The Language of Race: Prof. Crenshaw Highlights What is Not Being Said in Today's Society

As part of President Lee Bolinger’s Kraft Program Series at Columbia University, Prof. Crenshaw participated in a dynamic and stirring panel titled: The Language of Race, held on February 20, 2008.

Engaging with other leading scholars at Columbia, such as Professor of Political Science Ira Katznelson, Prof. Crenshaw debated the nature of race in today’s society.  Prof. Rodolfo De La Garza, professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, began the panel discussion by arguing that the language of race seems muted amongst the “younger generations.” As a father of children in their 20’s, he noticed how that generation no longer seems to see race as an immediate identifying point.   

Other participants, however, took issue with this “color blind” perception of race in contemporary American society. Robert O’Meally, professor of English and Comparative Literature, noticed that sometimes it takes a certain willingness on the part of the individual to overlook perceived categories. Prof. O’Meally also used his college age son as an example, noting his son’s ability to cross class and color lines by socializing with the younger people working on the cruise ship during a recent vacation. These anecdotal stories helped frame the outlook each participant brought to the panel discussion.

Prof. Crenshaw, however, brought the discussion to a decisive moment by discussing the nature of race and gender in the 2008 Democratic primary. She pointed out the crucial fact that yes, Barak Obama is “privileged” by being a man and Hilary Clinton also has the advantage of being married to a powerful White man. But, would a Black woman ever find herself contending for a chance to run for president of the United States? This concept brought home the fact that the U.S. has far to go in terms of being able to acknowledge existing race and gender discrimination.   

The panel discussion was premised on the idea that it “will focus on what is not being said in today’s society about issues of race and the future of diversity.” The panelists succeeded in highlighting the very issues not discussed in mainstream media or in “polite” dinner conversations and provoking the audience to carry on this discussion out on the streets and well beyond their drive, subway ride or walk home.  




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