This article has been signed by Professor Margaret McLaren, Professor Kathryn Norsworthy, Professor Dawn Roe, Professor Sharon Carnahan, Professor Carol Lauer, Professor Kim Dennis, Professor Susan Libby, Professor Rachel Newcomb, and Professor Alicia Homrich.
Muhammad Ali. Irish?! Or Black? (Correct answer: Both.) Maurice (Socky) O’Sullivan’s op ed in the February 17, 2016 edition of the Sandspur mentions Ali’s mixed race heritage, as well as that of Barack Obama. For O’Sullivan the salient point is that both can claim Irish descent. We hear the call in Professor O’Sullivan’s article to recognize that our Irish and Irish American friends have had a painful history full of struggle, resistance, and resilience and that St. Patrick’s Day is a day each year dedicated to the Irish communities of the world. We also hear his wish that the first evening of the Summit for Transformative Learning (featuring a debate on free speech) had not been scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day.
However, this article unfortunately positions communities of color and Irish communities in competition with one another in an effort to justify his points. This is especially ironic because the Irish were considered non-white when they first emigrated from Ireland to the United States. Painfully, the article also pits the Black community and the Asian American community against one another, suggesting, in this case, that the Black community is the problem.
We propose that a conference at Rollins focusing on racial justice is actually an “AND-AND” proposition rather than “either-or.” To us it seems that the Summit is a perfect opportunity to bring together white allies, including Irish-Americans, communities of color, and multi-racial/mixed heritage communities to work in solidarity toward a more just campus community and world.
Current best practices in diversity and social justice work do not engage in “oppression Olympics,” cultural competition,” or “competition for justice.” We see our struggles for racial justice as interrelated and interdependent. However, it is important to note that we still live in a society where deep inequalities exist because of systemic racism. We do not need “time travel” to witness racial injustice and to work for racial justice.
We appreciate that parts of Professor O’Sullivan’s opinion piece clearly express solidarity with the work on racial justice at Rollins and beyond. Unfortunately, polarizing references and language have the opposite effect. This kind of language echoes the rhetoric often used by white people to intentionally or unintentionally undermine the racial justice movement, serves to hurt and disempower people of color, and reinforces systemic racism.
We invite white allies to be aware of this when we assert our opinions and positions, especially in public media. As we all work for justice, diversity, and inclusion on Rollins’ campus and beyond, we need to be aware of the impact of what we say and do as well our power and white privilege, especially given the social and professional positions we hold. This year’s Summit for Transformative Learning focusing on advancing racial justice provides a much-needed forum for discussion and action planning regarding how we collectively create a just campus community by walking the talk. We encourage all faculty, staff, and students to participate.
This article was a response to Dr. O’Sullivan’s February 18 article, “Professor questions Rollins’ multicultural efforts.”