Monthly Archives: October 2008

I Am Barack Obama


"We are all Barack Obama."

Dr. Pamela Reed attended a recent Barack Obama in Richmond, Va.

A funny thing happened the other day.  I attended a Barack Obama rally, one of thousands of Virginians who braved the cold and stood in line outside the Richmond Coliseum, most of whom were no doubt as aware as I of the historic significance of the moment. While waiting to gain entry—when I wasn’t chatting with familiar strangers—I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes:  people watching. It was a veritable sea of diversity:  Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, gay, straight, physically-impaired, men, women, and children.  It was splendiferously representative of the tapestry that is America.

And get this. It was extraordinarily peaceful and orderly, in stark juxtaposition to recent images from John McCain and Sarah Palin rallies. There were no angry, hateful people ranting about socialists, communists, Marxists, Muslims, Jeremiah Wright, or Bill Ayers. No one expressed inexplicable fear of a President Obama. To the contrary, everywhere I turned, there were smiles from highly motivated and inspired Americans of all hues. It was a scene reminiscent of New Year’s Eve, or some other celebratory rite of passage, an occasion of clear demarcation and great anticipation. There was in the air the feeling that our long national nightmare could soon be over.


I have literally thought of little else since, all the while mentally composing this piece. 

Indeed, the memory was still fresh in my mind the following morning when I attended the Fall Festival at my daughter’s very culturally diverse preschool. Not until then, when I saw the costume of little Jermaine, one of her classmates, did all the images swirling in my mind truly come into focus.

He wasn’t dressed in a superhero’s cape and tights, or in some cute animal suit. His mother didn’t outfit him as a monster, a ghost or an athlete. No. He was dressed in slacks, a starched white shirt, and a tie. And he wore a two-sided badge around his neck. On one side held a picture of Obama and on the reverse was the following simple declaration: I am Barack Obama. 

Off-and-on, he also donned an Obama mask; however, in this writer’s view, the mask detracted from the ensemble. More precisely, it concealed his beautiful brown skin and the sparkle in his eyes. All of his classmates were drawn to him like a magnet. One little White boys, Sterling, even reached out and held the sign, as if in awe. I knew the moment I viewed the photograph of that exchange that this represented the heart of Obama’s “aloha spirit,” the idea that we are all, in the final analysis, one people. And that we must learn to fully coexist and work together, notwithstanding the race-baiting of many of those opposed to an Obama-led America.

This is the profundity that is Barack Obama. His candidacy represents the hope of a people, indeed of a nation—and the world community, which looks to America as a moral and existential compass—for better or worse. And it presents a clear choice for the people of America, between darkness and light. Betwixt night and day. And more importantly, the past and the future.

This explains the power of Jermaine’s costume, which embodies the possibility that a Barack Obama presidency would manifest. It is about the notion that anyone who works hard and is qualified, regardless of race, can truly be whatever he/she imagines—including President of the United States of America. That is what this election comes down to.

And it is by no means just the babes who are affected by this. Far from it. It is also adults of all ages, races and nationalities who may have given up on long-held dreams, even the Afro-South American politicians in Brazil who have literally changed their names to Barack Obama.

As well, it is this writer. Just observing Obama’s fierce and quiet determination—and uncommon courage—in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and the unspeakable bigotry and hatred of some Americans—has even given this sometime scribe the confidence to pursue the writing career that I have secretly dreamed of since I was a young girl chopping cotton in the fields of segregated northeast Louisiana, at the tail-end of Jim Crow, during the mid- to late-1970s.  The would-be broadcast journalist who was once told by a close male relative that the profession to which I aspired was for slim, White women.

Thus, it is not just about the Jermaines of this world. Quite the contrary.

I, too, am Barack Obama.

You are Barack Obama. Joe the Plumber is Barack Obama. We are all Barack Obama. And, in my estimation, if the American people make the right choice on November 4, Mr. Obama will soon be Barack the President. As I live and breathe!

Dr. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.



The Sad Reality of O.J. Simpson

By Elwood Watson

October 3rd is a day that has deeply associated itself with O.J. Simpson. It is a day he will probably never forget. On this day in 1995, he was acquitted of the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her waiter, body builder friend, Ronald Goldman. More than a decade later, on the exact same day, Simpson and his co-defendant were found guilty of attempted kidnapping and robbery. Multiple other charges were levied against both defendants as well.

