Kent community discusses racial issues

Matthew Merchant

Kent State students, faculty and guests discussed race and social issues present in the nation at the Race on Trial symposium Thursday.

Rhonda Williams, director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University, gave the keynote address entitled “Evidence of Things Done: Race in the 21st Century.”

“We all have race,” Williams said. “Everyone in this room has race.”

Fewer than 60 people were in the audience, but they responded to such topics as the death of Trayvon Martin, racial stereotypes in the media and male violence with both applause and outrage.

“Race is uncomfortable,” Kent State lecturer Denise Harrison said during the panel session. “It’s uncomfortable because it’s all around us, and we don’t acknowledge it.”

Williams asked the audience, “Who are our witnesses to the truth that race remains ever present and poignant in the symbolic and actual way that this nation handles its business?”

Williams pushed the audience even further.

“How do we challenge individual and systemic racism?” asked Williams. “In a way that prevents us from contributing to the ways in which peoples dignity and life chances are undercut? How can race and antiracist struggle operate in a different way to provide road maps?”

Richard Serpe, chair of the sociology department at Kent State, participated in a panel discussion with Harrison and community organizer Ishmail Al-Amin, as well.

“When is race not a part of what we do?” Serpe asked while discussing the sociology behind racism.

He also touched on the topics of modern Jim Crow laws and racial economic theory. Serpe said most existing government programs that aid the poor are actually legalizing racism through a broken system.

The symposium came to a close after two community organizers gathered the audience into a circle and discussed the possibilities of change.

In a tiered system, individuals can either change culture as a whole or start with themselves and others. Acceptance of diversity and equality, the group decided, leads to healthy societal relationships.

DaMareo Cooper from Stand Up for Ohio and Amaha Salassie, community organizer from Wright State University, gave a short interactive lecture about different aspects of racism in society. Topics included fear and ignorance of citizens when it comes to racism, stereotypes that lead to violence, and privileges based on economic influence.

“Racism is a construction of power,” Cooper said. “Racism is a problem. You cannot solve problems. You’ve got to cut them down into issues. Issues you can work with.”

Contact Matt Merchant at [email protected].