After the Fierce Urgency of Now Passes – Message on George Floyd Commemoration

Dear campus community,

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. George Floyd’s death simultaneously elevated attention to systemic anti-Black racism in the United States and spurred UCI to aspire to be the nation’s foremost destination for Black people to thrive as students, faculty, staff and members of our community. UCI’s Black Thriving Initiative has served as a whole university response that relies on each campus member and community partner to contribute to building a culture where Black people thrive.

While so much has happened in the past year, so much more remains to be done. Across the country, the intensity for change seems to be waning. As we know from previous national reckonings—Watts in 1965 and 1968 and Los Angeles in 1992 among others—once “normalcy” is sufficiently restored, attention will shift to other pressing priorities. Some priorities will be personal, others professional or political. In the meantime, the pressure of large and small acts of anti-Black racism continue to build. Again, one incident will incite a cascade of rage and anger, born of a long-standing grievance with a tradition of policing and a justice system that criminalizes Black people. Unequal access to educational opportunity, uneven participation in the economy and health care disparities will provide the smoldering kindling. Demonstrations and protests in the streets will return for a new generation to rediscover anti-Black racism in plain sight.

A principal reason for the cycle of protest and indifference is the lack of moral leadership to confront anti-Blackness in its many manifestations while becoming an authentic ally to the Black community. Moral leadership refers to modeling the values that you articulate, setting priorities to act on them, and using one’s privilege to realize a better world for Black people. Without moral leadership, it is relatively easy for the fierce urgency of now to become a distant memory or a passing regret. The human mind is quite inventive when it comes to forgetting or making up excuses or shifting responsibility or blaming others for uncomfortable truths.

In calling for moral leadership to confront anti-Black racism, I am not suggesting that Black people lack the capacity in this regard, quite the contrary. In a world literally organized around subordination, Black people have achieved a great deal–but at equally great costs. As we know all too well, these costs, including bias, prejudice, and bigotry, still exist and deprive us of our full capacity through no fault of our own. Moral leadership means making the effort to understand the structures and mechanism of de-valuing Black people and acting to confront, interrupt and dismantle them.

I will be the first to admit that this is a big ask. Moral leadership is not often rewarded. If anything, it can be a source of tension and conflict because fundamentally moral leadership is about creating change through disrupting seemingly settled ways of knowing the world and the people who inhabit it. Moral leadership is grounded in humility, not presuming to be a self-appointed race messiah or, for that matter, waiting for the right moment to take responsibility. It requires confronting one’s assumptions about Black people while learning about who the Black community is and asking whether they are thriving. The answers to these questions and others are not intuitive, but require seeking out educational and training opportunities, holding your colleagues, co-workers, or peers accountable, and even making new friends.

Anyone can practice moral leadership in confronting anti-Black racism. One thing is clear: without moral leadership, Black people will continue to pay the costs of de-valuation–spanning from spectacular forms of racist terror to insidious micro-aggressions–alone. And the cycle of protest and indifference will continue.

As a next step, all UCI students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members are welcome to attend and participate in today’s campus webinar to be held at 12 p.m. – Toward Racial Justice: A Conversation to Commemorate George Floyd on May 25.

RSVP for the event – https://uciadvance.wufoo.com/forms/q18vnuht13iynrc/

Sincerely,

Douglas M. Haynes, Ph.D. (Pronouns: he/him/his)
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer
Director, ADVANCE Program
Professor of History