During the opening words of Eugene Robinson’s lecture to a crowded Alumni Hall last Wednesday, the Pulitzer Prize winner said, “Anyone who doesn’t believe we have progressed ought to be here now.”
And if you look around at our world today, you can’t help but agree with that statement.
For the better half of the last century, our country has gone through rapid change in all aspects. Advancement in various social divisions of American society has allowed us to reach a golden age of acceptance and equality. One of the best examples to prove our progression can be racial differences in modern America.
Robinson emphasized this point throughout his speech to a mixed crowd of Quinnipiac students and Greater New Haven residents. Talking about his childhood in the South, he appealed to those who lived with him during the rough times and younger members of the crowd who could never understand what he and many other people went through.
Standing over the podium, gripping its side with one hand and motioning with his other, Robinson told multiple stories of racial tension in his life. He thought back to an incident at a bowling alley in his town, where African-American teenagers and college students held a civil protest against a white-only bowling alley, despite segregation laws already being set in motion. When police officers arrived, shots were fired, and once the smoke cleared, three African-Americans were dead.
A few gasps were heard after Robinson concluded his story. I too was initially shocked, but then I began to look around the room. Next to me was an elderly African-American couple, holding each other’s hands and listening intently. Behind me was a group of black students, also moved by Robinson’s words.
Everywhere I looked, progression was apparent. In a room of more than 100 people, there were different faces, sizes and backgrounds – all listening to an African-American’s life and ideas. It was a shocking realization.
And realizing it is only half the battle.
“In order for us to look past race, we have to see it clearly: see it from all sides, see when it’s truly effecting,” Robinson said in closing.
I do believe we are better with race relations than we have ever been. But that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear just yet. Time is what allowed for the last 50 years to occur, and only more time will tell if we can progress as much as we have to this day.
As Robinson said, “There is no magic bullet for diversity. But there is one secret: It’s a process, not a destination.”