Delivered at the School of Visual Arts MA Design Research, Writing and Criticism’s Final Thesis Presentations
May 28, 2020
This afternoon, the department asked if I would be willing to say a few words on the “subject of inclusivity, relative to the thesis work and the state of the world we’re living in.” Per that request, it was acknowledged that the headlines of the last few days have been “a lot to grapple with” and perhaps my thoughts on this matter would be welcomed.
My immediate reaction was to decline, but obviously I changed my mind, mainly, I’ll admit, out of vanity. But I want this community to understand why my first reaction is the more pure and honest one.
The truth is, the events of the last few days are not new. They’re not new to anyone who has experienced or witnessed the violence toward and abuse of black bodies that is the original sin of this nation. That violence, and the weaponization of whiteness that allows it to persist, is a condition that predates this week, predates this thesis year, predates this program and the lives of anyone listening here. The presence and accumulation of violent acts against people of color has always been something we have had to grapple with. And so it should always be a part of how we talk about our work as educators, writers, researchers and designers.
To say that it is somehow more relevant now because I am present, is to abdicate responsibility for grappling with it when black and brown bodies are not in the room.
This request once again asks of people of color that we do the hard work to make these conversations the centerpoint of our interactions with a white world that has the privilege of personal distance from those headlines. It asks us to perform our trauma in your presence when it’s frankly enough to suffer in the intimacy of our own hearts.
The names and experiences of Christian Cooper, George Floyd and Tye Anders are added to the many thousands that came before. Their names are new, their stories are particular, but their narrative is persistent, endemic and unsurprising to anyone who has been paying attention.
We must embed inclusivity in our practices, always, not only when a new headline calls us to attention.
As writers, we hold the mandate to grapple with these issues proactively not because there is a social value in performing concern when it’s convenient, but because we have an ethical responsibility to activate the tools we have to call out abuse, to expose its design and to effect meaningful change.
With respect to the students, faculty and leadership. I congratulate you and look forward to where your insights take us all.