Panel celebrates National Dialogue on Race Day
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 01:09
Students celebrated Tufts’ first annual National Dialogue on Race Day with a panel presentation in Cabot Auditorium last night at 7 p.m.
This event, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD), featured six panelists who addressed issues of racial disparity and social inequality in contemporary America.
History professor Peniel Joseph, a founder of CSRD, served as facilitator of the event. He acknowledged the significance of holding such an event in the wake of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and assessed the United States’ current position in light of the decades-old goals laid out by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“50 years ago, we had institutionalized racial segregation, and blacks and whites had separate existences,” Joseph said. “Today, segregation is gone [and] we have more racial diversity in our politics than ever before, but also growing racial inequalities.”
Joseph linked the problems prevalent in modern American society to “color-blind racism.” He explained that this can be seen in areas such as the American prison system, which does not “acknowledge stubborn racist inequalities in outcomes.”
Joseph emphasized the importance of hosting a dialogue analyzing such critical issues before fielding a series of questions to his panelists. He began by challenging them to assess America’s advancements towards achieving racial justice in the past 50 years.
Michael Curry, president of the Boston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the United States has made much progress in decades past but noted that disadvantaged non-white communities still exist in major cities across the country, including in Harlem, Roxbury and Chicago’s South Side.
“If you look at any Latino or black community in any of these cities, you will see a tale of two Americas,” Curry said. “Disparities exist across the board, and that is where the problem lies.”
Kimberly McLarin, assistant professor of writing, literature and publishing at Emerson College, added that there has not been enough of an effort to aid these impoverished communities.
“The war on poverty is the one war we have given up on,” she said. “I think that’s where the emphasis needs to be.”
Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, acknowledged “a huge gap in ability and talent” remains among different factions of American society.
“We have more comfort in talking about ‘the dream,’ but discomfort in talking of prevailing differences and disparities in today’s society,” Watanabe said. “We tend to ignore three-fourths of Dr. King’s speech and focus solely on ‘the dream.’”
Joseph then asked the panel to identify the factors that contribute to today’s racial disparities, such as the War on Drugs.
Author Diane McWhorter responded that such inequalities are almost to be expected given that the U.S. economic structure oftentimes leaves racial minorities at a disadvantage.
“Racism and capitalism are intermittently interconnected,” she said.
Professor of English and African and African-American Studies at Harvard University John Stuaffer said that the American prison system, in contrast to those of other countries, is not designed to reform its inmates. Most convicts — African Americans in particular — are left permanently disadvantaged by their experiences in prison, she said.
“Prisoners in the United States represent a form of slavery,” Stauffer said.
Joseph ended the event by asking how the United States should proceed and how racial justice should be pursued in the future. Several panelists responded that they hope to see different races connect and be more willing to act for each other’s benefit.
“We have to build these coalitions,” McWhorter said. “I am cautiously optimistic [it will happen].”
Stuaffer and Curry both agreed with McWhorter’s sentiments.
“There is extraordinary potential, provided these coalitions can be built, for [progress],” Stauffer said.