Discourse / Letters / October 8, 2008

Letter to the Editor: Action is needed to end discrimination

Professor Louis Harrison, Jr. will present a lecture twice today, Thursday Oct. 9, entitled “Redefine the Finish Line: Repositioning African Americans in Sport and Physical Activity.” You can hear it first at 4 p.m. in the Round Room in CFA, and at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Gym.

The impetus for the invitation to Harrison may have come from a sports column printed last February in TKS. The column made many claims based on “genetics,” mainly that there is a genetic foundation for why African-American athletes are so highly represented in sports. By this point, we should all know that there is no genetic foundation for race, that race is a social construct. Additionally, claims to biological/genetic foundations of race, “blackness,” etc., as anyone knows from FP, have been used as a means of subjugating and discriminating against people for centuries.

Despite much emotion and discussion over this issue, ambiguity remains in the minds of many: One might ask “But hey, aren’t black people good at basketball?” or “what’s wrong with ‘positive’ stereotypes?” In a letter to the editor, published March 6, one parent responded “I didn’t find [the column] racist. Maybe a little insensitive, but not racist…The subject matter was actually very interesting, the idea that certain races are better than others at some things.” While I disagree with this claim, it and others reveal the prevalence of these ideas. The lecture today should provide insight in why this is.

If you want to learn about why “while comprising only 13 percent of the population, African Americans make up 76 percent of the NBA, 66 percent of the NFL, 63 percent of the WNBA, 59 percent of NCAA basketball (males) 44.6 percent NCAA basketball (females), and 45 percent of NCAA football,” you should come to this lecture.

Stereotypes of and prejudice towards nearly any group you can think of exist in society, and our campus is not an island. Here and beyond they are highly influential and destructive. There is a reason many courses deal with these issues, including those titled “Stereotypes and Prejudice,” “Race and Ethnic Relations” and “Science and the Social Construction of Race and Gender” and “Environmental Racism.”

The controversial column was never the only example of the presence of stereotypes and prejudice on campus. Some more discussed cases have been African students fielding questions about pet lions and the alienation felt by the lone non-white and/or non-American student in a class.

Many people on campus, mostly women, have been victims of sexual harassment, assault and/or rape, an act based largely on the prejudiced belief that women are sexual objects to be conquered.

Further examples abound. Who has not heard or made cracks about “LARPers”, “townies,” people from other countries, certain religious groups, and political sectors (“Republicans are evil”). The list goes on.

I have fallen into the trap of using stereotypes. I came here from Virginia to avoid becoming a stereotypical “east coast snob” with the attitude of “the Midwest is the place we fly over,” but until recently I found myself participating in the elitist attitude that Knox is a place inherently more intelligent, interesting, and valuable than the rest of Galesburg. I have also assumed people were international students, simply based on their appearance, only to find out they were second, third, or fourth-generation US citizens.

We all possess the ability to stereotype and discriminate; many of us have done it, and will probably do it again in the future. Rather than being an excuse for passivity due to “human nature,” this is a call to action. What to do? I will share my opinion in another column next week. I encourage you to write letters to the editor about what you think needs to be done.

Joey Firman

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