email from the president, three days ago:
i decided to go. i picked up a brown paper bag with a grilled chicken sandwich, and sat down at my randomly-assigned table with — who? faculty from various departments, from the terrascope program, from mit libraries, students in engineering and in sloan business school, and a visiting student from germany who is only here for the summer, who talked about how shocked he was at the commonness of gun violence in america.
we talked. ed bertschinger talked, then kester barrow (macgregor’s area director) talked, then we talked at the table. we talked about how to build community and care for our neighbors. we talked about how to be good allies to our siblings, classmates, students of color. we talked about being white, and we talked about being not white, and we talked about being not black. we talked about our frustration and our feelings of inarticulation and confusion and powerlessness. we talked about funding for policy experimentation, research of police violence, research of racism and unconscious bias and structural injustice.
and after, dionetta crayton from the office of minority education talked some more, good words, words of rhythm and grief and hope for the future. she condemned and mourned the deaths of the five police officers in dallas. she acknowledged the need to mourn and grieve and be angry. and then she said: “our deepest fear is not that we are helpless. our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” especially at mit–especially in a position of such great voice and influence–especially as a community which prides itself on problem-solving–she invoked her hope in our ability (our obligation) to tackle one of the greatest, most incomprehensible, most cruel problems of world history.
i remember elie wiesel: “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. sometimes we must interfere. when human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must–at that moment–become the center of the universe.”
now i am sitting in the grass outside the student center. now i am looking at the lists of names. i download the Data. the Data is a CSV, which stands for Comma Separated Values. there are so many commas. i clean the Data and think about the terrible dehumanization that this term entails: as if Data is clean, as if Data can ever be cleaned, as if the blood and gunshots and tasers can ever be condensed into the rows and columns, “values” separated by commas. i remind myself, this week especially, that no data is clean; these are people, with families, with jobs, with loved ones and lovers, with broken taillights. i put them in simple boxes and remind myself that these boxes are Black lives.
one of the students at my table said: “i’m scared, but i have to be fearless.” if she can face her fear and grief, then we as allies must overcome our discomfort with violence and racism and start learning how to lift up our siblings of color. please, please read vincent and ben‘s stories. read selam’s story and rasheed’s story about actions being taken at mit. learn about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and about the research and policy initiatives of #CampaignZero. learn about the data. follow activists on twitter and hear their voices: @Blklivesmatter, @opalayo, @aliciagarza, @samswey, @Nettaaaaaaaa, @MsPackyetti, @deray. take notes. ask questions. make mistakes. learn quickly. decentralize yourself. speak out.