Dear TUPOCC members,
This week’s public revelations of cultural appropriation by the Guild’s former president have elicited expressions of outrage, hurt, dismay, and more from people across the country and world, including Guild members and members of The United People of Color Caucus. Beyond the reactions to the abuse itself, some have raised questions and sought information about the accountability process that was referenced in news accounts and a letter from the Guild’s Executive Committee.
We write to you now as the task force for accountability for this cultural appropriation, to give you insight into our efforts over the past few months, and to share our proposals for seeking accountability for the harms we, and you, are experiencing.
The group, initially seven BIPOC Guild members, convened outside any formal Guild body in the first week of October 2020, following one-on-one conversations in which some of us exchanged information which raised questions about potential cultural appropriation by this person. (The information ranged from rumor to comments made by this person, either publicly, or to some of us.) We have since met weekly or bi-weekly.
Our chief concern was to act strategically within the Guild to ensure actual accountability for the harms this person has caused and is causing. As long-time BIPOC Guild members committed to building the power of BIPOC folks within the Guild, we have felt the weight of white supremacy culture within the organization.
To us, this meant, first, that we had to gather evidence sufficient to trigger a serious commitment from leadership bodies across the Guild to pursue consequences for this conduct. Anything less, we feared, could make these legitimate claims vulnerable to being gaslit, minimized and manipulated, undermining the goal of seeking accountability for this grave harm. So, we gathered publicly available evidence, including representations made by this person, details about positions of power she occupied, and opportunities she’d benefited from, like fellowships.
Second, to avoid undermining our goal, we knew we had to commit to a process with integrity. We could not afford to let the substance of this harm be outweighed by criticism about our process. Because we were acting outside any duly elected Guild body, we considered which Guild bodies could and should anchor this process. Our first choice was and remains TUPOCC. However, TUPOCC, without elected leadership, has lacked the capacity to carry out official business. Previous efforts to convene TUPOCC meetings faltered amid critiques that the individuals involved had not properly constituted the body per longstanding TUPOCC procedural rules. To rectify this situation, several comrades have taken steps to rekindle TUPOCC’s capacity by following TUPOCC rules to reconstitute the body. In the absence of a TUPOCC board, this means convening TUPOCC’s Leadership Council, which has the authority to ensure that TUPOCC remains a space of and for BIPOC.
As the work to reconstitute TUPOCC unfolded, we continued to gather information and decided to involve the Anti-Racism Committee, reasoning that the labor of realizing accountability for these grave harms should not rest solely on the shoulders of BIPOC and white folks should take some responsibility for this work. Two Anti-Racism Committee members joined the task force last month. Next, we resolved to develop recommendations and deliver them to a body or bodies within the Guild for appropriate action.
As of last week, we had compiled evidence, drafted recommendations, begun outreach to members of various committees who could carry some of this work, and were prepared to contact the person to ask about their willingness to engage in an accountability process. Then we learned that a reporter planned to publish an article within the next day or two. It was only at that moment, we first informed the Executive Committee about the task force’s existence and the limited mandate we had given ourselves. The EC expressed a willingness to consult with this task force about accountability measures, and more importantly to center BIPOC members of the Guild more broadly.
Two days later, the news report was published. Through the anger and pain, members of the task force have met frequently to consider how or whether an accountability process could move forward in the light of this person’s public responses to being confronted with the evidence of her own conduct. A task force member has contacted this person to inquire about her interest in engaging an accountability process. The task force is looking forward to the convening of TUPOCC as a BIPOC space to collectively name and process this horrible harm and to consider appropriate accountability measures. The task force is recommending these steps as a starting point:
To TUPOCC: remove the person from membership in TUPOCC
To the Executive Committee: appropriate funds for facilitation for TUPOCC LC and membership meetings on this issue
To the National Office: disallow this person from accepting speaking engagements on behalf of the Guild, pending a potential accountability process
To the International Committee: remove the person from her leadership positions pending a potential accountability process; convene a conversation among willing members, not including this person at this time
Regarding next steps for TUPOCC, no date has yet been set for the LC meeting. The task force expects that the LC will notify TUPOCC members once that meeting is scheduled, and will convene a separate TUPOCC membership meeting, at which time the issue of cultural appropriation will be on the agenda for full participation and inclusive discussion by current TUPOCC members.
Whatever TUPOCC decides to do moving forward, the members of the task force are clear that this ensuing discussion and the steps that TUPOCC chooses to take must center not just Latinx and Puerto Rican persons who have been harmed, but more particularly, our Afro-Latinx, Afro-Puerto Rican, indigenous, and working-class Latinx siblings who are systematically marginalized and harmed by the whole apparatus of policies and norms that reproduce anti-Black racism within Latinidad. We will not be satisfied with anything less.
Suzanne Adely, President-Elect, on behalf of the members of the task force for accountability for cultural appropriation in the Guild