Columnist speaks

Brian Wroten

Fulwood discusses importance of civil discourse in society

Plain Dealer columnist Sam Fulwood speaks about race, media and society.

Credit: Jason Hall

Opinions offend sometimes.

Deal with it.

Write a letter. Talk to other people to see what they think.

The point is to think about it.

The importance of civil discourse is what Plain Dealer columnist Sam Fulwood III emphasized last night when he spoke as part of the Ebony Speaker Series in the Mbari Mbayo Lecture Hall in Oscar Ritchie Hall.

His speech, “Media Literacy: Race, Politics and Pop Culture,” focused on the role of media in society and the necessity of consumers to think critically about what they read.

“We live in a society, probably always have, that trades on information,” he said. “The only real currency that any society has is information. If you know things, you can better equip yourself to make money, if that’s your goal. If you know things, you can get along better with people, if that’s your goal.”

Fulwood said people are able to obtain information easily through TV and the Internet. He warned the audience that even though there is so much information available, there is an abundance of ignorance in terms of media literacy.

He likened the lack of understanding how media operate to filmmakers. He said they are able to convey their ideas without the audience realizing how they did it. He called the absence of critical thought dangerous.

Another aspect of media Fulwood spoke about was opinion pieces and how to deal with them. He talked about the column he wrote in response to Aman Ali’s column about the use of the n-word in the Dec. 5, 2005, edition of the Daily Kent Stater. Because it provoked thought, he said he thought the column was fine.

“There is nothing within the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that says you have protection against being offended,” he said. “Who is to say what is free speech? Who is to say what is fair game?”

He asked the audience what people should do when someone crosses the line. He said they should never shut down the speech. Instead, they should speak out against the speech.

“The antidote to an opinion you don’t like is to write another opinion,” he said. “I write with the hope that people will read what I write and will nudge someone next to them and say ‘Did you read this? What do you think?'”

Following his speech, Fulwood asked the audience to ask him questions or make comments.

Tim Moore, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he considers the column situation to be a teachable moment. After concerned students showed him Ali’s column, he said he felt the same way as Fulwood.

“I was glad it stimulated the consciousness of the campus,” he said.

Moore said students should take advantage of open forums and make counterpoints in the newspaper.

“Do it in an organized manner and express yourself,” he said.

Civil discourse is important, Fulwood said.

This is one of the main lessons Martin Luther King Jr. tried to teach while he was alive, he said.

“People matter more than money and possessions,” Fulwood said. “The ability to get along with

people who are different is the most important thing.”

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].