Monthly Archives

February 2016

Diversity

Green Card Voices and Jose Antonio Vargas

GreenCardVoices

Happy Leap Day! Today we’re using our extra day in the year to discuss immigration-related programming we have in store for you as we head into the spring.

Immigration to the United States is more than the sensationalized issue of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Immigrants and the children of immigrants make up a significant percentage of the U.S. population. This is reflected locally where Somali, Hmong, and Ethiopian immigrants, among other groups, heavily populate the Twin Cities metro area.

Green Card Voices is a Minneapolis-based non-profit which aims to represent and connect immigrants, non-immigrants, and advocates across the USA by sharing first-hand experiences of foreign-born Americans. This is done through various video and photographic projects, as well as events such as panel discussions and exhibitions.

Starting today, Green Card Voices will have an exhibit in the O’Shaughnessy-Frey (OSF) Library showcasing images and stories of various American immigrants. The exhibit will be on our campus through March 11.

GreenCardVoicesLibraryExhibit

Part of the 1st floor exhibit. More coverage of the exhibit can be found on our Facebook (U of St Thomas SDIS), Snapchat, and Twitter (@UofStThomasSDIS) pages

Jose Antonio Vargas on undocumented immigrants

In related programming, we will be hosting activist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas on April 25 for a discussion about the experiences of undocumented immigrants as opposed to documented ones. Vargas’ documentary titled Documented came out to critical acclaim in 2013, and he continues to advocate for immigration reform in the United States. A speaker you don’t want to miss!

We hope you stop by the exhibit while it is here. This week’s Purple Bench (March 4, 3 p.m.) will be on the topic of immigration narratives in the United States. Continue to look for updates on our programs and encourage others to engage with us as well.

Thank you for reading! We’ll be sure to have updates and new pieces up throughout the spring so keep coming back!

Heritage Month

Celebrate Black History Month!

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With February comes a new semester at the University of St. Thomas. It also ushers in Black History Month, a time for Americans to intentionally reflect on the history of Blackness both domestically and globally.

Highlights

The first two weeks of the month have already seen a slew of events!

The Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA) hosted a social to begin the month. The documentary Dark Girls was screened last week as part of our ongoing Diversity Film Series. BESA also had a screening of their own, airing the movie Selma this past Saturday. Also, the first two Purple Benches of the month have seen enriching discussions about White identity, racial categorization, and colorism across the global Black population.

Upcoming

With the second half of the month starting today, here are some programs to look forward to!

Tonight, BESA is hosting a panel discussion at 6:30 pm in the ASC Hearth Room (room 341) on “the n-word”. The panel consists of St. Thomas faculty, staff, and students with

This week is Slam Poetry Week, a week of workshops, performances, and competition revolving around spoken word and poetry.

For those interested in writing or performing poetry, former national slam poetry champion and St. Thomas alumnus Mike Mlekoday will be hosting two workshops: Wednesday, February 17 at 5:30 in ASC 202, and Thursday, February 18 at noon in MHC 204. Later that Thursday is a performance by touring poetic duo Sister Outsider at 7 pm in ASC Woulfe North.

The week concludes with the Slam Poetry Contest on Friday, February 19 at 5:30 pm in Scooter’s. Mike Mlekoday will also host this event, and students will perform original spoken word and poetry pieces with three Express money prizes on the line.

Next Monday, February 22, is a discussion on the differences between Africans and African-Americans jointly hosted by BESA and the African Nations Student Alliance (ANSA). The following Thursday, February 25, is our Culture Stew featuring senior James Mite’s research presentation on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.

To wrap up Black History Month, BESA will be hosting a soul food dinner on February 28 in ASC Woulfe South at 6 pm.


Thank you to everyone who has participated in any of the Black History Month programming organized by us, BESA, and other contributing organizations and departments thus far.

We hope the events have been, and will continue to be, fun, culturally enriching, and helpful in understanding the local and global significance of Black history and the Black community beyond the month of February.

Can’t wait to see more of you at the upcoming events!

 

Diversity

Breaking Down Whiteness

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No, White boy, that is not true.

What’s Whiteness? What’s wrong with it?

Whiteness is a rigid ideal. It’s meant to racially categorize different Americans of European descent. But when we really think of White people, does it help or hurt to apply the same rigid understanding?

The article “What Is Whiteness?” written last June by Nell Irvin Painter in the New York Times points out these flaws in our understanding of race. “If you investigate that [European immigrant] history, you’ll see that white identity has been no more stable than black identity. While we recognize the evolution of “negro” to “colored” to “Negro” to “Afro-American” to “African-American,” we draw a blank when it comes to whiteness. To the contrary, whiteness has a history of multiplicity.”

Take a closer look at any dominant social group and you realize that it, just like any other social group, has its fair share of inconsistencies. There are poor White people, gay White people, White people with strong relationships to other racial groups, White people that support Black Lives Matter, and so on.

Breaking down the idea of Whiteness would be to breakdown the foundation of race. Belief in Whiteness, intentionally or not, is belief in a large, clean canvas which reduces non-White people to splashes of paint on it. This is how the idea of race works, but it’s not the reality of it. The canvas, the backdrop, is just as fragmented and awkwardly put together as the colors thrown on it to make it look pure in comparison.

