Asst. Dean Erika Walker: Insight into why I’m passionate about social justice and equity

In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

Erika Walker, Assistant Dean for the Undergraduate Program, shared this letter with her team. 

Dear team,

Asst. Dean Erika Walker
Asst. Dean Erika Walker

You may have wanted to ask me how I’m doing but something held you back. I probably wouldn’t have processed my feelings enough to have a response at that point anyway. Some days I can talk about it and other days I’m too drained. I don’t have answers and I shouldn’t be the one who has to give them. And as I’ve been reflecting, the bottom line is that I’m not alright. I’m hurting. It is hard to focus on work. I go up and down between feeling sad, terrified, frustrated, hopeless, and angry. Hearing George Floyd cry out for his mother as he took his last breaths under the knee of a police officer broke me. It is my worst nightmare. This is happening repeatedly. I’m tired. I’m traumatized. I don’t understand what it will take for people to be outraged enough to dismantle systems of oppression. To take bold and calculated risks against the racial injustices that we are born into. These systems are what our country was built upon. The history of this nation is built on looting from others. PERIOD. It is embedded as part of the DNA of each institution that guides our lives be it health care, housing, education, financial, or social. And policing has its roots in maintaining “the order of property” from slavery to present. If we can’t acknowledge that fact and talk about it, then how on earth can we start changing the core of how we operate?

Policing has its roots in maintaining “the order of property” from slavery to present. If we can’t acknowledge that fact and talk about it, then how on earth can we start changing the core of how we operate?

You may not recognize all facets of these disparities but I experience them every single day of my life. My husband experiences it every moment as a black man. My three children recognized it as early as four and five years old. As parents, we have to think twice about them playing outside in front of the house, walking to the store, going to the park, or hanging out with friends. I’m terrified every time my son gets behind the wheel and I’m anxious about my 14 year old wanting to learn to drive. It is a sad reality that is reinforced each time aggression is captured on video. White women weaponizing the police against black people. No one policing the police when murdering black people. It is unsafe for black people in America. It is unsafe for my family. It is unsafe for me.

We cannot be okay with “I don’t see color,” “I’m not a bad person,” or “I’m not racist”. If you don’t see color, you are erasing my existence. The existence of my family tree that has its roots in slavery. The existence of this country. If you are worried about YOU not being a racist and protecting how you are perceived, then you aren’t even halfway ready to focus on anti-blackness and anti-RACISM for the good of all. So if you want to know what to do to support, start with you. Then do something. See an injustice? Say something. Research, ask questions, and take action. Vote differently. Question legislature. Think differently. Whatever level of engagement makes sense for you but please, do something.

See an injustice? Say something. Research, ask questions, and take action. Vote differently. Question legislature. Think differently.

I learned early that I had to code switch at work to make others around me comfortable with my existence. Black people do not have the luxury of avoidance. We work hard to compartmentalize and it is exhausting. Look, it’s common that we separate politics, religion, points of view, and frankly, most of the daily aspects of our lives, cultural or otherwise, from work. (Well, at least in work spaces that don’t have majority people of color.)  For those of you who remember the book, Difficult Conversations, we know that some of this is due to the identity politics that we may struggle with, which hinders our confidence and comfort level in having open and honest conversations. We don’t want to be labeled as “bad” in any way. We don’t want to make mistakes. We want to avoid conflict. We don’t want to talk about pain. Most people who are not black, don’t know how to talk about culture or injustices with black people. But friends and colleagues, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. WE HAVE TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE. How can we not be uncomfortable with what we see all around us? Black people are being murdered. And for decades, the same reaction, narrative, and justifications immediately follow. “Well, what did he do to provoke the police?” “She did something in her past that may explain how she brought this on herself.” Do you not see the patterns? Ask the right questions. Dig deeper. Even in business we iterate. Let’s do something and see what works. We have to take risks.

And friends, it is not enough to not be racist. You must be anti-racist. Frankly, it is not enough to be an ally. You need to get involved.

And to be anti-racist does not mean being anti anything else. Please don’t start talking about other groups and experiences. It is okay to center on the black experience and the egregious acts against us. As human beings, it is okay to be empathetic and focused on correcting centuries of harm on black people that still plays out to this day.

Watching the news and social media today looks a lot like watching vintage and historical film except these are the same images we see over and over and they continue every day. We’ve been here before again and again. It is imperative that the cycle is broken.

We’ve recently begun doing some work around having courageous conversations and how it can be incorporated into our practice. We’ve discussed being equity leaders at work and taking part in creating equitable spaces for all. How can we be equity leaders in all aspects of our lives? What can you do in this moment?

I just needed to acknowledge what is happening in our country because business-as-usual is severely tone deaf. Amidst a Covid-19 pandemic, we are also suffering through a racism pandemic. And crazy enough, I’m relieved to be able to shelter at home. It’s safer here for my family than out there.

These are my views and opinions. I don’t have the answers. I’m just asking for help in actively creating change. To be silent is to be complicit. I’m tired of just talking philosophically about it. What actions can we take today?

I know a lot of resources are available out there but you may not know where to start. Here are some:

Ally vs. Co-conspirator

75 things white people can do for racial justice

Anti-Racism Resources

I Have Not Missed the Amy Coopers of the World

No need to respond to me. Just please…do something.

In solidarity,