On this evening: September 24, 1998, I observed Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Columbia University’s Ethnic Studies Interdisciplinary Minor. Dr. Dyson gave an educational presentation to students, faculty and visitors at Shippensburg University’s Heiges Field House, entitled Race Rules: “Educating People for a Better Future.” He gave a moving, memorable speech that was well received by many. However, some observers were obviously displeased. Dr. Dyson shared ideas on a controversial topic (racism) in order to educate people but some used this as a reason to get angry. There was a negative emotional reaction at the main hub of activity on Shippensburg’s campus, that occurred directly after the presentation. As a student of Shippensburg University, I was there to witness the behavior.
Why is there so much racism in America?
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson began his inspirational speech by letting the audience know where he is from: the ghetto. I believe he did this to connect with people in the audience. Dr. Dyson stated that anyone of any race could be a success. He then explained the strongest restraint on the success of African Americans is racism. “Racism not only comes from people of other races, but it also comes from one’s own race.” Racism from one’s own race is referred to as “interracism.” This is a very new term but it’s being used more often to shed light on this issue. An example of interracism occurs when people of the same race make judgments about each other based on the shade of their skin. For example “light-skinned” African Americans might be tormented by their darker counterparts for being “too white.” The reverse is also true. Darker toned African Americans may be teased for being “too dark.” Dr. Dyson believes this type of racism came about with our strong emphasis on having a Eurocentric society. Eurocentrism is the cultural dominance of Europeans, or “whites” in a society. Dyson believes “for far too long European culture has been imposed upon every race,” and that has made “minorities racist against themselves.”
Step 1: Honesty In An Open Environment
Dr. Dyson believes there is hope for our society to become less racist. In fact, he believes if we “implement some different systems,” we will be able to have a better society. First, Dyson believes we need, “honesty in an open environment.” If we can be honest first with ourselves then each other, we may be able to overcome some of our fears. Racism is based on ignorance. Racism is a belief that there are biological differences in races, and supposedly (according to racists) race can determine intelligence level and how much success one will have in life.
Step 2: Debate Racism Openly
Another “system,” Dr. Dyson suggested was to debate racism openly. By debating racism openly we may be able to find the source, and expose it. Racism is based on fear and ignorance. By exposing the roots of racism, it will be much harder NOT to see the ignorance in this hatred. The roots of racism run deep into this country’s history. Racism is a fact of life for many people. We want to do what’s right, we want this world to be a better place, but can we change what we do not acknowledge?
Step 3: Color Blindness AND Color Consciousness
Third, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson believes if we could extend beyond color, or “black and white,” we could work, “hand in hand, as a whole society to create solidarity.” With this solidarity we could have a cleaner, safer and maybe even more educated society. One final thought Dyson shared with us was the idea that it takes “color blindness AND color consciousness,” to make our society embrace the differences of its people.
How far have we come?
I personally believe in Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s final thought, “color blindness and color consciousness.” Although I do believe Dr. Dyson’s speech was powerful, I don’t think it had the results intended. If Dyson could have been with me in the CUB (Cumberland Union Building), on the Shippensburg campus, just a few minutes after his speech, I think he would’ve agreed that his speech stirred up very apparent hostility in some observers. I could see anger on the faces of African American students as they were leaving Dr. Dyson’s presentation and when I arrived at the CUB. Students were discussing the presentation with negative emotion loudly enough for most everyone to hear. Is this a sign of how far we need to progress? Was the reaction warranted? I think those who followed the speech learned from it. However, observers that only took bits and pieces of Dr. Dyson’s speech and used it to fuel their anger have not learned as much.