I was attending an academic conference once I heard the verdict announced. Seeing Simpson on Court TV as the charges against him were being read made my mind flashback to the stark differences of his current trial and the previous one conducted thirteen years earlier. The frenzied media atmosphere that saturated trial number one deeply contrasted with the virtual news blackout that greeted the more recent O.J. Simpson.
The original Simpson trial was a television spectacle with all the makings of a potential Hollywood movie. There was sex and violence, success and failure, interracial and religious issues, gender differences, racial conflict, allegations of sexual deviancy and other factors that made for a titillating spectacle.

Intense media coverage of the first trial made it difficult to avoid. Stories about the case became daily tidbits on the major three networks. Related networks such as CNN covered the trial for its entire duration.

On the contrary, the second trial produced no such level of media obsession. The truckload of media outlets, lines of adoring fans and ardent detractors and people (on both sides) arguing in public with one another was virtually nowhere to be found. In fact, the most recent trial garnered very minimal attention.
What made the seeming lack of public interest this time around so interesting was the critical absence of a response from many in the African American community. To be sure there were some African Americans who followed the second trial intensely, but they (like many Whites and other-non-Blacks), appeared to have adopted a considerable level of indifference to Simpson. The fact is, it was very difficult for many of his fellow brethren to rally around Simpson this time. The mindset among many in the Black community is that Simpson should have learned to have – to paraphrase a popular saying – “left well enough alone.” As far as people were concerned, he should have been grateful and counted his lucky stars that he was acquitted for the brutal murder of two people who were slaughtered and decapitated like animals. Many thought Simpson should have had the common sense to recede into obscurity.

Personally, I can understand this mindset. Most people who had been exonerated of sadistically murdering two human beings (guilty or not), would probably stay out of the public eye for the reminder of their lives or at the very least keep a very low profile. This is particularly true if there had been a considerable degree of ambiguity in regards to the person’s innocence. There were also other Blacks who felt that after his successful first trial – while he made some brief overtures of gratitude – that Simpson still largely “kept his distance” from the African American community.

One thing is for certain, rather than drop out of the rabid eye of the public arena, Simpson continued to have numerous run-ins with the law. From verbal altercations with police officers to testy encounters with neighbors and others; he sporadically and infamously kept himself in the news.
Once the sheriff’s deputies handcuffed Simpson and led him from the courtroom, I began to think about what must have been running through his mind. Did he realize that he would not be in such a predicament had he used better judgment in the first place? At this point, it is very likely that the 62-year-old Heisman trophy winner will spend a large portion, if not all, the remaining years of his life in prison.

It’s a situation that is as senseless as the horrific murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)






Hawaii and American Colonial Amnesia

by J. Kehaulani Kauanui

How many college students are taught how the United States “acquired” Hawaii?  Which departments are charged with teaching the ABCs of US imperialism?  Now, perhaps more than ever, we need a concerted effort to bring more awareness to the plight of the Hawaiian people.  On October 1, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on Hawaiian land issues, which will go before the court in early 2009.  The Court granted the State of Hawaii’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, where the state of Hawaii has asked the Court to rule on  whether or not the state has the authority to sell, exchange, or transfer 1.2 million acres of land formerly held by the Hawaiian monarchy as Crown and Government Lands.  This land base constitutes 29 percent of the total land area of what is now known as the State of Hawaii and almost all the land claimed by the State as “public lands.”

These lands were claimed by the U.S. government when it unilaterally annexed the Hawaiian Islands through a Joint Resolution by the U.S. Congress in 1898, after they had been “ceded” by the Republic of Hawaii, which had established itself a year after the armed and unlawful overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch under Queen Liliuokalani in 1893.  These are the same lands mentioned in the 1993 Joint Resolution to Acknowledge the 100th Anniversary of the January 17, 1893 Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, where Congress acknowledged and apologized for the United States’ role.  Specifically, the apology affirmed, “the indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum.”  The apology also called for a reconciliation process with the Hawaiian people.  Prior to the state government’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the State Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state should keep the land trust intact until Native Hawaiian claims to these lands are settled and prohibited the state from selling or otherwise disposing of the properties to private parties; and did so based on the 1993 Apology Resolution.  What looms in the background of all of this is the question of a political settlement with Native Hawaiians about the status of and title to these lands and the potential to restore Hawaiian nationhood. What kind of nation? An independent nation-state or a domestic dependent nation under U.S. federal policy?

