Northeastern Disorientation

A Letter from #BlackAtNU and Students Against Institutional Discrimination

 · 6 mins read

Parts of this article were originally published as the introduction to the #BlackAtNU platform, which may be read in full here, and in Charles T. Wallace-Thomas IV’s Letter From the Editor in The Second and Fourth Review, which may be read here. You can learn more about NU Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID) by following us on instagram!

Dear Student,

As you are likely all too painfully aware, this is a time steeped in immense pain and grief. The effect of the public lynchings of Black people by state sponsored forces is neither new nor surprising, but remains heavy on our hearts and consciousness. George Floyd’s lynching may have ignited this moment, but this movement is so much bigger than one man. This is about all those lives lost that we mourn, about the continued containment and destruction of Black lives, even in the face of awareness and commitments to action.

Particularly concerning to us was the potential for missed opportunity by the University not going far enough to take an examine their complicity in the ongoing crises affecting Black communities. It was important for us that the university recognized that commitments to progress alone do not constitute change. Conscious and unconscious acts of racism occur on our campus every day – from Northeastern Police stopping Black students and professors on their way to class, to co-op advisors telling Black students and students of color their hair is not “professional”, to Northeastern University’s active partnership with the Boston Police Department which is demonstrably unaccountable to the Black communities it polices. These systematic abuses of power and the covert mechanisms employed to make Black members of the community feel small and unseen must end; our University must continue to acknowledge the racist implications of our institutions’s ongoing actions. The work has just begun.

Meaningful social justice requires solutions which take into account the myriad intersections of social injustice. Thus, in light of this mission, we deliver to you the #BlackAtNU platform as an invitation to act in a closer and more accountable sense of community amongst Northeastern students, faculty, and staff. This platform is justified by our lived experiences, facilitated by our communities, and details specifically what justice for the Black community can mean for Northeastern. Furthermore, this campaign includes a broad range of recommendations with acutely intersectional implications, for in the words of Audre Lorde, “there is no thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issues lives.”

The restoration of a diverse, inclusive, and safe community to the extent that one existed before is not enough; we demand immediate transformational justice. The healing our community needs cannot be achieved without justice, and the justice we require cannot be attained without the immediate transformation of those systems; systems actively causing psychological and corporal harm to our community. Black students and all students should thrive as a logical consequence of the communities that we have created together, not as a matter of resistance. We must bring to the center abolition, divestment, and reinvestment. Northeastern University has merely begun the process of acknowledging and compensating for the intergenerational traumas of racism and racial battle fatigue on Black communities. Northeastern has just barely begun to recognize the University’s role in responding to this historical injustice as a predominantly white institution. And while we call on you to join us in our efforts to make Northeastern an environment conducive to the intellectual and social growth and welfare of all of its community members, it is important to remember the journey that you are on as an individual, developing and actualizing your critiques and analysis.

Remember that the chaos which has come to occupy hearts and minds throughout this year is not new. It is new only to those for whom it had previously served as a tool of dominance and exploitation. That the effects of chaos have become mainstream is not unuseful, though. For many, it has provoked a radicalizing dissonance. Take the case of a student who took to social media to reflect aloud. Her family would make it through quarantine, she was sure, because they knew struggle. Limited access to the resources necessary to live had defined her family’s traditions and way of life, and they had lived. After a pause she realized, unsettled, that this meant that her family had been surviving. For generations. After some time and with a community of friends on similar journeys, she found her experiences reflected in the words and actions of Cedric Robinson, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and others. Righteously enraged, she shared her learnings, and got to work in ways meaningful to her.

This kind of examination typifies a way of being upheld in the Black Radical Tradition, which Robin D.G. Kelley reminds us is not a list of radical persons, but a lineage of individuals oriented towards a freedom denied under the project of racial capitalism. A tradition sharing Baldwin’s prime concern, it is engaged with the creation of a culture which dignifies cooperation and collectivism. It affirms the dignity of life, towards the realization of the explicit and amorphous freedom dreams known as the afrofuture.

These futures are dependent on our ability to be in relationship with ourselves such that we are self integrated and able to nourish one another in our journeys of being and becoming. They depend on our acceptance of the truth in the Bantu notion of Ubuntu, that I am because you are. We find ourselves because we see sparks of ourselves, of our struggle and aspiration, reflected in each other. We keep ourselves by being in community, keeping the fires of our being, so that we may move safely through the night of life’s uncertainty. And, when the time comes, we use these fires to set ablaze the crumbling oppression intent on killing us. We concentrate our flames to forge the new in our image, our imaginations stretched, our freedom dreams sustaining us.

This does not come easily, but a remedy exists, as this student found, in leading an examined life. This is not to say that the unexamined life is not worth living, but that it, for us, is death. We must reflect and know to live, lest we be consumed by a world constructed without regard for our humanity. So Ubuntu becomes a citation, a redemptive recognition that in calling out and naming we are able to place ourselves in ancestral, cultural lineages of struggle towards liberation. It is a corrective citation insisting that we are not invisible to ourselves, no matter how incessant the violent attempts at erasure within oppressive hegemony. Through our daily citations, the examined carrying on of our lives together, we fulfill that most fundamental role of community: to facilitate the process of knowing, so that we may live, liberated and whole.

In Solidarity,

The #BlackAtNU Campaign and Northeastern Universtiy Students Against Institutional Discrimination