Words by Tanisha ThomasThe words of Israel’s former Prime Minister Golda Meir stand out against the bright green wall: “Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.”
The quote continues, but Yousof Mousa, a junior majoring in biology, doesn’t read on. He’s passed this quote many times during his three years at Kent State and remembers his feelings of distaste the first time he saw it.
“The quote itself did not bother me, but the … policies and actions of the person who said it does,” Mousa says.
The display in Bowman Hall makes him question if the university knew who the person was or what she did to Palestinians. Meir allegedly participated in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Israel. The questions floating in Mousa’s head motivate him to think of ways to take action. In his sophomore year, he joined “Students for Justice in Palestine,” SJP for short, who shared his opinion of the quote.
In fall 2016, Mousa wrote to the administration, explaining why he disliked the quote and wished for its removal. Kent State did not respond until Mousa wrote a letter that was published in The Kent Stater. The university said it would not replace or remove the quote because it would be “counter to [Kent State’s] core institutional values of supporting a diversity of cultures, beliefs, identities and thought.” The response made Mousa and SJP feel like the university did not care about why they felt offended by the quote displayed.
“It’s very important to talk about these issues because the major part of solving a problem is by recognizing it,” Mousa says. “Discussing the issue will bring attention to it and make those who don’t see what the problem to start seeing it and possibly work on solving it.”
The recount of Mousa’s story exemplifies an ideology swarming around social media—this idea is known as “colorblind racism.” According to Psychology Today, colorblind racism is the racial ideology that believes the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture or ethnicity. Common phrases associated with this ideology are “I don’t see color,” “everyone is equal” or “we are all human.” Race can be a difficult conversation depending on who is involved in the discussion. The conservation can cause heated debates and stress, which is why the idea of “not seeing color” can be seen as an easy alternative. However, putting a blindfold on racism only strengthens the blatant corruption in our government system and the people it’s affecting.
In this current era seen as “post-racial,” the idea of not seeing color is slowly being adopted by many millennials. In a poll conducted by MTV in 2014, 73 percent of millennials said never considering race could improve society. Similarly, 72 percent of millennials think their generation believes in equality more than older people.
Jonathan Hibbs, a white freshman majoring in psychology and pre-med, is a part of the 73 percent at Kent State.
“Not factoring in race during conversations would help overcome racism because it’s better to judge a person on the content of their character and not the color of their skin,” Hibbs says. “I find that the only thing race defines is where your ancestry lies on part of our planet. I believe there is truly one race, and that’s human race.”
However, Reina Watson, an Afro-Latina freshman majoring in political science, believes speaking about race can bring an understanding of why certain people feel the need to express their concerns.
“They really choose not to see the racism that we go through, and they really don’t want to acknowledge the fact racism still exists,” Watson says. “We really need to talk about it and not … make it seem like everything around us is okay when it’s not.”
The presidency of a black man and blockbuster movies such as “Hidden Figures,” “Moonlight” and “Fences” gaining attention have lead people to believe the racial issues in society have diminished. While these accomplishments may be nods to minorities thinking they cannot thrive in an oppressing society, a few accomplishments do not make up for the systematic practices people of color have to fight through in order to gain success.
George Garrison, a professor for the department of Pan-African Studies, says students at Kent State can be affected by the avoidance of addressing racism.
“Some of the young [whites] don’t realize some of the experiences that African-American students in this generation have, they’re not having it,” Garrison says. “So they see integrated audiences, integrated sitcoms and integrated movies. They see racism as a thing of the past. It’s seen as just a documentary.”
“Whitewashing” has become a bigger issue in Hollywood as white actors take roles meant for people of color, especially when the cultural aspects of the movie expand outside of America. For example, the 1915 version of “Birth of a Nation” became controversial because of its racist depiction of African-Americans. The lead in the movie also wore blackface to portray a black man. The movie sparked riots and was banned from several cities because of the controversy.
Pretending to see people as only humans erases the identities of those that make up America’s “melting pot.” It also erases the experiences of racism people of color in America may encounter on a day-to-day basis. It’s important to confront these issues in society that are preventing people of color to thrive in this country.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reported that African-Americans account for 1 million out of 2.3 million people in jail. Likewise, African-Americans are incarcerated six times more than whites. In an article written by Huffington Post contributor Bill Quigley, African-Americans wait for trials longer, and longer sentences most likely go to a person of color.
Police brutality has increased over the years. Excessive force is the most common police misconduct; chokeholds and baton strikes are a couple of examples. Mapping Police Violence reported that in 2016, police killed an estimate of 303 black people in the United States. It also states black people are three times more likely to be killed than white people. In 2015, 97 percent of cases didn’t result in police officers being charged of crime
“When young people—and some of the older generations—fail to realize we’re still living in a society that is dominated by these various types of biases and these various ways that people are discriminated against, we miss opportunities to correct that,” Garrison explains.
Those are just a few examples of systematic racism in America. Whether these practices are intended to oppress minorities is the question, but realizing the problem is important nonetheless.
“Colorblind racism really silences the struggle that people of color go through,” Watson says. “It’s dangerous when a person not of color talks about not seeing color because I feel they have a stronger voice.”
It is important for the majority of white people to be the voice of the voiceless. The conversation begins when a person is able to listen and understand where minorities are coming from in a situation. Tackling racism head on will result in unity across America in the long run.