Art by Peau Porotesano
The Convocation office delivered MLK Jr. a late birthday gift last Tuesday, Jan. 19 in the form of the first ever “Cultural Competency Table Talk.” During this two-hour discussion between two professors, one pastor and one student, a full Waves Cafe sat in engaged silence.
And while the table talk offered excellent advice and a foundational crash course on cultural competency, in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., we want to challenge our community further. In order to keep his dream alive in 2016, it’s time Pepperdine waded into the waters of controversy and discomfort.
Issues of racial discrimination have come into focus. Racism permeates society in the form of police brutality, as in the cases of Michael Brown and Sarah Bland. We can see it statistically, as women in minorities receive even less than the caucasian woman’s average 78 cents to the man’s dollar. As of 2001, the African-American male stands a one in three chance of being incarcerated. And the pulls of privilege and discrimination infiltrate our subconscious every day.
A buzzword in the social sphere today is “cultural identity,” which, according to Oxfordreference.com, is the “definition of groups or individuals (by themselves or others) in terms of cultural or subcultural categories (including ethnicity, nationality, language, religion and gender). A cultural identity is not something to be repressed. However, every day that we do not actively fight racism, we perpetuate it. We all owe it to our brothers and sisters to be anti-racist. Being anti-racist does not make one anti-White; it means one is anti-White privilege.
In order to progress civil rights today, a person with privilege must be willing to surrender their status to stand for righteousness. It requires one to inform and listen and engage in dialogues about issues of race in society.
It means we own the fact that something like a Christopher Columbus statue overlooking Stauffer Chapel may not personally produce charged feelings of hurt and historical abuse, but that does not divest this symbol of this real significance for others.
Critical race theorist Shelly Fisher Fishkin said it best when she said we must “interrogate Whiteness.” If we want to deconstruct the institutions of privilege and this hierarchy of power, we must take the time to understand the mechanics of White privilege and the creation of “White culture.” When one interrogates Whiteness, one takes the time to understand why a cultural identity was formed and privileged from a group of immigrants who all hailed from different ethnicities, backgrounds and nationalities. By acknowledging the dialogue between all cultures, one can recognize where literature, music, art, science and every area of life become a cultural crossroads. We need to deconstruct false dichotomies between “us” and “them” and “me” versus “the other.”
Our civil rights predecessors sought for the end of cultural segregation; now, it is our turn to further empower our neighbors by learning this danger of cultural appropriation today.
Of course, situating ourselves in social diversity is not simply a Black and White issue. It encompasses the oppressed, the oppressive and the one who abstains from participating. This is not just an issue of the past or even of today but our issue in the present and in our community.
Yesterday, President Andrew K. Benton urged all students and faculty of Pepperdine to “be supportive of these efforts to make Pepperdine University an example of justice and fairness and, indeed, Christian fellowship.”
And as we stand on the horizon of Black History Month, there are many forms of action we can take to live with purpose, service and leadership in an area that concerns every one of us.
We can share or reject our privilege we have over another person due to race, orientation or gender. We are not fixing a system that is broken; we are reconstructing institutional systems that weren’t built right in the first place.
What an exciting time to be alive. What a hopeful time of opportunity. We are given the chance to heal our nation with our words and actions and thoughts. What better way to live in line with the dreams of Dr. King? If we participate in this dialogue, we empower ourselves and our neighbors to shape the future. It will shape our today until the future is forever changed.
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