SEA Statement to its Membership and the Early Americanist Community
We, the executive committee of the Society of Early Americanists, express our profound grief over and condemnation of the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the multitude of victims of racist violence before them. As scholars and teachers of early American literature, history, society, and culture, we are horrified by the pernicious continuation of racial injustice, inequality, dehumanization, and oppression. In sharing these words, we are aware of the inadequacy of any statement. Yet, we know that we must not remain silent but must contribute to knowledge, truth, and change. We understand that both words and actions matter; all must be chosen wisely, carefully, and—above all—with humanity. We deeply care about all of our members, colleagues, and students, but we commit ourselves especially to everyone who has not been heard, seen, or valued.
The mission of the Society of Early Americanists—“to further the exchange of ideas and information among scholars of various disciplines who study the literature and culture of America to approximately 1830”—directs us to focus on the very roots of American racism and white supremacy, especially the institutionalization of slavery and racism as well as the systematic genocide of Indigenous peoples. This mission also trains our attention on the early American origins of anti-slavery, abolitionism, and anti-racism as well as the flourishing of African American, Indigenous, and Latin American literatures that many early Americanists teach, study, and help recover. Yet we must do more than develop our expert knowledge of injustice and resistance in our past; we must deploy this knowledge for change and, most importantly, we must make sure that our own organization does not perpetuate—intentionally or not—practices of exclusion. Concretely, this means that our organization needs to become as diverse as the literary, historical, and cultural subjects we study.
Toward this goal, we are taking some important steps now and in the immediate future. We also invite our members to articulate to us the work they wish to see; we particularly encourage colleagues in positions of privilege to redouble their efforts as agents for change. Currently, we are working to make our next biennial conference (Atlanta, March 3-7, 2021) a catalyst for further advancing our society and our field toward diversity, anti-racism, and equity. Indeed, the fitting theme of our conference is “The Many Pasts, Presents, and Futures of Early America.” As we are meeting in a state that perpetrated (with the Creek and Cherokee removals) one of the worst racist pogroms in American history and that propagated the horrors of white supremacy through slavery, segregation, and racist violence, we also recognize Atlanta’s role in particular as the epicenter of the modern Civil Rights Movement and hub of African American culture, activism, and business. Similarly, we would like to harness our own work and voices to build paths toward equity, justice, and empowerment. We seek to further these goals by:
– Shaping the conference through the collaboration of a diverse program committee (www.societyofearlyamericanists.org/conferences/sea-2021-biennial/program).
– Continuing (from previous SEA conferences) dedicated panel streams on African American, Native & Indigenous, and LatinX Studies, as well as Anti-Racism & Equity (organized by the SEA’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Anti-Racism & Equity).
– Offering keynote addresses by African American and LatinX speakers.
– Featuring a Native and Indigenous Studies keynote plenary panel, focused on Southeastern Native American history.
– Consulting with tribal leaders and scholars.
– Organizing the SEA’s first Common Reading Initiative in cooperation with Atlanta University Center’s HBCUs.
– Inviting students from AUC and any other campus/course/group adopting the common text to attend a keynote plenary reading and colloquy and to exhibit poster board research projects in a dedicated conference space.
– Collaborating with and seeking the counsel of Chief Diversity Officers at Emory University and the University of West Georgia.
– Increasing and expanding our usual travel support to make the conference more accessible to scholars of color (especially students, contingent faculty, independent scholars, and other academics who lack institutional funding).
Beyond the conference, we seek to recognize more prominently and expand the leadership and membership of academics of color in our organization, but we also acknowledge that scholars of color are often disproportionately tapped to do themselves the work of anti-racism, inclusion, and equity. Thus, we especially urge our white colleagues to join in or rededicate themselves to this work in the SEA and other scholarly societies, in their teaching, and in their scholarship. This includes acknowledging the anti-racist scholarship and work that scholars in the field have been doing, listening to colleagues of color, being mindful of referencing the work of academics of color in their research and classrooms, collaborating with faculty of color, dialoguing with rather than for academics of color, donating to scholarship funds that benefit underrepresented groups, and mentoring junior faculty of color.
Let us work, converse, organize, and make change together. In signing this, we’d like to turn the often meaningless “Take care” into
Let’s take care of each other,
Patrick Erben, SEA President
Ralph Bauer, SEA Vice President
Sandra Gustafson, SEA Executive Coordinator
June 8, 2020