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RSA Statement in Support of Social Justice

The Renaissance Society of America stands with the protesters worldwide who demand social justice and who fight government-sanctioned brutality against the state's own citizens. We deplore the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. We also recognize that these deaths in the United States represent only the most recent and most visible examples of a widespread and longstanding structure of anti-Black institutional racism that pervades American society and others around the globe. We support equality, social justice, and fairness for the Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous communities who are most adversely affected by white supremacism, as so starkly revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because the Renaissance is often considered an era that marked significant advancements in human progress and the beginnings of modernity, we must acknowledge that the structures, mentalities, and attitudes that emerged in this period also helped to shape the systemic injustice and inequalities we experience today. We study what is remembered in the popular imagination as a time of artistic, literary, and scientific flourishing. But we must recognize the degree to which this view has given rise to false narratives about progress and civilization. We must be willing to make room for the scholarship that explores early modernity in unflattering ways, whether we like it or not. While remembered as pioneers or explorers, "seafaring adventurers" were tools of the empires that subjugated rich cultures and enslaved tens of millions of people. Machiavelli's calculating ruminations on how to control populations still serve as a "how to" manual for leaders of all kinds.

We see how the technological, political, and financial creations of the early modern period have structured a Western European world view that has excluded or abused people of color. The systems of higher education within which many of us work have long served as vehicles wherein those with advantage have accumulated more advantage. We who study the Renaissance have a long way to go in making the time period and our disciplines resonate with marginalized populations to whom the period—and those who study it—are still exclusive and elitist. Only when we realize the extent of our field's complicity in this oppression will we fully accept our responsibility to take anti-racist action in response to the global legacy of the Renaissance.

We as scholarly societies and institutions of learning and cultural heritage need to do much more to foster a broad understanding of the history and roots of ignorance, racism, social inequality, and discrimination. We in the RSA need to do more to make our own community more open and inclusive. Our efforts to encourage the continued study of the long history and biopolitical and sociocultural idea of race, including critical problems of enslavement, colonialism, and categories of blackness and whiteness, have fallen far short. Even the innovative work on early modern race already accomplished has not been fully integrated into secondary or university education, where it could make a difference. We will seek out our critics from within the Society and beyond and promise to listen better. It isn't enough, but it is the place to start.

We urge all of our members to advocate for reform of our institutions and our practices, and to recognize that excellence that is not inclusive is a shallow and untested version of the humanistic enterprise that we claim to celebrate. Institutionally sponsored and supported racism is an adversary of us all and we should acknowledge that the walls surrounding our fields of study—and the Renaissance Society of America—have served as a cloister for too long.


The RSA Board of Directors

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