On Tuesday afternoon, Ohio State’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies hosted a discussion titled “Racism 101,” aimed to open up conversation amongst white students about racism.
While the majority of white individuals do not consider themselves racist or condone racism, Shannon Winnubst, professor and chair of WGSS, said it remains a deeply rooted issue in the United States, as it has from the country’s very beginning.
“As white people, we are complicent in racism if we are not actively challenging it,” said Jennifer Suchland, joint faculty member in WGSS as well as Slavic and Eastern European studies. “This dialogue is for the majority of students who don’t actively think of themselves as racists, but yet don’t have the tools, language or understanding … in terms of really combatting racism in society.”
The discussion opened quickly to the floor with the question, “Has racism changed?”
Both Winnubst and Suchland, the discussion leaders, encouraged students to discuss the visibility of racism, proactive, educated ways to talk about it with minorities and also spent time trying to define the concept of racism.
Over the course of the hour and a half, the leaders moved through the discussion to talk further about racism in relation to government policies.
“Racist systems in the U.S. will never overturn, will never neutralize unless white people challenge the contemporaries of racism,” Winnubst said. “Living in such a systemically racist society, we need to think differently about what we can do to change this.”
While the discussion remained peaceful throughout a few individuals did challenge the leaders, specifically about how much racism is tied into economic and government system.
Brittney Francis, a doctoral student in the College of Public Health, expressed concern over some of the disagreements expressed.
“I feel like the understanding is lacking especially in situations when it comes to people of color in prisons, single mothers, the wealth gap, education, decision making and how that relates to systemic racism,” Francis said. “I think the event is powerful, I just think it’s disheartening to know we’re still having these conversations on the baseline of understanding and not necessarily moving forward.”
Both Winnubst and Suchland expressed interest in ultimately continuing the dialogue in the future, saying that this was merely the beginning.
“It has never been and it is not good enough to think, ‘I am not a racist.’ We need to think about how we move from ‘I’m not a racist’ to anti-racist,” Winnubst said.