Segregation Alive and Well in 2003
By: Jessica Peck
Independence Institute | Monday, April 21, 2003
We walked into the room and were told to leave. Our offense? Having the wrong skin color.
This is what happened this weekend at the University of Colorado when organizers of a forum dedicated to exploring the effects of racism, saw two individuals who "presented as White," make an attempt to participate in the forum open exclusively to "People of Color."
The workshop, one of a series hosted by Stop Hate on Campus (SHOC), a student-fee funded group on the Boulder campus, was titled the Internalized Racism Workshop. It "was not designed for White people," we were told. Instead, my friend and I could go to a workshop being held concurrently for individuals of our own skin color. When I told the workshop organizer that we had attended that workshop the day before, he was apologetic, but reiterated that we were not welcome to stay for this one.
When I asked just exactly what "internalized racism" was, a young woman in the room spoke up, "well, if you don't know, you haven't experienced it, and you shouldn't be here." The room erupted in laughter.
It was a shocking moment. As a graduate student who has dedicated the last two years to researching the role of race in higher education, I was being taught perhaps my most important lesson: segregation and separatism are alive and well on our college campuses.
When I told the organizer about my academic research and that we would remain silent if only he would permit us to stay, he once again told us we could not. He said the workshop was designed as a "safe space" for "People of Color" and that the presence of someone of our racial appearance would prevent an open and honest dialogue.
It is interesting that safety is the justification used for a racially segregated workshop on a publicly funded university campus in 2003. Indeed, this was the same argument used by the segregationists of the 1950s and '60s. They believed America would be a safer place if the races were kept apart. We should all be grateful that the last forty years have proven them wrong. America is a better place because racial distinctions and discrimination have been—and continue to be—torn down.
The organizers of this weekend's events will say the racial segregation they upheld is fundamentally different than the segregation of the past. In racially sensitive environments and discussions, such as the one held Sunday, individuals should be with people of their own race, they argue. Never mind an open and honest dialogue between people of different races. To demand such would be asking too much.
Furthermore, they will tell you, as they told me, it is not the "White person's place" to tell "People of Color" whether or not they can discriminate on the basis of race. They are mistaken. Segregation and discrimination on the basis of race are always wrong, both legally and morally.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act tells us that racial segregation, for any reason, and perpetuated against any group, is not acceptable. More specifically, Title VI of the statute prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin at institutions receiving federal financial assistance. The University of Colorado, as a recipient of federal funds, has a responsibility to ensure that every door on each of its campuses is open to individuals of all races.
Maybe I should internalize my experience, believing that somehow I have a responsibility to accept segregation if it can help others come to terms with the state of race in America. If only I could convince myself that segregation does anything other than tear down our past progress and our future hope for honest interracial interaction.
To get beyond race, we must defy it. We must stop seeing each other as varying shades of pigment. We must step out of our comfort zones, even if it feels unsafe. Anything less simply won't work, especially closing doors in the faces of those who want nothing more than to bring an end to racism.
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