Following President-elect Donald Trump’s victory in last Tuesday’s election, white Americans should be conscious of their role in improving race relations and standing in solidarity with racial and religious minorities, argued social justice activist and writer Shaun King at a discussion Tuesday.
“We could go two routes here in 2017. We could keep doing what we’ve always been doing, which I think has been proven not to work that well, which is to stay isolated, or we could find fresh new ways to unify that I don’t even know if it’s been done before. I think that if we get into a cocoon, it can be real problematic in the days ahead,” King said.
King, who is best known for his role in the Black Lives Matter movement, joined sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson and moderator James Peterson, an English professor at Lehigh University, in discussing ways to promote activism on college campuses. The three offered student leaders advice on how to organize resistance movements in light of Trump’s victory, which was held in the Intercultural Center.
“Young people are frustrated,” King said. “They’re not just frustrated with the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency but they feel like the system itself failed them. Like the nation failed them. The country failed them. Like the Democratic Party failed them.”
King’s visit came amid a spike in hate crimes since last week’s election. The Southern Poverty Law Center has recorded over 200 incidents since Nov. 11, while three bias-related incidents on and off campus have been announced by the Georgetown University Police Department since Nov. 1.
King’s social media presence has gained attention in recent weeks as he has called for citizens across the nation to organize and protest the election results until Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20 .
Dyson said recent racial tensions show the need for unity and solidarity.
“What we are dealing with now may be the most heinous manifestation in a generation, but it is not new; it is recycling old evil and prejudice and bias, and what you and I must do is foster our togetherness and be determined not to be defeated by this,” Dyson said.
Dyson said it is important to not single out individuals, but to address white culture when discussing race relations.
“I’m not talking about individual brothers and sisters,” Dyson said. “I’m talking about collective whiteness. Whiteness as an ideology and politics.”
Dyson urged white Americans who are disheartened by the results of the election to actively show support for minorities. Certain activists have been wearing safety pins to show that they stand in solidarity with minority populations.
“Empathize with those people who are the victims of [the election]. They don’t have a choice of wearing a safety pin to identify themselves because our skin is our safety pin. Our hijab is our safety pin. Our dress is our safety pin except it becomes a stigma to mark us,” Dyson said.
During the question-and-answer session following the conversation, Gallaudet University American Sign Language professor Felicia Williams, who is deaf, questioned the role of Black Lives Matter in handling protesters who are disabled. Williams said she and other members of the disabled community often get rejected from protests.
King agreed the Black Lives Matter movement needs to be more inclusive.
“It’s so easy for me and all of us to be thoughtless about people who are different than us. And you have reminded me, and all of us, of how thoughtless and careless we can be sometimes. I want to thank you for having the courage to call it out. Anything I organize, I will now be more thoughtful of that being a need,” King said.
King also met with members of co-sponsoring student groups before the panel to discuss how college students can organize to protest social injustice and handle societal pushback for protesting.
“It’s very easy in position of privilege and protection to say ‘wait and see.’ Panic is appropriate. The fear and concern is appropriate. Anybody is saying we are overreacting is wrong. We should have overreacted months ago,” King said at the meeting.
The talk was co-sponsored by the Georgetown University Black Student Alliance, the Center for Social Justice, the university’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Casa Latina, the Black House, Georgetown University Women of Color and the Georgetown University Student Association Fund.
Lecture Fund President D.J. Angelini (MSB ’17) said King’s discussion topic set the conversation apart from previous events.
“What was special about this event was that inherent to the conversation was a call to action,” Angelini said. “We heard thoughts from these individuals on current events and racial justice in America, but there was an undercurrent of action that made this event stand out.”
Dylan Burke (SFS ’20), who attended the discussion, said he felt a sense of guilt listening to the discussion due to the actions of other white Americans. Burke said he understood the importance of listening to both King and Dyson because it provided a route to rectify the mistakes of the past.
“I was encouraged when listening to Shaun talk about the importance of young people of all races in shaping a better future for our planet, as I knew there was a place for me in fighting to right the wrongs of both the present and the past,” Burke said.
Lecture Fund member Kumail Aslam (COL ’19) said Dyson and King’s analysis of race relations and xenophobia was a necessary given current events.
“This is something that we hope, and I hope, the Lecture Fund will really advocate for, which is bringing speakers that can help communities of color,” Aslam said. “Shaun and Dyson both talked about bringing together these communities. That’s something we want to deal with in the upcoming months.”
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