Currently, there is a problematic legislative proposal before Congress that would reconstitute a Native Hawaiian governing entity under U.S. federal law known as the “Akaka bill,” named after U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI). The bill, officially named the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act is stalled in the Senate due to conservative opposition.  If passed, the U.S. government would then have its federally reorganized Native governing entity empowered by the U.S. government to negotiate a cash settlement in exchange for forfeiting land title.  The bill would limit the full sovereignty claim and set up a process to extinguish Hawaiians’ land title.  But the state of Hawaii wants to sell these lands for its own coffers. Hence, the state hopes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling would nullify the Apology, which the state contends is merely “symbolic” as a Joint Resolution.  However, the Hawaiian people have not forgotten that it was through a Joint Resolution that the U.S. annexed Hawaii in the first place; clearly there is a double-standard here—one that we need to educate our students about, especially as Hawaiian dissent calls for a process to restore Hawaii as an independent nation given our long memory of the international violation of the Hawaiian sovereignty.


Dr. J. Kehaulani Kauanui is an associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University, where she teaches courses on Native American sovereignty issues, U.S. colonialism in the Pacific Islands, and U.S. racial formations, and critical race methodologies. Her first book, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Indigeneity and Sovereignty, is forthcoming from Duke University Press in October 2008. She is also the host and producer of a weekly public affairs radio program, “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond,” at WESU, Middletown, Conn., which is syndicated through the Pacifica radio-network.



Successful Ventures Between Minority-serving Institutions and Majority Institutions

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman


Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are recognized in many circles for their ability to nurture and empower students of color.  Because of their faculty’s strong dedication to teaching and mentoring, they are particularly good at sending students to graduate school.  However, at times, our nation’s MSIs do not have the fiscal resources to offer comparable research or programmatic opportunities to their students and faculty. One way to augment this lack of resources at MSIs is to partner with majority institutions.



One of the oldest MSI/majority partnerships is that between Tougaloo College and Brown University.  This partnership began in 1964 during the heart of the civil rights movement and consists of faculty and student exchanges and collaborative research initiatives. One of the reasons that this program has been so successful is that there is administrative level engagement on the part of both institutions. There are advisory boards and joint committees on the campuses that oversee the activities of the partnership. In addition, the advisory boards revisit the goals of the partnership each year to make sure that each institution is benefiting equally. Since the partnership began, over 500 people have participated in it, leading to increased research, new ideas and a respect for diverse perspectives.


An innovative and timely partnership exists between University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Texas at Austin. The partnership manifests in the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies. The center is a major player in research pertaining to the U.S.-Mexican border. The partnership ensures student research opportunities, seminar series held on both campuses, and the creation and distribution of joint publication on border issues.  Interestingly, the partnership also includes universities in Mexico, offering faculty and students the opportunity to benefit from engagement and exposure to many university types and providing increased credibility to the research being conducted by the center.


The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Dine College established a partnership in 2007 that focuses on using indigenous knowledge for policy development within the Navajo Nation and provides opportunities for faculty and student exchanges. The program specifically uses Navajo thinking, values and principles to solve policy related issues facing the Navajo people. The solutions are then implemented into law in the Navajo Nation government.



So, why do these MSI/majority institution partnerships work?  First, benefits accrue to both sides of the partnership. This is critically important. Second, there is administrative ownership of the partnership on the part of both or all institutions involved. This ownership ensures that the partnership is valued. Third, there is frequent evaluation and review of the partnerships. As a result, the institutions benefit from new ideas and the partnerships remain vibrant. Fourth, each partner has a respect for the cultural differences between or among the institutions involved in the partnership. Likewise, the partnerships play on the strengths of the institutional types.  And lastly, the partnerships have a practical application that allows participants to continuously see results.


An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).


Watchman, What of the Night?

By Dr. Larry Cameron Menyweather-Woods

The past couple of weeks have driven home the concern and desired role of the clergy for the presidential election of 2008. America has given recognition to the 33 White pulpiteers who accepted the challenge and promise not from their divine commander, Jesus, but the Alliance Defense Fund, a neo-conservative Christian lawyers organization based in Arizona, to challenge the Internal Revenue Service 1950 amendment forbidding groups classified as 501(c)(3) to engage in the endorsement of political candidates.

