W. E. B. Du Bois is noted for saying that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line...” We know now that he was right and that it continues to be a problem of our time as well. We’ve seen a new rise in white nationalism and white supremacy thanks to a variety of factors, not the least of which is leadership at all levels in our country, most especially at the top. Conversations around race have been difficult to engage and, in many cases, we’ve just avoided them. Not so for Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum.
Tatum, President Emerita of Spelman College and scholar of psychology and cultural critic on race, has been working on America’s relationship with race for most of her career. At least two of her books “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and “Can We Talk About Race?” have been conversation starters over the last two decades in a society and culture that is too-often resistant to talk about race. In the twentieth anniversary edition (2017) of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” she offers an analogy of the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. She writes,
“Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt…
Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway.” Some
people don’t want to be racist and turn around, “but unless they are walking
actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt – unless
they are actively antiracist – they will find themselves carried along with the others.”
Her words are convicting. I am just as guilty of being carried along on the conveyor belt, moving in the same direction as my ancestors and many of my neighbors. Even moments when I’ve taken a stand or walked in the opposite direction were fleeting, forgetting that being antiracist is constant, lifelong work. Maybe you feel this too?
The good news is we have an opportunity to hear directly from Dr. Tatum, who will speak at Oxford College of Emory University on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 7:30pm in Allen Memorial United Methodist Church located on the Oxford College campus. One of higher education’s reasons for being is to offer to its constituents – faculty, staff, students, and the local community – moments like this with Dr. Tatum. These are moments that hold the possibility of waking us up to our better selves, and moving us to engage in conversations that matter in and to our communities.
This event, which will also include the Martin Luther King, Jr. Interdenominational Choir, is being held on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Appropriately, its theme is “Dr. King’s Legacy: Beyond the Dream.” We were intentional with this title, because we want to remember and honor Dr. King’s legacy and at the same time move beyond the dream and into a new reality where we dig deep into our local and national conversations about race and the problem of the color line today. We do this hopeful that we might live into that beloved community where the image of God is honored in each of us.
Please join us at Oxford College on April 4 for this free event.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Georgia with his partner, Ami, and their son, Sam.