In December, David Canton, Associate Professor in Black Studies at Connecticut College, visited campus to discuss the history of racial and racially-charged violence in America to provide a greater context to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. The task of correcting America’s existing institutional and systemic racism “lies on the shoulders of younger generations,” said Canton. He fervently urged the Andover community to begin building a “counter-narrative” to learn and understand the origins of racism. He focused on using the past as a tool to learn from our mistakes, and his words created a necessary sense of urgency.
In light of this talk, it is imperative that we use our agency as Andover students to seek out methods and strategies for battling these racial issues. While discussion is necessary as a starting point, we students must attempt to create and cultivate this “counter-narrative” in our daily lives.
First, we must avoid and discourage even the smallest manifestations of stereotypes in our day-to-day lives. As Canton explained, many racial stereotypes – in particular those about black people – were created by others who wished to validate their unjustified dominance over other racial groups. To eradicate these racially-based prejudices, we must do our best to depart from our preconceived notions and view people as individuals rather than representatives of an entire race. Similarly, we cannot be bystanders. When people around us make racist comments or perpetuate harmful stereotypes, we cannot take the easy route and laugh along with the crowd. It may seem daunting to speak up against even our closest friends, but that is what we must do. Watching from the sidelines and being complacent implies that these actions are acceptable, but they can be just as harmful as being actively racist. Eliminating harmful social stereotypes and generalizations is the first step towards building the “counter-narrative.”
Additionally we have to maintain conversations surrounding Eric Garner, Michael Brown and the criminalization of black individuals. These horrific events are very difficult to talk and think about, but in doing so, we can identify the flaws in the U.S. justice system and create solutions to the inherent racial bias that permeates it. We must learn from these issues and go about making tangible changes ourselves, such as signing petitions that require diversity training for all police cadets graduating from police academies.
Recently, Andover has tried to encourage conversations about race, gender and sexuality in the classroom and has found some success in this much-needed endeavor. Faculty members have been able to facilitate, while students who may have wondered how these issues relate to Andover have seen their relevance to campus. In this way, the classroom creates a comfortable, productive learning environment.
There is still much more that needs to be done, however. Andover could create a mandatory term-long history class dedicated to the history of race relations and the existing system of oppression in America. Beyond educating, this class should focus on open discussion and problem solving working towards the “counter-narrative.” While I would love this to be true, we cannot assume that the student population is informed about recent racially-motivated violent events and systemic racism in America. An academic class would further enhance our awareness and encourage expression of opinion. As the newest generation of leaders and policy makers, we must be given the tools to formulate our own ideas.
As Canton said, it is our duty to work toward a brighter, more equal future. As Andover students, we can and must make these efforts to confront both our own prejudices and those of our peers. And as a school, we must realize that these issues cannot be taken lightly and should be further incorporated into the curriculum.
_Sewon Park is a two-year Lower from Hong Kong._