These White pastors stood before their congregations and proudly pronounced their allegiance, not to the God of their weary years and silent tears, but to the man they believed stands for morality in immoral times, the honorable senator from Arizona and Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. These preachers, who evidently were wrestling how to persuade their congregations to vote for the better of two men, freed themselves from between the proverbial rock and hard place, to breathe a breath of reinvigorating air. Their unified action resulted in an internal release, just as it had done for their forefathers over 200 years previously (Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1830). Tocqueville was the French writer who stated America’s freedom was represented by the vigorousness of the Church’s message which stood for the free expressions of ideas.

Cal Thomas, former public relations representative for the late Dr. Jerry Falwell (founder of the political right, evangelical machine, The Moral Majority), broadened the discussion in a recent op-ed where he injected “race” into the scenario by offering the opinion that African-American pastors have been getting “away” with violating this policy of the IRS “today”(Thomas, “Politics-free pulpit better for Gospel, The Omaha World Herald, 10/05/2008). Thomas is quite clear and somewhat biased, racially speaking, for he declares, “churches and ministers would do better to keep their focus on things above, rather than things below.”

Thomas’ concluding words bring to focus the criticism Blacks have always made against the Black church – it is too otherworldly. This is interesting, for what Thomas does is justify the otherworldliness, which is part of the tension confronting the Black church, thoughts of authenticity and how Whites write about the Black Church. The title of this piece comes from the question which was often asked of the person assigned to care for the city while the people slept. To make certain the watchman wasn’t asleep, someone would make rounds and ask, ‘Watchman, what of the Night?’

If Black clergy are guilty of Thomas’ remarks, it is because these Black preachers marched and listened to a different drum major compared to Thomas and the 33 White clergy. The White clergy treated their message to the people as being a simple lesson in constitutional law, not of divine urgency.

When Black preachers involve themselves in the political spray, they must have a Biblical justification, not a moral imperative, for we have learned that moral imperatives are mere clichés and not necessary rooted in the word of God. It is the hermeneutical model used by the clergy which will determine if they are acting as prophet or priest. The Black preacher has historically viewed himself as prophet/priest, the emphasis on prophet, speaking what thus saith the LORD. White Preachers have historically viewed themselves as being priest/prophet, friends of the government, loyal to the government whether right or wrong. Two different views – two different tensions built within the body of Christ.

It is this phenomenon which frightens those who have too long yielded to the tension of the priestly, no change, no divine charge, simply telling people How to vote. Pat Robinson did the same thing, when for years the ballots they placed in Churches told them through coded words whom to cast their vote for. Now these lawyers believe they have the votes on the Supreme Court to change the IRS division, that’s why they are waiting for the IRS to threaten to take away the nonprofit status of these 33 White churches. The lawyers are looking not to the heavenly but the earthly in the names of Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and of Scalia, and the swing vote of Kennedy, to get this regulation overturned or denied an injustice to the constitutional rights of the clergy to once again partake in the political process by telling their people whom to vote.

Watchman, what of the night? Cal Thomas calls politics the ultimate temptation which pollutes the Church. The action of the 33 White clergy, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, and especially Mr. Thomas’ editorial, which he earnestly believes purports the freedom of the Gospel, forget we are not of the world but in the world. We, as believers, especially Black American believers have understood the importance of faith and the world being reconciled unto the Christ. Our Africanness and our faith call us not to a world where dichotomous language rings confusion, but to a world where, in spite of double consciousness of being Black and an American, Black preachers do not have to provide ballots to encourage people to vote for the right candidate. He or she doesn’t have to declare a name; all they have to do is preach the full Gospel and from their people will know the “who!”

If the White preacher is so afraid his people will cast their vote for the “wrong candidate,” try telling his people what of the night. Be prophetic, be vigilant, be focused! Do not moralize, but preach the GOSPEL! It’s not about you, nor should it be about me, it should be about the Christ we preach! Watchman, what of the night?

Dr. Larry Cameron Menyweather-Woods is an assistant professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.


Has The SAT Test Undergone A Backlash?

