November 16, 2014

Anne Braden lecture shines a light on the issue of racism

No matter where you go or what news channel you watch, people are talking about racism. African-Americans in particular feel that they are being mistreated by whites, and they are making themselves heard.

This was the point of discussion on November 11th, when John Powell, PhD, a professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at the University of California Berkeley, delivered the Anne Braden Memorial lecture to a full crowd of intent listeners at The Playhouse near U of L.

Minority populations are growing in the United States, but there is research stating that Americans are actually uncomfortable with the growing diversity.

“It is not simply that America is uncomfortable with it,” said Powell. “It is that the elite wants Americans to be uncomfortable.

“Segregation is the way that we organize space in our lives. It’s not just an attitude towards people, it’s the way we structure space. And we organize space, not just in terms of where people live, but in terms of where people shop, in terms of where people go to school, in terms of how we experience each other and how our votes are counted,” he said.

Powell gave an example of how white people have changed their ideas of their own ethnicity and the social construct that they live in: Years ago, it was a big deal for an Irish American to marry a Polish American because of their ethnic differences; now that does not even matter because they both identify as white instead of Irish and Polish. This, he says, is the basis of a society that has begun to exclude people who are different, and shows that the way that we exclude people is constantly changing.

Powell also discussed the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., which some analysts trace back to black people feeling they are excluded and extremely underrepresented in the police force. Citizens claim that the mostly white police force is guilty of going to extremes to punish black people for minor crimes.  Instead of sending regular city police officers to handle the protests, the military was sent in with tear gas and riot gear.

According to Powell, this was done with the intention of intimidating, even harming the people of Ferguson in order to end the protests and protect Darren Wilson from punishment.

“When you send the military out, they are not policing; they are doing something else,” he said.  “And they are relating to people, not as citizens, but as the enemy. They are ‘otherizing’ people.”

Dr. Powell also commented on the constantly changing idea of race and the fact that people are always altering the way that they identify themselves.

“Since race is constantly being reconstructed and minorities are growing, we predict that this country will be a majority of nonwhites by 2045. It is actually much more complicated than that, because that would only be true if our racial categories would remain stable, and they have never been stable, so why would they be stable in the future?”

The Anne Braden Memorial Lecture is an annual event focusing on the civil rights movement.


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