By Kofi M. G. W. Opantiri
“Tim” and “George,” in their responses to Shayna Han’s article,“Leadership in Diversity Council Convenes,” have inadvertently provided Union with a significant teachable moment. The sensitive, fair-minded and informed responses to them on the Concordiensis website should be an opening salvo in a much larger effort by the college to aggressively pursue an agenda of free speech truth-telling that beats back the kinds of hateful, wrong-headed perspectives expressed by these two gentlemen.
Over the course of generations, America has steadfastly refused to have the kind of dialogue on race that can lead to a genuine post-racial society. That reluctance provides much fertile soil for the kinds of beliefs shared by “Tim” and “George.” At its core, a genuine dialogue on race promotes the eradication of white supremacy racism (if such a thing is possible). It is an ongoing, penetrating, national soul-searching endeavor occurring in a broad range of venues, media and form over the course of years, if not generations, that:
• uncovers the full extent to which white supremacy racism infects the American Dream
• uncovers the full extent to which racism accounts for the accumulation of the wealth and power enjoyed by the nation today
• uncovers the full extent of the harm done to the victims of racism and
• seeks just solutions to the problems uncovered.
The eradication of racism in this country requires that this nation get accustomed to not always seeing itself as the cowboy wearing the white hat. More often than most Americans care to know, America has played the role of the other cowboy. A real dialogue on race recognizes that “the Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just,” as observed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his April 4, 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam.”
Critical to such dialogue is American society at large learning to do what recently-deceased Charles Colson learned: “I used to look at life from the top looking down, but from prison you look at life from the underside, and you see people hurting and suffering. It changed my whole perspective.”
A genuine dialogue on race will necessarily bring about a great deal of discomfort to the white community, but the African-American community, too, will not be spared from the dialogue’s piercing spotlights:
• How is it that African-American children generally learn the N-word from other black people rather than from racist white people?
• How much truth exists in the claim by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad that “black people buy what they want then beg for what they need?”
• Why do black children taking the doll test today still choose the white doll as the nicer doll, the one with the nicer color and the black doll as the one that looks bad, just as black children did when the test was first devised by Dr. Mamie and Dr. Kenneth Clark over 70 years ago?
• Why is it that observations from a variety of black leaders and thinkers over the course of generations (and even President Ronald Reagan) regarding how a dollar coming into the black community changes hands only once before leaving the community has yet to motivate African-American en masse to change that reality so that a dollar coming into the community changes many hands before leaving?
As troubling as they are, ideas such as those expressed by “Tim” and “George” are not cause for shutting people up but are instead clarion calls for an as yet unprecedented dialogue on race in America in which Union should be greatly involved.