On February 16th, the Africana Studies program hosted a panel discussion in the CC Theater from 12:30 to 1:30. Professors – Dr. Patricia Reid – Merrit (Africana Studies and Social Work), Dr. Donnetrice Alison (Communication and Africana Studies), Dr. Darrell Cleveland (Education and Africana Studies), and Dr. Michael Rodriguez (Political Science) – discussed why race still matters. The discussion defined race, its impact of it on the American landscape, and how now, more than ever, discussions of race are needed in order to avoid repeating history.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Merrit connected this discussion to an event that most young people were either a part of or aware of – the Black Lives Matter movement. By using this backdrop, she expanded upon how discussions of race are playing out in the public sphere. She said, “It wasn’t just black people calling it out, saying something is wrong, or even people who organized and supported black lives matter. It was the largest civil protest movement in our history. It was Black people, it was white people, Asian people, Latinx. Everybody voiced their opinions of something being very wrong. When it did take public pulse, the majority of our nation said we have a problem of racism in America and it should be addressed. The problem was it was a boiling point in 2020, but by 2021, we weren’t talking about the issues as much. And then the question was raised again, “Why do we need to talk about race?”
Merrit states the quality of life in America is determined at birth, simply because of the color of a person’s skin. To understand the history behind this, to understand how different institutions play a role in this, it’s important for students to take R1 and R2 courses. As Merrit states, “We have made the commitment that if you want to be an educated person, you want to leave Stockton University with a bachelor’s degree. You’re not gonna be ignorant to the social ills surrounding race and racism in America.”
Dr. Alison further expanded upon Merrit’s commentary, by giving different examples in media that represent how racism still manifests itself. One example she gave is Elon Musk purchasing Twitter. She said, “Elon Musk comes from a long history of racism himself. His father benefitted from apartheid South Africa. So, he’s now got Twitter in the palms of his hands and he says ‘Oh free speech!’ Let’s give everyone who was banned their accounts back. And within that first week or so, the use of the N-word went up about 500%.”
She also referred back to the 2016 election. “Every time we take our foot off the gas and say alright everything is cool now, then something else happens to show us that it’s not. That happened during Obama’s era. It’s like oh we’re post-racialized because we have a Black president. And what happens right after? We get a Trump in office. Some people couldn’t believe how that happened, but those of us who understand how ingrained racism is in our society were not surprised at all.”
Rodriguez then offered his perspective on the reality of race. He argues, “I think we need to move away from this idea of racial essentialism to racial plasticity. Identity… has to do with interacting with your environment, there is no racial essence or character that is intrinsic and can never change. And having this paradigm changes this framework that our identity is a product of these ideas that we have.”
The last speaker Dr. Darrell Cleveland focuses on the impact of race in education and the importance of teaching black history, especially with the importance and relevance of Africana courses and programs in higher education being heavily debated. Cleveland argues that “This curriculum is important for everyone. Not just for black students. Not just for Latino students or for white students. It is important for everybody to get this knowledge; to understand the history of this country, so we won’t repeat history.”
After the discussion, a Q&A was hosted for students, and snacks and refreshments were offered. For more information on the panels, check out Stockton.edu/news.
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