Statement on Recent Events from History Chairs, 6/10/20

July 6, 2020

Protest against police brutality (Dallas, 2020)

The History Department at UC Berkeley joins millions throughout the world in condemning not just the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, but also the killing and brutalization of countless Black and brown people before them in appallingly similar circumstances.

This violence occurs in the midst of a global pandemic that is tragically and disproportionately impacting people of color. Most of all we condemn the racism that underpins these tragic deaths and that sustains persistent structures of inequality and injustice in our country. We stand with Black and brown people everywhere as allies and as partners in anger, sorrow, and grief. We vehemently affirm that Black Lives Matter, and we as a society must enact sweeping changes that reflect that fundamental truth.    

As historians, we are painfully aware of the deep structural causes of racism in our country, and in particular, the horrific legacy of American slavery. As such, we recognize that a condemnation of present-day police brutality is wholly insufficient in this moment, for it addresses but one facet of the problem, only the latest manifestation of an ideology of white supremacy so pervasive and enduring as to be invisible to many. In addition, we regard it as imperative to engage in intense and honest self-reflection, critical engagement, and broad reading about the present crisis and its relationship to the past.

While the legal, political, and criminal justice systems that have produced and normalized these atrocities must be reformed, sweeping cultural transformations must also occur. The massive protests of the last two weeks suggest that change is underway and this gives us hope. As scholars, teachers, and students, we have an obligation to listen to members of the Black community, learn from their experiences and work together to make ours a more just and equitable society.  We have an obligation to become an anti-racist community, and we pledge ourselves to the pursuit of that goal. 

Our department, like our university, is not diverse enough. We pledge to redouble our efforts to recruit more Black and brown students and faculty, to welcome them into an intellectual community characterized by anti-racism, respect, and equity, and to support them so that they may become leaders in education and trailblazers in our field. We pledge ourselves as allies to the people of color already in our community, to celebrate their accomplishments and to combat impediments to their success. We pledge to speak out, even--especially--when doing so is difficult. And most of all, we pledge that these commitments are durable, not an evanescent response to this traumatic moment.   

Peter Zinoman, Chair,  Berkeley History Department

Emily Mackil, Summer Chair, Berkeley History Department

Click for Links and Resources on Anti-Racism