Even as we all have been deeply affected by shutdowns due to the Covid-19 outbreak this spring, we also have been witnessing and experiencing profoundly disturbing incidents highlighting an interrelated and equally alarming crisis: ongoing, systematized, and institutionalized racism toward African Americans. As brothers, sisters, parents, and children, many of us cannot imagine the horror of losing an innocent loved one at the hands of those meant to protect our communities. With deep sympathy, our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of George Floyd, the most recent victim of such racial violence, who died at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Other recent, devastating incidents in which Black people have been stereotyped, targeted, and killed have included Ahmaud Arbery, simply jogging, and Breonna Taylor, asleep in her bed at home. We know this is but a small recitation of the ways in which racism affects people of color, and Black people in particular, every day. Divisive political responses from the top leadership are not helpful at a time when solidarity and grief should unite our nation. As with the common experience of Covid-19, this moment should be a reminder of the inextricable ties between us, even as disparities in our economies and health care systems mean that the pandemic has negatively impacted Black and brown people in disproportionately high numbers around the world.
On June 4, 1930, 90 years ago this week, the idealists who founded the Institute imagined a future that would be free from prejudice based on “race, creed, or sex.” While we may all feel despair over the lack of better progress made in our society in the intervening years, as an institution we must stand up for diversity, inclusion, and equity; for government and law enforcement accountability; and for social policies that prioritize equality and justice for everyone. It is critical that the scholarship at IAS focused on racial violence, including that of law enforcement, continues. We must follow the recent advice of John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia, who has put his life on the line time and time again for civil rights, indeed dedicating his entire life to this cause. Congressman Lewis writes, “This is a special moment in our history. Just as people of all faiths and no faiths, and all backgrounds, creeds, and colors banded together decades ago to fight for equality and justice…we must do so again.” At IAS, we all must stand together against racism—in the U.S. and in all parts of the world—and, in our work, strive to be leaders in understanding and dismantling the ways that discrimination and injustice are perpetuated.
Director and Leon Levy Professor Institute for Advanced Study