The Department of Anthropology at UTSC is deeply committed to pursuing policies of Social Justice. We lend our full support to anti-Black racism initiatives (including Black Lives Matter), anti-Asian racism initatives, and initiatives that are aimed at supporting Truth and Reconciliation with respect to Indigenous Communities. Please refer to the statements below for further details.
Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Racism
We, the anthropology department at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, stand in ongoing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and all those who are working to undo anti-Black racism and white supremacy that is embedded in our own communities and institutions, and globally. While the current moment has caused us all to reflect anew on the long-standing and deeply ingrained forms of anti-Black racism in our world, addressing them going forward will require us to participate in novel and more expansive efforts to renew anthropology, so that we contribute to undoing the systemic racism undergirding our societies and institutions. We chose to issue this statement only after having already engaged in a series of challenging conversations as a group. In the spirit of those collective conversations, we issue this statement not as our endpoint, but rather, as a renewed point of departure for recommitting ourselves to the necessary and ongoing work required to transform how we teach anthropology at UTSC, just as we rethink what anthropological research and knowledge look like in the contemporary world. We invite students to engage with us as part of this collective project.
Foremost, we condemn in the strongest terms the killings of Black people, especially by police. We recognize these killings are just one example of the countless ways in which Black life has been and continues to be diminished by the institutions of white supremacy.[i] Despite the recent attention paid to this issue south of our borders, we recognize that this problem is not solely one associated with the United States, but haunts our own communities in Canada as well. We further acknowledge the myriad ways in which anti-Black racism intersects with other forms of racism against people of colour more generally. In particular, centuries of domination, erasure, and genocide against Indigenous lives similarly manifest in police violence, as well as in the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
We thus stand with the families and loved ones of: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, Rodney Levi, Dijon Kizzee, and countless other Black and Indigenous people killed by police. We also denounce using police forces to respond to mental health crises or wellness checks; and here we stand in solidarity with the families of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, D’Andre Campbell, and Chantel Moore.
The epidemic of violence and overpolicing against Black and Indigenous communities is doubly entangled in the disproportionate public health burdens faced by Black people, most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. These health disparities are not due to inherent biological factors[ii], but are in part because Black people comprise a disproportionate share of ‘essential’ jobs that put them at increased risk for COVID-19 infection—not to mention the centuries of marginalization and disenfranchisement[iii] that have accumulated into heightened health risk factors, stresses, and barriers to accessing medical care. From the disproportionate burdens of illness to purposeful underfunding of social services and infrastructures in communities of colour (such as education, health, water provisioning), we call for prioritizing the funding of such social services and infrastructures over the continued policing and surveilling of already vulnerable populations: we thus stand in solidarity with movements that are calling for ‘defunding’ the police. We support movements demanding reparations[iv] that seek to repair the unspeakable violence of slavery and racial capitalism that continue to structure inequality on a global scale. This history is one in which Canada is also deeply implicated.[v]
We stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour demanding new discourses and understandings of racism, and how it functions in our society. It can be convenient to view racism solely as individually held prejudices and attitudes. By extension, this is usually how white supremacy is spoken of: the belief in the racial and moral superiority of people of white European descent. However, white supremacy is also concurrently embedded in the social structures through which many societies have been organized in the world today. The people who benefit from white supremacy do not necessarily ascribe to this ideology of racial superiority, but nonetheless benefit from the systematic marginalization, oppression, and violence against Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colour. While this has been described as “white privilege,” we use the language of “benefitting from white supremacy” because it approaches racism (whether in the form of anti-Black racism, racism against Indigenous people, Islamophobia, antisemitism, etc.) as the social structures out of which such beliefs and attitudes emerge, thereby perpetuating historical inequalities and white supremacy. All those who benefit from white privilege are thus beneficiaries of racism, so undoing white supremacy will require some people to give up those benefits, while funding and resources must be redirected to support historically disadvantaged groups. Concurrently, when we speak of the benefits of white supremacy, we recognize the possibility of it being partial, contingent, and contextual, especially as it intersects with gender, sexuality, and class.
