Discrimination is a thing of the past in America, right? Speakers at the panel discussion “Race and the Justice System” sponsored by Multicultural Services would argue quite differently.
Racial tensions have a long history in the United States, and they are by no means removed from society. People need look no further than the Ferguson shooting or the Eric Garner “I can’t breathe” incident in New York City to observe modern racial tensions.
William Casterlow, enrollment manager at Kent State University Stark, provided an historical foundation to racial tensions starting with the ratification of the 13th amendment in 1885.
“When we look at key points within US history, we can actually point out specific flash points in terms of when things changed,” Casterlow said.
The Civil War may have contributed to the end of slavery, but it did not erase or minimize discrimination that happened within the constraints of the 13th amendment, according to Casterlow.
“Immediately after the Civil War, southern states enacted black codes that allowed African Americans certain rights, such as marriage, ownership of property, and limited access to courts, but denied them rights to testify against whites, to serve on juries or in state militias, to vote or start a job without approval of a previous employer,” Casterlow said.
Black codes such as these modified into what became known as Jim Crow laws that increased racial tension through the Civil Rights Movement.
Casterlow said racial hierarchy was instituted in such a way that it seemed to be within the bounds of law and order. Even after Jim Crow laws were repealed, proponents of such a hierarchy were able to locate new restrictions with the system of American government.
These restrictions have led to the current racial culture in America, but it is one few people may gain a holistic understanding of, said Jane Hoyt-Oliver, associate professor of social work.
Hoyt-Oliver used the panel discussion to provide insights on structural racism.
“Those who elect not to take African-American history courses in high school learn an incomplete picture of those who built the country and of the sacrifices and choices we made in its forming,” said Hoyt-Oliver.
This lack of understanding can be clearly seen in Hoyt-Oliver’s recent study on white parents who have adopted across race. Benefits based on race may remain unknown until people are directly in contact with others across racial lines.
“As [white parents] raised children of color, they were confronted by a world they didn’t understand: a world where their children were followed by police when driving the family car,” Hoyt-Oliver said. “The parents were unaware of the benefits that had been accorded them by their race.”
Once a more complete understanding of the historical foundation of racial tensions is attained and a deeper compassion for modern issues of race is discovered, how should humans, and specifically Christians, respond?
“The best way we as humans can look at ideals of justice or any tough issue is through the distorted lens we have because of the Fall,” said James Talbert ’13, youth director at the Chapel in North Canton and Malone alumnus.
Talbert stressed the importance of looking at racial tensions with love by investigating scripture.
“We must look at [Jesus’] example of when he was in issues of injustice,” Talbert said. “We look at how he responded, and we reflect that, and we mirror that.”
Adrianne Nolan, sophomore youth ministry major, attended the panel discussion and said she gained a new perspective of the historical significance of race across time.
“There’s more history to modern racial issues than I originally realized,” Nolan said. “I think seeing a more complete picture of the problem will help me love others more like Jesus would in all areas of my life.”
The panel discussion provided a safe environment for students to explore modern racial tensions in light of their historical foundation through a Christian worldview.