This I Know: Racism

American asks four wonks to weigh in on a single topic

Illustra­tion by
Traci Daberko

illustrations about racism

Taylor Dumpson, SPA/BA '18

As a black woman, I see racism every day. Whether it is overt or covert, racism impacts the way I navigate my life. Everything I do—or don't do—confirms or negates a stereotype. If I am upset and frustrated, I am labeled "the angry black woman," and if I am laughing and having a good time with friends, I am seen as "the loud black woman." Each day when I wake up, I am forced to reconcile the fact that at some point, I will be perceived by others differently than I perceive myself.

As the target of a racially motivated hate crime on campus, I have learned that I cannot control or dictate how others view me—I can only control how I view myself. I am strong. I am graceful. I am passionate. I am persistent. I am driven. I am unapologetically black.

I firmly believe that the only way to eradicate racism is to speak to our own experiences and humanize racialized interactions, so that people might better understand how their actions impact others.

Dumpson is the first African American woman to serve as AU Student Government president.

Fanta Aw

This generation challenges the dominant narrative of racial progress and the utopia of a post-racial America. As digital natives, they use social media to expose bigotry and racial profiling—and to mobilize for change across place and space.

The movement for racial justice that we are witnessing on campuses around the nation is a stark reminder that race remains the dominant civil rights issue of the twenty-first century. Research leaves no doubt that race affects access to jobs, housing, education, quality health care, and social mobility.

As a sociologist and educator, I have seen the impact of structural racism on the physical and emotional well-being of young people. Many students indicate that they don't feel physically or emotionally safe. They come to campus to gain an education but find themselves taking on the role of educator, teaching those in their academic community about persistent structural inequalities.

Universities that are attempting to increase access to education and diversify their student body must pay particular attention to what inclusion truly means.

Aw is interim vice president of Campus Life and holds three degrees from AU.

Celine-Marie Pascale

As a white person born into legal segregation, coming to consciousness about race began as a profound reckoning. I soon learned that, despite my belief in equality, I would be fully complicit with racist systems unless I developed a commitment to antiracist practice. This was a tectonic shift.

A commitment to antiracist practice requires my willingness to value racial justice more than my own discomfort, more than easy relationships, more than the safety of silence. It requires taking responsibility, accepting risks, and being visible in my shortcomings.

Racism is a painful and enduring presence. Change has never been fast enough—and rarely adequate when it has come. Yet racial justice movements are enduring and have forced this country away from the genocidal practices of the nation's founding to where we are today. We can and will build a better future through today's varied and collective antiracist practices.

Pascale is a sociology professor and associate dean for undergraduate studies in CAS.

Bradley White, SPA/BA '99, WCL/JD '07

Being black in this country forces you to become an unwilling connoisseur of racism, able to distinguish the slightly bitter taste of classmates' casual racism—"[You] only got into AU because of Affirmative Action"—from the metallic tang of terror, when six DC police officers pull your friend's car over because you "fit the description."

To be black in America is to see this country both as it is and as it wishes to be. We were never "post-racial," and we never will be until the entire nation confronts racism with open eyes. But even now, after the 2016 elections and all the unrest we've seen these last few years, I still have hope for the country my children will inherit. In the words of James Weldon Johnson, I've taught them to "Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us." The sun rises every day, and we have to keep marching and fighting. For them.

White is chair of AU's Black Alumni Alliance.