It's Time to Talk
By Regan Talley
On Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, a panel discussion was held in Newhouse. The program, appropriately entitled, “Confronting issues of Equality, Privilege and Justice, from Syracuse to South Africa,” discussed the disparities between communities and how it is our social responsibility to be vulnerable by inserting ourselves in the conversation. The panel consisted of five esteemed speakers: Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, Chapter Director for the New York Civil Liberties Union; Ellen Blalock, artist and journalist based in the Syracuse area; Zuko Gqadavama, Resource Development Coordinator from Inkulueko, Makhanda, South Africa; Michelle Schenandoah, CEO and Editor-in-Chief for Rematriation Magazine as well as member of the Oneida Indian Nation; and John Western, Professor of Geography at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. The entire discussion was facilitated by Charisse L’Pree, Assistant Professor in Newhouse.
Being a white girl from the suburbs of Philadelphia, I wasn’t aware of these issues that plague our society. While I had seen the news stories that showcased mass-scale protests and marches crying for equal rights, it was ground breaking to hear others’ perspective on the small social disparities faced daily by minority groups. We often cling to our positions within our community and it’s time to put ourselves out there and start a conversation. This speaking event made me reflect on a documentary I had watched in a previous class called, 13th, which discusses how even after the abolishment of slavery, it proceeded to take on a new form through the American prison systems. While this discussion remained focused on the disparities in development and education as opposed to correctional facilities, the panelists made the same connection back to slavery. Although it was formally abolished, freedom for African Americans and Native American groups really never took shape. Instead, it manifested itself into legalized racial discrimination.
One argument that really stood out to me came from Schenandoah who began the panel discussing how history is framed to leave certain aspects or in this case, groups of people, uncredited. As a member of the united nation confederacy, she stated that American democracy comes from the government of her people however, that side of the story is left out of seemingly every history book. This is important to recognize because her community is still a living culture. This made me reflect on my own education and perception of how the colonies were transformed into one nation. Growing up, I remember being taught that democracy was this genius plan crafted solely from our founding fathers. It is important now to not only recognize the mistake of not giving indigenous people like Schenandoah’s credit for inspiring our nation to be what it is today, but also to correct it through the proper teaching of history that embodies all parts instead of picking and choosing.
Another point that really stood out to me came from Abdul-Qadir. His inspirational discussion centered on understanding the realities that bring us to the conflicted society we have today. He stated that currently, our culture is split up into a racial caste system with white people at the top and African American people at the bottom. Because the government funds schools based on property taxes, our nation’s educational system is not designed by economics, but rather designed by race. A segregated school system then emerges even though these students didn’t choose their zip code. Abdul-Qadir encourages us to no longer stand idly by. Rather, we have to take advantage of the only moment in our community’s history which is now. This was so eye-opening to me because I grew up in a school system that was fortunate enough to have the resources for books, sports and music programs. While I had been aware of other schools in my county that didn’t have the equivalent funding, I never thought demographics played such a key role. The developmental issues within our educations system aren’t addressed and as a society, we need to take control of the conversation.
While this discussion may have been uncomfortable for me to discuss because it puts me in a vulnerable position, it was absolutely necessary to address. We must collaborate and united to not only address the gaps in history as Schenandoah pointed out, but also work to address the disparities and gaps that threaten our future.