Commitment to Antiracism
The Program for Public Discourse affirms its commitment to recognize, analyze, and eradicate all forms of racism and oppression.
Our commitment to antiracism is not coincidental. Beyond its intrinsic value, antiracism is integral to advancing the practice of public discourse. When communities face discrimination, their voices are diminished, which in turn threatens the free exchange of ideas, and, by extension, democratic life. To that end, we strive to foster a discursive environment for students and faculty to interrogate racist ideologies and work to dismantle them. In our efforts to promote a robust culture of rhetorical citizenship, then, we must include our commitment to exploring the discursive dimensions of race and the racial dimensions of public discourse.
Racial politics implicate public discourse in a myriad of ways. On the one hand, public discourse serves an essential function with regard to the construction and maintenance of race, racism and other nodes of power. Racist ideologies take shape in the form of tropes and figures, and they circulate across media into public spaces, where they are energized, subverted and negotiated. In other words, racism is a form of public discourse, as well as its articulation. Sometimes it is stated explicitly, but often it is communicated beneath the text. It is at once ephemeral and also fixed in places of public memory. Whether spoken, performed or institutionalized, racism is perpetually interwoven into our public discourse and therefore demands our sustained critical inquiry.
Conversely, public discourse remains equally essential to combatting racism and oppression. The United States boasts a long lineage of abolitionist and civil rights voices, utilizing a wide variety of rhetorical expression, including the lectures of Sojourner Truth, the essays of Frederick Douglas, the poetry of Langston Hughes, the soaring oratory of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the literature of James Baldwin, the jurisprudence of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and the digital networks of Black Lives Matter. That is to say nothing of the many voices historically neglected by the canon of American rhetoric. Voices for racial justice have long utilized public discourse to fight discrimination, and the Program for Public Discourse commits itself to extending that tradition by providing a space for faculty and students to actively engage its complex questions.
To complicate matters further, the enterprise of public discourse is sometimes exploited as an excuse to disengage issues of race and racism. Expressions of anger and discontent are too often criticized as marks of incivility. The demonstrations of King met significant criticism by mainstream pundits who wished to see him operate within the institutional confines of speech and debate. The oratory of Malcolm X was reduced to inciting violence. And, today, peaceful protesters are labeled rioters and thugs. Vital concepts such as civil dialogue and reasoned debate are sometimes distorted as code words to restrain social activists to the rules of a game that has historically excluded people of color and likewise perpetuated social inequality.
In turn, such tactics have contributed to a climate of distrust between stewards of public discourse and agents of social change, thereby further muting minority voices and fueling their discontent. Indeed, the tradition of public discourse is fraught with exclusionary practices that exist alongside its civic ideals.
The Program for Public Discourse recognizes the exclusionary potential of public discourse, while still embracing the free and open exchange of ideas as the most vital expression of democracy and the most viable means of fighting oppression. We do not attempt to silence racism. We confront it by amplifying antiracist discourse in the effort to help truly dislodge it from the public landscape. We believe it is possible to uphold the ideals of free speech and open inquiry while also striving to ensure that all voices are welcome and encouraged to participate in the ensuing conversation. Such values do not inherently oppose one another, yet we do understand that they exist in tension and therefore require perpetual reflection. We recognize the imperfect and often unsettling nature of this position, and we welcome its critique in the form of continued dialogue—and even debate.
The Program for Public Discourse recognizes the good, the bad, and the ugly with regard to the theory and practice of public discourse. As such, we remain committed to facilitating difficult conversations across numerous modes of deliberation with regard to power, specifically concerning race and racism. We remain committed to inviting daring voices to clear new spaces for students to consider these issues. We remain committed to collaborating with faculty to develop discursive techniques for students to tackle such issues with honesty and rigor. Finally, we remain committed to engaging these issues beyond campus and into the Carolina community, standing on equal footing with our neighbors whose voices we strive to listen anew.
Within the general aspirations outlined above, we are also making precise and deliberate efforts to incorporate issues of race and racism into our immediate and long-term programmatic agendas. Brief examples of such work include the following:
- We are collaborating with students and faculty on a project that aims to illuminate neglected voices in the struggles for abolition and civil rights.
- Our Deliberation Scholars program features debates, dialogues and readings with regard to the theories and politics of race and racism.
- Our events-planning committee remains dedicated to identifying a diverse range of voices to invite onto our featured panels.
- We are designing workshops to help faculty and students productively incorporate issues of race and racism into class discussion.
- We are attending the workshops of our colleagues, along with other opportunities for professional and scholarly development, with regard to antiracism.
- We are co-sponsoring events with campus organizations designed to promote anti-racism.
- We are collaborating with Chapel Hill’s Community Empowerment Fund to help address issues of race and racism in the local community.
- We are actively recruiting students and faculty from underrepresented communities with whom to collaborate and help shape our agendas.
The statement above does not exhaust our commitment to antiracism (which itself is an inexhaustible project). Instead, its purpose is to communicate with transparency the strategies we are exploring, and to invite dialogue over how we can do so more effectively in the effort to more fully realize the democratic potential of public discourse.
Thank you for your time and consideration.