All Articles Tagged "University of Minnesota"
A fellow writer soul posed this question on Facebook about the appropriateness of speaking on topics, of which you are not an expert. As someone, who gets contacted from time to time to speak about topics, my response to that question was: it depends. I always make clear that I’m not an expert. I am however, an astute, researched and thoughtful writer (if you can’t toot your own horn, who will?), and I should have no problem defending and further articulating the points in the words that I put out into the world.
However, the question has no easy and right answers (there is also a worthy debate to be had about what constitutes an “expert” to begin with?). And that point recently occurred to me when I was reading this article about a large number of professors and students, who are protesting an appearance by former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
According to the Minnesota Post, nearly 200 University of Minnesota professors and students have signed a petition demanding the college rescind an invite to Rice, who is scheduled to speak during the school’s 50th anniversary of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act. The group of protestors have released a public letter, stating their reasons why they feel that Rice wouldn’t be an appropriate speaker for the forum. In short: her part in the controversial George W. Bush administration.
But more specifically:
“We have no objection to Dr. Rice visiting our campus. Indeed, as strong advocates of the right to free speech, we welcome anyone – including Dr. Rice – into our community to engage in an open exchange of ideas.
In that very spirit of free expression, however, and in our commitment to the principles of truth and the common good that are inscribed above the entrance to Northrop Auditorium where Dr. Rice will speak, we object to the circumstances of this particular visit. While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights – the theme of this year’s lecture series – is not central to her legacy. Indeed, as a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration, she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror.
Dr. Rice is welcome to speak on the University of Minnesota campus, but let’s not ignore her record. As National Security Adviser in the critical period of 2001-05, Dr. Rice played a central role in the design and implementation of the Administration’s policies, which legitimized the use of torture by redefining it to include only practices so severe as to induce organ failure. By this logic, “enhanced interrogation techniques” that had previously been defined as torture, such as waterboarding, were no longer defined as such and became standard practice in the War on Terror. Since the end of her tenure, Dr. Rice has defended the use of torture and has not publicly distanced herself from these decisions that violated both US and international law and resulted in severe violations of human rights.”
The letter also outlined some other reasons against having the former stateswoman make a civil rights speech including the whopping 150k paid to Dr. Rice in speakers’ fee, which the signers argue is “also inconsistent with the civil rights movement’s emphasis on economic justice.” The professors and students ended their public letter by clarifying the point that while they welcome Rice to share her foreign-policy decisions and experiences, they just don’t think a civil-rights series is the right venue.
However the University’s PResident Eric Kaler thinks otherwise, partly writing a statement:
“Our University must be a place that not only promotes, but aggressively celebrates free speech. The University of Minnesota must be this state’s headquarters for civil discourse and the boundless exchange of differing ideas.
I find the resolution particularly ironic given that Dr. Rice will be speaking about her personal story of overcoming adversity as an African American woman who faced discrimination growing up in the segregated and racist South. Her appearance on campus is part of the Humphrey School’s yearlong series about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That Civil Rights Act, and the struggle against racism in this country, has often been driven by powerful words that would not have been heard but for our American tradition of a robust and fiercely protected right of free speech and academic freedom.
I have opinions that sometimes differ from yours or others on our campus. That’s healthy, I invite that, and that’s the nature of civil discourse.
But we can’t have true academic freedom at the University of Minnesota by denying a stage to those we disagree with or disapprove of.”
It is no secret that I am not a fan of Condi Rice. Like other key players in the Bush Administration, it is of my personal opinion that they are largely responsible for some domestic and international policies, which have had some devastating effects on the global community as a whole (and this is me being diplomatic). However in the interest of fairness, I will admit to somewhat understanding the University president’s position on this.
Rice has managed to maneuver through some pretty nasty racism and segregation in 1960s Birmingham, Alabama on the road to becoming the first black woman to serve as the United States’ national security adviser, as well as the first black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, respectably. And it is a journey, which she has written about previously in her memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People, particularly recalling the horrible tragedy of losing her friend Denise McNair, who she had known since kindergarden, during the infamous bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. There is a powerful narrative in all of that, particularly as it pertains to how black folks have managed to survive under radicalized oppression, which is worthy of being shared as part of the overall history of the civil rights movement.
But according to this interview Rice did with NPR, neither she nor her parents took active stances in the civil-rights movement. Instead they chose to shelter Rice from most of it by preaching the values of getting a good education as a means to getting around racism. According to the piece, Rice told NPR, “I would even say that my parents, and their friends in our community, thought of education as a kind of armor against racism,” she says. “If you were well-educated and you spoke well, then there was only so much ‘they’ could do to you.”
Yeah just ask President Obama, who has spent most of his two years defending himself from “special” attention (and I’m being generous here) than actually legislating and leading. And for me that is a huge problem with her speaking during a civil rights event. While Rice’s life story might be an entertaining anecdote, Rice’s lack of actual participation in the movement kind of sugar coats and bastardizes the real effort that those on the front line put in so that she, along with her family, could be silent and distant even as they took full advantage of rewards from the hard work of others during the struggle.
