Racial issues have made their way to the forefront of political conversations in the United States as of late, but the effects of sys- tematic racism have always been deeply ingrained into author and professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University Imani Perry’s life.
“Race is a huge topic these days. It’s on our minds constantly, particularly in light of the tragedy that is irredeemable: death. For me, it affected me quite intimate- ly. My younger child fell asleep last night crying. And he asked me if there was ever a time without racism – did it ever not exist,” said Perry in her presentation.
Perry argued that racial in- equality has always been a cul- tural practice in America. Her talk last Thursday continued Ando- ver’s “Our Divided House” series on the intersection of race, his- tory, and public policy.
“It is not simply the fact that we’re dealing with a past history of inequality, but that as a soci- ety, we act consistently in ways that sustain and extend racial inequality. It is the cumulative impact of acts of digression that advantage or disadvantage people based upon their membership,” said Perry, who has a doctorate in American Civilization from Har- vard University.
Despite the embracement of racial equality in modern soci- ety, Perry contended that racial inequality still persists due to its long history in America. “Dis- crimination is manifested in the racial wealth gap that plagues so- ciety today,” she said.
Perry cited three examples to illustrate how current society still sustains racial inequality: the power of positions, credit in pur- chases, and the housing market. From her research, Perry deter- mined that people of color, for instance, pay more on average for bigger purchases, like houses or cars, than white people do.
“Something is happening to make someone selling the car say [that] that person, because of the flesh they happen to be born with, ought to pay more,” said Perry. “That has to do with practices of racial inequality that we’re taught and socialized into. It doesn’t have to be explicit or conscious. Prac
tices are learned in language, in the categories we put people into.” In her presentation, Perry also addressed name-based dis- crimination and associations that decrease the value of African– American associated objects and words. For example, studies show that people with Spanish–sound- ing or African-American sound- ing names are less likely to get in- terviews when applying for work. Perry described situations where her race led to worse treatment than her white counterparts in re-
tail stores and restaurants.
“On one hand, [being treated differently because of my race was] insulting… But it also means that the exchange value of a dol- lar in my hand is actually less than it is for some of my counterparts because I don’t get the same kind of experience in exchange. It’s all along a continuum of deciding that certain people ought to be valued less that’s part of our cul-
ture,” said Perry.
Lauryn Roberts ’17 recognized
the importance of empathy across racial groups in achieving a more respectful racial environment on campus.
“It’s important to have under- standing and respect, and under- stand that not everyone is going to be hyper–affected by the issues about racism,” said Roberts. “But it’s also important to have the capacity to realize that it’s some- thing that people struggle with and you should have empathy. I know what it feels like because I do identify as black, but my best friend doesn’t. But she under- stands that it’s hard for me. It’s important that [we] respect for each other, definitely at a place like this.”
Lin Gan ’19 described the pre- sentation as eye-opening and ex- pressed appreciation for Perry
sharing her experiences as an African-American woman.
Gan said, “[Perry] offers a new perspective. Although racial [is- sues are] one giant topic, there [are] so many perspectives to that… It was actually my first time to hear someone who is African- American acknowledge that [she] has not been treated the same way other people have. It’s very eye- opening.”
Perry also emphasized the im- portance of applying respect and equality to everyday life.
“Try to be deliberate about be- ing broadly inclusive about treat- ing people with utmost respect, and not making a series of as- sumptions or presumptions about where they come from and what they think. Careful listening really has potential to make a big differ- ence, and not be defensive when touchy-race subjects come up,” said Perry in an interview with The Phillipian.
“Justice is always urgent… There’s always been people who are suffering, there’s always been people who are mistreated, who are excluded. It is a life mission because there’s only so much you can do at every stage in your life. But if you make a lifelong commit- ment to being fair and just, then you can make a huge impact over time,” Perry continued.
Perry’s talk was the second of the three-part “Our Divided House” series, which offers a dif- ferent perspective on the current racial climate in America by tying together history and public policy. The series concluded with a pre- sentation on Wednesday by David Canton, an associate professor of history and Director of the Afri- cana Studies Program at Connect- icut College.