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Face to Face With Race


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In a first for the UP, students gathered in the University Center to discuss racial issues on campus and in society. The meeting took place on Friday Jan. 18, and was a culmination of weeks of preparation. Each panelist was pre-interviewed and asked to discuss their personal feelings on the issues that mattered most to them. Their answers helped shape what would become the most interesting talking points of this event. Note that the panelists’ responses have been edited to exclude superfluous language and also to accommodate the UP’s space requirements. To view video clips of the event, please go to upressonline.com, or tune into Owl TV. A full-length copy of the video can be obtained by sending an e-mail request to [email protected]

Racism on Campus:

Johnny, you described to me an incident in one of your classes where someone’s wallet came up missing and you felt as if everyone was looking at you, or that you know everyone was looking at you.

BROWNLEE: I was in an engineering class. I was the only black student, and someone’s wallet came up missing. And, as I described it to you, I could feel the eyes on me. And it got to the point that it started to get blatant. People were starting to turn around looking, and I’m sitting in there saying, “You gotta’ be kidding me, right?” At the end of the day, the situation came up that the wallet was dropped outside. Somebody returned it.

Racial Division on Campus:

Several of you agreed that you could see a lack of diversity within cliques on campus. Is this racism in its own subtle manner?

ARSERIO: I don’t think it’s racism per se. Maybe subconsciously people hang out in groups. Black people hang out with black people. White people hang out with white people.

Does the fact that people aren’t willing to look outside the box in who they interact with add to a divide between races?

MACK: The question should be are people from different cultures intermingling, because I think that’s where the main problem is. I think the question should be focused on cultural background.

BROWNLEE: I think it goes deeper than the cultural divide. People separate for other reasons besides culture and race. There’s class issues. There’s gender issues, belief issues. Where you grew up and who you were around can affect who you hang out with just as much as your race.

Black History Month:

Steve, can you please explain your opinion of why there should not be a Black History Month?

RIVERA: I feel like Black History Month creates division between whites and blacks. We’re segmenting off black history and white history. Aren’t we all Americans? Isn’t black history American history? I know it’s hard to see it on a level like that

because there’s been so much trouble between the races in the past. We can see it in our parents. We can see it in their parents, but when do you make the move and look past these small skin-deep differences?

MACK: I do believe we’re all Americans, but you have to admit that African-Americans and white Americans have had a different history in the U.S. If you look back far enough, African-Americans were property at one point and then 3/5 of a person, and in the 1960’s they didn’t have the basic rights to the same resources as whites. So there is a different history for blacks than whites. There’s definitely a distinction to be made between black history and white history in America.

RIVERA: I’m not denying there was ever racism, oppression or slavery. But look at people like Martin Luther King – that was something that was truly American.

Chris, you said there should be a Black History Month because, “History is written by the winners. The minority groups that don’t win the big fights need to be showcased. It’s easy to remember George Washington or other famous white leaders if you’re white, but if you’re black you probably don’t identify with these people in white history that were slave owners.” Can you explain what you meant?

MACK: It’s a phrase in history. You shouldn’t read into the word winner and loser. What I will clarify is that when you have a minority population living in a population that is overwhelmingly larger, then a lot of the leaders that are exalted will probably be white. If this country were 80 percent African-American and 13 percent white American, you could expect that a lot of the leaders we exalt and have monuments for would probably be black. What I meant was that the larger group of people will get a mark on history since more of them will be writing the history.

BROWNLEE: When I was asked what I thought about it, I agree. It’s American history, but if it’s not going to be taught throughout the year as American history, then there’s a definite need for us to have a month.

I think giving us a month is a way of pacifying us. It’s a way of saying we’ll give you this month and talk about it now, but then after that we don’t have to deal with it throughout the rest of the year.

MACK: I don’t think that’s pacifying at all.

Does designating a month for black history reinforce our differences when we’re not necessarily all that different?

RIVERA: I think it’s building walls. It’s creating divisions in our minds subconsciously.

BROWNLEE: Like I said, until it’s taught in the regular curriculum, throughout the year, it has to be done. Even when you come to college you can take American and world history, but African history is kind of a special course if you want to take it. Shouldn’t that be included in one of those courses that you might have to take also?

