Professor Scott A. Corley
Department of History, Philosophy & Social Science
Although the United States has made great strides in race relations among its increasingly diverse population and has witnessed closing disparities across multiple quality of life measures, the nation still struggles with a legacy of, and continued practices associated with, racial discrimination. There are persistent political, economic, and social inequalities that are highly correlated to race and ethnicity, which are rendered almost invisible due to the increase in newer, more nuanced forms of racial and ethnic marginalization including those in which expressions and manifestations are subtle. These problems not only reveal contradictions between social and political realities and America’s self-professed values of democracy, opportunity, and freedom, but they naturally contribute to unnecessary racial and ethnic tensions and associated social instability. Particularly evidenced by relatively recent increases in hate group activity, racial and ethnic differences (that many believe make the U.S. a great nation), continue to challenge how just and fair U.S. society is and, by extension, how unified the American people are.
The U.S. national motto, E pluribus Unum, suggests “we are one,” but also that “we are struggling to become one”. In a democracy that has been, still is, and will continue to become more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and other social categories that unfortunately are connected to oppression, it is increasingly important to not only teach students about the nature of social and public problems associated with race and ethnicity, but to also provide students with resources, skills, and knowledge that facilitate positive change.
As the U.S. is widely considered to be a nation founded upon democratic principles in service to the common good, U.S. schools, colleges, and universities must provide active citizenship education based on social, and specifically, racial, justice. U.S. institutions of higher education have the civic and moral responsibility to train students how to identify, engage, and work through local, national, and global problems of race and ethnicity by providing educational experiences grounded in social responsibility, justice, and civic engagement. Such efforts ought to encourage students to accept dispositions to help them assume postures to promote and defend democracy by embracing social justice. These are among the most importantly prized hallmarks of U.S. education. In a society where citizens and community members are, in fact, taught to be “sovereigns” responsible for protecting democracy, as well as shaping and directing community and public life, failure to teach how racism compromises the most cherished U.S. values signals severe social decay and increases the potential for political turmoil.
Despite colorblind arguments to the contrary, expert scholarship almost universally confirms that race centers American life and influences group, institutional, and systemic behaviors far beyond individual bias, bigotry, and prejudice. Racism is ingrained in the fabric and systems of American society and is perpetuated by institutionalized power structures and dynamics partly, but not exclusively, based on white privilege and ideologies of white supremacy. Decades of academic literature consistently show how people of color continue to lag behind whites in income and wealth, housing, incarceration, educational attainment, health and healthcare, etc. which seen in totality reveals a race/ethnicity mismatch in opportunity, equality, and achievement. In the same way the racial wealth, income, and employment gaps were startlingly exacerbated by the 2008/2009 recession and its uneven recovery, the COVID-19 pandemic similarly reveals broad and glaring inequities in health, healthcare, and economic standing along the lines of race. SUNY BCC, as with all other colleges and universities, owes to its students a pressing intellectual and moral obligation to describe and explain the nature of these unfortunate and devastating facets of American life. To deny, ignore, or minimize these realities does not serve the academic nor civic needs of our students.
Racial justice and anti-racism teaching and learning must be made central to the academic mission of SUNY BCC, especially given the widespread refusal to address race at the heart of many complex social, political, and economic problems and national discourse that endeavors to disregard the centrality of racism. Such commitment would not only demonstrate BCC’s supposed commitment to diversity and inclusion, but support its civic educational goals and its aspiration to make students into critical and morally responsible thinkers armed with the capacity to bring positive change. If educators of all disciplines and areas of study agree on the need to eradicate any and all expressions of racial oppression, discrimination and inequality it then is profoundly clear that they agree on pedagogically and intellectually sound practices aimed to reduce and repair the ill-effects of historic, contemporary, and pervasive violations against the rights and freedoms of people of color.