Bigotry in America

A poster advertising the meeting. Photo credit: Brienne Kenlock

York College held a town hall meeting a few weeks ago in the atrium, in which the subject was “The Trump Presidency and the Crisis of Bigotry in America”. The discussion centered around students and faculty sharing their views on what appears to be racial hatred on the uptake in the U.S.

Distinguished Lecturer Ron Daniels moderated the event. He spoke briefly on the turmoil in America, but stated that the issue of race has not gone away. “These issues are not new, they have only been brought into the spotlight,” said Daniels. “This can be a good opportunity for us to face the issue”.

In the aftermath of the Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia and President Trump’s response to the incident, many Americans are worried that racial tensions have risen to the point where violence is almost certain. The Neo-Nazi march signaled one of many controversial debates of racism in America. Players in the NFL, including controversial player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and the debate of whether monuments of Confederate soldiers be removed has been on the forefront.

Panelist Mychel Namphy, an Assistant Professor of the English Department said, “There has never been a time where white supremacy was the law of the land. To rule politically, economically, and socially because you are white”. He made references to historical events such as the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement in which racial inequality was the root cause. Even today, the issue is still prevalent.

Dr. Namphy also addressed the political atmosphere under the Trump Administration and the President’s statements on “wrongdoing done on both sides”. Racial hatred can be used to serve a political advantage. Quoting Lyndon B. Johnson, Namphy said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him something to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.

One panelist, Vice President Ayanna Kaalund of the Social Work Club, shared her experiences on discrimination in high school. “I went to school in Georgia and we know that those statues, those monuments were a symbol. They either symbolized pride over what happened during the Civil War, but to people of color it was a symbol of oppression”, she said. “It was a reminder that you had better stay in your place or bad things would happen”.

She recalled the stark differences in how she lived in New York and Georgia. In New York, she could go wherever she wanted to go. However, in Georgia, many people warned her to not go to certain areas because Klansmen would congregate there. In response to President Trump’s comment on the violence in Charlottesville, Kaalund said “What the President said was very telling. It’s the language that he didn’t use like he was okay with what was happening, like condoning the violence”.

Students were given the opportunity to address the panel on their views. One issue that was brought up was institutionalized racism.

One student addressed the panel that education might be the key to facing racism. “I think white supremacy has been institutionalized in our society, especially in our school. Referring to what Mr. Namphy said, if I was taught that in school, it would have helped me think better growing up in the process’.

However, Student Senate Delegate David Tobo disagreed on the notion that education alone would help resolve the issue of race. “From what I’ve learned, education does not lead to behavior change. We must look at other aspects”.

Many had their opinions on the Town Hall Meeting. Some believed that while the talk was productive in some areas, some topics could have been presented to the audience.

Roselyn Spigner, the Democratic District Leader of the 33rd Assembly District, said there could have been a focus on the hate crimes in New York. “Timothy Koffman, who is someone I know was stabbed to death by a white supremacist in Manhattan,” she said.  “He was very active in the community and don’t think there was enough discussion on that, even at his funeral. They just brushed him off as homeless”. She added that many other groups have been targets of hate, including Asians, Jews, Muslims, and the LGBTQA community.

“I fell there were a lot of things that could have been talked about, but it’s a start,” said Spigner.

Another student, 22-year-old Cesar Flores who is in the ESL program agrees that while Trump has contributed to the political atmosphere, there are other things he felt should have been discussed about communities of color. “Trump is an idiot, but we have to confront the problems in our own communities. Gangs like MS-13 are tearing us apart and they’re giving us, people of color a bad name. It’s not just about white supremacy.”

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