We are living in a time when issues of race, and racism, are on the table. For many racial minorities, African Americans in particular, issues of race, and racism, have probably always been frequent issues in their lives. The same probably cannot be said for many in mainstream America because issues of race and racism may not have been part of their daily walk, or if they were, some in the mainstream may have pushed the issues aside, or placed them under the table. Perhaps the way a person could sweep dust and dirt under a throw rug: out of mind; out of sight.
Dr. Cornelius Gilbert
Journalist Antwan Herron reflected the rationale for the dismissal of racial issues by some Americans when he wrote, “Racism, we’re told, breathed its last breath 52 years ago with the official fall of de jure racial segregation, or Jim Crow, in the American South.” Herron goes on to say that racists were passing away with old age, or were “undergoing a dramatic shift in perspective on race relations in the “free world.”
Herron utilizes the former governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace, who passed away nearly 20 years ago, as racism’s last relic. Consider that Wallace declared in early 1963, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” and five months later would follow up the decree by standing in the doorway of Foster Auditorium blocking Vivian Malone and James A. Hood from integrating the University of Alabama. Although Wallace would claim later in his life that he was not racist, but rather was acting out what people at the time desired.
“When I first ran for governor” Wallace recalled in 1991, “I had to stand up for segregation or be defeated, but I never insulted Black people by calling them inferior.” Hence Herron’s acknowledgment that issues of race had shifted, and for some Americans they did, no doubt helping in the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States in 2008. National politics, the alt-right, and those associated with the alt-right have, for some, provided evidence to expose what some Black people have known all along: issues of race and racism have been present throughout our society. Wallace, the symbolic relic of racism, had not died off.
Issues of race, for many Blacks is a frequent, or daily encounter. Resulting in the opposite effect of out of mind out of sight experience. For Black men in particular, issues of race and racism are paramount. There are too many examples within the American historical continuum of “blaming the Black guy.” With the most recent example of blaming the Black guy, perhaps being what transpired last week in St. Paul, Minnesota on a college campus.
A 25-year-old St. Catherine University security guard, accidently shot himself in the shoulder with his own weapon. Security guards at the all women’s undergraduate college are not issued service guns. The security guard, Brent P. Ahlers, told investigators that the culprit was a Black man with a short afro wearing a navy blue sweatshirt and black jeans.
Ahlers’ account resulted in protective measures that included the women’s college going on “lock down,” as one news account supplied, along with “55 police officers, four K-9 [dog] units and Minnesota State Patrol aircraft searched for the alleged suspect.” While Ahlers was fired from his job and charged with making a false police report, the local chapter of the NAACP and others came to the defense of the community.
A question needing attention is: What would possess the young White man, who is charged with providing security at an institution of higher education (a women’s college) to make such a false claim?
Perhaps Ahlers provided us an answer by stating that he was fearful he would lose his job. Which would then lead to the deeper question of: “Why make a Black man the culprit?” Indeed, far too many crimes are committed by Black males. On the other hand, perhaps Ahlers’ action is evidence of the continual horrible historical legacy of blaming the Black man along with what some have asserted as the Black man being the boogeyman in the American consciousness.
One leader in the St. Paul community acknowledged that, “[Blacks] have been falsely accused throughout history” and further victimized by drawing attention to the reality that Ahlers statement put people at risk. Specifically, African American males.
Ahlers false testimony of a Black man shooting him is proof of the work that we all need to engage in to eradicate issues of race. Moreover, the fact that this occurred on a college campus demonstrates the critical importance of the type of education that is needed in our society — a program of study that not only infuses cultural competency into professional training, but also the study of various ethnic groups (i.e. ethnic studies) to give wider perspective and attention to not only address issues of race, but also the societal ills in America. Doing so will help equip society with more of an informed and educated mind.
If we are to have a safer and inclusive country that works, as my university says, “all for the common good” then we need a curriculum that not only trains us how to do a job, but one that also teaches us to be prepared for gainful employment. It has been said that “education is the bridge over troubled water” and if we believe that to be fact and not fiction, then we all have a job to do so that we can make America better.
We all have to believe in something, and for me, my faith in Scripture, Hebrews 11:1 teaches that, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” The faith that I have is that we all join in becoming informed and educated about issues of race. Not because it is a racial thing, but because it is a human thing. Let us remember though, that faith without works is dead. Let us therefore work for the common good to truly make America great.
Cornelius Gilbert, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the University of St. Thomas.
Could training in implicit bias be helpful at your institution?