Geography Department Open Letter

June 8, 2020

June 6, 2020

Dear Geography community,

We write to you with feelings of incredible outrage and sadness in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. His violent killing by “law enforcement” officers, along with the killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL and Ahmaud Arbery by white civilians in Brunswick, GA, reflect only the most recent and visible examples of anti-Black violence endemic to this country, and to many of the nation’s institutions. 

We also condemn the violence of the repressive state apparatus firing rubber bullets, teargas, and flash grenades at protesters across the country— acts of weaponized response to principled social action mobilized in the wake of these horrific murders. We stand in support of the grassroots political engagement and movement building by protestors who seek to actively resist racism, social inequality, and white supremacy even under pressures of organizing in a pandemic.

Indeed, we see it as no coincidence that protests against systemic racism have emerged in the midst of a global pandemic. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has fueled countless episodes of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, signaling a familiar denigration of certain populations as vectors of contagion and disorder. Furthermore, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poor, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations forces us to confront that racism and white supremacy are endemic to public health and safety, and to militarized law enforcement. 

As geographers, we are in a unique position to offer a reflexive critique of the forces that led to this confluence of structural racism and multidimensional inequalities, with some opportunities for collective antiracist mobilization in the interests of all. The pandemic reminds us of long histories of struggle against social and environmental inequalities that have been foisted with a particular ferocity on Black, Latinx, Indigeneous, working-class, queer, trans, and subjugated people. These questions are linked to the struggle to widen access and relevance at the University of California, and at Berkeley Geography. The department is now more diverse than ever, and engaged with questions of antiracism as never before. Geographical research helps us understand the fixity of racism—its intertwining with capitalism, gender, sexuality, power, and inequality. Geography also gives us the tools of social science, natural science, and cartography to build solidarity with emancipatory politics that dignify subjugated communities everywhere and that help foster change. Geography is also fundamentally about working to un-fix that which seems like it is rooted forever, as if divinely ordained. We must be thoughtful in our consideration of the impact of ongoing injustices faced by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and subjugated people, to devise strategies for true systemic change, on campus and beyond.

As we continue to process what is occurring in the Bay Area and across our nation, it is clear that we cannot afford to stand by idly. If we are truly committed to engendering anti-racist principles, we must measure and analyze how our department, division and campus community have tolerated anti-Black practices in their current and historical operations, including the composition of curricula, research profiles, faculty, student bodies. An introspective analysis, alongside consequential and measurable anti-racist programs must address these issues if we are to truly acknowledge and demonstrate our capacity to take action and repair the damage produced by systems of racial capitalism and structural racism.

As Geographers, our work is to join in solidarity with people across this country who rise up to find ways to confront these dynamics together, offering support to each other, learning from each other, and modeling what it would take to advance our anti-racist commitment in the fullest sense. This is the only possible healing ahead.


Brandi Thompson Summers
Jovan Scott Lewis
Sharad Chari
and co-signed by*
Dino Bellugi
Eron Budi
Jeff Chambers
John Chiang
Kurt M. Cuffey
Desiree Fields
Gillian Hart
You-tien Hsing
John Isom
Yi Jiao
Sol Kim
Matt Kondolf
Jake Kosek
Laurel Larsen
Seth Lunine
Josh Mandel
Beatriz Manz
Norman Miller
Robert Moeller
Lauren Pearson
Nancy Lee Peluso
Daniel Plumlee
Robert Rhew
Nathan F. Sayre
Harley Shaiken
Erin Torkelson
Sarah Varner
David Wahl
Michael Watts
Clancy Wilmott
Xiaowei Wang
(*as of June 16, 2020)