Department of Anthropology Statement on Black Lives Matter

June 19, 2020
People across the world have risen up in protest of the relentless state-sanctioned killing of Black people in the United States — most recently the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks by police officers in Minneapolis, Louisville, and Atlanta. Policing in its current form perpetuates what Reverend Emma Jordan-Simpson calls our country’s “birth defect of racism,” a systemic condition repeatedly evidenced in the devaluing of Black life. The death toll in Black communities from police violence and the COVID-19 pandemic starkly illustrates the burden of dramatic inequalities. In the wake of the recent murders we have witnessed civilian uprisings against the police, an undemocratic and militarized response by the federal government, and an outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. As residents of this country, members of many diverse communities within it, we feel called to add our voice: to proclaim that yes, Black lives matter and a radical transformation of this country’s systems of criminalization and care is necessary. As anthropologists who contend with our discipline’s deep entanglement with capitalism and colonialism, and the nature of power inequities around the world and throughout history, we cannot help but notice that this outpouring of support often takes the form of public statements by institutions that profit from the systems of anti-Black violence they claim to abhor. Over the past few years a movement has grown on campus, led in part by students in anthropology, to demand the Harvard Corporation’s divestment from all industries that fuel and profit from the disproportionate policing, incarceration, and killing of Black people in the United States. In the thoughtful and deeply ethnographic way our students have approached this issue, we are reminded of the importance of anthropology, particularly in times like this. We are answering the call of this moment by committing to work with the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign by lending our voices and/or personal funds to the cause of divestment. We do this in collective recognition of the urgency of this goal and as part of a renewed commitment to racial and economic justice
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