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COMMENTARY: Racial justice includes retaining your employees

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Before we offer "thoughts and prayers" to people-of-color victims of state violence and our own institutionalized racism …

The lynching of George Floyd is a product of decades of legitimized state violence, whereby representatives of the state (i.e. police) have both substantive and procedural legal protections (and incentives) to brutalize Black citizens. When the state kills, officials appear less troubled about the fact that this has continuously occurred across time and place, and more troubled if the event was caught on camera.

Enough is enough.

All eyes are now on the most acute manifestations of state power (the police and state-facilitated white supremacist violence). All eyes are now on the various institutional machinations that enable white supremacy and the routine racial capitalist production of death.

People throughout our community are ardently and righteously fixated on this descriptive fact: Our society is one where resources are mobilized to defend white property far more effectively than to defend Black life. When those two interests collide, it is the economic and propertied interests that have habitually prevailed.

We are living in a state of institutional decay and political negligence, but that is not to say that all political imagination has been stifled. There are compelling and necessary alternatives that can move us beyond our paradigm of racialized violence and systemic racism - if only those in charge were pressed to know them. All eyes are rightfully on the leaders and individuals who have the capacity to take action.

What role does Rutgers have in all of this? What should a faculty union and its coalition partners reasonably demand at this time?

Let us start with shared facts and outline what we already know: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has disproportionately harmed the working class, the working poor and the most economically disadvantaged sectors of society. Colleges fundamentally rely on precariously employed labor to fulfill parts of their mission. Black, Latinx and other non-white ethnic and racial groups are disproportionately represented in these precarious sectors of employment.

The economic meltdown discourse is used for the benefit of employers and the propertied class. COVID-19 has emerged as a pretext for accelerating mergers, acquisitions and capital accumulation projects. COVID-19 presents unique opportunities to further rationalize basic services so as to augment calculability, predictability, efficiency and control.

The struggle for Black liberation in this country is one of economic justice as much as it is about political, social, racial and civic justice. Camden, Newark and New Brunswick offer pools of lower income and precariously employed labor, and the city officials of these areas have created a favorable policy climate for Rutgers-associated capital projects, and Rutgers has many institutional resources, including its labor force, to assist with economic and financial recovery.

We ask that the leadership of Rutgers, beginning with University President Robert L. Barchi and incoming President Jonathan Holloway, use their unique positions to defend the livelihoods of all Rutgers employees, students and community members.

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Floyd are not the tip of the iceberg but the tip of the spear. The hand that holds the spear belongs to the same institutional configuration that catastrophically botched the COVID-19 response. Whereas homicide is one form of acute violence, the policy response to COVID-19 represents slow, structural state violence that most of all harms Black communities, other communities of color and working class laborers.

We ask that "diversity and inclusion" efforts include keeping your employees, especially those who are most vulnerable to further economic and political harms.

We are proud to be employed by and affiliated with Rutgers. But before we start issuing blanket statements of support in relation to racial terror and state violence, and before launching any "panel" or "work group" to "study" or "evaluate" the racial or economic climate of our community, we ask that you first protect our jobs.

Kenneth Sebastian León is an assistant professor in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and a faculty affiliate in the Criminal Justice Program at Rutgers University.


*Columns,cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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