8:46. Two weeks ago, these four characters would have meant little. Since then, what they signify has shaken our country to its core. On May 25, 2020, a White police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, causing Mr. Floyd’s death. We have since seen marches and protests all over the US and abroad calling out police brutality and racial injustice, and calling for justice for Mr. Floyd.
Mr. Floyd’s killing is just one of far too many that have happened in this country. Black, Indigenous, and people of color have long suffered injustice, often with fatal consequences, when interacting with the police. Yet these deeply fraught interactions with law enforcement are just one expression of the systemic racism that the Black community experiences. In a June 5, 2020 email, the Iowa Department of Human Rights noted these findings (and I quote):
- Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for Black Iowans was higher than the rest of the state. In comparison to a state-wide unemployment rate of about 2%, Black Iowans experienced unemployment in excess of 9%. […] (Sources: Iowa Workforce Development and Iowa State Data Center)
- Black Iowans are more likely to be incarcerated. African Americans make up about 4% of the state’s total population, but represent 25% of Iowa’s prison population. While the population of African American juveniles is 6% of our state’s total juvenile population, we also see that 32% of the youth with juvenile justice system contact are African American (FY2019). (Sources: Iowa Department of Corrections and Iowa Department of Human Rights Justice Data Warehouse)
- Black Iowans are more likely to live in poverty. The poverty rate in 2018 for African American Iowans was 30.7%; for Iowa it was 11.2%. The median household income for African Americans was $31,992; the median household income for the state was $59,955. (Source: Iowa State Data Center)
These findings reflect systemic, long-standing policies and practices which have created fundamental disadvantages for Black people and other marginalized communities. Such policies and practices, along with many conscious or unconscious behaviors and beliefs held by Whites, must be called what they are: racist. They show us how much ground we must still cover before all people have equal educational and economic opportunities, are treated equitably by our health care system and experience respect in their interactions with the law.
In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, social scientists, historians, anthropologists and other scholars probe deeply into the roots of racism and help our students see its manifestations and consequences. Their courses, presentations, and seminars offer students a chance to engage in dialogue with people from different backgrounds and to see the world in all of its complexity, pain, and beauty. In particular, we offer some students their first opportunity to learn from a teacher of color.
At a systemic level, we commit to a critical examination of our own policies and practices, from classroom teaching to faculty and staff recruitment, to ensure that they are truly equitable. For those of us who are White, let us challenge each other to learn more about the issues faced by our students, faculty and staff of color. These actions are just beginnings, and I invite all of you to help us build a better community together.
These are stressful times. I encourage you to seek support for yourself, if you feel the need, and here are some resources for faculty, staff and students that are available to you:
The college’s core values articulate our commitment to a diversity of people and ideas, in a spirit of collegiality, trust and respect. True to these values, let us commit ourselves to supporting an inclusive environment for all students, faculty and staff, taking action to stop discrimination, harassment, and racism and continuing to grow the diversity and opportunities of the college community.
Black Lives Matter.