MAKING A JUST SOCIETY
Professor of Writing Helen Elaine Lee calls for more engagement in creating racial justice.
"Racial justice is everybody’s work."
— Helen Elaine Lee, Professor of Writing, and Head, MIT Women's and Gender Studies
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE MIT FACULTY NEWLETTER
Here we go again with the grief and outrage of being black in America. This time, we’re trying to survive two pandemics. With Covid, our communities are suffering disproportionate sickness and death borne of longstanding inequality, and enduring exploitation as “essential” workers with no choice but to show up and risk exposure to do the work that keeps the socioeconomic engine going, without fair compensation, health insurance, or even basic resources to prevent the spread of the virus. And the pandemic of racism and violence directed at black people rages on.
Injustice after injustice
Whiteness continues to be weaponized and black lives continue to be criminalized. Endlessly, everywhere, we are surveilled and policed. On a whim or with a casual flexing of the muscle of white privilege, we are removed from public space. We know that we may be harassed for being in a Starbucks or a library, entering an Airbnb rental, having a cookout. And we may well pay with our lives for the pleasure of running in the open air or watching birds.
Militarized police brutalize and murder us on the street and in our own homes, and as they show contempt for our lives and humanity, they continue to be protected by police unions and codes of silence and outright lies. Black women, black queer people, and black trans people continue to be debased and subjected to disproportionate state, institutional, and personal violence.
Injustice after injustice, it’s enough to make us explode. We try to keep on seeing it, even as it breaks our hearts, and carry on. But the all of it feels sometimes like more than we can bear. The casual disregard, disrespect, silencing, and devaluation that we experience as facts of daily life. Routine institutional indifference and malignant neglect. Organized, systematic assaults on the rights and resources and opportunities of black people.
The pain of this moment has struck me speechless for a stretch of days and left me wondering what words would go beyond sanguine, institutional reassurances to do justice to the realities we are living.
This is what I’ve got to say.
We must keep talking about the organization and funding of the project of white supremacy that deepens inequality and attacks black lives by strategic design, and we must keep talking about who invests in and profits from this project.
I will keep on seeing, and I will keep on writing stories and novels that honor our complex and beautiful black lives, and trying to expand student understanding and inquiry in the classroom.
WGS (Women’s & Gender Studies) will continue to do the work of educating MIT students through the intersectional lens of race, gender, class, and sexuality. We will continue to uphold values of social justice. We will work to hold the MIT Administration and the MIT community as a whole accountable to confronting racial inequity on campus and beyond.
Racial justice is everybody’s work. How will you contribute?
Essay in The New York Times