 By Elwood Watson


    There is a good chance that if you were a high school junior or senior applying to a four-year college or university you’ve seen a question like the following. “Select the lettered pair that best expresses a relationship similar to that expressed in the original pair:



(A)   music:piano

(B)   brass:trumpet

(C)   drumstick:drum

(D)   string:guitar

(E)    note:flute


    The correct answer is C. From its conception 86 years ago in 1926, the scholastic aptitude test (more commonly known as the SAT) has been administered to thousands of high school students who have dreams of being selected to attend the college or university of their choice. Over the past few years, the SAT has undergone some significant changes. For one, in 2005, the analogy portion like the aforementioned question example was replaced with longer reading comprehension passages and a writing section. The perfect score that a student could obtain changed from 1600 to 2400. 


  The test has had a virtual stranglehold on parents, teachers and students. A large number of teachers gear their subject matter toward the test. Parents reach deep into their pockets to shell out as much as thousands of dollars for prep coaches, software and other assorted materials in an effort to help their children secure those high scores that are often the gateway for admission to many of our nation’s elite institutions. Many students have measured their intelligence by the test. For others, it has been a crucial portion of their self-worth. 


      Some teachers and guidance counselors view students with high SAT scores but with a mediocre grade point average as “lazy” or an” underachiever.” On the contrary, a student with low SAT scores and a high GPA is seen as “hardworking” or an “overachiever.” Rarely, does anyone rationalize the fact that such students are either good or poor test takers. Personally, I believe a major reason many students are entering college unable to write coherent paragraphs, let alone quality good papers and requiring remedial courses to master material that they should have learned in high school is these tests. The fact is too many high school teachers and administrators are spending too much misplaced energy on teaching to a largely problematic test as opposed to having students reading literature, writing essays and analyzing various critical works. To be blunt, the SAT has eclipsed the high school curriculum that high school students are supposed to learn.

      From time to time, the SAT has found itself at the center of controversy in many secondary and higher education institutions. Just last month, a blue ribbon panel of experts on higher education recently asked a number of colleges to reconsider or possibly end their SAT admissions mandates. The panel came to the conclusion that SAT scores are often a less than accurate predictor of college performance. They also reiterated the well-known fact that studies have shown that many lower income and students of color are often at a financial and cultural disadvantage when taking the test.   

            There are a number of higher education institutions that have decided to forego the “SAT as gospel” message. Rather, such schools have undertaken a variety of factors in an effort to assemble a well-qualified and diverse student body. High school curriculum, leadership, community activism, personal life histories and moral character are just a few. According to Jesse Mermell, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a Boston-based advocacy group, more than 40 institutions have dropped admissions tests since 2004. Among these schools are highly selective ones such as Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and Wake Forest University in N.C.     

         While there have been a few statistics over the years proving that the SAT can distinguish strong students from weaker ones, recent evidence and the emerging findings from NACAC have proven that Scholastic Aptitude Test measures one thing – a student’s ability at taking the test. It does not measure characteristics such as intelligence, creativity, motivation and perseverance. These are the qualities that a student must possess a certain amount of if he or she intends to successfully earn a bachelor’s degree. It is good to see that many parties – high schools, admissions offices and others — are working together to create an  admissions process that encompasses a holistic manner of selecting students for college as opposed to relying either primarily or disproportionately on standardized tests like the SAT that fail to measure crucial elements of a person. This is particularly true in the case of students of color.     

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)











The Fisk Jubilee Singers — A Student’s Experience

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman and Jameel Scott

In this week’s blog entry, I want to share the words of one of my wonderful graduate students.  His name is Jameel Scott and he is in the masters program in higher education here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.  Jameel is a graduate of Morehouse College.  He plans on pursuing a Ph.D. and becoming a faculty member.  He is currently enrolled in my History of American Higher Education course, which has an emphasis on underrepresented populations and institutions.  For one of his assignments, Jameel is focusing on the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  Unlike many students who are satisfied learning through a book, Jameel yearned to experience his research topic first hand.  Below he describes his visit to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  His experience is quite moving.


A Special Blessing


Two weeks ago I decided to purchase plane tickets to visit Nashville Tennessee’s historic Fisk University.  This University was having its Annual Jubilee Day, which pays homage to the original Jubilee Singers who went on tour to raise money and save the school from financial starvation.  This event, which elicits persons from around the world, including alumni and friends, was held on Monday October 6, 2008. . 

