I signed up for a 4-hour Resisting Racism workshop that was part of the Martin Luther King (MLK) Day celebration held at Lehigh. About 30 students attended. Half of the students were graduate students and the other half were undergraduate students. Majority of the undergraduate students who attended were black and the majority of the graduate students were white and almost all the graduate students were from the college of education. I’m surprised, and at the same time not surprised, by the turnout (the low number of students and demographics of the students).
The speaker, Ewuare X. Osayande, went through the history of race and racism in the US. Here are some highlights from the workshop:
1. Race is a social construct. There is no biological determination for race.
2. I hate the word tolerance. Moving beyond tolerance towards true appreciation. (I totally agree with him. If someone says that s/he has tolerance towards me, it is like s/he is trying really hard to keep me in his/her system and not throw up. So whenever I read about some local politicians encouraging tolerance in our society: Is everyone green in their face trying to not throw up?)
3. European men in the 1600s created the language to classify people.
4. In 1775, a German, Johann Blumenbach, said that the human species has 5 races: Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Negroid and American. And of course, Blumenbach said that the Caucasian race is the superior race because the Caucasian skull is the most aesthetically appealing.
5. David Hume, the prominent Scottish philosopher said this:
“I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.”
6. Racism: oppression as a result of race.
7. 1619. The first shipment of African slaves to Virginia (early US). The African slaves were called “negars” and were considered capitals which can be traded for goods and services.
8. 1640. Three indentured servants (i.e., laborers under contract: 1 Scot, 1 Dutch, 1 African) tried to escape. They were caught. The Scot and Dutch were sentenced to 4 more years of service. The African was sentenced to serve the rest of his natural life. Being “white” means less punishment.
9. 1691. “White” became a legal definition. Whatsoever white man or woman shall intermarry with a Negro shall be banish within 3 months from the dominion (colony in the early US). Whiteness has status and social value.
10. 1705. Inheritance law: All negros, mulattos, and indian slaves within this dominion shall be held as REAL ESTATE and shall descend unto heirs and widows according to the custom of land inheritance.
11. 1790. Naturalization laws: Only free white people can become citizens.
12. 1848 in the state of Georgia. Punishment for teaching slaves or free persons of color to read: If any slave, Negro, or free person of color, or any white person, shall teach any other slave, Negro, or free person of color, to read or write either written or printed characters, the said free person of color or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping, at the discretion of the court (If a person of color taught a student of color, both will be punished. If a white person taught a student of color, only the student of color will be punished).
13. 1865. Thirteenth amendment to the US Constitution: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. (The speaker said that in 1865 slavery was abolished, except as a punishment for crimes. He added that at the height of slavery, there were about 4 million slaves in the South. He then said that an estimated 3 million blacks have been imprisoned in the US. He emphasized the irony of that situation).
14. 1866. A judge said: A black man has no rights which a white man is bound to respect.
15. 1970s. Affirmative action: Affirmative action policy was made during Nixon’s presidency. It promoted a small group of people with privilege so that they can suppress the others (Hmmm…this sounds very familiar).
16. The effect of whiteness is status. It disconnects you with humanity.
17. The privilege of whiteness means the suffering and oppression for those who are not “white” (I would add the privilege of any color or race…).
18. Racism did not begin in a day. The answer would involve struggle, both personal and organizational.