Race, privilege and Dabo Swinney. All were topics at Wednesday night’s Veritas Forum. The yearly forum, which is sponsored by various campus ministry groups, aims to apply faith to controversial and complex issues in today’s world, and this year’s topic of discussion was “Hope in The Racial Divide? A Conversation on Race, Faith and Identity.” RUF campus minister Sammy Rhodes moderated while guest speaker, Emory professor Andra Gillespie, tackled issues such as racism and forgiveness in the context of the Christian faith.
“It really brought to light a lot of issues that we need to keep in conversation,” third-year Bethany Osterhaus said about the conversation.
One of the issues Gillespie highlighted was race as a social contract.
“It all started with anthropology,” Gillespie remarked, drawing laughter.
The professor explained that race has become so ingrained in our culture and legal system that it’s possible to predict a certain person’s chances of going to jail or getting divorced based on race.
At one point in the discussion, Rhodes took a moment to acknowledge his own privilege and asked Gillespie to explain how white privilege looks, from the outside looking in. Gillespie explained that privilege permeates many aspects of life most people do not think about, from health care to the housing market. It is this difference between the two — with Rhodes being a white man and Gillespie a black woman — that made some students connect with their message. One of these students was fourth-year Kendall Witt, who believes that part of the message of the forum was making people understand the complications of relations across different backgrounds.
"They know it's going to be uncomfortable," Witt said. "They want you to understand that people are going to see each other in a different perspective because we're all human beings but we're all in different colors, and people have to see that."
When asked about the comments Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney made recently about America's problem being with sin rather than race, Gillespie had some mixed feelings. While Gillespie agreed that racism and the injustice happening today are rooted in sin, she argued that it’s not an issue “you can just pray away.” She suggested that Swinney’s idol, Martin Luther King Jr., would be praising 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, not condemning him as Swinney did.
The forum is meant to aid young Christians in how to understand and confront racism through their faith, but the setting offered a scholarly perspective as well.
“I think it was a really great combination between an academic setting as well as a gospel presentation,” USC alumna Chelsea Morgan said.
Gillespie, a political science professor and Yale graduate, relied on academic research as much as the Christian faith to call for change. Gillespie described implicit bias and how it contributes to the shootings of unarmed black men and how she believes mainstream culture has programmed racial prejudice into our society.
Gillespie also explained how her faith shapes her views on social justice, citing forgiveness and grace as the two most important Christian values one should have.
“I loved the tie-in of how forgiveness and grace goes in with this issue and how a lot of times we like to see outside of it when it's something we have to view through the lens of grace because I think it then becomes an issue that's easier to discuss," third-year Petra Morgan said.
During the Q&A section, a student asked how to deal with a prejudiced father. Gillespie explained everyone has prejudices, whether they be racial or not, and urged the student to seek honest dialogue with his or her father about their differences. She also urged the students to try and forgive those with prejudices by saying, “grandpa wasn’t a bad person, he was a complicated person.” Rhodes reiterated Gillespie’s point by reminding “we are all victims and villains.”
Rhodes concluded the evening by asking that the night not end a conversation, but rather start one. Gillespie asked that everyone approach these conversations with humility, knowledge and curiosity.