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Director's Blog: January 30, 2017

January 31, 2017

The last two weeks have brought disturbing proclamations emanating from Washington, DC, met with fierce, non-violent protest by hundreds of thousands—indeed millions—of people around the country and the globe.  Here at the Race, Indigeneity, Gender & Sexuality Studies (RIGS) initiative, we know to understand this present moment, we need to practice the principle of Sankofa, to look back as we look ahead, to hear the diverse voices of yesteryear to contextualize the seeming chaos of 2017.

From treaties broken to steal land from American Indians, to Jim Crow laws that blocked African Americans from voting through Kafka-esque tests they would never be said to pass, to the Executive Order that imprisoned Japanese American citizens in the name of security, to the outlawing of homosexuality, our country has a long history of unjust legal actions that we must face, without flinching, in order to make sense of this moment.  More importantly, we must use this history to learn how to see each other, as whole humans with rich, textured, deep cultural and individual experiences that emerge from our history—shaped by it, but not bound by it.

The RIGS faculty and departments are here to teach these complex histories, to make possible the conditions for seeing ourselves whole, for making different choices about how we enact our laws, how we understand justice and ethics in our multicultural society.  We are here to ensure that teaching, research and engagement enlightens us about the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship, burdens that are not evenly divided. We must understand these differences in order to collaborate effectively in the classroom, in the field, and in the laboratory. We must embrace them to see each other as fellow citizens, all contributing our best efforts. We must look back as we imagine what we want to see looking forward, for to ignore the past is to be blindsided when its hateful legacies surge to the fore.

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote of Paul Robeson's voice that it warned, in "music words," We are each other's business, we are each other's harvest, we are each other's magnitude and bond. There is an urgency now to learn how we can work together, how we can step up to the task of being citizens, and we welcome all who enter here in that spirit.