ARSERIO: I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m a political science major, and I can’t recall one instance where we’ve learned about black history. I agree that until it is taught year round there needs to be a month where people do recognize what is happening.

MACK: In taking quite a few credits here in American history, African-American history is brought up quite often in American history. However, some of it is marginal. Everyone knows that slavery happened, and everyone knows about the Civil War. People are aware that African-American history is intertwined with American history. I think the problem is that there are so few African-American leaders that stand out in American history. I think it’s a well-known fact, the plight of African-Americans in this country. I just think the leaders need to stand out more. That I agree with you on. But I do believe that African-American history is definitely taught, especially in the university system, integrated with regular American history.

BROWNLEE: Maybe I’m wrong because I didn’t take a whole bunch of American history classes. I took American history, but I recall hearing the same stuff that I’ve been hearing since elementary school – the big-ticket items that we always hear. Slavery: they came; they were treated bad. Every now and then someone will talk about the civil rights movement, a few of the bad things that happened, but we don’t hear about a lot of the underhanded things that even the government helped do to the African-Americans. We hear about stuff like the separate bathrooms and the separate drinking fountains and the going to the back of the bus, but nobody really delves deep into the situation to see how far it went. In the classes I took, I didn’t get to read those things.

Is Black History Month being taught correctly?

BROWNLEE: Black History Month is not even covered correct. If you look at it in public schools, you get to learn about three or four people. You learn Martin Luther King for two of those weeks, and then there are so many other people that are neglected. What about the other contributions that were made? What about the people before Martin Luther King? What about the people after Martin Luther King? What about the people that stood next to Martin Luther King? Those people made contributions, too. You never hear their names.

CHARITE: This shouldn’t be about they, we, or black people versus white people. This should be human history. These people – black people, African-Americans, Haitians, wherever you’re from – these people made an impact. These people created a history. We should all know about it. Not just a month, then we all forget about it as if it didn’t even exist. These things should be written in history books. This is not just about black history, white history or this person’s history. This is human history. This is education. We should all know about it.

Teaching Black History Differently:

Johnny, what would make you happier as far as coverage of black history?

BROWNLEE: We have to get past the main two or three people that are going to be taught. Martin Luther King, great man, I love him to death, but he’s not the only person. I’m going to be a little harsh, and some people may get offended. You’ve got to go beyond some of the people that white America is happy to know about. You have to go into the more inflammatory people. You talk about the black panthers and it’s reverse racism to some people, but if you understood how some people felt at that time, then its understandable from their perspective. You don’t have to agree with it, but it deserves to be taught from both perspectives.

Affirmative Action:

Can I please get your opinions on affirmative action?

CHARITE: Well, personally, the way I feel about affirmative action is I like to earn something, and I like respect. Therefore, I’m not a big fan of affirmative action.

MACK: I think we need to look at why we have affirmative action in this country. You have the very real problem of having a large group of one type of people and then minority groups. So, something needs to be done about those who don’t have enough numbers to make a dent against those who are in the majority – namely white Americans.

ARSERIO: I agree with Nick. I’m not a fan of affirmative action. I believe that whoever gets the job is whoever is the most qualified. If somebody is fully qualified to take a job, it shouldn’t matter what their race is, what their sex is or what their religion is. If they’re qualified for the job, they should get it. If they’re not qualified, they should look somewhere else.

At this point, Lacey Richardson, a black female in the audience, was shaking her head and mouthing the words “that’s not true.” She was asked to contribute her opinion to the panel.

RICHARDSON: For the most part, if you’re under qualified, you usually don’t get the job. It doesn’t matter as far as affirmative action goes. Affirmative action would give a boost to a minority. It’s like a tiebreaker for the most part, especially if they need that. I don’t agree with it, but I do think we need it.

Johnny, can you explain your position on affirmative action?

BROWNLEE: You can basically say I’m on the fence, because I can argue affirmative action either way you want it to be argued. I can argue why we need it. I can argue why it offends me. There have been cases where people have gotten a job and settled in and then found out that they only got the job because they were black or Hispanic and that company needed that minority to get a certain government contract. Now, that’s offensive. You only hired me because you need me.

