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A dream overdue

Kamaria Porter | Tuesday, October 14, 2003

In his autobiography, Malcolm X states, “Many whites are even actually unaware of their own racism, until they face some test, and then their racism emerges in one form or another.”

From what I have observed as an African American in all-white environments during high school and here I not only agree with Malcolm X, but I also feel his words can be the first step in accepting our individual roles in the continuance of racism and creating a world of equity and justice for all peoples.

One day last semester, I was walking to South Dining Hall, a few yards in front of two white girls. I overheard their conversation about a friend, also white, and his troubles getting into his first choice college. Apparently this young man, with high test scores, good grades, and the usual exemplary extracurriculars was rejected from his dream school. One girl proffered, while her companion agreed, that if he had been a black male, or better yet a black female, his admission would be no problem.

Ask yourself, in our world of supposed tolerance and political correctness, why would this girl make such prejudicial remarks within my – a black female’s – earshot? Obviously she felt safe enough to express her opinions at that time because she probably did not know any blacks were around. That girl and many other individuals have candidly denounced blacks in my presence because they misjudged my fair complexion for whiteness. Instances like this illustrate our society’s remaining racial bias and how majority culture manages to hide it from public view.

In our environment, we have created divergent definitions of ethnicity and color. While ethnicity is subjective, pertaining to how one views her or himself based on ancestral ties and cultural backgrounds, color is a much more complex construction. Judging by skin color or manner, people objectively assign racial qualifiers to others and interact with them according to these stereotypes.

Thus, people believe they can avoid responsibility for harboring racist attitudes as long as they play nice in the company of minorities, and only express their true feelings within their own racial group. Americans think if they stay along the path of political correctness or preface their statements with the phrases like “Don’t take this the wrong way…” or “Don’t be offended, but…” they will never be called into question. Everyone shies from confrontation, unwilling to accept or speak truths about themselves and their communities. This fear and its application of political correctness, is in my mind one of the biggest impediments we face in our country and at Notre Dame to reaching racial harmony and understanding.

Some may feel the worst of our racial past is behind us, with the Reconstruction Amendments, “Brown v. Board of Education” and affirmative action providing legal and institutional references to combat inequity. I say, anyone who thinks this is living in a dream world. As the ruling class – politicians and business leaders – discards manufacturing jobs, outsources to foreign nations and assists the wealthy with preferential tax cuts and deregulation, people of color are discarded to the ranks of the working poor, unemployed, incarcerated and impoverished. Blacks and Hispanics are the most frequent victims of environmental injustice, assigned to live and work in polluted urban neighborhoods.

These issues even touch the splendid isolation of our University. According to the website Tolerance.org, there are five known hate organizations within spitting distance of Notre Dame in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, including a Ku Klux Klan chapter in our own South Bend. In nearby Gary, public housing developers are building and relocating minority, mostly black, families into units constructed across the street from a known hazardous waste site.

Our purpose as stewards of this country and our local communities is to leave conditions better than when we found them. We inherited a system of injustice which oppresses people of certain ethnicities and a cultural delusion of the “self-made” person. We need to discard these lies and tools of injustice created and perpetuated by the ruling classes and, on every social level, take a contemplative look at racial interactions and ideological constructions.

Individually, I challenge you to examine your own ideas with intellectual honesty to pinpoint your own racial prejudices and then purge them. We all harbor stereotypes, and anyone who claims innocence is either lying or willfully exists in a homogeneous fairy land.

At Notre Dame, we need to not only create forums to debate racial topics, but also patronize them. Let’s continue discussion of affirmative action, like at the panel discussion last week, and initiate other instances where we can have constructive dialogue on issues of race and inequality. By coming together authentically, we can, after centuries of struggle, and build a racially harmonious society.

Kamaria Porter is a sophomore history major. Contact her at kporter@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The Observer.