UNL Medieval and Renaissance Studies Statement on Racial Justice

The events of the past two weeks, stemming from the horrifying killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, have been heart-wrenching as communities have risen in passionate response. Voices raised in protest must be heard, and they speak of Floyd, but also of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many more who have been victims in a broken United States justice system. We must recognize and join their passion. While saddened by the events that have led to local and nationwide protests, we also can find inspiration in the mobilization of a movement. We must commit to speaking and to acting against systemic racism. We have a duty to recognize that the history of racial discrimination has deep and variegated roots not just in the U.S. but globally. As we reflect on the events of the past week in our society, we must go on to confront, honestly and unrelentingly, the discourses, power struggles, and very real material, economic, and social inequalities that have arisen from hundreds of years of oppression.

In our discipline, we must look at the past in ways that can de-center the familiar narratives of western, white culture that too often accept and justify the results and motives of colonialist imperialism and systematic racism. We must recognize and deplore the ways that the shared cultures of the U.S., Europe, and the world have made racism and ethnic discrimination a default component of supposed democracy. These practices have real consequences in daily life. They also mean that the way we—Americans in particular—think about race and difference has been shaped by this corrupt past. We must move forward and correct these flawed, limiting, and ultimately destructive modes of thought. We also must not allow ourselves to believe that thinking alone will solve this problem.

As we look to the next semester, and the semesters after this one, we must commit to confronting past and present racism through the work that we do in our classes, our research, and our professional engagements. We must be innovative and creative in challenging the status quo. Such focus can help us rejuvenate the study of pre-modern culture and bring our long-range perspective to present-day problems. We have classes on the books that confront race, colonialism, and oppression in various contexts, and we had planned a major event on the history of race and Shakespeare before the disruption of the spring 2020 semester. We hope to reschedule in the upcoming year, but we know that events and classes are not enough. We also must honestly confront the way Medieval and Early Modern studies in the wider world have been used rhetorically by white supremacists seeking to promote their racist views. We condemn these false narratives and have zero tolerance for such manipulations. There is more and new work to be done. As we think about our future lectures, events, coursework, and research, we must work together to create more dialogue, understanding, and diversity in our viewpoints and our constituency. We in MRST support the work of our Black colleagues and students, and we look for ways to be more inclusive and to expand diversity throughout our program.

We have an opportunity in front of us, as our program responds to the challenges and changes that 2020 has already brought us, to make our program stronger, more ethical, and more vibrant. We can do so by making our program one that looks to the long history of systemic race problems to understand our own. We can expand our offerings to think more globally and to understand the medieval and early modern periods from points of view that are beyond those of White Europeans. We hope that our students, faculty, and community followers will join us moving forward, participate in these discussions, and help us all to engage our present while being strengthened by a better understanding of our past.