Thursday, May 22, 2008

A discussion on race

I was invited to join a panel for a discussion on race. That discussion is scheduled for tonight from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The University of Toledo Ingman Room in the Student Union. Unfortunately, I had another commitment so I was not able to participate.

However, there are a couple of questions I think should be asked when it comes to race and 'race issues' and I hope they will be part of tonight's discussion.

For instance, does the way that people identify themselves impact others' perceptions of them? If a person says "I'm a Latina" as their first personal descriptor, does that suggest (or do people perceive) that the racial/ethnic descriptor is the most important - and therefore, the primary basis of how a person wants to be viewed?

Contrast that with "I'm a Toledoan" or "I'm a doctor" as the first descriptor, which focuses others on city or profession - eliminating the emphasis on race. Would changing such self-descriptors help or hurt race relations? Would it focus people more on the 'content of character' rather than the 'color of skin'? Does this diminish the heritage people are so proud of?

Another question I would like discussed and examined is this: If it's racist to discriminate against a person because of the color of their skin, isn't it also racist to discriminate in favor of a person because of the color of their skin? This question can also be applied to gender and is used in many instances, such as employment and voting.

Some of the draft questions being considered for the panel include:

1. Affirmative action/Reverse discrimination – Of what value is affirmative action today? Do the values of affirmative action outweigh the damaging effects of reverse discrimination?

2. Racial profiling – Recently in Philadelphia, about 20 white police officers pulled three black males from a car and severely beat them in full view of cameras. Such incidents of racial profiling occur typically to young men of color be they black or brown, or should they happen to look black or brown. Is racial profiling an endemic problem within this society or a rare occurrence highlighted by the cameras? Is racial profiling a necessary law enforcement technique?

3. Are we too sensitive – Last year shock jock Don Imus called a college women’s basketball team – all but two players on the team were black – “nappy headed hoes.” His resignation was demanded from a variety of quarters. Are we too sensitive to stupid comments? Or do we simply make too many stupid comments? What are the limits with respect to how we can refer to other ethnic groups?

4. News reporting double standards – During the Katrina debacle, a national news outlet captioned two white residents carrying goods liberated from a store as survivors. A news outlet captioned a similar photo of two black residents as looters? Is this double standard typical?

5. Black/Brown competition and tensions – Latinos recently surpassed African-Americans as the most populous minority group in the nation and reports of racial incidents and lack of cooperation are mounting. On a small scale, what will it take to foster cooperation here in Toledo?

6. There is a new Toledo ordinance requiring convenience stores to be licensed and install security cameras – to be enforced starting at the end of this month. Is this ordinance directed at Middle Eastern store owners? Would such an ordinance exist if convenience stores were primarily owned by racial or ethnic groups in whose neighborhoods such places were located?

7. Let’s talk a bit about racial and ethnic identification – Do we need more education as a people about racial, ethnic and religious labels? Or, are such conversations counterproductive?

8. White privilege – In Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, author Beverly David Tatum defines racism as “a system of advantage based on race.” Do you agree with this description? Why or Why not?

9. The system of advantage is costly for everyone including white people. Agree?

The real question we should be addressing is how to get to the point where we treat everyone equally, without regard to race, in a society that focuses on our differences - our diversity - instead of our commonalities.

Perhaps the panelists should read 'Historical Overview of Race Preference and Affirmative Action Policy in America' from the American Civil Rights Institute before beginning the discussion. As what normally happens when government gets involved, in an effort to 'solve' a problem, they just make things worse. Instead of a color-blind society, we have decisions based upon color of skin in order to comply with government laws.

I wish I had been able to participate, especially because it appears the panel is in need of more 'conservative' perspectives, but I am glad that the discussion is beginning.


Tim Higgins said...


This one left me in quite a quandary. There are a number of things that I would like to say, but the atmosphere in this country is such that almost any comment other than agreeing that this is a racist country would allow people to portray me as a racist. Believing in conservative, if not libertarian values would make this even more likely.

I fear that even my non-comment is enough to weigh against me, but will let it stand none the less.

Thomas said...

Ayn Rand in the Virtue of Selfishness has one of the best essays on race I have ever read calling it the lowest form of collectivism. True Capitalism solves it all.

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