By now, you have probably read statements from various organizations addressing the protests currently happening across the United States. It is hard to know what an appropriate institutional response is. I am skeptical of the artifice of a legal corporate entity expressing an opinion. Plus, these institutional statements tend to be bland and hedging, denouncing racism and violence in very general terms, while carefully avoiding any commitment to real structural change.
So here is an attempt at a personal and imperfect statement. I can not speak on behalf of all of the diverse members of this community, although I hope that most of the Research Scholars will agree with most of what I say here. I am not an expert on police violence, racial discrimination, or the violent history of white supremacy in this country. What I can do is speak briefly about the current moment through the lens of the two core values of the Ronin Institute: truth and empathy.
Here are some of the things I know to be true. George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis police department due, in no small part, to the fact that he was a Black man. This was not simply an isolated incident involving one, or a few, bad cops. This was one manifestation of systemic problems in law enforcement, including a lack of accountability and a disregard for human life, particularly the lives of racial minorities, and even more particularly the lives of Black people. And the systemic problems in law enforcement are only one manifestation of the society-wide systemic racism rooted in a centuries-long history of colonization and white supremacy, and the legacies of slavery and genocide.
Empathy means demanding better from our police and our political leaders. It means holding ourselves and each other accountable for the consequences of our words and actions, both intentional and unintentional. It means fighting against injustice, even when you are not personally the one suffering that injustice. It means not simply denouncing racism, but working to be anti-racist. And most importantly, empathy means looking out for each other, listening to those most affected by our unjust system, and responding with generosity, kindness, and courage.
The Ronin Institute was founded on the understanding that people have different interests and goals, and that we all face different challenges. If you are pursuing knowledge in good faith, we want to support you and provide you with the tools and resources that you need to succeed on your own terms. The problems we are typically focused on solving exist at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This year, the pandemic, the protests, and the events that have prompted them are reminders that some of the more basic needs are not as secure as we often assume. And the basic need for physical safety is much less secure for some of us than for others.
The most important benefit that the Ronin Institute has to offer is each other. We are at our best when we are asking for the resources we need and offering the resources we have. Usually, those resources are expertise, time, and kindness. And I have been continually amazed over the past eight years at the generosity with which you are willing to share them. I would encourage you all to consider another resource: privilege. The ability to pursue our scholarship, even on a part-time basis, is a privilege available to few people in the world. I believe that implies a responsibility to use that privilege for the benefit of others, and I know that many of you are committed to doing just that. Also think about the other privileges you have, based on your education, race, gender, or class, and how you can use that privilege to help those with less, both within our community and outside it.
All of you joined the Ronin Institute because you wanted to help build a more just and inclusive alternative to academia, for the benefit of all scholars. This is a moment to remember that while we are scholars, we are people first, and the struggle for a just system of scholarship is inextricably linked to the struggle for a just society.
Be safe and take care of each other.
Black Lives Matter.
Jon F Wilkins
President and Research Scholar