Published on Jun 4, 2020
In the midst of ongoing violence of state agents and white vigilantes against Black and Indigenous peoples in the Americas, we in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago support and defend the right of those in our community to engage in acts of protest and civil disobedience. We are outraged by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota, which has sparked the latest wave of protest. Furthermore, we understand that white supremacy is intimate and endemic to our own city and campus. We uphold the lives of Rekia Boyd, LaQuan McDonald, and the innumerable victims of police violence and torture in the city of Chicago. Moreover, we condemn the violent and unjust arrest of University of Chicago undergraduate Charles Thomas, who continues to face criminal charges after receiving a conditional medical release from Cook County Jail due to symptoms of COVID-19. In the strongest terms, we understand the defunding and demilitarization of police as essential to our mission as educators and to ensure the safety of black, indigenous, and people of color who are staff, students, and faculty at our university. As a department, we dedicate ourselves to this project and call on the University administration to petition relevant prosecutors to drop the pending charges against Charles Thomas. We further condemn the unjust and unlawful acts of violence and harassment by University of Chicago police toward protestors in our Hyde Park community on Sunday, 31 May 2020.
Our discipline of anthropology is not exempt from responsibility. As a field that encompasses the study of human diversity, history, and sociality, our field too often takes the category of the human for granted under the banner of cultural relativism. This line of inquiry is insufficient in a world where white supremacist violence is deployed to enforce the racialized borders of the human historically forged from the crucible of Indigenous genocide, trans-Atlantic slavery, and European colonialism. In recognition of this, our aim remains to create a discipline and departmental community that is committed not only to the defense of an abstract humanism, but also to the abolition of state terror and all forms of racial, gendered, and sexual violence.
We acknowledge that this task will not be accomplished by revisions to departmental curricula or the diversification of our students and faculty alone. Decolonizing anthropology, following Faye Harrison, requires concrete measures that include the demilitarization of our campus, the creation of autonomous spaces and cultural centers for Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, and LGBTQI students, and the creation of new venues for the production of collaborative and community-based research.