We acknowledge the historical and contemporary complicity that academia as a whole has had in perpetuating institutional white supremacy. Over the years, there have been numerous calls from Black, Indigenous, and other anthropologists of colour to reconstruct anthropology as a discipline. This requires recognizing the work of these anthropologists, while also rethinking our disciplinary and pedagogical practices to undo white supremacy, settler colonialism, and many other forms of violence that continue to be perpetuated in Canada and across the globe. We call upon the University of Toronto Scarborough, as a leading institution of higher learning, to foster initiatives across its departments that will undo those global structures of racialized inequality.
“Diversity” policies have failed to effect the necessary sea change to end white supremacy and racism against Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colour. Creating lasting change will require epistemological, institutional, and pedagogical interventions in how we teach and do anthropology, in our research, classrooms, and our communities more broadly. This is a time for action.
We as a faculty pledge to integrate an anti-racist agenda in our teaching, recruitment, retention, and hiring practices, as well as our conduct within our teaching, the university, and our wider communities. Those of us who benefit from white supremacy vow to make special efforts to become aware of and undo our complicity in these and other forms of racism, discrimination, and abuse. We as a department will take actions including, but not limited to:
- ‘decolonizing’[vi] our syllabi through anti-racist pedagogy, and centering the work of Black, Indigenous, and other anthropologists of colour
- prioritizing the scholarship of Black, Indigenous, and other anthropologists of colour through citational practices, invited lectures, and conferences
- the recruitment, support, and retention of students, faculty, and staff from these backgrounds
- ongoing reflections on anthropology’s problematic history of extractive research towards communities of colour, and efforts to forge new, more inclusive research strategies going forward
If anthropologists as a scholarly community want to confront the challenges facing the contemporary world, anthropological knowledge itself must be transformed. The production of anthropological knowledge can first be reworked by incorporating the contributions of Black, Indigenous, and other anthropologists of colour whose voices have been silenced, overlooked, or ignored throughout the discipline’s history. Supporting this scholarship would lead to more engaged anthropological practices, ones that confront the violence and oppression historically experienced by Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colour. Second, anthropological knowledge must be produced to serve the interests of those communities who are disproportionately impacted by similar forms of violence and oppression today. The onus should no longer rest upon communities of colour to provide anthropologists knowledge about their lifeworlds, but rather, anthropologists collectively must demonstrate an ethic of care by crafting research and producing knowledge for the benefit of, and in solidarity with, these communities. Lastly, anthropologists must increasingly pay scholarly attention to the globalized structures of racialized inequality premised upon entangled histories of settler colonialism, transatlantic slave trade, and capitalist exploitation—all of which undergird white supremacy and contemporary life in Canada and elsewhere.
We recognize that our Black, Indigenous, and other students of colour have been disadvantaged by a long history of racialized pedagogy[vii]. The classroom environment we seek to cultivate must accomplish two pedagogical goals. First, the classroom must be a space where students can express themselves, however provisionally, on topics related to anti-racism. Learning is a process that requires an openness to change, and trusting oneself and others to work through potential disagreements with honesty and care. Second, despite our desire to allow students such a space, comments and discursive forms targeting people of colour cannot go unaddressed and uncorrected. We thus adopt a zero tolerance policy toward microaggressions[viii] and tokenism[ix], as well as racializing “devil’s advocate” comments directed at students, faculty, and staff of colour. Our pedagogical practices will create classroom norms and environments that: decenter those voices already privileged by white supremacy; encourage others who tend to be more reticent to speak; and embody equity and inclusivity in our conduct, which will then reach outside of the classroom to our interactions with staff, other faculty, and our wider communities. This will require those of our faculty who are privileged by white supremacy to find modes of decentering our own authority in the classroom and beyond.
- We have newly created an Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism Committee in the department of anthropology at UTSC, which will work as an umbrella committee, coordinating with other committee assignments in our department. Prioritizing this committee is essential in ensuring an anti-racist agenda at all levels of our department. We will foreground these ongoing conversations and training within our department, including devoting significant time to assessing and enhancing our anti-racist progress at our annual retreats and faculty meetings. Eliminating anti-Black and other racist structures and behaviours will thus require an ongoing process. The EIAR committee will seek out consultations with our students, staff, colleagues, and communities, so we can continually re-examine and expand our institutional practices, whether that be inside the class, in the conduct of research, or engagement with communities in Canada and beyond.
- We pledge to survey our student body to enable us to assess and address their own concerns and needs around an anti-racist, anti-white supremacist agenda in our department.
