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Fear fuels racism, panelists say

JACKSON, Tenn.May 1, 2006 – Presenters at the Social Justice Symposium April 24 encouraged those in attendance to think about solutions to present-day racial issues through a drama and panel discussion.

The third annual event, sponsored by Union University’s social work department, was entitled “The Black and White of It.”

Rosie Robinson performed an excerpt from her one-woman play, “Esther: Daughter of the Struggle.” Traveling back in time to a different Jackson, she played the part of Esther Durham, when sit-ins and boycotts were prevalent.

After Robinson’s performance, Luther Mercer of the National Institute for Law and Equity facilitated a panel discussion of four current and former Union students about racism and segregation today.

Mercer asked the panelists if they had been educated about other races when they were younger, and each panelist answered no. In order to better relate to each other, African Americans and Caucasians need to learn to appreciate both cultures.

“Fear has dominated our understanding of each other,” Mercer said.

Senior social work major Rachel Peterson said that this misunderstanding has led to frustration. Perhaps people of both races want to get along but do not know how to relate to one another, she said.

Although times have changed since the civil rights movements in the 1960s, the panelists believed that racial problems still pervade society. Peterson said, “We have to deal with a lot of underlying issues that are easy to ignore.”

The problems have been overlooked recently, according to the panelists. Many stereotypes still exist, and sometimes the mainstream media has further supported these false views. Jimmie Morris of Quenco Mental Health Services said that some people only get their perspectives from the media and incorrectly see all African Americans as being like rappers on television.

When asked about the responsibility of “owing” African Americans for wrongs done in the past by ancestors, Becky Butler, executive director of Jackson Affordable Housing Inc., said that Jacksonians need to find answers to the problems, regardless of who is to blame.

Butler encouraged students to follow their callings. “What your burden is is what you need to live out in the world,” she said.

Patsy Turner, chair of the Biracial Committee of the Jackson Madison County School System, believes that religion played a big part in finding a solution. “Faith is the very essence of what we do,” she said.

Butler added that there are some proactive individuals in churches trying to find solutions to racial problems.

All four panelists agreed that forming relationships with people of different races should be the next step in solving these problems. Concerning these new relationships, Morris said, “Be genuine.” He later encouraged the audience and said, “It takes one person to start a movement.”

Once people of all colors get to know each other, they can begin to work together and help heal wounds from the past, the panelists concluded.

Emily Hurst, a junior learning foundations major, said the symposium was thought provoking.

“It made me think that just because there is not overt racism happening, it is still an issue that needs to be thought about and conquered,” Hurst said. “It made me think about trying to build relationships with people of different races here.”

By Katie Beth Kelley ('08)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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