A Letter from the Chair

17 June 2020

The English department at Yale condemns the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police and stands in solidarity against the systemic devaluation and destruction of Black life. As the horrific news continues to unfold, we see played out the truth that Floyd’s death was not an isolated event. We mourn the unjust loss of Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others, present and past. Black lives matter.

The discipline of English literary studies has deep ties to British imperialism and to white supremacy in the United States. For decades now, scholars have been working to address and overcome these legacies. We in the English department know that this work was slow to take root and remains unfinished here at Yale. But Black literature is a rich and vital part of the anglophone literary tradition, and Black literary studies, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies have contributed crucially to our discipline. These critical formations, along with feminist theory, queer theory, and other minoritarian fields, have enriched departments of English, as well as the social movements from which they emerged. Even as the history of our discipline is implicated in systemic racism, such modes of inquiry remind us of literature’s capacities for critique, resistance, and transformation.  We resolve to pursue those capacities across all areas of literary study.

Although we have devoted our lives to language and know its power, we understand that the long history of white supremacy and the violent policing that sustains it cannot be undone by statements alone. We commit ourselves as a community to doing the work that is ours to do: supporting collective study of literature’s engagement with the structures of racism, practicing anti-racist hiring and teaching, and working to make our department a more fully diverse and inclusive community of faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students. 

We have begun to discuss the specific forms these commitments will take, and we look forward to continuing that work. But our first action is this:  we call for Yale’s administration to authorize our department to complete the open rank search in African-American literature that is underway, and to make multiple appointments from that initiative.  This hiring is an essential part of our institutional commitment to anti-racism, and it is all the more urgent now. 

J. Brantley