Black in America opens a conversation on racism

CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien brought the Black in America tour to Stony Brook University, with the goal to open up a conversation about racism in America based on fact and history.

“While we’re feeling that there’s a lot of tension in this country, maybe it’s an opportunity for people to start having this conversation,” O’Brien said, referencing last years events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Eric Garner.

Part of it is understanding the country’s history in terms of racism and learning how past actions such as lynchings, which The New York Times recently covered, really occurred, she said.

“I think America is an incredibly amazing country that has in its history worked hard to correct wrongs,” she said. “We have a long history of things that we’ve done badly and we have a long history of people who have tried to right those wrongs.”

Soledad O'Brien, left, with panelists Joan Morgan, Luis Paulino and Etan Thomas.
Soledad O’Brien, left, speaking with panelists Joan Morgan, Luis Paulino and Etan Thomas.

O’Brien showed disparities and gaps between white and black people in America with statistics, including numbers showing how the wealth gap has tripled.

Joan Morgan, author and journalist, said that for perceptions on race to change, people need to accept that it is not individuals who sustain its existence.

“I think racism is just a really horrible and painful truth most of us don’t ever want to deal with,” she said. “One of the ways I think we push past our perceptions is to realize there is a very real thing called structural racism in this country that is held up by a series of historical laws, economic policies and social policies that make it really hard to dismantle.”

In August 2012, Luis Paulino experienced a example of what can go wrong in policing a primarily minority community and what needs to be changed for it to go right. His account of what happened after trying to stop police from questioning a black youth was captured on video, showing him punched and beaten by police.

“I feel like optimism has to be based in the education of the police,” Paulino said. “When it comes to how we are perceived as a community even in our communities is often as a suspect instead of an inhabitant of our community, so we’re often stigmatized before we’re even given a chanced to be humanized.”

Etan Thomas, former NBA player, had to explain to his son that it’s not all police that appear to be racist, showing how the conversation trickles down to some of the youngest members of society with events such as the Trayvon Martin case.

Here he is talking about his son:

Black parents often have to have a conversation on how to interact with police and how it is more difficult to be successful as a black person, Etan said, which is something Ennajee Brisbane, a freshman biology major, said he can relate to.

“I haven’t been personally stopped and frisked, but I have had a talk with my dad saying, ‘When you’re talking to an officer, make sure you watch what you say and alwts work twice as hard because the social stigma against you is there.'” he said. “‘It’s going to be harder for you to even get into college, you have to work twice as hard at everything.'”

Mallory Rothstein, a senior psychology major, shared why she attended the event from her perspective:

“I think the most important part that stood out for me was the whole presentation of statistics for people who don’t seem to think this is not an issue, that it’s not institutionalized, that it’s not systemic,” Janala Harris, a doctoral student in Stony Brook’s social welfare program, said.

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