MACK: It’s patronizing.

BROWNLEE: If you’re talking about not getting the job just because of my race, we have to look at the averages on this, especially if we’re talking about a black person and a white person and if we’re not talking about a black owned company…If me and Chris go into a job and we go to more than one company, Chris is probably going to get looked at for that job more times than me if we have the exact same qualifications.

Why is that?

BROWNLEE: Who is doing the hiring and firing? In most cases, it’s another white person, right? That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about the underhanded racism. Underhanded racism would be they walk in and see me and Chris and their mind is already made up on who is getting the job.

Derogatory Language:

Tony, when I asked you about a common Italian derogatory term toward blacks, you said, “They call themselves niggers in a derogatory way, but in the rap industry if it’s used, you can’t expect whites not to use that word.”

ARSERIO: I didn’t say that it’s used in a derogatory way. What I was saying is that I’m a person who likes rap music, and that word is used very frequently. And my question was, if I’m in my car and I’m jamming along and singing the lyrics to the song and that word comes up, I’m not saying it in a derogatory way. I’m not trying to offend anybody. It’s a lyric in a song I purchased.

What you said was, “You can’t expect whites not to use that word.” It wasn’t in the context of just singing a song. It was, “You can’t expect that a white person is not going to use that word, because they [blacks] call themselves that.”

ARSERIO: If you don’t want people to say it, then you shouldn’t say it yourself.

BROWNLEE: I can go either way on that, too. Every race has a derogatory word that they use within their race towards each other, and it’s only a problem when somebody from outside the circle says it.

Racism Nationally:

How do you feel about racism still being a problem in society?

BROWNLEE: I think we know it’s a problem, but a lot of people may think it doesn’t exist because there’s not a lot of in your face blatant racism. It’s very well hidden today as opposed to years ago. Ya, we’ve come a long way, but we still have so far to go.

MACK: I think there’s still racism today, but for a different reason. I really don’t believe people think African-Americans are inferior to whites genetically. I think now a days people identify themselves with image and what group they belong to. I think today people like to gather in a group that’s acceptable or prestigious, and we exclude people based more on achievement. I think certain races are stigmatized with having a disadvantage of income or education, and I think it [racism] stems more from that than a genetic thing.

BROWNLEE: I’m going to have to disagree with a part of what you said. As far as one race being superior over the other, a lot of this might have to do with the media and the way we are portrayed. I think white people are generally looked on as smarter. Black people are looked at as better entertainers and athletic. If we were in a classroom and you were going to cheat off someone, you’d probably veer over to the white person. For some reason people always seem to think that the white person knows exactly what they’re doing. But if we’re on a basketball court and you need to pick one person and a big black dude walks up, it’s just engrained in us. And we all know why. It might not be racism. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not.

Growing up With Racism:

Do any of you find that your parents are racist? Were you raised with some standard of equality of races?

ARSERIO: I wouldn’t say our parents are racist. They probably have some biased tendencies, and like I said, it all starts at home. You have to look at who raised our parents, our grandparents. They were around during segregation. So when our parents were growing up, their parents, who are our grandparents, had a stereotypical influence on them. That could be my only explanation.

BROWNLEE: As far as the bias in our families, I would say my mother is very biased. I have no problem saying that. My mother, I would say is very pro-black. If a black person is doing something in society and it’s good and it’s positive, she wants to see that black person go as far as they can, and whoever they defeated on the way, she is about that. And she raised me to be the same way, very pro-black. I’m not anti anything else, but I’m going to root for my own first.

CHARITE: I can’t say I had the same experience with my parents. My parents still have some hostilities. The reason? You have to look at Haitian history. First it was the Spanish. They came, took what they wanted to get and were out the door. Then you have the French. They came did the same thing, and they were out. In 1920, you have the American invasion, so there’s still some hostilities towards a person of different ethnicity, and it’s not just white. It’s Spanish. It’s Americans. It’s Europeans. You have to look at our history.

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