Africana Studies exists as a field because Black students, encouraged by allies in the community, demanded the creation of Black Studies programs and departments over 50 years ago. In the throes of unrest triggered by rampant discrimination, police brutality without culpability, and failures to respond to Civil Rights protest, American colleges and universities acceded to students seeking the establishment of curricula that would speak to their heritages and experiences, while providing them with knowledge relevant to their communities.

We stand in a similar time, buffeted by the winds of reaction and bigotry, witnessing the murder of Black men and women, the poor, cis and trans individuals alike, at the hands of self-proclaimed vigilantes and active law enforcement. This comes at a time when Black people are already suffering disproportionately in a pandemic to which many in power respond as an inconvenience on the path to enrichment, while the survival of those of us privileged to work from home depends on the need for poor and working class people, disproportionately Black and brown, to continue to labor in order to survive while providing for the wealth of some, the comfort and convenience of many, exposing them to the threat of the virus.

It is in this crucible that the challenge has arisen, calling for the end of anti-blackness. It cannot be mistaken that this is the target of cries that Black Lives Matter and to Say Her Name once we confront the reality of a system premised upon the negation of Black humanity. This is the particular tenor of the systemic racism denounced by protesters, one that exists alongside the derogation of the indigenous, and the exclusion of the immigrant. We profess that these manifestations are profoundly intertwined with one another, with class hierarchies, as well as with transphobia, homophobia, and patriarchal sexism. All of these issues and more are part and parcel of a national fabric rife with the oppression and exploitation of the Other.

Nonetheless, it is once again the struggle of African-descended people that ignites the spark, perhaps because the national cancer directed at them offers just the right mix of the horrific and the banal — the image of Derrick Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, hands in his pocket, for nearly nine minutes. But do not neglect that the proximate deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade, along with countless others like Atatiana Jefferson and Tamir Rice over the last decade and before, contribute to the volatile mix that has millions in the streets of the United States and the world.

The multi-racial protests around the country and around the world testify to the fact that white supremacy is a threat to all. The struggles of the poor, and the queer and trans, and Native Americans, and women, and Latinx, and Asian American, and disabled, and innumerable others, shout in chorus, and yet still they all say “Black Lives Matter” in the streets, and in social media, and in their drum circles. Not because this struggle is more important, but because it is that of the moment, as they wrap their arms around us in our collective grief.

We, the faculty and students of the Africana Studies Program at Virginia Tech, offer our voices in support of those engaged in these struggles. They are ours, and our students’, and their families’. But more than that, we raise our voices to speak to that which our field has dedicated itself over the last 50 years - a critical perspective focused on the empowerment of Black people and their communities. Anti-blackness is anathema to our very existence, and we call for it to be stamped out.

While policing is the target of the moment, we assert that it cannot be the sole focus of what comes next, for it is merely one aspect of the system which has figuratively and literally placed its knee on Black necks. Nor can police forces be reckoned with without also challenging the intercalated structures of the judiciary and political systems. There is no accountability for police while their unions wield outsized influence over the political process and the selection of prosecutors and city and state officials. There is no culpability for excessive force and murder when judges operate under the pretense of “reasonable” use of force premised on the behavior of typical police officers, for whom anti-blackness is as the sea to a fish — constitutive and unacknowledged. And when juries take for granted that police officers act on their behalf when controlling Black bodies, putting them down when their perceived threat becomes too discomfiting.

Calling for the reinvestment of the billions spent on policing into other arenas — whether we call it “defunding” or something else — is a step in the right direction. Additional resources for mental health, education and job training, health care, and housing would go far in alleviating some of the worst consequences of inequality in American cities and towns. But to do so without maintaining a recognition of the force of anti-blackness would be folly, resulting in yet more unequal investment and never addressing the underlying factors contributing to disproportionate poverty and suffering that years of research tell us are at the root of the neglect of Black communities.

We call on Virginia Tech to do more. Even as the university undertakes a vision to go beyond boundaries, to address its expertise to addressing complex problems, it must recognize that anti-blackness is one of them. It must be intentional, in this moment, in engaging Black students and communities in meaningful opportunities, supporting their successful engagement with all of the resources and opportunities that the university offers. It must commit itself to the struggle of uprooting anti-blackness within and without, even as it redoubles its commitment to any broader vision of diversity.

We entreat University officials to engage seriously and transparently with students to address their needs and grievances, so as to ensure that Virginia Tech lives up to the principles it espouses to all who will listen. And we, the faculty of the Africana Studies Program, pledge ourselves to continue in the spirit of the founders of our field, and of the students who served as its midwives, in pursuit of education, scholarship, and empowerment for people of African descent.  

Ellington Graves
Professor and Director of Africana Studies, Virginia Tech Department of Sociology
Assistant Provost for Inclusion and Diversity, Virginia Tech

Onwubiko Agozino
Professor of Sociology, Virginia Tech

Andrea Baldwin
Associate Professor of Sociology, Virginia Tech

Anthony Kwame Harrison
Professor of Sociology, Virginia Tech
Edward S. Diggs Professor in Humanities, Virginia Tech

Paulo Polanah
Associate Professor of Sociology, Virginia Tech

Paula Marie Seniors
Associate Professor of Sociology, Virginia Tech

Wornie Reed
Professor of Sociology, Virginia Tech
Director, Race and Social Policy Center, Virginia Tech Department of Sociology

On Behalf of the Faculty, Students, and Affiliates of the Virginia Tech Africana Studies Program