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In 2014, is it important to see and discuss race?

questionrace 600Fifty-plus years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of his children being judged by character rather than skin color, The New Tri-State Defender used what would have been King's 85th birthday to probe whether it still is important to see and discuss race.

'We must talk about it'

Corey Tomlin, president of the University of Memphis' NAACP, has a view of the importance of seeing and talking about race and taking action.

"I believe racism and lines between color still exist today. It's easy to say we want to erase those lines...but to me...we have gotten too comfortable where we are right now," said Tomlin. "We must talk about it. We must have open discussions...but we also need to have some type of strategic plan to change things."



ajanakuEverybody should be seen as equal, but it seems that goal is never talked about anymore, said Tomlin.

shipp" We can talk about sexual orientation, religion...but it's like we forgot about the racial inequality in this nation. It needs to be spoken about, and we need people to stay focused on it..."

tateWhen discussing race, it seems that being knowledgeable of history and focused on the future is a key.

tomlinwigginton"We... black people, are uneducated about our own roots. ... There's nobody teaching black history in our schools anymore. It's like we're so focused on being the next Michael Jordan or when the next Jordans are coming out instead of trying to get an education and ...figure out who's going to be our next leader to take us to that next level that Dr. King put us in place for. ... We were once kings and queens of a nation. Yes, we've been broken down, but that doesn't mean we have to stay down...."

'A better light'

Shahid Tate, president of the African Student Association at the University of Memphis, is convinced that it's important to encourage diversity.

"It's important that we help each race to see each other in a better light... especially with the African-American community," said Tate.

"I feel like certain stereotypes have been imposed on them, and for that reason, they feel like they're supposed to be a certain way or that there's certain things that they cannot do because of their race...these discussions need to be made so they can receive encouragement."

Without such discussions, certain problems are not being discussed and they will continue, said Tate, who believes that issues such as mental slavery, unity and individuality among all the races need to be on the agenda.

'Honesty is the only key'

At the University of Memphis, Ciara Shipp is president of the Black Student Association.
"Honesty is the only key to overcoming obstacles that race (poses)," said Shipp. "(To) have a healthy regard for those of another race or of the minority, we should still identify the challenges and racial issues that still exist..."

There are consequences of neglecting to discuss race, Shipp said, including "not being able to understand differences of each race. ...Each race handles scenarios differently, and understanding that better equips you in conceiving the actions of others..."

The issues that need to be addressed, according to Shipp, are:

"One, stereotypes placed upon each race. Do they still exist and why do we continue to fall into them? What can we do to get rid of and break the mold?

"Two, the education system and what we can do to improve it.

"Three, how racial crimes are prevalent (Trayvon Martin case), etc."

'Complexity of people as human beings'

Dr. Russell Wigginton, vice president of External Programs at Rhodes College and author of "The Strange Career of the Black Athlete: African Americans and Sports" and of articles and essays on African-American social history, said it's important to recognize that there are racial categories that people fit into.

"It's important) to think less about folks being different and more about the complexity of people as human beings. So it's not, 'Oh you're different than I am,' and that's the end of the conversation; that's really ... the beginning of the conversation. ... We have all these similarities ... we can compare and contrast, race is just one of them. ... I wouldn't say (it's) ... the most important one..."

When we talk about race, we have to talk about interracial and intraracial issues, said Wigginton.

"I think that when we do that, it allows us to understand that race is only one dimension of who we are and how we're influenced. ...I think we often overlook how much folks who are in poverty could have in common, regardless of their race. ... If you have a Latino/a, a white and an African-American person ... in poverty, they probably have a lot more in common than their wealthy Latino, white, African-American brothers and sisters...."

The similarities, Wigginton said, could include social class, wealth and educational attainment.

"We like the condensed version of everything today...immediate gratification, immediate response...and that causes us to oversimplify people, society, and issues...It's unrealistic to think that racial difference or racial acknowledgment – (that) has been in place for hundreds of years – that we can somehow forget...or simplify it with a quick or flippant response."

'New terms'

For Dr. Femi Ajanaku, director of the Center for African and African American Studies at The Lemoyne-Owen College, the key to discussing race has to do with racial terms.

"We need to change some of our terms when we talk about this feature of human beings. ...Anthropology really gave us that scientific racism, and that ... really turned out to be positive for some of the racial groups and negative for the other racial groups..."

Terms such as "Negroid" and "Mongoloid" ended up being negative, while "Caucasian" ended up being positive, said Ajanaku, who believes that the term "ethnicity" would be a good alternative.

"I hope that the conversations about race will bring about new terms so that there is parity. We really need to have an equal way of seeing human beings," she said.

"The more conversations we have about 'race'... we... will be able to see that there are other ways of organizing the way that we group people."

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