In what has been touted as the largest conference on race ever, the Race in America: Restructuring Inequality National Conference brought speakers from across the country together to find solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our time.
Opening the conference on June 3 was Dean Larry E. Davis of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and director of the Center on Race and Social Problems. In front of a full house at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Davis shared a story of racial discrimination experienced by his mother and two siblings on a train in the 1950s.
|FROM ALABAMA TO OBAMA—Julian Bond delights the crowd with an entertaining and inspiring keynote address.
“Much positive change has taken place in America since that train incident in the 1950s. Still people of color continue to be profiled, treated unfairly, denied equal access to service and care, and segregated out of schools, and into prisons,” Davis said. “It is still true that more males of color are in the big house than Morehouse, and more continue to be in the state pen than in Penn State. Clearly ours is not yet a perfect union—race still matters and the need to engage in corrective action continues.”
As an introduction to the conference and a way of framing the next few days of discussion, participants heard a keynote address from Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the National NAACP and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. His address, “The Road to Freedom: Alabama to Obama,” focused less on the Civil Rights Movement and more on the negative shift in attitudes since and how they more closely mirror sentiments before Blacks were granted their civil rights.
|THE ROAD TO FREEDOM—Dean Larry Davis welcomes participants to the Race in America Conference.
“The racial picture has certainly improved in my lifetime. Those who say race is history have it backwards; history is race,” Bond said. “Then as now, minorities and immigrants became scapegoats for economical distresses, real and imagined. Black behavior, not White racism, became the reason Black people cannot advance. Aggressive Blacks and pushy women became the cause of America’s demise.”
Although many saw the election of a Black president as the ceremonious end to racial discrimination, Bond said it has brought deep-seated racial tension to the surface of the country.
“There’s a segment of the body politic who are going to say no to everything he says. There is also a segment that cannot get over him being Black. For them, he’s guilty of being Black while president,” Bond said. “If you tell me the ‘teabag party’ has nothing to do with race, I’ll tell you, you’ve been drinking something and it’s not tea.”
Bond was also critical of how the economic crisis had been handled, especially in terms of how the African-American community has been ignored. He views much of the stimulus package as a perpetuation of a cycle where disparities between Blacks and Whites continue to grow.
“Part of the reason we’ve wasted this crisis is because we didn’t target it. What we see is that we’re spending billions of dollars, but that money isn’t getting to African-Americans,” Bond said. “If you put money into construction without caveats, you’re actually increasing the racial disparity. You almost never see a Black man on a construction site.”
To help reverse the emergence of negative racially- motivated commentary and policy, Bond said he hopes to see an increase in civil rights movements. He also said it is important for all minority groups to band together including Blacks, Latinos and homosexuals.
“Right now the racial discourse in this country is largely being led by the right,” Bond said. “We’ve never wished our way to freedom. The truth is there are no non-racial remedies for racial discrimination. There needs to be a constantly moving and always reviving effort across America.”