January 23, 2014: On a Thursday afternoon the Community Service Center held an on-campus conversation at the MC 26 Student Lounge during free hour, which we dedicated to celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The discussion featured issues of social inequality in the United States and how they affect our community.
The Community Service Center (CSC) opened with a YouTube video clip of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from “The Great Dictator” (1940). This video had quite an impact on the audience and drew their attention to what was about to follow. Right after, the CSC paid tribute to the achievements of Dr. King.
Later on, the CSC asked the audience whether racism and other forms of social inequality are still present in any form in America. In order to get the conversation going the CSC reflected on the case of Trayvon Martin (2013) that some considered being a clear example of how racism is still prevalent in American society. In order to stimulate critical thinking and to voice another side of the argument, the CSC previewed another video clip that illustrated opinions of the well-known members of the African–American community in support of the jury’s verdict. The audience suggested that media’s extensive coverage broadened the gap between communities by capitalizing on racism as a major motivation for the incident. Some said that media is not to blame for the attitudes of American people towards racial differences, instead they argued that, “it all starts in the family," “primary school plays a huge role in social education," and “ the government should work harder on eliminating that gap”.
Two students were asked to volunteer in a little experiment. A Caucasian male and an African-American female stood next to each other. The audience was asked to point out the differences between the two. Some focused on the height difference first, some on gender, eye color, clothes, posture and only then, skin color. It was clear that people avoided an obvious difference in skin color, which in fact should have absolutely no negative connotation.
The collective opinion on contemporary issues of racism indicated that it still exists. The CSC then charged the audience with identifying how racism could be eliminated. Some suggested that children at an early stage should be taught to acknowledge racial differences and celebrate similarities. Some said that social education classes should be introduced in public schools to teach tolerance. All agreed that each should begin with the self: “be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Prepared by Victor Rybkin, CSC Manhattan
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