By the Rev. Grant W Barber | Alumnus
Dear President Livingstone, Mr. Mark Rountree and Board of Regents, Alumni/ae, Faculty and Students:
The Report from the Commission on Historic Campus Representation begins in a frank, startling reveal about the founders’ personal ownership of slaves. The report ends with recommendations that are just as strikingly anemic. The report in that last regard leaves open the door for further recommendations, but that is a vague way to cover your rears should a spanking be threatened. Such a critical response is inevitable. Institutions are so depressingly predictable in trying a bare minimum response. I’ll grant that the moving of statues, some names changed in a couple of places, the replacing of other symbols and including some education resources are recommendations much stronger than they would have been four or five years ago. That was when universities and civic institutions on the east coast first tried the minimal approach. Clearly the Commission paid attention to where the goal posts had recently been placed. Meanwhile, those posts have moved.
If the title had been “Historic Campus Reparations” Report, it would have been truly current. Instead, the recommended responses, significant and as controversial as they might be in the short term, would be symbolic. Symbols can be powerful, but these are of historical people of their own time and culture both in the monuments to be moved and with the corrective, balancing monuments to be added.
The living people of the here and now are where our shared Christian duties fall, to love our neighbors. For all those who will pour vitriol on the recommendations I challenge: Jesus says to love enemies as well? Cannot people claiming a vision, separate from the way the world of power and knee jerk rage, be different in witness? The specific living souls who must now be addressed are written off in the report’s summation, “But we don’t know how to identify them! Poor record keeping!” by Malarkey. Sales records of human beings trafficked cannot be located? Cemeteries grown over and disappeared? Slaveholder accounting ledger books? How do the researchers know that Judge Baylor’s wealth was mostly contained in slaves owned?
Heirs of racist policies, both as slaves and in repeated generations of Jim Crow, housing redlining and education and employment disparities have lead to people who are still living under the burdens kept in place by generations still alive today. Baylor can’t and doesn’t need to bear the full burden of policies of generations in society. It also can’t avoid though real, financial realities in which it participated and from which it benefits today.
Various institutions’ financial reparative approaches have emerged; outright payments of a lump sum of money might look significant, especially in aggregate to the institution’s bottom line. Alone, those are a one-and-done hand-washing of responsibility. More is warranted. Financial commitments for buying houses by descendants of slaves, active raising up of the quality of education from pre-K through university education for schools and neighborhoods which lack the resources of their counterpart white schools, equal provision of medical care, shopping access to basics such as groceries in local neighborhoods and at the same affordable prices as in more affluent neighborhoods, quality of streets, utility infrastructures: these are systemic changes. A deepening partnership between Baylor and Waco would be a great place to start. Dream of the roles which engineering students, teachers in training, public policy and sociology undergrads, graduate students and faculty could bring in addition to direct payments and outlays of money. Critically important — don’t just offer what you might think is useful but listen to the needs of those who would be receiving.
Please learn from a recent, adjacent controversy that has touched the campus in recent years: misogyny and violence toward women. The first attempts at addressing those matters fell short. It’s just not a history of generations long dead. It is more the legacy being formulated by living people now, in actions toward others who have received only symbolic recognition at best, and barely at that, which needs a vital corrective in this moment.
(The Rev.) Grant Barber, B.A. BU ’80, M. Div. Yale U, Div, ’87