We are living through an exceptional time with the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, we are witnessing a revitalized attention to incidents of racist policing that might appear exceptional to some, but that are extensions of the racism that has long been endemic to our social lives and institutions. In firm solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and global protests assembling against anti-Black racism worldwide, the Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (CACLALS) remains committed to the difficult work of challenging institutional, relational, and systemic racism.
CACLALS’s mandate has long supported decolonial research and activism; our members continue not only to stand against racist incidents such as the murder of George Floyd, but to seek out ways to work through the systemic racism that marks the colonized worlds in which we live and that provides the conditions of possibility for the devaluation of Black lives. We also affirm that challenging racism goes beyond incidents of racist policing. It involves recognizing that violence against BIPOC lives is foundational to the police as an institution, as well as colonial states such as the United States and Canada whose very existences are predicated on the subjugation of Black and Indigenous peoples. With this in mind, we maintain in support of multiple activists and voices in Black studies scholarship that the violence through which we are living is endemic to the worlds we occupy. Challenging racism thus involves not only this statement of support, but continually working through systemic barriers presented to BIPOC lives, as well as the power dynamics embedded in the relationships that structure our everyday. This also involves, for us, rethinking the ways that the university has been and continues to be an agent of the colonial state. CACLALS itself must contend with our own organization’s implication in colonial institutions such as the university. As we go forward, the collective of BIPOC and settler scholars that regularly assembles at CACLALS looks forward to taking direction from activist voices and Black and Indigenous scholars within and beyond our organization as we navigate the necessary change that must take place if we are to ever inhabit a world in which racialized lives are not vulnerable to police violence.
We stand in solidarity against the violence of the American state, but we also call attention to the Canadian and Québécois states’ long histories of violence against BIPOC lives. Public consciousness in what many call Canada often refutes that such violence exists, and yet the evidence is glaring in ways that—as the recent change of heart of RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki suggests—do not allow leaders within the state to deny the existence of racism for long. Amidst the courageous work of activists who are the frontline workers against state racism, we join in public mourning for those murdered by police, including Rodney Levi, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Jason Collins, Eishia Husdon, D’Andre Campbell, and Randy Cochrane. This is but a
meagre mention of the devastation that has affected many families. The Canadian state thus must also recognize and dismantle its ongoing participation in the everyday policing of Black and Indigenous lives, its participation in slavery, its founding on the genocide of Indigenous peoples, and the way that these ongoing histories continue to shape the relationship between the state and BIPOC lives. Indeed, while we at CACLALS speak from our specific location, this movement resonates with the policing of Black life globally.
Despite the cancellation of Congress 2020 and the loss of this opportunity to foreground the politics of Black life and anti-Black racism, we hope that conversations on this front will continue. For CACLALS, participating in this conversation goes beyond the act of putting out a public statement in response to the murder by police of George Floyd and the numerous Black and Indigenous lives that have been met with police violence; rather, it involves an ongoing process that precedes and extends beyond our current moment. Amidst this time of social distancing, we instead insist on social cohesion against racialized violence.
Moving forward, we invite our members to participate in this movement in whatever way is possible from their specific location. This might involve joining ongoing protests against police violence and publicly supporting calls to defund the police. It might also involve drawing our university institutions’ attention to their implication in systemic, racialized violence, and calling for further action on their part. For those of us involved in the university, we can pressure our institutions for funding for Black, Indigenous, and decolonial scholarship; demand that universities cut ties with police; lobby for the hire of BIPOC scholars against the Canadian university’s widespread racially exclusionary hiring practices and for financial support for students in Black and Indigenous communities who have long faced barriers in tertiary education; take seriously the call to “Indigenize the curriculum” by taking direction from Indigenous communities and elders and recognizing that the university in its current form is ill-equipped to realize this mandate; and encourage departments and university bodies to publicly participate in the work that is taking place against police violence. We encourage our members to contact our Secretary-Treasurer, Jesse Arseneault (firstname.lastname@example.org) with resources that merit sharing with the CACLALS community, whether in the form of policy recommendations for universities or activist bodies; reading lists helpful to working through interlocking issues of racism, imperialism, policing and its history as an agent of the colonial state, state terror, or being BIPOC in academia; and research on systemic forms of racism in academia, particularly in Canada. As we receive material, we will circulate it to our membership via our website, Twitter page, and email.
The task ahead is daunting but, whatever direction we choose to pursue, we cannot afford to be complacent.