Shedding light on race and relations in America

Lecture facilitates conversation of race in America  

An associate professor of history at Northern Kentucky University said in a Six at Six lecture that a majority of Americans believe race relations in the United States are poor.


In 2015, 56 percent of white Americans and 68 percent of African Americans believed that the current race relations in U.S. are poor, according to Dr. Eric Jackson’s Six at Six lecture at Carnegie Hall in Covington.


Jackson sat on a dark green couch as he addressed the diverse audience.


“There’s a historical construct that separates us, but this can be moved,” he said.


The Six at Six is a series of lectures run by Northern Kentucky University’s Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement. The lectures focus on open discussion with audience members on an array of topics. The lecture was titled, “Race and Relations in the U.S.”


The United States, as Jackson pointed out, has always had a complicated relationship with race and its role in our society. Jackson, however, added that “it’s part of the history of the United States, but it doesn’t have to define us.”


In August 2014, riots sparked in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of black unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.


A similar situation happened in Los Angeles in August, 1942. Riots broke out after two white police officers had a tussle with a black motorist. Using these two moments in history, Jackson pointed out that racial tensions in the U.S have not yet disappeared from our country.


Jackson reported that 75 percent of African Americans in the United States in 2015 believed that police in most communities are more likely to use deadly force against African Americans than their white counterparts. Seventy-one percent of Americans polled nationally believed that substantial progress has been made to end racial discrimination in the United States.


Jon Meijer, an attendee, felt that the discussion itself served as a symbol of progression.


“The mere fact that we’re having conversations like this show that we’re making progress,” Meijer said. “People recognize that it’s a problem and want to do something to fix it.”


Meijer, a retired white male, recalled his time as a teenager when the basketball teams in his community were segregated into black and whites. In his lifetime, as Meijer said, he has seen the evolution of America’s relationship with race.


Meijer insisted that although progress has been made, there is still room to improve, specifically citing the criminal justice and achievement gap in the United States.


“If we, [as a nation], believe that education is a pathway out of poverty and if we believe that education contributes to the civic well-being of the nation, then we can’t afford to leave children behind just because they’re born poor, born black or some other mixture,” Meijer said. “So, the question is, how do we fix the achievement gap?”


BJ Jackson, wife of speaker Eric Jackson, said that she and her husband discuss this topic, especially in thought of their children and future generations.


“When you come to a venue like this do you sit with someone different than yourself? If we aren’t changing ourselves, how can we expect the government to change,” Jackson asked.


She believes that change needs to start with the individual, since a government is a representation of the people in it. If individuals begin to break barriers by simply reaching out to another then race relations can be further improved.


“You cannot legislate people’s hearts. People have to want to change,” Jackson said. “They have to decide that meeting someone who is different from them is valuable.”


Eric Jackson said that education was a key to improving race relations. Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut, founded by Principal Steve Perry, is using education to combat issues of race in their community.


As cited in a clip from “Black in America 2,” during the lecture, 85 percent of attending students are African American or Latino. The majority of students attending the school are from low-income homes.  


There is a 0 percent dropout rate and 100 percent of their students attend college. Perry, born to a teenage mother in poverty, wanted to help kids receive quality education that grew up in similar conditions to himself.


“I want you to leave without pessimism that you can’t do anything,” Jackson said after the clip, “but I want you to leave knowing that you can do something.”  


From the John Punch Case of 1640, who was considered the first official slave in the English Colonies, to the forming of white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan in 1866 to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Jackson presented a complex historical relationship with race in America. That being said, Jackson has hope for the future.


Jackson urged that having knowledge makes one accountable to strive towards positive change. Part of the change he cited was simply approaching someone different than yourself, regardless of their race or background, and breaking down predisposed societal barriers.

“Talk about it. Find someone who doesn’t look like you, talk like you, walk like you and talk to them,” Jackson said.