Monday, May 4, 2009

How Race Impacts Perspective

Just a quick note: I've been less active in writing lately, due to some computer problems. Hopefully, I'll reach a final resolution soon.

Now, on to the topic at hand. I stumbled on this video of Andy Campbell while spending some time on YouTube. I don't really know who Andy Campbell is, but I thought this video of him presented an interesting case study.

Now, on the surface, this seems all good, but let's dissect what this gentleman is saying.

1. First off, it's clear that his overall theme here is to prove that he's not a racist. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing - I wouldn't want anyone to think I was a racist either. However, it always makes me suspicious when someone is tries this hard.

2. He attempts to link himself to Civil Rights leaders. This is a tactic that you often see when people want to prove they're not racist. They lift these figures up, in spite of the fact that they have no real understanding of what these people stood for. This brings me to my next point:

3. He characterizes Dr. King. Campbell says "Dr. Martin Luther King talked about creating a colorblind society, not a color conscious one." Yet, didn't Dr. King spend much of his life drawing attention to racial inequality and fighting to eradicate it? How can one do such a thing without being conscious of race? I find it hard to believe that Dr. King would ascribe to the colorblind philosophy of the 21st century, because this perspective compounds racial inequality by making it invisible.

4. Throughout his mini-lecture, Campbell refers to the Civil Rights Movement and civil rights in general in a way that suggests he sees these things as issues of the past. He refers to "history's civil rights activists," as if there aren't people working for still-denied civil right today. He applauds HBCUs for helping to "right wrongs" at a time when many American colleges and universities denied access to blacks, but ignores persisting, and in some ways growing, inequalities in the area of education.

5. He asserts that segregation is the preeminent force in perpetuating racism and prejudice. In doing this, Campbell does two frightening things. First, he ignores the systemic nature of racism. In reality, racism is a societal force, kept alive by both the desire to sustain and the ability to ignore white privilege. Second, Campbell constructs racism as a person-to-person phenomenon. By doing this, racism becomes about stopping individual persons from doing or thinking mean things, rather than addressing the real societal force that is reflected by those person-to-person interactions. In short, racism can't be solved just by blacks and whites living together, because such integration doesn't match the depth to which racism has infiltrated our society.

6. Here we go with the buzzwords: self-segregate. Oh, yes, because this is all black people's fault now. He calls self-segregation "counterproductive" to the "goal of racial harmony". Well, first one must ask what this "racial harmony" looks like. Is it the apparent hope of many white talking heads, that we reach a time when we can finally stop talking about race (not necessarily because it no longer needs to be discussed)? Or does it mean actually addressing and solving problems? If you subscribe to the latter description, then you must also think that it's worthwhile to discuss the ways in which persistent racism creates the desire for blacks and other minority groups to "self-segregate" into supportive communities where they can be experience a reprieve from the constant barrage of racism. However, instead of Campbell engaging in this discussion, he blames black people for delaying his fantasy world in which discussion of race magically disappears.

7. Back to the "great Civil Rights Movement," of which Campbell seems to be so fond. He describes its goal as "making us all equal." Funny, I thought we were always all equal. I thought the point of the CRM was to demand equal right for blacks. You know, full political, economic, educational, and social access. The full rights of citizenship. All still things we haven't gotten yet, by the way.

8. And then he polishes it all of with the whole "My family was discriminated against, too," and "I have black friends," only he puts a new twist on it. Listen, religious prejudice is wrong, but it's not the same as racism, so don't try and claim that you have an upclose and personal experiene based on you're family's experience with religious prejudice. You don't. And the fact that you're family is diverse is a great thing, but what are you trying to prove by bringing that up? That you're not racist? That you're color blind? Oh, and how is it that people who talk about color blindness can be so quick to jump to "my brother in law is Japanese," or "my best firend is black"? If you're so colorblind, how is it that the race of your friends and family are so close to the forefornt of your mind?

9. He says we shouldn't define ourselves based on race. And I think "Of course you can say that because you're white. I don't have a choice." And then he acknowledges that his whiteness makes it easier to say, but asserts that he's still right. Dude, white privilege is stairing you in the face to the point that you almost admit it, but still contradict yourself by insisitng we ignore the role that racial idenity plays our society. Wow!

The above video was posted as a response to the discussion seen here. It's clear from this video that the root issue is twofold: (1) striving for the goal of colorblindness, and (2) the belief that HBCUs exists only because blacks were turned away from other schools in the past. The fact of the matter is that predominatly white colleges and universities (which would be most of them, including mine) can sometimes be a hostile place minorities and their viewpoints. I'm fortunate enough to go to the first univiersity to offer a PhD in black studies. We also require that all undergraduate students take race studies courses that dig deeply into these issues. This makes us unique among HWCUs, but still, the hostility towards these classes is clear among the student bodies. Some students choose to go to schools where they can be among other African Americans and not endure some of the baggage that comes with HWCUs. So, you see, HBCUs, along with government housing, and minority scholarships, and affirmative action, address current problems, not just past problems.

And, finally, when are we going to wake up and realize that someone like Campbell can make such a completely rediculous staement and seem normal or even admirable only because he's white. There are more holes in his argument than in a block of Swiss cheese, yet he still represents the mainstream of American thining on race. We should all be disturbed with the nature of the racial discussion in our nation.

1 comment:

Macon D said...

Wow, great analysis. and yeah, what a lousy case that guy presents for himself! And it IS all about himself, as you said, isn't it? I think you're right that he represents a LOT of white folks here, almost a case study in white oblivion. Especially the rather desperate attempt to show that HE IS NOT A RACIST, instead of just dealing with the charges that something he did/said was itself racist. I'm seeing that a lot these days--a sort of first layer of defense, when someone white does something racist and gets called out on it. "But, but, I'm NOT a racist! So, you know, that thing I did, whatever it was, couldn't have been racist!"

I also love the use of "HWCU." I wish that term would get more currency.