For the past two months I have engulfed myself in the study of this historic school. Today, I stood in front of Jubilee Hall with its colossal form looking down on me with mountains of history.  I heard the sounds of students speaking to each other and the breeze of the calm winds scratch my head.  The trees swayed as the small squirrels raced across the street.  Teachers were clasping hands with students while young ladies walked in a flowing motion across campus.  I was standing in the midst of history, where John Hope Franklin and W.E.B. Du Bois were students.  I felt the spirit of compassion and promise woven together with strength.  I walked into Jubilee Hall and viewed the paintings of the Jubilee Singers. 






 The 2008 Annual Jubilee Day Convocation was held at the Fisk Memorial Chapel located across from the historic Jubilee Hall.  As I entered the Fisk Chapel, I was met at the door by finely dressed students.  I was seated next to a man named Harry who was an alumnus of the school’s class of 1955.  We briefly talked about his experience at Fisk and the changes that he witnessed over time.  He was very proud of his school, and stated that his heart will always pump blue and gold (the school colors). 

All in attendance stood as the president and the other platform attendees processed to the podium.  The processional included: Dr. Anthony E. Williams, Professor of Music and University Organist; Reverend Gwendolyn Brown-Felder, Dean of the Chapel; Miss Karla Turner, Miss Fisk 2008-2009; Ms. Denise Billye Sanders, Chair- General Alumni Association; The Honorable Hazel R. O’Leary, the President; Mr. Vincent Stokes, President Student Government Association; Mr. Patrick Johnson, Alumnus; Reverend. Marcus D. Cosby, Keynote Speaker and Alumnus; and Mr. Paul T. Kwami, Music Director. 

As the program progressed, each individual stood at the podium to pay homage to the Jubilee Singers and up lift their school.  One by one, the speakers galvanized the audience, creating a splendid presentation of triumph, respect for heritage, and solidarity with tradition.  Interestingly, the young Student Government Association president provoked the most excitement and reflection on the school’s history.  He sat still all through the service, quietly waiting his turn to the microphone.  He first stood and gazed at the audience and then let loose an awesome presentation.  He said in a powerful voice, “…Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood on the shoulders of Thurgood Marshall, who stood on the shoulders of the NAACP, who stood on the shoulders of W.E.B. Du Bois, who stood on the shoulders of Fisk University, who stood and still stands on the shoulders of the Jubilee Singers!”  He continued to talk about the sacrifice that these singers undertook.  He spoke proudly of his school showcasing his knowledge of its history and how that history has influenced all of America. 

 Afterwards we heard the beautiful sounds of the Jubilee Singers.  I sat still listening intently as these young men and women followed in the traditions of the past.  All of the singers took great pride in the school with reverence to their history.  They appreciated the sacrifices that the singers made in the early days of the school. 

 Overall, the student body at Fisk University – a group of bright black and brown children – has a love for learning that is equal to students at any Ivy League institution and these students’ appreciation for their heritage runs deeper than an ocean.  These students say “I love Fisk University and will fight for her as she has fought for me.”

 After the Convocation everyone in attendance traveled to the grave site of the singers for deference.  A touching experience, which causes me to say I am blessed to have witnessed this wonderful event.  

As a professor, it is a pleasure to see a student dive into his research.  I hope that more young people will pursue research interests pertaining to Historically Black Colleges and Universities as these institutions are national treasures that play an important role in educating our country’s students. 

“Racism Without Racists” Is Twisted Logic

By Dr. Pamela Reed

There is an astonishing theoretical perspective taking hold in the American academy, and working its way down into the mainstream. And if it remains unchallenged, it seems that it is well on its way to becoming an accepted tenet. It is the bizarre idea that, while racism is alive and well in America — to the continued detriment of non-White peoples and the entire nation — most of the people who continue to perpetuate the discriminatory practices necessary for racism to persist — be they political, social, economic or otherwise — are not racists. They just subconsciously harbor racist sentiments and consistently practice racism.

This may be a notion that defies logic, but it is, nonetheless, the face of today’s decidedly amorphous racial discrimination. This perplexing theory of human behavior is laid out in the 2006 book by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, and is referenced by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in his recent column, “Racism without Racists.” Psychologists call this phenomenon “aversive racism.”

