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The McMaster History Department and Racial Justice

Like others around the globe, we watch with outrage, sadness, and concern the events that have been unfolding in the United States over the past week.  We see peaceful protesters attacked for calling out governments and police for their racist actions.  George Floyd’s death is the latest in a long history of state-supported and individual racist violence meted out against African American men and women.

We support those protesting anti-Black racism and demanding justice for racialized and discriminated against groups in the United States and here in Canada.

Systematic racism in Canada has historical roots, just as it has in the United States.  The effects of our country’s history of slavery, segregation, and state-supported discrimination are seen today in the high rates of incarceration and poverty experienced by racialized people and the police shootings of Black and Indigenous people in Canada.

As historians, we understand the historical roots of institutional racism and how our discipline has contributed to what is being faced today by Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities (BIPOC). But we also know that merely understanding the past will not alone change the present and provide for a fairer, more just future.

What can we do as historians and students of history?  We as faculty are in a unique position to educate our students and the community about historical injustice and their legacies that adversely impact the everyday lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. We can also actively engage and listen to our friends, our colleagues, and our students from racialized communities while placing reciprocity at the fore.

As a department, we are committed to taking action against racism and discrimination in our spaces and moving beyond an acknowledgement of the issues at hand.  This includes, but is not limited to, the following actions:

1) Increasing financial support, research guidance, and university access to BIPOC at both the undergraduate and graduate level in the Department of History

2) Increasing our commitment to, and further incorporating, the recruitment and retention of BIPOC faculty and staff within our Department plan as well as expanding our community-engagement initiatives

3) Reviewing all future syllabi, course materials, and assigned readings to ensure that the department is assigning a diversity of authors and materials while recognizing the specificities and differences between the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour

4) Furthering our commitment to ceasing extractive and/or damage-based research, whether by our faculty or students, focused on BIPOC communities

As a history department, we are in a unique position to be able to provide the historical context behind racial injustice, gender violence, and colonialism, and we are committed to playing an active role in educating both academic and public audiences about these topics (via increased participation in hosting teach-ins, public outreach events, and community-engagement) while continuing to be self-reflexive and active in addressing our short-comings as a department, discipline, and university.