I am humbled and honored to have been asked to introduce tonight's speaker.
Our 23rd W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial speaker is an assistant professor in the department of African American Studies at Princeton University and earned her Ph.D. in African American Studies from Northwestern University. She is the author of From #BLACKLIVESMATTER to Black Liberation and editor of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. She is also author of the forthcoming book Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, which is due out this fall from UNC Press and is available for pre-order now.
Tonight's speaker is a vocal critic of capitalism whose work, like that of Dr. Du Bois, shows clearly how race is deployed in the service of material extraction. "Racism," she writes, "is the central divide between ordinary people in this country" [@taylor17]. Of course this includes overtly racist mobilizations in favor of the wealthy and powerful on the right, and our speaker argues tirelessly against them. But what is no less important, and what is perhaps harder for myself and some others in this audience to hear, she also uses her forceful voice against hasty simplifications on the left. Because racism is a structural part of the capitalist system, racism and capitalism cannot be confronted separately. Recognition of sources of privilege, such as whiteness and masculinity, is an important step, but it must lead us to the further recognition that they are the sociological pillars of a capitalist system that is set up to extract resources for the benefit of a few through mass incarceration; inadequate housing, wages and healthcare; and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. The brunt of these urgent problems is borne by those who are structurally disadvantaged by capitalist oppression. Addressing them requires not just acknowledgement, but building solidarity through coalitions that cross race, class, and gender lines. Those who, like our speaker, are willing to advocate for socialism must follow her lead by doing so in a way that consciously resists the use of race to enforce class distinctions. If we are to have socialism, it must be an explicitly and avowedly anti-racist socialism.
A second lesson offered by tonight's speaker has particular resonance here at Simon's Rock, I think, where we pride ourselves on offering a unique and engaged education to our students. As teachers, we are activists: for what is the point of teaching if it is not in the hope of a better world? As scholars, we are activists: for what is the point of discovery and creation if not to effect change for the better? Tonight's speaker reminds us that the separation of the work of activism from the work of scholarship is not a given, and it is not one that we are obliged to accept. What good is an analysis of the structural support given by racism to capitalism if we cannot use it to reduce the harm being done by both? How likely is political movement to succeed if it is not informed by study of how the system works? And, what I think merits the sharpest consideration on this campus, at this moment: how is what happens in our classrooms re-enacting and replicating racism, misogyny, and classism—exactly those parts of the world that we hope to change? We will have to be activists to stop doing it, but we will also have to be scholars. Tonight's speaker is an activist–scholar, in the tradition of Dr. Du Bois, from whose example we can all learn.
Please join me in welcoming to the podium, for tonight's 23rd W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Lecture, our most distinguished guest, Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.