Middle East Medievalists Statement on Anti-Racism

We, the board of Middle East Medievalists, stand with the Black Lives Matter movement in condemning police brutality against Black people and in the fight against systemic racism and racial violence, police violence, mass incarceration, settler colonialism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. We denounce all violence against people of color and affirm the demands of protestors around the world – including in the Middle East – who have taken to the streets in this historic moment. We join with them in demanding that Black Lives must Matter.

The study of the medieval Middle East – indeed even the term “Middle East” itself – developed as part of the colonial apparatus of knowledge. We recognize that the systems of knowledge creation that have shaped and structured our field do not exist outside of that history. Our field has been complicit in the creation of racist systems of Othering that have perpetuated military conflict and systemic oppression around the world. Edward Said’s critique of the academic study of the Middle East still resonates, some 40 years after Orientalism was written. Further, despite racial and ethnic diversity within our field as a whole, institutional power – including the current composition of the MEM board – is still predominantly held by white scholars.

In light of these realities, we dedicate ourselves to addressing racial and power inequities in all of our activities. Specifically, we commit to:

Make changes. This fall, we will prioritize diversity in the transition to new leadership; create two new board positions to help us represent an array of perspectives; and inaugurate a new conference travel fellowship for graduate students of color. We will also work toward increasing publication opportunities in the MEM-affiliated open-access journal al-ʿUsur al-Wusta.

Listen and learn. We will listen to the experiences of our colleagues of color with humility and empathy. Those among us who are white recognize that the experiences of BIPOC scholars have often been deeply traumatic and yet, too often, invisible to us. Incidents of microaggression, gaslighting, abuse, discrimination, or other forms of intellectual and systemic violence stifle creative inquiry in our field. Though we cannot directly know the experience of being a scholar of color, we will listen with humility in order to learn and to support our colleagues in working for genuine systemic change.

Advocate. We pledge to work to diversify the top positions within our field by advocating for BIPOC scholars in admissions, hiring, publication, and on our own board. We recognize that all too often, the complaint that “there are no top scholars of color” in job searches and student admissions is a result not of inherent lack, but of a thousand individual and institutional acts of racism. This racism is embedded in the very structure of the selection process. We recommit to advocating for and empowering diverse voices within our field and for their presence and visibility in top positions.

The study of the medieval Middle East has much to teach us about the rich diversity of the past. Middle East Medievalists recommits to creating an anti-racist, multivocal scholarly community that actively illuminates that past.