Many have asked what you can do to support social and racial justice. I will lead by saying that I do not have the all the answers and have been learning from my BIPOC friends and leaders. I also want to acknowledge that mine isn’t even the best voice to answer this question. That said, I also know that silence is dangerous. Silence feeds injustice. So rooted in my experience as a criminologist, my research in justice disparities, and my work as an advocate of social justice – I humbly present this initial response and call to action.
As those currently in a criminal justice program and many actively working on the front lines of criminal justice – you are the future of this system. In that I am hopeful. I see the potential for change, the potential for resilience. But this will need to be an active pursuit and an ongoing conversation. This is so much bigger than any message, class, or course. We are faced with a system that is not only discriminatory and unjust, but one that was designed to be so. In this nation, and in our criminal justice system, we face generations of historical and intergenerational trauma. This may feel overwhelming. But again, I remain hopeful.
The charge that I present to you is bigger than this email, bigger than our course. I challenge you to engage this topic and to continue to do so. Raise race and social justice issues in every one of your courses, if they are not already being actively addressed. If you do not actively engage injustice in your criminal justice program, the program has failed you. Look at everything with a critical and thoughtful lens. Do not just take what is presented to you at face value. Question the media, your teachers, your peers. Question what you have learned to date. What voices have not been represented? Who does not have representation at the table? How is injustice ingrained in the practices of our criminal justice system? How can we do better? Question yourself as benefactors of the system.
Think critically. Our future depends on it.
This is a long term call to action, and one that I hope you commit to for the rest of your lives and for generations to come. That said, I also know that we need immediate action now, that we are searching for answers. So in that, I share some immediate action steps. These are recommendations specifically for my fellow white people in the field of criminal justice. My recommendations have not changed from previous semesters and years, but I hope that their urgency has become more evident in our current moment, and I hope you take them to heart.
Educate yourself. Read. Watch. Listen. Be intentional about what media you take in and what to you choose to read, watch and listen to. Read books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts that will help you to better understand issues of race and social justice. Know the history of our criminal justice system. Educate yourself on how justice is experienced differentially depending on who you are. It is absolutely your responsibility to do this work. Do not neglect this.
I share some resources here. This list is by no means exhaustive. Please share what you are reading, watching, and listening to as well.
Do Your Own Work. This is important work, and it is your work to do. Do not rely on rely on your peers, teachers, or experts who are BIPOC to do this work for you. It is not their responsibility, it is yours. For too long, BIPOC leaders and educators have been asked to give of their intellectual property and emotional labor for free. It is not their role to explain racial injustice and historical trauma to you. It is not their responsibility to help you determine what to do. Do not burden them, do not steal their time. Recognize the trauma these individuals face, and have faced for generations. Do the work, so they do not have to.
Educate Your Children. This work, this charge, does not end with you. It involves our future. These are conversations and explorations you need to have with your children and the children in your life. Children are not colorblind. We need to get this right, or there is no hope for change going forward. You need to be aware of how these issues impact the children you work with in this field. Actively educate. Continue conversations. This is not a conversation to be had and check of a list – this must be an ongoing engagement. Perhaps more importantly, be aware of what your modeling. What are you doing to both talk about and stand up for justice? Your children are watching.
Here is a list of resources. Again, this is not an exhausted list, but it is a good place to start.
Engage in Radical Self-Care. Self-care is not selfish, instead, it is the very thing that will sustain you in this work of change. Prioritize self-care. This can be challenging when living a busy life –balancing work, school, and family – among all of the other obligations that face us. This is not always easy, but it is important. Add on top of this a pandemic and a racial crisis – self-care is critical.
Radical self-care represents the basic daily practices that are fundamental in sustaining our physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing. These daily practices are generally easy to do. But they are also just as easy not to do. It may not seem to make a difference from one day to the next. But over time these small decisions add up and can have a huge impact. Committing to the positive choice of self-care can put you on an entirely different trajectory. Building these positive habits of wellbeing will ultimately be what sustains us – particularly in working in trauma impacted fields and serving as advocates of social justice. We must empower ourselves in order to empower others. We must nurture ourselves in order to be nurturing. To sustain the work we do and to advocate for others, we must value our own self-care.
Connect. You do not need to do this work alone. In fact, we are more successful when we connect with others. How can you build connections? Support others? Engage conversations – especially with others who represent the future of this field. Discuss books, watch films together, challenge each other in supportive ways. Check on your friends, colleagues and peers doing this work, especially the ones who present as strong. Vicarious trauma is real. When you see someone struggling in this work, reach out a hand.
Be of Service. Come to this work with a servant’s heart. Let go of ego. Acknowledge where you go wrong and when you make mistakes, and continue forward. Be an advocate for justice. Do the work. If we all do this together, perhaps we can be change makers.