What’s Wrong with Race?

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Ever since the election, the topic of race relations in the United States has been wrenched to the forefront of American politics. Van Jones notably called the election results a “white-lash” against a black president on Election night while he was on CNN. My question is, how long were we all going to wait until we discussed racism and race relations in this country?

Racism did not start yesterday. It did not start with Donald Trump announcing his terrifying campaign to become President of the United States. It didn’t start in the aftermath of 9/11. Racism and its subsequent institutional effects have been happening for CENTURIES, and not just in the United States, but wherever colonialism has set foot. Countries were built on the oppression of minority peoples, particularly of Black and Native American people in the United States. Basically, racism has seeped into our governmental, political, economic, and social structures ever since people decided it was okay to classify someone’s worth based on the color of their skin for their own benefit.

So, now that I’ve clarified that racism has existed for a very long time, let me ask the golden question: Why do people find it so difficult to discuss race?

In my personal experience, I find that there is a general discomfort when the topic of race is brought up. People tense up, start looking nervously down at their fingers or say some form of “well, it’s a lot better now than it was in the 60s” or “well, I don’t see color.” Refusing to acknowledge the deep seeded racism in the institutions of our country is equivalent to being a bystander to someone being bullied. By refusing to “see color,” one chooses to ignore the systematic racism and discriminations that minorities face every day. By keeping silent, you are allowing racism to happen and that shows your privilege. You are able to ignore the narratives of race and racism since their consequences will never affect you.    

Friendly note: If you find yourself starting a sentence with the phrase “I’m not racist,” I automatically assume that I’ll be hearing some sort of ignorantly racist comment.  

Just because you don’t talk about or “see” racism doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist. Racism, segregation, and institutional discrimination did not end with the emancipation of black slaves or Jim Crow. Racism is not limited to the horrific lynchings of Black Americans. It also includes the consistent denial of Black and Native Americans of their basic human rights. Look at what’s happening at Standing Rock. The Flint Water Crisis. The videos of police brutality against minorities that I see throughout my newsfeed. All of these incidents, and many more, have occurred all without justice. These are serious issues that disproportionately affect racial minorities and low income families. Do we really have to debate about the basic safety of minorities, whether it’s access to clean water or interacting with institutions that are technically supposed to protect us and give us justice? Isn’t it their basic human right?

I know talking about race is uncomfortable. I know it’s easy to believe the narrative that “these occurrences happen only once in awhile.” It’s easy to get caught up in your own bubble, whatever your political identification is. It happens to me, too. However, racism still exists everywhere and we can not afford to deny that anymore. By ignoring the issues of race relations in our country, we are allowing these tensions to build up. So I ask you, white people, to take a good look at yourselves and stop blaming minorities for the negative experiences they’ve had. They weren’t the ones to create the “us vs. them” narrativewhite people did.


Ilina Krishen

University of Michigan, Class of 2019

B.A. History


Art by Amanda Donovan, Graphic Designer, What the F Magazine

Black History Month: Asking the Hard Questions

On February 17, Sr. Coordinator of Alumni Student Recruitment & LEAD Scholars Phyllis Taylor invited the LEAD Scholars to the Alumni Center for an engaging discussion about Black History Month and the silenced social issues surrounding this celebratory time period. The event, described by Freshman Melissa Smiley as “eye-opening and inspiring,” featured guest speaker Professor Angela D. Dillard, who joined in on the viewing of an episode of the PBS series, African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, and led a thought-provoking discussion about the ways in which Black History is commemorated in today’s society. “How are things being celebrated and remembered in our country and why do we care?” she asks. “Is this really just a time for the country to pat itself on the back because somewhere down the line, the country “did the right thing?”

With all of the discussion happening on campus in regard to the Black Student Union’s seven demands, it is important to discuss the underlying social issues surrounding contemporary views of Black History. The topic is often presented to us as if all aspects of racial inequality have been since eradicated or fixed; as if the social, political, and ideological changes that provide blacks with true equal opportunity and comfort in a society dominated by whites were immediately activated by the end of the civil rights movement. While we notice the blatant misrepresentations of Blacks in the media, the disproportionate amount of incarcerated Blacks, the disparities in White and Black socioeconomic status, and the shockingly low population of blacks on this very campus, the way that Black History is memorialized implies that these existing issues are merely coincidental and thus do not need to be addressed in relation to the nation’s history.

Furthermore, Dillard argues that the ways in which Black History is commemorated through monuments and celebrations are often not accurate representations of history. Black figures such as Martin Luther King, James Meredith, Malcolm X and Stokley Carmichael are idolized for merely being associated with the Civil Rights Movement, all of their personal (often conflicting) ideologies and mannerisms aside. “Somewhere along the line, history can sometimes become two-dimensional. We lose the knowledge that history is made up lives and lives are made of people and people are complicated. I think the Civil Rights movement is something of a mythology,” Junior Matthew Williams said. James Meredith, for example, disagreed with beliefs associated with the civil rights movement and considered himself very far removed from the movement as a whole. Yet, the recently vandalized Civil Rights Monument at the University of Mississippi features a life-sized statue of Meredith Himself, the man who, as Dillard says, resented the movement as a whole.

Nevertheless, sometimes the impact that history is expected to make upon society cannot reach the desired intensity if history merely writes itself. “I think we sometimes lose sight of reality when we think of our history… I don’t think that is a bad thing, though. The civil rights leaders were great men and women, heroes even… We need giants to emulate, to aspire to,” Williams said. It would be wrong to lose faith in the individuals who exhibited such unabridged courage during the time when non-violent protestors were beaten and hosed, James Meredith was shot on the Mississippi border, Stokley Carmichael shouted “BLACK POWER” and LBJ championed the phrase “We shall overcome.”

However, there are pressing questions that should be asked. Who is being left out of Black History? What portions of Black history are our nation’s government deciding to portray and not to portray? Why was Rosa Parks not allowed to speak at the March on Washington? Why are the deeper issues in Black History often separated from White history? Why do many Blacks on campus feel unwelcome, unsafe, and simply out of place?

Just because our nation flaunts egalitarianism, because our nation is desegregated, and because our nation did, at some point, “do the right thing,” it does not mean that these questions are negligible. Contemporary goals for thorough integration and overall cultural competency must still be met, and discussions such as these are small yet powerful contributions to the cause.


India Solomon
University of Michigan
Residential College Class of 2017