- We pledge to work in solidarity with UTSC’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office, as well as the tri-campus Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Offices, in supporting training of our faculty and staff, to ensure we each maintain the level of commitment pledged in this statement.
- Anti-racist work is too often performed by BIPOC faculty, staff, and students. Those of us who benefit from white supremacy pledge to do the extra labour necessary to ensure that the responsibility for enacting anti-racist agendas does not fall on Black, Indigenous, and other faculty, staff, and students of colour. And we, as a department, pledge to attend to, and compensate, the additional labour that any individuals of colour undertake in ensuring anti-racist agendas are implemented.
These next steps are not endpoints, but are intended to serve as a template for ongoing action.
Black Lives Matter.
[i] We have retained the term “white supremacy” instead of the more common term “white privilege”, as the former draws attention to “the racial dimensions of an international power system that includes an ideology of white (broadly defined) racial superiority and its related sets of practices.” See Special Section: Anthropology of White Supremacy – American Anthropologist; see also On White Privilege, White Priority and White Supremacy.
[ii] Race does not biologically predispose people toward health risks; these predispositions are due to the entanglements and effects of both individual and structural or systemic racism. For a cogent critique of biological race in health care, see: Toward the Abolition of Biological Race in Medicine
[iii] Black people the world over were legally deprived of the right to vote for centuries, including in Canada; but even after gaining that right legally, there are still practices and policies today that make it harder for them to exercise that right. These include prisoner and ex-prisoner disenfranchisement laws, the removal of polling stations in neighbourhoods of colour, automatic voter purges, voter ID laws that disproportionately impact people of colour, and more. For more information on the history of Black disenfranchisement in Canada, see: Black Voting Rights in Canada. On current disenfranchisement in the US, see: The Barriers That Keep Blacks and Latinos From Voting
[iv] Though calls for reparations have received greater public attention in recent years (e.g., The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates), reparations have been a long-standing demand for undoing the enduring the effects of slavery and anti-Black racism in the Americas and globally. Although slavery is often perceived as a uniquely American problem, slavery existed across Canada and throughout British (and other European) colonies until the middle of the nineteenth century. Even after its abolition across the British Empire in 1834, white people in Canada and the United States continued to profit from the enslavement of Black persons through a globalized economy. Reparations must be situated both within Canada as a nation-state and amidst global inequalities that sustain uneven and neo-imperialist relationships with many countries outside of Europe and North America, especially former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. See Introduction: On Reparations for Slavery and Colonialism.
[vi] In keeping with Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s cogent critique of the ‘decolonizing’ discourses, we recognize that simply adding scholars of colour to our syllabi is not a sufficient step toward meaningful structural change, and seek to embody a more radical restructuring of our pedagogy. They write: “The metaphorization of decolonization makes possible a set of evasions, or ‘settler moves to innocence’, that problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity… We also point to unsettling themes within transnational/Third World decolonizations, abolition, and critical space-place pedagogies, which challenge the coalescence of social justice endeavors, making room for more meaningful potential alliances.” Decolonization is not a metaphor | Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society
[vii] ‘Pedagogy’ is the method and practice of teaching.
[viii] These are comments, behaviours, or gestures that often indirectly or subtly put down a person based on their membership in an underrepresented group. Microaggressions are ways through which the aggressor’s implicit racial biases can manifest, often unintentionally, although they’re often “small” or subtle enough that they wouldn’t necessarily be called out as overtly racist. But microaggressions take a toll on the person experiencing them: they reduce people to stereotypes, degrade them, and imply they are as “less than” the white majority. Here are two media descriptions of microaggressions: What Is A Microaggression? And What to Do If You Experience One and What Exactly Is a Microaggression?
[ix] Tokenism can mean a couple of different things. First, it is the practice of making superficial gestures toward inclusivity, often by recruiting people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of diversity, without making any meaningful or structural changes toward anti-racism. Second, and particularly in the classroom, tokenism can also appear when a student is called on (by the instructor, or by other students) to represent the perspective of a minority group to which they belong, or to validate the instructor’s claims about that group. This asks the student to stand in for the diversity of perspectives that are likely associated with that group, and also reduces their identity to their membership of that group. It is a type of microaggression. Here is an example of tokenism in the university classroom, and a first-hand description of its effects: Tokenism in the Classroom: An Anecdote from My Life as a Barnard Student