In that respect, it is hard to really understand what real insight to civil rights, particularly the civil rights’ struggles of today, Rice would offer. On what many have argued is the biggest civil rights battle of our generation: gay marriage, Rice has adopted a non-committal approach. And even if you are game for hearing Rice talk about the times she did not participate in civil disobedience in the name of civil rights, you have to wonder if that is worth the 150k price of admission? I mean I’m willing to bet that there are some disenfranchised students on campus, who could probably be better served by that money than Rice would be.
Generally, I’m down for anything that makes a white person have some sort of introspection on race, but I’m genuinely a bit torn on this new University of Minnesota effort known as the “Un-Fair Campaign.” Running with the tagline, “it’s hard to see racism when you’re white,” the goal of the effort is to get Caucasians to do just that: see racism. And so phrases and questions like “is white skin fair skin” and “we’re lucky we don’t get followed by security when we go to the store” are splattered on the faces of white men and women to force white people to realize that they often overlook true instances of racism because they don’t understand their own privilege.
It’s a novel idea and highly progressive considering it originated in one of the whitest cities in America: Duluth, MN, where 90% of its population identifies as white. But can this movement truly spark change or just controversy? When I first saw the campaign posters my mind immediately drifted to the idea of light-skinned guilt and how this effort is quite similar in theory. From my perspective, there is no sense in trying to make someone feel guilty for being born a certain complexion, race, ethnicity, or nationality when that’s completely out of their control. Granted if you’re a lighter skinned minority, you’re still a minority and certainly not equal to a white person in terms of society’s view, but there are instances when that melanin deficit plays into one’s favor—just listen to any rap song today—however the person in the privileged seat isn’t responsible for that inherent privilege. This why questions like, “is white skin fair skin” are not fair themselves. The issue here isn’t the skin, it’s how you allow that skin to serve and position you throughout life.
What’s interesting is how this campaign wants to force white people to see racism but then makes the practice an external being, by telling observers, if you see racism speak up. I don’t know that white people (speaking generally here) have so much of an issue recognizing racism when it’s exercised by other people, I think a far more effective method would be to challenge people to recognize their own racist behaviors—assuming they have them. That’s really the only way change can come about because racism is built on ideals and truly it’s not enough to just think, am I suspicious of black people or do I think they should be followed around in stores, it’s why do I think that way and how do I implement practices that reinforce my own privilege, like not hiring black people or voting for legislation that disadvantages them. One of the posters does touch on this idea by pointing out on a white man, “what you do is worse. You give me better jobs, better pay, better treatment and a better chance all because of the color of my skin and you don’t even realize it.” This is the type of confrontational message that can spark change, otherwise you’re just reminding white people of all the reasons why it’s good to in fact be white and then trying to make them feel bad about it. That’s probably not going to work.
There is an assumptive nature about the campaign still that is hard to overlook. It assumes one, that white people don’t recognize their privilege, and two, that they’re all responsible for the system of institutional racism because of their inherent whiteness, which isn’t totally fair. In addition to being oblivious to one’s privilege, there are also people who are fully aware of it and who see no problem with having the luck of the draw so to speak in terms of their race and I think those are the people who are far more dangerous because they’re more inclined to use that power as their God given right to keep the privilege going, but that’s a mindset no poster or billboard can fix.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth is certainly ruffling some feathers with this campaign, which could be due to the sheer fact that it makes people uncomfortable because it forces them to look at all the ways they’ve been given the upper hand, but its accusatory nature also runs the risk of alienating the very audience it was intended for and accomplishing nothing in the end.
Check out a couple promo videos from the campaign below. What do you think about this whole effort?
I bet you thought you were just entertaining yourself bopping around to the lyrics of Drake’s newest song or Kanye and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne album. Nope. You were actually learning a new language called African American English. That’s cray right?
Researchers at the University of Alberta with nothing better to do asked 166 non-African-Americans from the the University of Minnesota the meanings of 64 expressions used in “black youth culture.” Results from the survey showed a positive association between the number of hip-hop artists listened to and African American English comprehension vocabulary scores. Yes, they actually named it.
So what covert wordsmithing did the researchers uncover? The use of “road dog” to mean friend (what year is?), “guap” as referring to a lot of money (2007?), and “dollar cab” as an underground railroad (isn’t that the black town car that charges me $7 to go up the block in NYC?) What takes the cake is that the study is actually titled, “You Know What It Is: Learning Words through Listening to Hip-Hop.”
I thought the whole ebonics discussion went out the window years ago, so the fact that someone actually took the time to study this fictitious thing known as African American English is baffling to me. Is it just me or does this whole study make African Americans sound like a foreign species? While I want to chalk this all up to one of those “white people being impressed with average things black people do” moments like “Oh my God how does he come up with those lyrics,” something feels just a bit more Divisive about this. Oops, I mean, these researchers are on one. Newsflash: African Americans are Americans and we speak English like everyone else.
What do you think about this study and the whole idea of African American English?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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