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Saint Mary’s engages in conversation about anti-racism

Kaitlyn Rabach | Wednesday, February 8, 2012

 

In coordination with Black History Month, members of the Saint Mary’s community discussed the importance of fighting against racism in modern society during a brown bag lunch discussion Wednesday.

“Beyond White Guilt and Anger: Becoming Actively Anti-Racist,” sponsored by Student Involvement and Multicultural Services (SIMS), addressed systematic racism and inequality in terms of white privilege and guilt about the legacy of racism. 

The conversation was moderated by Marc Belanger, associate professor of political science, who said white people must acknowledge how race affects them personally for this anti-racist discourse to effect change. 

“It is important to me for whites to see the negative consequences of race within their own lives,” he said. “Not in the sense of reverse discrimination, but rather how white privilege has consequences for people of all races.”

Belanger said racism is a system of advantages based on white privilege, but systems of privilege based on gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status also pervade society.

“There are many different types of privileges,” he said. “We are complicated people that come from all different backgrounds, and all of that shapes who we are.” 

Belanger also said the key to eradicating modern-day racism lies in changing the systems that propagate racism in society.

“Ending racism needs to include the white population,” he said. “They are the ones who created the system and need to be active participants in breaking it down.”

Although overcoming the taboos surrounding discussions of race can be challenging, this particular discussion was a necessary step in anti-racist discourse, Tamara Taylor, assistant director of SIMS, said.

“I felt as though this discussion was important because we tend to be hesitant to talk about race,” Taylor said. “We are afraid to bring it up, so if people were willing to come to this discussion I was willing to put it on.”

Taylor said the unique perspective of the conversation helped guide it in a productive direction.

“Having this discussion from a white perspective allowed for more open talk about race,” she said. “It did not allow for whites to feel left out.”

Belanger said this spirit of racial inclusion is crucial for people to be active participants in the fight against racism, but it is often overlooked in the case of the white majority.

“Psychologically, racism is a damaging process to white people as well,” Belanger said. “Not to say it is comparable to the hurt caused by those targeted by racism, but it does leave many whites feeling confused and disempowered.”

Belanger said whites are often afraid to be actively anti-racist because they may not know how to effectively address and act on the issue of racism.

“Many times people want to change the system but just do not know how to make a society free of racism,” he said.

These ideas sparked discussion within the audience, which included several faculty members, health professionals and students. Several attendees shared personal anecdotes about the effects of racism on their lives today.

“Racism limits you. It puts up barriers. Even if you would like to reach beyond them, you sometimes just can’t,” Cyndie Horton-Cavanaugh, a nurse in Women’s Health, said. “We can benefit from relationships with people from all different experiences, but racism limits us from really knowing and experiencing people.”

Other attendees expressed the importance of having the courage to make a change and fight against racism.

“We must look at ourselves and have the courage to break through the barriers,” senior Jacquitta Martin said. “It needs to be a joint effort, and barriers must be crossed on both sides.”

With the discussion as a prime example, Belanger said the first step in finding a solution to end racism is simply talking about the issues.

“There is only so much we can say in 50 minutes, but this is a good start and these conversations must continue to occur,” he said.