This is an insight written by Andrea Orpia on the recent Bahá’í Chair for World Peace Lecture, Discarding Hate held at the University of Maryland on February 4, 2020.
Many of the points brought up during the event reminded me of important takeaways from an honors seminar I took with Dr. Hoda Mahmoudi: “The Problem of Prejudice.” Derek Black particularly caught my attention when he mentioned how students on his campus were non-racist but not necessarily anti-racist; they just wanted to be considered “good.” People often believe they are in the clear as long as they themselves are not being racist, yet inaction is an action.
Black himself recalled staying silent after condemning the White Nationalist movement, erroneously thinking the movement would fade away because many of its members were old men. However, silence only serves to perpetuate racism. Whether in the form of slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, or microaggressions, racism has not disappeared. It has instead reinvented itself throughout history to become more subtle but just as powerful. In order to eradicate hate, we must therefore start by having open, honest, and often uncomfortable conversations about race and prejudice.
Such conversations are difficult because most people do not want to believe they are prejudiced, let alone admit they are prejudiced. In an extreme case like that of Derek Black, individuals are raised with deeply racist ideologies backed up with “evidence,” leading them to see their perspectives not as prejudice but as truth. More commonly, though, racist ideologies are thinly veiled under the guise of colorblindness. By claiming not to see race, people ignore racial inequities and invalidate racist experiences minorities have had to contend with throughout their lives.
Those with a colorblind mentality also exacerbate racism by finding colorblind excuses to justify institutionalized systems of oppression. For example, outsiders may attribute African-American urban poverty to individual laziness, which completely disregards discriminatory institutional practices (i.e. redlining, urban renewal) that keep minorities at the bottom. They blame the individuals instead of the unjust systems. While I think it is important that hundreds of students on Derek’s campus took collective action to condemn white nationalism, the same vehemence must be used to condemn less overt forms of racism that, arguably, are even harder to eradicate.
To discard hate, we must bring awareness to habits and practices that prolong it, including microaggressions. When asked about his opinion on microaggressions, Derek said it was not his place to speak about oppression that people face in society. It is true that he should not be speaking for others about discrimination he himself has not endured, but it is still important for him to shed light on it. I felt as if he missed an opportunity to at least touch on its modern-day prevalence, along with the role of all community members to be able to recognize microaggressions and understand their belittling effects on various groups.
Throughout the discussion, I was also wondering what else Derek did to combat hate besides sharing his story. He briefly alluded to working with people of color and helping them in any way he could, but I would like to know more about how he supports them and if/how he allows them to share their experiences too. Overall, it was a thought-provoking event that reminded me of the many hurdles we face in eliminating prejudice. Although progress takes time, open and honest dialogue is certainly a good start.
About the Author
Andrea Orpia is a sophomore Neurobiology and Physiology major at the University of Maryland. Passionate about service, she hopes to spread empathy and compassion through a career in medicine.