CfC Director’s Statement Responding to Current Events Resulting from Racism

June 9 2020: The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the protests demanding an end to police violence, and the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on black and brown people demonstrate once again that racism and racist ways of knowing are endemic. 

Racism continues to tear us all down and limit our potential as a species. Racism destroys our ability to see in each other our common fate and makes collective action toward shared purpose impossible.

If we are to truly embrace the complexity inherent in our world as a way to advance wellbeing, sustainability, equality and justice, then we must confront and undermine racism as an unjust, inhumane and an anti-complexity way of ordering the world. We at the CfC pledge to identify and confront racism; to make the elimination of racist structures and ideologies core to our practices. We pledge to move anti-racism from where we have misplaced it at the margins of what we do, to the center. I pledge to examine my own race and privilege and to review our policies and structures to ensure that they are anti-racist.

In our projects, we have confronted challenges that we knew were hard and complex, but did not take the extra step of naming them and treating them for what they were. For instance, in our nuclear threat reduction projects, we often speak of “front line communities” as an important voice in understanding the impact of nuclear weapons on people even without their recent use in war. But we should have named the fact that many of these communities were on the “front lines” because of racism, and then worked to unveil how racism has shaped the national security system we have today. In our work on the future of education, we knew that “career and college readiness” was insufficient to the task of shaping education for this century. But we didn’t name how racism must be dismantled in order to create a system of learning that benefits all and then change our approach accordingly.

Beginning now, we will audit all of our projects to determine where racism is present. Because we will learn by doing, this will be an ongoing process as our work continues to evolve alongside our understanding. Beginning now, we will review and make changes to our policies and procedures so that they too will be anti-racist. We will publish our progress on this work in the coming weeks and months to this website.

There is always a limit to how one can understand someone else’s experience. But we can work to understand the starting points, the preconditions to their experience. We can and must acknowledge that racism has shaped our country and our world. We must confront how the construct of race has falsely framed our understanding of the world. Any critical practice demands that we do so.

In 2015, Clint Smith wrote a letter for his future black son offering advice and inspiration required daily for a child of color. I believe his words also advise us on how to live the mission of the CfC:

“…do not for one moment think you cannot change what exists. This world is a social construction; it can be reconstructed. This world was built; it can be rebuilt. Use everything that you accrue to reimagine the world.”

For my sons, I too hope for and pledge to work toward a world they will inherit to be one that is just. That we have done the hard work of redesigning and rebuilding so that we all may “be fully human and see others as fully human.” But there is, still, so much that we have to do. 


With thanks,


Justin W. Cook

Executive Director

RISD Center for Complexity

June 9 2020

@eme_freethinker’s mural of George Floyd on the Berlin Wall demonstrates beautifully our interconnectedness (Wikimedia Commons).