by Dean Mark Welsh
Yesterday morning, someone asked me what I thought about the events that have unfolded across our country since May 25th. The full answer to that question is much too long for an email, so let me just share the things that first sprang to mind in the moment after the question was posed.
First, I believe Mr. George Floyd’s murder was horrific … and inexcusable. I believe the protests that have followed are a very clear statement by a remarkably broad demographic in our country that “enough is enough.” Each and every one of us should be listening to, and endorsing, that statement. The violence that erupted around some of those protests is also inexcusable; it has to stop. But we can’t let ourselves be distracted by that violence … it is not the message we need to hear. “Black Lives Matter” – that’s the message. I stand firmly in defense of that message. I hope that everyone associated with the Bush School will do the same.
While all men and women may be created equal, they are certainly not treated equally in every circumstance. I believe racism clearly exists in this country, and in some form or fashion in virtually every other country around the world. Until that changes, it will be impossible for any community, any city, any state, any nation, or any citizen, regardless of color, to reach their full potential. Each of us is unique. We are in this world together. Not taking advantage of the incredible opportunities that provides us would be an even greater tragedy than what we have witnessed across our nation over the past week and a half.
While we could argue over the definition of “White Privilege,” there is no question in my mind that it exists. I should know, I grew up with it. Not because I wanted it; not because I asked for it: not because my family or I agreed with it; not because I tried to take advantage of it; and not because I, or anyone else I knew, actively promoted it or even thought about it; but just because it was a reality in our country, and I was white. I can honestly say I’ve never felt the fear of authority expressed by so many over the past 10 days, and, in truth, for many, many years before. I’ve never felt that, when opportunity knocked, I wasn’t allowed to answer simply because my hand wasn’t the right color to reach for the door. The incredible thing about the last 10 days is that most Americans can actually see the frustration, sense the sadness, begin to comprehend the anger, and, in a remarkable way, actually feel at least some of the pain felt by so many of our own American family who have lived with these feelings their entire lives, including members of our own Bush School family—professors, staff members, students, and former students. This isn’t a new issue … we just haven’t fixed it. I believe it’s long past time for that to change.
I believe the Bush School must be part of that change. Last night, we started what I hope will be a long-running conversation with our student body. Roughly 60 of them chose to join us in a virtual event to share their thoughts on the events of the last couple of weeks and start to think about the challenges faced by policy and decision makers at the city, state and federal levels whose job is to take our society from where it is today, to a much better place in the future. I’ll send out a note this weekend asking our faculty, staff, and former students to join in that discussion. Each will bring a different, and valued perspective. Along the way, we will undoubtedly learn things about ourselves that make us uncomfortable. We will disagree, probably often. But we must communicate, openly, honestly and respectfully, about the realities we see around us, from the halls of the Bush School to the protests roiling major cities across our country. And most importantly, we must be willing to change our own world if necessary in order to better prepare our students to change theirs in the future.
Finally, let me say this to our students, faculty, and staff of color. The events of the past 10 days have undoubtedly impacted you in a more dramatic way than anyone else. I want you to know that all of us stand with you. When you are weary, lean on us. When you are rested, help us understand.
Our Nation is better than this … it’s time for Americans to prove it.
Bush School of Government and Public Service
Texas A&M University