A Letter to the CMES and Harvard Community

July 10, 2020
CMES building north elevation

It should not have taken a string of tragic and highly visible incidents of police brutality in the middle of a suffocating pandemic to sharpen the need to recognize and reckon with anti-Black racism and the legacy of slavery, but it did. Watching or reading about the horrifying final moments of the murder of George Floyd, some of us were immediately reminded of Radio Raheem—how is that for a name with "Middle Eastern" resonances?—and his tragic end, "fictionalized" more than thirty years ago in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989).*

At least, on this occasion, Floyd’s murder elicited a sustained global response that is at once humbling and inspiring, one that also foregrounded the everyday brutal murder of Black women, men, and transgender people in the United States and beyond. We at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies are moved by this moment, which invites us all to reflect more deeply on the intimate links between racism, slavery, and colonialism throughout the world. We have thus initiated a renewed discussion of these themes as they pertain to our field and our roles and responsibilities therein. To continue to reflect on the nature of knowledge production in Middle East Studies and to critically assess the lingering legacy of colonialism in the field—including some of our very categories of analysis like "the Middle East," "Asia," or "Africa"—we are now working on organizing a series of workshops on race, slavery, and colonialism. These will bring together colleagues from different disciplines and areas at our University for a campus-wide conversation on these themes to actively rethink and revise our own ways of seeing and studying the world.

The Middle East Studies Association’s statement in solidarity with the uprisings against systemic racism and anti-Blackness speaks eloquently to our moment and we endorse it wholeheartedly.

*Lee has recently stitched together some film footage of the actual and the fictional incidents. Please note that the film contains graphic violence.