The Daily Gamecock

Discussions about race difficult, but necessary

Cornel West lecture should be attended by students, faculty, staff of USC

Conversations about race are some of the most difficult conversations to have on any college campus. They are, however, especially difficult to have on a campus such as ours, in a state with a long history of racial oppression, racial segregation and, to some degree, racial reconciliation.

In my conversations with those who subscribe to this version of American history, I attempt to have them understand one thing: We cannot have an honest dialogue about the history of this great country if we refuse to talk openly about the moments when America has failed to live up to the values enshrined in our nation’s founding documents.

Sure, it’s difficult to talk about slavery or segregation, but can we honestly talk about the history of South Carolina without talking about this state’s secession from the Union, which was due in large part to state officials’ desire to maintain the institution of slavery and the racial hierarchy that it helped to sustain? Can we honestly talk about the history of South Carolina without talking about its former governor, Ben Tillman, for whom a statue was dedicated in 1940, less than 50 years after Tillman remarked that he would “willingly lead a mob in lynching a Negro who had committed an assault upon a white woman”? Can we honestly recount the history of South Carolina without talking about another former governor and segregationist, Strom Thurmond, for whom our state-of-the-art wellness and fitness center is named? Moving forward, can we talk about the future of this state and this country without grappling with issues of education and income disparities that continue to plague communities of color across the United States? I contend that we cannot. Nor can we maintain our position as the world’s superpower if we are unwilling to discuss those issues that call into question the ways in which we deal with those who are most vulnerable in our own country.

Trust me. None of these conversations are easy to have, but if we are serious about moving this country forward, these are conversations we must have.

Tomorrow, Carolina Productions will allow us to have such a conversation on this campus. Along with the African American Studies Department, CP will host Cornel West, one of the most prolific intellectuals of our time, to talk about race and other issues as part of the Department’s annual Robert Smalls Lecture Series. I invite you to be part of what is sure to be a provocative and thought-provoking conversation that will, at times, make everyone in attendance feel uncomfortable, ashamed and even a bit hopeful. I look forward to seeing you there.