Bastian Lecture keynote speaker addresses unjust systematic issues

Students, faculty, staff and community members march up 2100 South, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King and his teachings. The marchers chanted and walked through the misty rain for about an hour before the keynote speaker in Gore Auditorium. Photos by Rachel Robertson

Students, faculty, staff and community members march up 2100 South, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King and his teachings. The marchers chanted and walked through the misty rain for about an hour before the keynote speaker in Gore Auditorium. Photos by Rachel Robertson

“Martin Luther King keep the dream alive,” echoed down 2100 South just about an hour before Dr. Robin DiAngelo took stage.

After a march celebrating Martin Luther King Day and his work members of the Westminster community gathered in the Gore Auditorium for the keynote speaker Dr. Robin DiAngelo.

The lecture’s topic: “New Racism: How Racism Adapted to the Challenges of the Civil Rights Movement,”

Before the presentation Robert Sims, an African American folk song expert, led the audience in traditional songs and gave a brief lesson in history on them.

Sims had the audience on its feet and led it through Get Right Church and Let’s Go Home.

Another of the speakers was President Steve Morgan who addressed the Bastian Lecture series and this year’s theme.

“The theme for this year’s lecture series is diversity for the future of higher education, a very timely theme for what’s happening around the country,” Morgan said.

Morgan praised the faculty who made the event possible and their work.

“On our faculty, Dr. Tamara Stevenson and Dr. Gary Marquardt are our diversity and inclusion fellows, along with many faculty and staff are doing powerful work with diversity and inclusion in their classrooms and on our campus,” Morgan said.

Morgan followed up by emphasizing there is always room for improvement.

“We do however know there are many ways to improve and expand our work with diversity and inclusion, and that is why we are here today on Martin Luther King Day, to celebrate and continue the good work that is already happening and challenge ourselves to discover new ways to move forward,” Morgan said.

DiAngelo opened her presentation with disclaimers, introducing herself and her “white experience” that she was going to speak to.

“One of the really key challenges of this work is that many don’t understand the power of implicit bias,” DiAngelo said. “Whether you are aware of it or not, you are responding to me differently based on my race. So, the fact that I am in this body allows me to say things about race and be heard differently than if a person of color was saying the same thing.”

She addressed her role and privilege of standing on stage and the authority that came with it.

“I am necessarily reinforcing the authority of the white voice, and that’s the dilemma I haven’t figured out how to get out of yet,” DiAngelo said. “Because to not speak up about it to me is to really be white, and that’s not acceptable. I’m going to use my position. I’m going to use the reality that my voice can be heard differently in order to break white solidarity and challenge the system.”

DiAngelo said that by being silent and not using a her position to speak out was only adding to the unjust system and furthering racism.

There was one final disclaimer before diving into the presentation.

“Race is a social construction,” DiAngelo said. “What that means is that at the genetic level, at the scientific level, there is no true race that we have been taught to believe there is. It is a social idea.”

DiAngelo’s presentation captured the audience as she moved from topics of dominant white narratives, white guilt and defensiveness to things like why it fuels the racist unjust system to say “I don’t see color” or “I don’t care if you are pink, purple or polka-dotted” and more.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo addresses the audience with her talk “New Racism: How Racism Adapted to the Challenges of the Civil Rights Movement.” DiAngelo's lecture presented ideas of systematic injustices and that racism is alive today. 

Dr. Robin DiAngelo addresses the audience with her talk “New Racism: How Racism Adapted to the Challenges of the Civil Rights Movement.” DiAngelo's lecture presented ideas of systematic injustices and that racism is alive today. 

DiAngleo said she wanted the audience to see that race is real and that racism is real and thriving today. The presentation focused on acknowledging that the systems set in place are unjust.

“This is the modern Jim Crow. If I just follow the trajectory that my loving parents laid out for me, right? I’m born I go school in my good neighborhood, I get my good college degree, I get my good job, I can easily never have any sustained cross racial friendships or very few and no one would ever suggest I had lost anything,” DiAngelo said and then paused. “How could we even call a neighborhood good if it’s segregated?”

DiAngelo went on to say that everything she had just said “was a slap in the face to people of color.” She said the problematic nature of the system was set up in our society.

She directed the focus on how would one even notice people of color even missing. She questioned what about their experiences and valuing their lives.

“This is new racism,” she said. “Can you see how this would shape how I move through the world? How I’m going to respond when someone talks to me about racism? White people are the ones positioned as racially objective, does that kind of blow your mind a little bit? They’re [minorities] bias, we’re objective? We’re the ones who get to decide of what you have to say is true or real or valid with this kind of socialization behind us? Can you see how we may be a little scary and difficult?” DiAngelo said.

DiAngelo closed with the notion that it’s more than just acknowledging one’s privilege and then carrying on with your life, that it’s not enough. She left the message of challenge the status quos, get uncomfortable and to have humility.

Jessica Taghvaiee, first-year honors political science major, came to the keynote prepared by reading two of DiAngelo’s works. She said that DiAngelo sparked new things for her to think about.  

“As a minority and as a person of two different races… I’ve never even thought about some of these things,” Taghvaiee said. “It’s just something that is socially accepted and I never realized why.”

She said she thought that DiAngelo brought up solid points with conforming to racism with silence.

“White silence is almost a way of conforming to that racism, rather than attempting to get rid of it,” Taghvaiee said. “She makes a good point that we need to speak out and talk about racism openly so that we can see that it’s there and acknowledge it and do something about it.”

Taghvaiee reflected further on her experience after the lecture and her experience through her past years.

“Think about your race, think about how that propels you in society and how that either helps you interact with others or brings you a disadvantage, like actually questioning that,” Taghvaiee said. “Because for myself, I’ve just always accepted it, but not until recently.”

Taghvaiee said she will encourage those who weren’t at the event to talk more openly about race.

“I would tell people not to be quiet but to be open and talk to others,” Taghvaiee said. “In Robin DiAngelo’s piece she writes that’s the way to learn. When we are afraid to speak out and offend someone we are preventing ourselves from learning and learning from one another.”

Oliver Anderson coordinator of student involvement and leadership and orientation, said it was important that DiAngelo spoke and provided the messages she did. Her presentation was a starting point to address those individuals who were having a hard time acknowledging and understanding.

“It’s important to have conversations on this campus with students who are having a difficulty understanding these concepts and understanding these systems,” Anderson said. “Her chat really echoed to how we can better articulate and connect students these ideas so they can visualize their own internalization of who they are with these systems and their identity.”

Anderson suggested that people pause and look beyond what they have internalized.

“Such as DiAngelo said go down a toy aisle at Target and just see what you are seeing, and what’s displayed,” Anderson said.  “Ask yourself is your identity being represented and what is not being represented?”

Anderson said a main takeaway from the presentation was people deeper analyzing themselves.

“Look around you, are you being represented? And now who’s not,” Anderson said. “I think that’s a takeaway because a lot of people forget to look around themselves and they just become numb to that kind of a scope of perceiving and internalizing what they see.”

Students, faculty, staff and community members can take part in more commemorative Martin Luther King Jr. events on campus by attending one of the Acknowledging Lived Experiences sessions. There also is a community service event through the Center for Civic Engagement on Friday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m.