Thoughts On Race Prompted By Happenings At Missouri, Yale, SMU – With Business And Career Implications


Racism without RacistsHow is it possible to have this tremendous degree of racial inequality in a country where most whites claim that race is no longer relevant? More important, how do whites explain the apparent contradiction between their professed color blindness and the United States’ color-coded inequality?
Even members of white supremacist organizations now claim that they are not racist, simply pro-white.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America

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Some thoughts prompted by recent activities at the University of Missouri, Yale, SMU…

We might finally be getting the message.

Here’s the short version. After the Civil War, after the laws on race issues that passed in the 1950s, and the 1960s, and in many other years, we now all have to admit that racism has not gone away. Don’t we?

In my speech class, we read about “ethnocentrism” in our textbooks. The idea that “my group” is better than “your group,” or, at least, I will only care about my group and have no care about your group. The textbooks clearly describe ethnocentrism as a bad thing; they present ways to reduce ethnocentrism.

I’m not sure all of our students in all of our colleges and universities are getting the message about ethnocentrism.

There is a well-written essay on the Medium site by Yale student Aaron Z. Lewis, What’s Really Going On at Yale. Here’s a particularly compelling and revealing/insightful paragraph:

Students should not have to become community organizers just to receive acknowledgement and respect from their administrators. It’s disheartening to feel like so few people in power have your back. Yes, we are angry. We are tired. We are emotionally drained. We feel like we have to yell in order to make our voices heard. While the stories in the press are about this one particular week at Yale, we’ve been working toward solutions for years.

Notice this sentence: We feel like we have to yell in order to make our voices heard.

Back in my graduate school days, studying rhetoric, including and especially civil rights rhetoric, I remember the progression: you say, you ask, you raise your voice (you “yell”); you then move to protest. (And, if there is never an adequate response, then anger can erupt. If you haven’t read the speech by Malcom X, The Ballot or the Bullet, it’s worth reading).

But, let me add this to the discussion mix. If you know anything at all about university life, you know that you get two valuable outcomes: knowledge, and a network of valuable connections. And, on the connection end of that equation, the people you get to know while in school can be a valuable circle for decades in your career.

So, imagine: you are in a segregated sorority (cf., Southern Methodist University Sororities Still Preach Segregation); or, imagine you are a victim of racist language and actions by a few, surrounded by the silence of the many; the many white students who say little or nothing, and an administration that does not get it and responds too late; not just too late in the midst of current protests, but too late by years/decades.

And so, segregated groups on campus become segregated work teams and companies in the years to come. In other words, segregation on campus never quite goes away.

And thus we have training on diversity, and “sensitivity training,” and yet the segregation continues. And by the way, the very fact that we need diversity training is an indictment on the lack of genuine diversity in our formative learning years.

When I was a student at Abilene Christian University (then Abilene Christian College), from 1968-1972, the issue of race was very much a big deal. It was the late 60s, after all. Years later, Abilene Christian University apologized for its institutional racism; for its sins of the past. That was a good thing, to apologize – though it was many, many years too late.  But, the fact that they needed to apologize reveals yet again – even “Christian” colleges were racist.

Are they still? I suspect, to some extent, they are.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, speaking of gender inequality, states that until there is more such equality, there is the need for “male sponsors” of women in their career development.

Well, until there is no more tolerance of racism of any kind, we need a massive army of white “sponsors” — students and administrators and managers and CEOs and office holders — to work alongside the voices of black students and professionals, to say in one very united voice, “this really has gone on way too long. It is (way past time) time for genuine change.” 

And for those who still utter racist thoughts and put up racist symbols of any kind, well… no more tolerance, no more acceptance — not at all; not in any arena.

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