The Kristof piece opens with the following declaration: “One of the fallacies this election season is that if Barack Obama is paying an electoral price for his skin tone, it must be because of racists. On the contrary, the evidence is that Senator Obama is facing what scholars have dubbed ‘racism without racists (emphasis added).’”

To make his point, Kristof directs attention to the recently completed joint study by Stanford University, Yahoo and The Associated Press. He reasons that most White people, like the three in ten Democrats who indicated that they will vote for John McCain — basically because they cannot bring themselves to vote for a Black man for President — are “well-meaning Whites who believe in racial equality … yet who discriminate unconsciously.” They are not to be confused with the “dyed-in-the-wool racists” who comprise an estimated 10 percent of the American populace. What a puzzling concept.

Nicholas Kristof is a brilliant columnist, and no doubt a fine man, but this must be one of the biggest accommodations ever, albeit unconscious. And this brings to the fore what I believe is the existential dilemma that will ultimately determine the fate of this great nation. Fundamentally, either we believe in racial equality or we don’t. Exclamation point.

Rather than this ridiculous circular notion of “race without racism,” what is really at work here is a textbook case of cognitive dissonance, which is when a person/institution consciously, simultaneously holds two essentially divergent views or positions.

A classic example of this dissonance is found in America and its Declaration of Independence. On the one hand it states categorically “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal … ” This while at the same time systematically and brutally enslaving Blacks in its race-based “peculiar institution” of chattel enslavement.

So, suffice it to say that this writer rejects this notion of “racism without racists.” And I don’t think people “discriminate unconsciously.” To the contrary, I think most people know exactly what they are doing. Rather than aversive racists, I would term such persons stealth racists who don’t want to be considered bad people, in an age when bigotry is not in vogue.

Another Times columnist, Bob Herbert, wrote of this modern and no less insidious form of racism in his 2005 column, “Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant,” in which he shone a light on what I call the Atwater Doctrine, as outlined by the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater, at whose feet Karl Rove studied — and whose philosophy guides the anything-goes campaign of John McCain.

Atwater was the mastermind behind the infamous Willie Horton campaign which fomented racial tension and alarmed White America, propelling George H. W. Bush into the White House. He would go on to chair the Republican National Committee. Herbert quoted Atwater’s shocking and ever-relevant admission to political scientist Alexander P. Lamis in a 1981 interview for his book Southern Politics in the 1990s. Atwater laid out the modern “southern strategy” as follows:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger,’ that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] Blacks get hurt worse than Whites …”

Atwater further elaborated on what he called “black magic” spells: “I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”

The year 1954 is significant in Atwater’s spiel because it marks the year of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, which decreed that separate public schools for blacks and whites were inherently unequal and were a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment that provides for equal protection under the law.

What’s more, it signaled a turning point and a sea change in American history and jurisprudence — and it opened the floodgates of the dreaded integration. Many White Americans, who saw this as a fate worse than death, were outraged and methodically set about the business of circumventing this new law of the land. Thus a new profession was born.

Atwater was only the latest in a long succession of race deconstructionists committed to implementing a system that the University of Maryland’s Clyde Woods calls “neoplantation politics and trap economics.” His theory is laid out in his article “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?: Katrina, Trap Economics, and the Rebirth of the Blues.”

In other words, this aversion to overt racism is nothing new. In the final analysis, the greater American society must dismiss such benign explanations of modern racial discrimination. To advance this notion of “racism without racists” is to enable and give shelter to those who continue to hold on to covert racial animus.

If we are to ever come close to totally eradicating the cancer of racial hatred in this country — and the world at-large — we must deal with it in honest, stark terms and eschew euphemisms.
This is the crux: bigotry could no more survive without bigots, than socialism or Marxism could exist without socialists or Marxists.

Now more than ever, we must call racists what they are: racists. Of course, their numbers are greatly decreased from the days of enslavement and Jim Crow. But make no mistake, the shameful truth is that racism is alive and well in America—and it is fed by racists.

Perhaps Dr. Paul Sniderman, one of the Stanford political scientists who analyzed the massive quantitative findings of the recent AP/Yahoo study, says it all: “There are a lot fewer bigots than there were 50 years ago, but that doesn’t mean there’s (sic) only a few bigots.” And this will not change until good people of all hues eliminate any safe harbors for such people. From sea to shining sea.

Dr. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.