In the past few weeks, social media has seen an outpouring of #BlackLivesMatter hashtags and posts, petitions and resources, as well as fundraisers for bail funds and other organizations addressing systemic racism. Now, coverage of protests is gradually leaving the news cycle and our social media feeds are beginning to “return to normal.” But this moment is a critical juncture in the fight against systemic racism. We cannot lose traction: refusing responsibility will only serve to perpetuate systemic racism.
The structural racism woven into the fabric of our social, political and economic systems cannot be overhauled in one stroke. Rather, they require a persistent, intentional commitment to anti-racism. This means that — as protests and racial justice begin to leave the national discourse — our actions from this point onward are key in implementing concrete changes and forwarding genuine change. And while many Middlebury students are inclined to consider themselves social justice-oriented, we have a long way to go when it comes to translating our online activism into offline actions that dismantle systems of oppression in our personal lives.
Don’t get us wrong: using your platform to stand against white supremacy and to spread awareness is crucial. However, ceasing to be allies when we put our phones down isn’t productive. Activism is not monolithic, and we at The Campus won’t pretend to have all the answers. But we’re hoping to point out some of the areas we can improve as a community.
Commitment only goes as far as knowledge allows it. To be anti-racist, it is crucial to learn the history and evolution of white supremacy in this country. The learning process can be uncomfortable. It means that we have to look within ourselves to acknowledge that the systems that educated us are inherently racist and have nurtured our implicit biases and prejudices. This growth does not have an inherent finish line; it is a constant process of learning as well as unlearning. In the past few weeks, various institutions across Middlebury have shared a variety of resources through email. These resources are a great entry point to an anti-racist education. Let’s use them together.
Communication is an integral component of anti-racist work. Asking a family member or close friend how they feel about what is happening can create a smooth transition into honest and open conversations. The topic of racism and white supremacy cannot possibly be exhausted in a single conversation — it requires a consistent and expansive commitment to have open dialogues with each other. It might be uncomfortable or even difficult at times, but it will certainly become easier as we normalize these conversations in our lives.
While systemic issues require systemic changes, our political rights can help mitigate some issues and lead to more significant advancements. Voting, signing petitions and protesting are among the most effective forms of political expression. We have an obligation to each other to ensure that we use these tools whenever possible to exert pressure on those in power, whether they sit in government or private institutions.
It is no secret that many Middlebury students have immense wealth and resources. Donations are important, but it is equally important to be informed about to whom we are donating. We encourage donors to research which organizations hold themselves and their leadership accountable and to seek proof of their impact and work. We also suggest looking locally and finding organizations doing important work in your own communities. If long-term contributions are possible, setting up a monthly donation is an effective and easy way to support important causes.
Finally, we should keep others accountable. Call out the racist joke made by your family member or friend. Report and follow-up with administration and faculty when they are insensitive. Have conversations about why something isn’t acceptable and courses of action to correct what was done. Accountability should also extend to the institutions and communities that made us who we are today. Contact your former schools and call for an implementation of curriculum on institutional and systemic racism to begin these conversations earlier. We must rely on ourselves because, ultimately, our own accountability for others is accountability for ourselves.
As the summer carries on, it’s inevitable that the news cycles will change. But this is not a passing moment. It is and should be a turning point. To look away now would be to perpetuate centuries of systemic violence, to further marginalize our nation’s most vulnerable. It is a messy, emerging journey that acknowledges that the most important learning and action lies beyond the borders of discomfort and uncertainty. Maintaining good intentions is no longer going to cut it. Being a member of any community, whether at Middlebury or otherwise, requires collective effort. It is up to all of us whether we each choose to commit to the work that is ours to do.
This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board. You can learn more about our own institutional response to police brutality and systemic racism here.