On the Death of George Floyd - A Letter from the AMS President
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Grief. So much grief. Grief piled atop grief, as if the grief we already felt for all we have lost in the covid pandemic (lives, livelihoods, certainties, dreams) were not enough, piled for us in the AMS atop our ongoing grief at the loss of Bob Judd. All of it piled atop grief’s equal and opposite reaction (at least in Handel arias): rage. Rage at the unjustifiable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery ... Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, at the long list of unjustifiable deaths that seems never to end. Rage at the assaults against Chinese nationals and Asian-Americans falsely blamed for the ravages of a virus. All of it piled atop fear: fear for our own safety, fear that we or someone we love will be next, fear of a still more terrifying dystopia to come.
These feelings are our business as musicologists and members of the AMS because the deaths we grieve show starkly that some of our members—including our president-elect and our interim executive director—are in danger every minute of every day. In danger from police violence, from racialized inequalities in health care, from the long-term health effects of casual racism’s daily wounds—the microaggressions identified by scholars who study the impact of racial attitudes—effects that have helped produce high death rates from covid among the US’s non-white populations.
The leadership of the AMS shares the grief, rage, and fear of our members in this dark time. We know that many of you are in places where grief and rage scream out through dark nights. We particularly acknowledge the systemic, institutional racism that has ended so many black lives and irrevocably harmed so many others. In recent years the AMS’s leadership has worked hard to identify and eliminate the structures of racism in our own Society’s practices. At the same time many of you have—in your scholarship, teaching, service, and public advocacy—worked to identify and dismantle the intellectual structures of racism and colonialism that our discipline inherited from the world in which it was founded. We acknowledge that both these efforts have a long way to go.
Although no scholar would ever say that words have no power, we need to go beyond words. As your president, I ask each of you to join me in re-committing to the institutional and intellectual transformations we need to make—and can make—in our little corner of the world. And I ask you to join me in thinking, with all the seriousness you can muster, about just what we, as musicians and scholars of music and sound, can do to identify and eliminate the structures of racism in the wider world. Once we have all thought, I ask that we pledge together to do it through the tools of our trade—whether it’s a new course or unit we create, an event we curate, an article, a book, a paper, a conversation with a neighbor about a band or with a stranger at the opera. Or a song.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
Suzanne G Cusick