Letter to the Editor: In Solidarity with Dr. Uju Anya from a Decolonial Standpoint

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We, the undersigned Carnegie Mellon students of past and present, are writing in solidarity with Dr. Uju Anya. We recognize her immensely impactful role on campus and believe firmly in her right to free speech and safety. Carnegie Mellon’s public condemnation of her tweet provides no institutional protection from violence and places her in a precarious position, ignoring a long history of institutional racism and colonialism. Rejecting calls for “civility” that are frequently leveraged against the marginalized to silence dissent, we express our solidarity with Dr. Anya and reject the tone-policing of those with legitimate grievances.

Colonized people and their descendants do not owe their colonizers decorum or well wishes, and many will most certainly not rue their demise. Our ancestors and contemporaries alike faced the violence of colonization and those now passed did not get the chance to do so peacefully on their own lands. Despite reigning over the last years of Britain’s colonial hold over the world, Queen Elizabeth II represents the worst of the white supremacist power that continues to plague Africa and beyond. It is clear that in her 70 years as monarch, little was done to rectify the immense damage caused by colonization and the horrendous crimes against humanity that occurred in many colonies during colonial rule. Rather, through campaigns like Operation Legacy, Britain and its monarchy have escaped culpability by whitewashing and rewriting their sordid history.

We have seen the brief statement distancing the school from Dr. Anya’s tweets, claiming she does not represent the school’s values. We agree. Dr. Anya certainly does not represent the values of Carnegie Mellon. A university with unceded First Nations land and only nine Black tenured professors out of 477 cannot possibly share the same values as an African-Caribbean Black woman who is also an intersectional feminist, can it? Given Carnegie Mellon’s statement, one has to wonder, is the silencing of people of African and Caribbean descent in line with Carnegie Mellon values? Is the right to the full expression of emotions and speech reserved for Americans of a specific hue?

We note that in the official Carnegie Mellon response to a student letter on November 18, 2020, which voiced concerns about tweets by Richard Grenell, Carnegie Mellon told the community: “The very essence of the free speech principle is defending the right of others to express their views. Indeed, the times when the nature of our debate is most controversial is precisely when our defense of free speech is most needed.” Carnegie Mellon also said: “I know many in our community are concerned that the way in which Mr. Grenell is expressing himself is reflecting negatively on the university and its reputation; however, I believe that the long-term reputational damage to CMU is potentially far greater if we are perceived as an institution of higher learning that is intolerant of other viewpoints.” If the University felt no need to distance itself from the false and racist tweets of Mr. Grenell that were under question, what criteria does Dr. Anya’s tweet fail to meet that demands such a response? Is frank speech convenient only when it upholds colonialism and white supremacy? Is her Blackness the distinguishing factor? We also ask: what does it mean for Carnegie Mellon’s attitude toward diversity, equity, and inclusion when the school fails to denounce a white supremacist professor’s speech but goes out of its way to disavow a decolonial Black female faculty member’s thoughts?

Situated historically, the tenor of Dr. Anya’s comments pale in comparison to the systemic violence the British monarchy and its collaborators have inflicted on the globe. Moreover, to condemn Dr. Anya’s comments without recognizing a decolonial perspective is to condone white supremacy and the white supremacist harassment she has already received. We shall no longer continue the colonial project of muting ourselves. But, like Dr. Anya, we do not need Carnegie Mellon’s approval to rejoice over the death of Queen Elizabeth, who reigned over what Professor Anya observed is “a thieving, raping, genocidal empire.”

In conclusion to this letter, we hereby ask that Carnegie Mellon students continue to sign our petition as an expression of solidarity with Professor Anya and request that Carnegie Mellon preserve and protect Professor Anya’s position within the University. At the same time, we are cognizant that some students may not feel comfortable signing this letter out of fear of retaliation from the University and/or other institutional and non-institutional actors.

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