Racism is a problem in America, throughout the world, and yes in Houghton as well. Racism, as I want to simply define it here, is a systemic and sometimes very unintentional devaluing of the lives of people of color. It is not limited to rude remarks; it’s most damaging roots lie in institutions which destroy lives through denying people of jobs, housing, and freedom. Houghton graduates will have the chance to fight against this sort of racism as they go out into their fields of work- but to do that they must first be educated on it.
Houghton has tried to be more intentional when talking about racism in organized discussions. As a student of color, attending these discussions has shown me that even my peers who truly care about racial issues do not know how to approach the discussion. I believe without education everyone is a racist. We are shaped by our society and human nature to believe certain stereotypes. Unless we educate ourselves and try to break harmful patterns of conduct, we will be ensnared by racism.
Frequently in regards to racial issues, I hear Houghton students say “There are no races, I don’t see race.” But if we are not sensitive to race we can’t be intentional about combating racism. Sensitivity is a huge problem for discussions about racism, particularly when the majority of the participants are white. When I was in high school multiple times everyday I was referred to as “Black Emma” or other things that made me constantly aware that as a mixed (Black and White) girl I was an unwanted minority. Not seeing color was a privilege I was unable to have. Both fortunately and unfortunately this isn’t true for the “average Houghton student”; it is good that not everyone experiences racism even though it makes it harder for them to understand the issue.
For Instance, when people at Houghton who lead discussions about race are not themselves people of color, discussion is, once again, difficult. These facilitators are incredibly gracious and they truly care about people of color, yet they lack the experience of racism and thus lack the high sensitivity toward it. Sometimes as a student of color, I have wished that there was a person of color in administration that I could go talk to about racism. It is uncomfortable for me to go to a white male and try to explain my experiences. Also, when there are deep pains in the Black community at large, the white males in Houghton aren’t entirely tuned in to this. Last school year the student body was told that regular chapel discussions about race would take place. However, I was personally upset this past semester when no such discussion became a reality. I checked on the planning process a few times and I was told they were trying to find a better time to hold them, however, I felt that discussions still should have been held while the future plans were in the works. The lack of discussion makes racism seem like something we only talk about when racial incidents take place, rather than presenting racism in its true light as being a constant problem. When we finally had a campus event to talk about Ferguson I felt like this just furthered the idea that if we talk about these topics a few times, then they will disappear. In reality, these topics impact the daily lives of people across the nation and around the world. When I explained these thoughts to the discussion organizers, they were immediately regretful that their efforts had appeared that way to me. I hope that in the future, race can be a continued conversation at Houghton.
Houghton has done a good job opening these conversations so perhaps someday soon we can have a person of color lead them and white students listen. I say white students in particular because I know many white students feel uncomfortable going to talks about racism, especially with the fear of being called racists. This is something we as a community can easily get over to move forward in changing the world- one Houghton graduate at a time.