Communities of color still need individualized attention, as American society moves toward greater integration and equity. Issues of identity among people of color, like how it is suppressed, made, or changed in relation to dominant culture, are all necessary to highlight. But what is implied when we call those of underrepresented racial groups the “diverse” ones?

Singling out people of color as the different ones says non-White is not normal. This viewpoint, ingrained in the United States’ public subconscious, doesn’t work with the popular notion of this country as a melting pot. More simply, it’s wrong.

Why should we break it down?

Estimates from the Census Bureau in 2014 are consistent with 2008 estimates made by the Pew Research Center which say the mixed-race population is growing faster than all racial groups and that White people will be outnumbered by other racial groups by 2050.

Pew.2050USPopulationEstimate

So…who are the “diverse” people going to be?

Continuing to view the White population as one large, uniform blob will only become a larger issue given time. 

Whiteness is too often viewed as bland or meaningless. These views don’t help to deconstruct it. Allowing people to think of White as the boring default gives White people a pass to not think about race. Painter points this out in the article saying, “The useful part of white identity’s vagueness is that whites don’t have to shoulder the burden of race in America, which, at the least, is utterly exhausting.” The full picture of racial dynamics can’t be considered without giving an honest look at Whiteness.

The protection of White identity is also mentioned in the book Whiteness: The Communication of Social Identity. Thomas Nakayama and Judith Martin explain how the history of racial formation in the United States protects White identity, proclaiming, “Whites just “are”,” and, “Whites, who have historically held power, have no need to define themselves.”

Viewing White identity as critically as the identities of people of color requires a joint effort. White people who have yet to take a glimpse at their racial identity have to willingly reflect with others further along in their formation of racial identity and work to shatter the plain backdrop. Understandably, many White people are not prepared to engage in that level of reflection. It evokes feelings of guilt, anger, and defensiveness toward perceived unfair treatment. It also threatens a White individual’s self-understanding, but is necessary in order for Americans to see themselves outside of strict racial categories in the future.

Why won’t it be enough?

Destroying race and removing its influence in society sounds cool and all, but the process would not be over should Americans succeed in getting rid of it. Even if we got past interpersonal issues of identity and social formation, it would not solve issues of race in institutional settings. A great example of this problem is Brazilian society, where the country embraces its multicultural and mixed-race heritage but fails to address socioeconomic gaps caused by cor (‘color’ in Portuguese, equivalent of ‘race’).

For instance, when asked to racially self-identify in a federal household survey in 2003, more than 130 answers were given across the Brazilian population, ranging from acastanhada (somewhat chestnut-colored) to rosa-queimada (sunburnt-rosy). Complexion weighed into racial self-identify more than heritage, demonstrating a common belief in the multicultural heritage of the nation. The wide variety of answers also indicates a much more fluid understanding of race relative to American public, a huge reason for the comparatively healthier race relations.

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The first quarter of responses to the survey

Despite Brazil’s acceptance of its multiculturalism, it clearly hasn’t solved the more deeply-rooted problems.

According to British news source Latin America Bureau, Black or mixed race Brazilians make up more than 70 percent of the national population below the poverty line. Non-white Brazilians earn an average wage less than half that of White Brazilians. Black Brazilians make up less than 10 percent of elected representatives, and only one of the 38 members of President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet is Black. Likewise, in the private sector it is brancos (White Brazilians) who dominate senior positions. Around 97 percent of executives and 83 percent of managers are White.

That being said, removing race as a guiding principle of identity in this country is still a necessary step. Addressing systemic issues of race requires a collaborative effort, but active resistance from White people to delve into Whiteness and their identities significantly slows the deconstruction process down.

Why is it still worth it? 

Despite pain that comes with taking the first real hard look at how Whiteness works, White people stand to benefit greatly from shining light on the foundation of their White identity. Not only would it help White individuals see diversity within their group, those revelations would aid in having more accurate views of those outside of their racial groups. Breaking down something as homogeneous as Whiteness would make it easier to see how “Black,” “Asian,” and other racial groups are awkwardly lumped together.

Following from that, Americans being able to collectively dismiss current racial categorization would make the treatment of systemic racism easier. The guilt, shame, and defensiveness that usually accompanies reactions of some White people to the idea of White privilege would subside as White people collectively improved their understanding of racial identity.

Whiteness is the foundation of race. Though it seems unchangeable, it can be broken down and disposed of properly if Americans do it together. White Americans have a large role to play in taking a second look at Whiteness, and it won’t be long until it’s necessary for the social health of this nation.

J-Term Book Club

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Week 4

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This past Thursday was the fourth and final meeting of SDIS’ 10th annual book club. With the reading wrapped up, participants discussed their opinions of the book and the implications of the story to today’s world and their individual lives.

The discussion questions for the day were the following:

1. What are the implications of this story being told by Jeff?

2. The title of this book claims that Rob’s life is “tragic”. Is it?

3. —“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
―― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

How does this idea presented by Adichie apply to this particular story?

4. How does St. Thomas reflect characteristics of Yale, as it was presented in the book?

With the book club complete, members and the larger community can look forward to author Jeff Hobbs’ lecture on March 7 at 7 pm in Woulfe Alumni Hall. The event is open to the general public and includes a Q-and-A session toward the end, as well as the chance to meet Hobbs and get your copy of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace signed by him.

We thank everyone who participated in this year’s book club. Many who came found it enriching and helpful in building community on campus beyond J-Term. We hope you attend the Jeff Hobbs lecture and bring people along with you!