Every once in awhile, we experience a great “aha!” moment in which all of the facts professors are throwing at us in classes relate so explicitly to real life, it almost knocks us over. It’s an important series of moments that remind us exactly why we go to school. In associate professor of religion Jennifer Harvey’s modern ethical issues class, our presentation group on the issue of reparations for slavery had several such moments as we expanded our research on the topic. In today’s social climate it has become exceptionally important to ask yourself:
“What do we owe to the black community?”
A lot of us tend to think that issues of racism and discrimination are things of the past — oh, that happened back then. This impression leads people to make arguments like, “African-American disadvantage doesn’t exist,” or “Blacks today just want handouts.” (Really, people actually say those things.)
What is undeniable, though, is that the United States made its fortune on the backs of kidnap victims from across the Atlantic, justifying their treatment as chattel simply by the color of their skin. Acknowledge that historical fact indicts us all. As citizens of the United States, we benefit even now from the forced labor of millions of slaves.
Given this historical legacy, it is incredibly naïve to assume that the accompanying racism just faded away, and that all of those feelings of superiority and hate just ended back then. Recent events on Drake’s own campus make it plain that not only do those feelings still exist, but they exist right here in our own community. It seems that there is a lot of frustration on campus from this continued discussion, and many people are calling for us to just drop it, but the fact is, refusing to talk about it doesn’t make it go away.
In a world where black unemployment is twice as high as white unemployment, incarceration rates of black males exceed whites by six times, and a white man with a criminal history is more likely to be hired than a black man without one, we cannot continue to say that racism does not exist. What’s more, our unawareness of these discriminatory practices and institutions makes us part of the problem. Our interest in calling attention to racism is not to say that blacks are victims. Instead, what we urge you to consider is the issue of equality.
As a group, we spent a lot of time discussing that as white students, we simply can’t understand the day-to-day experience of an African-American student. Being white isn’t part of our daily reality because flesh-colored Band-Aids match our skin tones, and no one ever assumes we are only present on campus because of some affirmative action program. Our daily realities do not revolve around race, but maybe they should. It is up to us to listen to the messages that our fellow students are communicating, to internalize them and to live in ways that conscientiously combat racist ideas. This is not a passive problem; there is no passive solution.