The British Association for Romantic Studies condemns in the strongest terms the systemic and persistent destruction of Black lives. The deplorable and distressing murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are the latest in a long line of brutal injustices that stretch back through centuries of inequality and discrimination in the United States. It is with dismay that we see that, in 2020, so much work remains to be done.
This crisis of racism is not confined to the US alone: in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, intolerance and discrimination have been on the rise. The deaths of Sean Rigg, Mark Duggan, Kingsley Burrell and Sheku Bayoh point starkly to the toxic and structural imbalances in law enforcement and the justice system within the UK. The rise in weaponized anti-immigrant rhetoric, populist ethnonationalism, Islamophobia and national scandals like Windrush demonstrate that racism is a global pandemic. Contrary to initial suggestions that the COVID-19 crisis was the ‘great leveller’, emerging data indicates that people from BAME backgrounds are significantly more likely to die from the virus than white people. Yet, people of colour disproportionately make up our health and care sectors, putting their lives at risk daily to protect and care for fellow citizens.
The labour of addressing centuries of exploitation, violence and inequality can no longer fall upon those very victims of such enduring structures and practices, which range from the racialized microaggressions encountered by people of colour on a daily basis, to the excessive and brutal violence enacted upon Black bodies with seeming impunity. All of us have a role to play in standing against racism and brutality. We must be actively anti-racist and ensure that prejudice, intolerance and discriminatory behaviours are called out. Privilege must be used to amplify Black voices. As researchers, writers and educators, we must remind our fellow citizens of troubling national histories that might otherwise be whitewashed or sacrificed to myths of national destiny and colonial benevolence. People of colour who continue to live with the legacies of this history must no longer bear this burden alone.
The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—our period—saw the excesses of the triangular slave trade, colonial exploitation and imperial expansion: it was the era of the nabob and the plantation owner, which stimulated economic prosperity and the growth of the United Kingdom. It was also a period marked by political radicalism, of agitation for democracy and equal suffrage, and of abolitionism: it was not only the age of Hannah More and William Wilberforce, but also that of Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley. The legacies of both that violence and that resistance remain with us today.
BARS is committed to standing alongside those fighting these injustices, and joins with other scholarly organisations in supporting a more equal society founded on fairness and inclusivity. Our community has a role to play as researchers, scholars and educators in numerous capacities: in our publications, in our classrooms, in our gatherings and among the public. Our members know the power of words in shaping actions, and how silence equates to complicity.
At our 2019 conference in Nottingham last summer, the BARS Executive reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and inclusivity as guiding principles for our ongoing vision. Much work remains to be done and the best way to accomplish this is by practical action. At our July meeting, the Executive will prioritise actions that can be taken swiftly and substantively:
We will establish dedicated funding and mentoring opportunities for BAME researchers.
We will also ensure that our forthcoming series of online seminars, blog posts and directory of resources highlight the work of our BAME members and shine a light on the important, but still under-represented, history of people of colour in the Romantic period.
We also strongly welcome suggestions and contributions from the BARS membership on how, as a community, we can speak together so that Black voices are heard.
– The President and Executive, British Association for Romantic Studies