A discussion about systemic racism

The Black Law Students Association hosted a webinar where panelists discussed racism in American society

Emily Flamme, News Editor

The Black Law Students Association held a webinar on June 18, in which panelists discussed systemic racism through topics such as police brutality, white privilege and institutionalized discrimination. 

The webinar followed a question and answer format. Camille Lavanche, president of the Black Law Students Association, and George Morgan, president of the Student Bar Association, acted as the moderators for the discussion. 

Gloria Holmes, professor emerita in the School of Education at Quinnipiac, began the discussion by saying that Black people have been fighting for the nation to live up to its founding values of freedom and equality since the beginning of their history in the United States.

“The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is part of a continuum,” Holmes said. “Black people in this country have been fighting forever. I think we are still engaged in that fight.”

One topic that was heavily discussed was the socialization of race. Michael Jefferson, an attorney who is part of New Haven’s Civilian Review Board, said that the socialization process in America causes white people to gain a false sense of superiority while Black people are led into a distorted idea of inferiority.  

“This socialization does not go away,” Jefferson said. “It does not magically fade away when someone becomes a police officer. If you’re white, you’re bringing that socialization to the job, and if you add to that socialization the whole notion of the criminalization of Black males, then you’re going to have what we have today, and that’s how ‘Black Lives Matter’ came into existence today.”

The moderators brought up the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which has been introduced to the House of Representatives. According to Congress’s website, the bill, if passed, would establish a standard of operation nationally for police departments, require data collection on police encounters, invest existing funds into community-based policing programs and make federal law more cohesive for prosecution of police brutality cases. 

Robert Pellegrino, an attorney and partner at Pellegrino and Pellegrino, said the bill would not be effective unless there is an extensive change on a fundamental level to the police system. 

“I think as part of their (police) training, we need to have an educational process that educates them on racism and cultural sensitivity both for existing officers and new ones,” Pellegrino said. “There has to be enforcement. There has to be a one-strike or two-strike rule, depending on the severity of the offense, so that police are either suspended or terminated based upon those offenses.” 

Jefferson said change in the police system is difficult since racism is a systemic part of American society. 

“Folks tend to ignore the socialization process,” Jefferson said. “If you want to eradicate police brutality against Black people by white officers, you cannot ignore how we have been socialized in American society.” 

Adding to the discussion of racist socialization in America, Holmes said white people do not acknowledge their privilege, which is another layer of privilege within itself.

“Black people understand what it means to be Black,” Holmes said. “We talk about being Black, we talk about how we relate to white people. But I’m not sure white people talk about whiteness among themselves in the same way. I don’t think they understand that power and privilege.”

 Holmes also mentioned that in order to dismantle racism, white privilege needs to be addressed. However, she pointed out that the movement to end racism needs to be centralized around the voices of black and other people of color.  

Don Sawyer, vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, spoke about how white people should be responsible for their own education about racism. He also said in order to focus the movement on Black voices, Black people should feel encouraged to speak up and share their personal experiences.

“For far too long, these stories have been marginalized,” Sawyer said. “So when we talk about these movements, it’s about centering our stories and being able to tell our stories. I think this is an opportunity to speak for ourselves without being defied.”