By Alina Wong | Staff Writer
Jamar Tisby, president of The Witness: a Black Christian Collective, delivered a lecture on racism Thursday in the Treasure Room at Armstrong Browning Library. He started by digging behind the walls of anti-black racism and how it continues to appear in modern society and ended with practical ways people can fight against it.
“In 1963, Martin Luther King was adamant about highlighting the urgency when it comes to fighting racism. But what about today? Have we made progress?” Tisby said. “Yes, but yet more than half a century later, in many ways, we can still say that racism is still ‘fierce urgency of now.’ Now is the time.”
It was a packed house as the audience reacted with murmurs of agreement.
“The problem with “whiteness” is that it obscures ethnicity, creates blackness and much of the power is maintained through violence,” he said.
Tisby continued to explain that defining people by their “whiteness” results in different European ethnicities being lumped into one category. In following, distinguishing people by the color of their skin because of white supremacy creates the narrative that “black is the dreaded color” while all other colors fall in between. In other words, white supremacy is the narrative of racial difference.
“And why does racism persist even though we attack systems that enshrine racist power? Because the narrative persists.” he said.
To illustrate examples of narratives, Tisby dove into the history of African-Americans, and how the story of anti-black racism formed in America. After the Civil War, the narrative against black people was that people of African descent were destined to be slaves. So, even though slavery was abolished, segregation persisted. Today, the narrative continues in different forms. And as long as the narrative exists, no matter the changes in systems, racism will continue, he said.
For there to be an actual change, Tisby said that people need to be anti-racist. He said many people falsely assume that racism is not threatening in today’s culture as the number of people who are actively racist is small. However, because he believes the United States was built on many racist narratives, and still have systems in place that naturally flow towards racial inequality, the danger is not in the hands of the actively racist but those who go with the status quo and unknowingly reinforce the narrative of white supremacy. He thinks in order to change this, the key is to take an active stance against racism. Moreover, he thinks this active stance can unfold through education, forming cross-cultural relationships and making commitments to public change.
“If you are white you and you want to be an ally you’ll have to take on some of the burdens that people of color have always had to bear. We don’t want to be labeled as angry black people in this society… And maybe even lose our jobs especially when we’re in white institutions.” Tisby said. “In the end, when it comes to going against racism it’s not a ‘how to’ problem but a ‘want to’ problem. The question is not ‘can we’ but ‘will we’.”
Tisby left the audience with a challenge to change and received a standing ovation.
After his lecture, Tisby was asked to give his opinion on Pi Beta Phi, a sorority at Baylor that depicted the women singing “Mo Bama” a racially explicit song, during their formal recruitment last week.
“There are certain words non-blacks and blacks do not have rights to and I believe that word is one of them… For many African Americans, using that term is a way of reclaiming identity. In my opinion, white people, especially after being the dominant group in history, do not have the authority to use that term.” he said.