Reigniting an open discussion about race

By: Steven Goodman – Opinions Editor

The conversation surrounding race was reignited in mainstream America in 2015. It (sadly) took the multiple shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers from Baltimore to Ferguson to Cincinnati to convince many Americans that racism still exists in our supposedly, as some have claimed, “post-racial” country.

Those who use that descriptor, “post-racial,” might cite Barack Obama’s presidency as the end of racism in America. We elected a black man to the highest position of power in the U.S., so, surely, racism is extinct, right? I would say those who feel that way are wrong. While Obama’s presidency was surely a major stride forward, the string of police shootings (among other, frequent subtle racist moments throughout our culture) meant several steps backward.

This type of conversation was brought to the UD campus as part of the “Critical Examination of Our Times: The State of Race” symposium, which ran from Jan. 26-29. It was a great start to a discussion which needs to continue; especially since, frankly, UD is a disproportionately white school in terms of student and professor demographics. It could easily be considered part of what Elijah Anderson, sociology professor at Yale, as part of the UD Speaker Series, called “white space.”

I’m not saying UD is bad because it is a part of the “white space,” but it is definitely something of which we should be conscious. As Anderson said, “White people typically avoid the black space, but black people are forced to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence.”

“Black space” is typically constructed as dangerous within our culture and given names like “hood” or “ghetto,” which we so absentmindedly call our predominately white student neighborhood. Labels so connoted with negative adjectives that “black space” gradually becomes associated with terms like “bad,” “dangerous” and so on. And as a white male in the U.S., I know I’ve been guilty of these associations at different points in my life. And as a white person, raised as I was, I cannot put myself into the shoes of a black person and understand the daily racism that comes their way (whether subtle or explicit). But being conscious that a problem does exist will eventually help bridge the gap between “white space” and “black space” until it, hopefully, becomes only an adjective-free noun: space.

That’s why we need to have an open discussion of race. We need to work out these connotations of “white” as good and “black” as bad. It obviously won’t happen overnight, or even next year, or probably even the next decade, but the process is still paramount. I’m proud to go to a school like UD, which hosted such a symposium that brought to light the discussion of race on campus and, by extension, in the U.S. It’s a conversation worth having, and while it may make some of us uncomfortable, overcoming that discomfort will (hopefully) let true progress begin.

For the Flyer News staff editorial on this conversation, click here.