Race, Pandemics, and the Work We Choose To Do

Way back in mid-March, we closed our office as a precautionary measure in response to COVID-19, and since then I have been planning (and planning and planning) to write about Pressbooks and the ways open digital technologies, open content, and open practices can be part of a resilience strategy in the face of upheavals like the one brought on by a global pandemic. About how “open” can help students, faculty, and higher education administrations in the face of uncertain and tumultuous times.  

But reality moves faster than my writing plans. Now there is an urgent need and responsibility for all of us to speak up about the extraordinary protests—widespread throughout the US and around the world—over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the history and structures that supported Mr. Floyd’s killing and many like it. 

What’s important, perhaps, is for all of us to think about not just what we say in this moment, but what we do. What we do right now, what we do for the next ten, twenty, thirty years.

It is one thing for organizations (such as ours) and individuals (such as me) to make statements in support of #BlackLivesMatter and to explain our own internal anti-discrimination policies (are they good enough? Ours isn’t. We don’t have one written down) and how we plan to continue to work to increase diversity in our professional environments. These are critical things to do right now, and the least we can do: to not be silent. To make sure we do these relatively small things inside our companies, to make sure we are, at the very least, paying attention. 

More importantly, we need to be vocal—to demand equality under the law, equality of protection from violence, and equality of access to the fruits of our society. We need to make it clear to those protesting: 

We support you. 

But writing blog posts is easy. Making statements of support is easy. Adjusting corporate policy documents is easy. 

There is the bigger question of what we do, as companies, institutions, as people, what we do now, what we do next. Not just what we do to make our HR policies better or to increase diversity in our teams, but to think about the fundamentals, about why we do what we do, about whether what we do is helping.

And this is where Open Education, a movement Pressbooks is proud to be a part of, has so much promise, so much potential. This movement seeks to make education more accessible, and to make it easier for educational materials to be created, adapted, and improved to be reflective of the diverse communities that make up our society. Achieving these goals doesn’t, in itself, solve any of these bigger systematic problems. But they are part of a set of solutions that make access to the best our society has to offer a little bit less about historical exclusion, and a little bit more about how our institutions can help everyone, no matter their background, grow.

If these are our ideals in the Open Education movement, we should make sure we are delivering on them. 

We need to be watchful, and careful that our movement, the tools we use, the materials we make, the practices we encourage, include a wider range of voices. We need to make sure that we are watching to be sure that the benefits of Open Education are touching the lives of everyone in our society, making the difference we hope Open Education can make. 

We should support the protests with our words. And then do the real work to support the ideals behind these protests with our actions. 

Hugh McGuire

(Please email me if you want to talk about any of this: hugh@pressbooks.com) 

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