Dr. Vincent Intondi did not match his surroundings.
The Commonwealth Salon began to fill with Bostonians excited for the talk awaiting them, a certain buzz was in the air, as many intrigued, politically-conscious citizens headed to the Boston Public Library. But Intondi did not share the curiosity that the attendees displayed in their pre-event chatter, perhaps because he knew that the words he was about to fill the room with did not focus on political success and promise. Rather, he was preparing himself to relive the guilt he feels over the damage that his nation has caused others.
Intondi, an associate professor of history at Montgomery College, was invited by the Union of Concerned Scientists to speak on the intersection of race relations and nuclear weapons—two issues at the forefront of concern in today’s political environment in the United States.
A topic some people consider a white-pacifist issue, nuclear disarmament concerns are often considered to be independent from the concerns of African-American communities. Intondi argued that historically this is not the case, citing the actions of several prominent leaders in the black community, such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama, as evidence. He emphasized that the goals of movements against racial discrimination and nuclear weapons have always been interconnected. They fought together through the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, France’s decision to begin nuclear testing in non-white countries, the creation of the Truman Doctrine, and countless other incidents.
Intondi explained that non-white races naturally came to the aid of each other during times of discrimination because they could easily sympathize with one another. In an effort to describe this, Intondi spoke to the crowd from the mindset of black Americans during World War II, and the fear that they felt seeing the internment of Japanese-Americans.
“There is a group of people that committed no crime and are simply being put in concentration camps because of the color of their skin,” Intondi said. “This could happen to us.”
His words made clear that the global concerns of different races cannot be separated from each other. Furthermore, their concerns cannot be separated from the nuclear threats that loom over all of them equally.
Intondi did not always realize the intersectionality of these two issues. Raised in a white-minority town by parents who detested racism, Intondi spent a significant portion of his life focused on African-American studies and race relations. Before 2005, nuclear destruction was a distant, abstract issue in the back of his mind.
Once he visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki to meet with survivors of the atomic bombings, however, his viewpoint entirely changed.
Filled with anger, guilt, and a newfound shame in his country’s actions, Intondi knew he needed to further study nuclear impact when he returned to America. Once he did, he learned how perfectly his two passions were intertwined. While many describe the fight of African Americans as one for civil rights, he now prefers to use a more universal term. All racial equality and nuclear disarmament activists are really fighting for the same thing: human rights.
After getting his Ph.D. in history from American University, Intondi became a professor and an author. He is also the director of Montgomery College’s Institute for Race, Justice, and Community Engagement, and the director of research at American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute. In 2015, he released his first book titled, African Americans Against the Bomb, which caught the attention of the founders of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Intondi was then hired under their Global Security branch to bring a more diverse viewpoint to the organization.
Unfortunately for Intondi, most of his life’s studies are given a backseat every time the current President speaks about, or takes action on, these issues.
“As somebody who has dedicated most of my life to eliminating racism and nuclear weapons, and then to have a racist in charge of nuclear weapons, it is very easy where I could feel defeated,” Intondi said.
Regardless of how discouraged he often feels regarding the administration of President Donald Trump, Intondi declared that he will take political action whenever it is called for. He evoked the promise he made to the atomic bomb survivors in Japan: that he will not stop fighting nuclear weapons as long as he lives. He pointed out that now is a more important time than ever for him to keep his promise.
Intondi also emphasized the importance of college students taking action. He acknowledged that while protests and walkouts are extremely important, not everyone is going to be the person marching in the streets. Some are better organizers, speakers, and artists, and that may be their contribution to the cause.
“Everyone has a gift, and what they do with it is their gift back,” Intondi said—a message he reminds his students of frequently.
Intondi noted that if he was at Boston College, he would focus on making it the most politically-aware and socially-conscious campus as it can be. A large part of this, he stressed, is having support between students of different races, faiths, and backgrounds. Every group has to show up for and protect each other when they most need it.
Intondi advised students who want to make a more immediate impact to hold their officials in Boston accountable for their actions, both good and bad. Voting, being politically engaged, and considering future careers in politics or nonprofits are all ways to get involved in the system. Intondi also emphasized daily acts of resistance as a way to engage economically in the fight.
Intondi’s final piece of advice involved remembering the intersectionality of race relations, nuclear disarmament, and countless other issues. Most of the battles fought today are intertwined in their goals, and together the people’s voices are stronger and more effective. He hopes to see voices advocating for nuclear limitation at the upcoming People’s Climate March in Boston, along with multiple other cities, this April.
“So, yes, we are in for the fight of our lives, and we are going to have to fight like hell to make sure our undocumented immigrants are protected, and our women are treated equal, and that black lives do indeed matter,” Intondi said. “But if we do not act on this now, we’re not going to be able to look back and see if Trump did it right or wrong, because we won’t be here.”
Featured Image by Mary Kate DiNorcia