Section: News

Panel discusses role of South in systemic racism

On Sept. 30, Kenyon hosted a virtual panel, “Southern Responses to Social Injustice Confirmation.” The panel, which delved into current events surrounding police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement and the United States’ history of systemic racism, approached the topics specifically from the perspective of people from the South.

After the ongoing protests against the murders of unarmed Black people by police, Wednesday night’s panel considered how to think about the South’s role in these events. While deconstructing racism in the U.S., the panelists emphasized regional nuances and challenged the stereotype that the South is more racist than the North. The conversation also touched on the risks of thinking about the South as a homogeneously racist region. 

Michaela Jenkins ’19, who is currently a second-year sociology Ph.D. student at Emory University, commented on the dangers of perpetuating stereotypes of people in the South. “There are people of many backgrounds [in the South], there are people of many perspectives,” Jenkins said. “Erasing that or painting that with one fell swoop really misunderstands the purpose of understanding who is here and why you should care about those people.” 

Marilyn Yarbrough Fellow Raja Rahim discussed the nuances of the specific regions and cultures of the South, using her own experience as an example. 

“I am from Richmond, Virginia. I am from the home of the Confederacy, where they made it their capital, and I am from the place where we brought the first enslaved Black bodies,” Rahim said. “If we can identify that slavery was real, that it happened, that it was a tragedy and a sin of the United States, then we can get to a place where we can start to undo all of the ramifications that slavery has left in our society.”

Eventually, the conversation moved towards the differences and similarities between racism in the South and the North. Brenden Keefe ’90, a chief investigative reporter at Atlanta news network WXIA who has covered the recent protests and riots, observed how Southern stereotypes come into play during these conversations. 

“When I post a news story, some of my Northern friends will say, ‘oh, well that’s just Georgia,’ as if it can be written off,” he said. “There’s another saying we have in Atlanta: ‘For every mile you drive outside of the city of Atlanta, you drive a year back in time.’”

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing police brutality across the country, it can be difficult to know what the next concrete steps are. Rahim noted the reasoning behind why scholars are uplifting stories of racism and oppression to contextualize the racism still present today.

“This [new knowledge] is also a reminder that scholars have been talking about these issues and have been putting out the warning calls for a very long time to get us to a place where we recognize the potential fire before someone lights the match.”

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