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The Carletonian

OIIL-hosted discussion about race and privilege opens eyes

<ite the fact that they had been rising early all week for their standard classes, the 37 students who attended Saturday's Diversity Institute sponsored by the Office of International and Intercultural Life (OIIL) in the Great Hall woke up at eight o'clock on Saturday morning, January 22 to spend a day of their weekend at this one-of-a-kind event. The Diversity Institute, held by Dr. Robin DiAngelo and Darlene Flynn, was held to explore the current state of race relations and racial equality.

“Whites don’t assign meaning to race,” DiAngelo said, “but the Diversity Institute is about asking the question, ‘what does it mean?'”

In particular, Flynn and DiAngelo said that while most whites see racism as a thing of the past, racism is not comprised of individual acts but is a societal attitude that still persists today, likening it to an undiagnosed illness. In turn, they seek to make students aware that racism still exists and that race continues to be an important factor in society.

According to Flynn and DiAngelo, whites have the dominant culture in most of the developed world, but they have made little effort to learn about other races or cultures. How history is taught prejudices us, Flynn explained. People of color are left out, preventing students from seeing other cultures as anything more than an unimportant sideshow.

Slavery is discussed more for its impact on the Civil War and the history of the U.S. overall than for its impact on slaves and their ancestors, and the Harlem Renaissance is a middle school Cultural Activity. The factor of race in history is glossed over, and the result is that when we refuse to factor race into our thoughts overtly, it nevertheless subtly creeps in. According to DiAngelo and Flynn, the Diversity Institute is all about challenging these assumptions and getting people of all races to think about how they actually see race.

People of color, they say, have their own misconceptions as well. “We tend to be more conscious of race, but we also tend to shape ourselves in a way that reinforces the system,” Flynn said. “To survive, you must assimilate and try not to rock the boat. Eventually,” she continued, “you internalize those assumptions and stop thinking about race altogether.” The result is that, despite the gaping racial inequality in modern society, neither side is willing to take the first step in bridging that gap.

DiAngelo and Flynn think that the solution is to simply make people more aware of the problem. Most people behave differently towards different races; they call for us to become conscious of those behaviors, and look for ways not to reinforce them. Question your decisions and behaviors: do you ask all your friends where they’re from, or just your Asian friends? Once we change our assumptions about race, changing our actions will follow naturally. “Colorblindness has not proven to be the answer to racial inequality,” Flynn said in summary of the ideas behind the Institute. “We need new consciousness, and new tools.”

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