The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies strongly condemns the murder of George Floyd by US police officers on the 25th of May 2020. We recognise that George Floyd’s death can be, with sadness and anger, counted as one murder in a long list of other Black Americans who have tragically lost their lives in all too similar circumstances: Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Chinedu Okobia, Michael Brown and many more. We acutely recognise that here, in the United Kingdom, Black British people also face violence, systemic racism, societal inequalities and wide-ranging oppression. In remembering George Floyd, we also remember Mark Duggan who was shot dead by Metropolitan police in Tottenham, North London, in August 2011. We recognise that, in the United Kingdom, the list of Black British people to die in police custody is just as tragic: Sean Rigg, Christopher Alder, Sarah Reed and Sheku Bayoh, to name but a few. To these names we might add the names of Jonathan Strong and James Somerset, both enslaved men, who suffered brutal attacks in London, which led to the first anti-slavery campaign in Britain in the 1760s. From the brutalities of plantation slavery to the Windrush scandal, we strongly recognise Britain’s own persistent and shameful dehumanising of people of colour.
As scholars of the eighteenth-century period in Britain and elsewhere, we are also conscious of the ways in which our own contemporary realities of structural racism and white privilege are deeply and complexly imbricated in the historical legacies of eighteenth-century Britain itself. Britain’s involvement in the Black Atlantic slave trade, as well as its violent imperialist expansion, have seeded the flourishing of anti-black racism as it exists today in the United States of America, in the United Kingdom, and across the world. In publicly condemning the murder of George Floyd we also do so by acknowledging the particular struggles faced by people of colour in Britain. In making this statement, BSECS is keenly aware of the performative and belated nature of all statements on the murder of George Floyd, however heartfelt and genuine such statements are. We also believe that it is important to publicly condemn George Floyd’s murder and to unequivocally state that Black Lives Matter.
As a society, BSECS’s role is to understand the global long eighteenth century both through our individual and collective scholarly enquiry and through the promotion of public education. Over the past two decades, the society has been active in promoting the study of empire, slavery and their legacies in Britain and across the globe. Further work is needed and we are very aware that we need to do more to include the critical and scholarly voices of people of colour in our society and in our field. In recent years, BSECS has set about establishing a
programme of equality, diversity, and inclusivity within the society. In our 2017 ‘Statement of Commitment to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity’ we clearly set out our commitment to the fostering of an inclusive and diverse intellectual community. We recognise that we as an intellectual community have much more to do and we pledge to continue this work. Updates on our material plans for change will be posted soon.