On Thursday, Oct. 28, 15 students gathered in the Taylor Student Lounge to discuss racism in America and the legacy of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.
The event titled “What’s the Deal with Ferguson?” was led by sophomores Rebekah Mahon and Leland Wright. Mahon and Wright shared information on Michael Brown’s killing and on how racism is perpetuated. Sitting in a circle, participants were asked to share their reason for attending. The students, most of whom were white, expressed a willingness to learn about a subject they saw as vitally important.
“I’m just here to listen and learn as much as I can,” freshman Coral Weinstock said.
Mahon stressed the importance of using correct terms when talking about race, saying that a main idea she wanted to impart was the difference between racism, discrimination and prejudice.
Racism is something that can only be practiced by privileged people and those in positions of power — in America, largely white people — because it is a broad system of oppression that operates against people of color.
Discrimination is a single action against someone from another group, and can be practiced by anybody (to help understand the difference between the two, it could be said that racist systems in America lead to widespread discrimination against black people).
Prejudice is a mental attitude that allows you to form a negative opinion of someone from another group.
According to Mahon, racially-motivated violence and police brutality are not just peripheral, but rather are fundamental to America and to capitalism as a socioeconomic system. She said that anti-racism dialogues and protests have been happening recently because “people are tired of this happening, tired of unnecessary police brutality happening against people of color.”
Wright discussed how white people can be allies to black people who are struggling against racism and discrimination. He said that it is essential for white people to make their voices heard when events like the shooting of Michael Brown happen, and that they shouldn’t fear being ostracized for speaking out because “what we have to deal with as white people [by] talking about these issues is a lot less … than what people of color go through.”
“Support [people of color] because they’re human,” Mahon added.
Mahon and Wright told the group that Knox students should care about what happened in Ferguson because they’re part of the same racist society in which such events happen. As citizens and as humans, they said, we have an imperative to dismantle the system that led to Brown being killed.
They also emphasized the concept of “intersectionality,” which says that race, class, gender, environment and other social justice issues are all interrelated.
“You cannot solve racism without solving sexism … all of these [issues] intertwine with each other,” Mahon said.
Senior Yoseph Willis felt that the event was a success.
“It was nice to hear … other people who are anti-racist, and people who are trying to learn more,” he said. However, he added that more events like “What’s the Deal with Ferguson?” should take place, noting that “even though we’re an anti-racist campus, there’s not much open discussion about it.”
“What’s the Deal with Ferguson?” was put on in part by Alliance for Peaceful Action, an on-campus social justice activism group. No similar events are currently planned, although Mahon and Wright hope that more discussions can be held Winter Term.