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her sleep by police who were serving a warrant to the wrong home, Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death while jogging, Christian Cooper was stopped in the park by a white woman named Amy Cooper who called the police claiming she was being threatened by an African American man because he asked her to leash her dog, Tony McDade was murdered by police in Tallahassee, and George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. These are acts of terror. Let us call them what they are.
Many have quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous line “a riot is the language of the unheard.” That poignant line is from a 1965 speech called “The Other America” and is about the Watts riots. And while King does not endorse riots, he says this: “[W]hat is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”
King’s speech, then, is an indictment not of those rioting, but of those standing by, tacitly supporting white supremacy and its companion white patriarchy, benefiting from racist structures that marginalize and oppress. King’s speech calls each and all of us to bear witness, to dismantle structural inequalities even and especially as many of us benefit from them, to bend the moral arc of the universe more swiftly toward justice. As scholars of rhetoric, we refuse to present a whitewashed version of King’s call. It is often said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes—the context that was exigence for King’s call to upend racist power structures that were designed specifically to oppress Black people in this country is the same context in which we find ourselves now.
Now is not a moment to risk offense. If people remain more offended about rioting and the destruction of property than they do of the ubiquitous violence enacted against Black people (and other marginalized people) that robs them of their lives and all of us of our dignity, they will continue to passively allow that violence to continue unchecked because of concerns for “tranquility and the status quo.” We stand with those advocating justice, equality, and humanity.
We believe that our Department needs to begin by talking openly and with care about unsanctioned violence against Black people. A clear, unwavering indictment of the status quo is the very first thing we can do.
Additionally, we believe it is imperative to self-educate and self-reflect. We recommend a number of books to learn more about communication, policing, and Blackness: Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity by Ersula Ore; Invisible No More: Police Violence against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie; and Beyond Hashtags: Racial Politics and Black Digital Networks by Sarah Florini, among others. We believe it is important to recognize Black feminist thought as a basis for thinking about social justice. We encourage students who want to be allies to also continue to learn and reflect.
We recognize the double-bind our Black students and students of color are experiencing, as Black and Latinx communities are disproportionately suffering from the health and economic crises resulting from COVID-19 as well as from police violence. To our Black students and non-Black students of color, you are in no way obligated to educate your white peers on the histories of violence and oppression against racial minorities in this country. As an overwhelmingly white faculty body, the least we can do is step in and relieve you of that burden, as it is our job and duty as educators. While most of us in the Communication faculty will never understand these experiences on an embodied, visceral level, we humbly offer ourselves as resources, as mentors, and as witnesses to your pain and heartbreak.
Finally, we believe it is imperative to support efforts already underway to make change, especially within our field of study. There have been movements within Communication to challenge the whiteness of the field: #CommunicationSoWhite and #RhetoricSoWhite. We commit to these movements in our teaching, scholarship, and service. We will continue to work to transform our discipline by ensuring questions of equity and power inform our curriculum and teaching, engaging in racial criticism in our scholarship, and dismantling the structural barriers to inclusion within our discipline.
Students power much of the change at PLU. We commend the statement by the President and Vice President of ASPLU that recommits to the Black Lives Matter Senate Resolution from 2017. We applaud student-activists for their labor.
This moment tasks us with looking at our role as university professors. It does not take much to discern that higher education is exclusionary with regard to race, gender, sexuality, economic status, ability, nationality, and religious belief. We must recognize that higher education is anti-Black. We must recognize our own complicity and begin conversations about PLU’s complicity. Faculty have a responsibility to communicate about injustice. Faculty have a responsibility to make sure students are in an environment in which they feel welcome and safe. Faculty have a responsibility to transform PLU and our communities.
We collectively bear witness to acts of white supremacist terror. We call upon the PLU community to reflect on anti-Blackness in higher education and our everyday lives and work to change it.
Amy Young, Professor & Chair, Department of Communication
Marnie Ritchie, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
Kate Hoyt, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
Justin Eckstein, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
Amanda Feller, Associate Professor, Department of Communication
Joanne Lisosky, Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication
Diane Harney, Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication