EMU Times Talk: Recovering Cultural Roots

By Bryan K. Alfaro | THE EASTERN ECHO
Added February 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm

“One of the best examples of how white privilege works and dictates the perceptions of who you are … is the United States census system, and this … brings us back to the article in The New York Times and to the confusion and perplexities brought about, by this insane system of social and racial categorization,” Eastern Michigan University Assistant Professor Ana Monteiro-Ferreira said.

The confusion Monteiro-Ferreira spoke of referred to the roughly 18 million Latinos, more than a third of the Latino population in the U.S., who selected “some other race” in the 2010 census, which was reported in The New York Times Jan. 13 article, “For Many Latinos, Racial Identity Is More Culture Than Color,” by Mireya Navarro, who wrote it’s obvious Latinos view themselves differently than the government’s attempt to classify them.

Monteiro-Ferreira led the discussion on cultural and racial identity, on Thursday in the EMU Student Center, as part of EMU’s Times Talk Readership Program, where a guest lecturer reflects on an article headline from The New York Times.

While Monteiro-Ferreira, who holds a Ph.D. in African-American Studies from Temple University, said race issues weren’t the focus of her presentation, it was necessary to touch upon them to frame the discussion.

“What I’m concerned with is how we perceive ourselves and our roles in society. How we build our identities. What are the causes of so much confusion and distress on one end,” Monteiro-Ferreira said.

Monteiro-Ferreira said the white privilege power structure has the ability to define reality for minorities, a term she dislikes because of the negative connotations associated with the word.

“It is the privilege to create institutions—legal, social, economic—that preserve exclusive access of whites to power and control. It is the privilege to determine patterns of perception, principles, values and practices of acceptance and exclusion. It is the privilege to hold the sense of entitlement that is dysfunctional and yet protected by law and mores,” she said.

Monteiro-Ferreira said white supremacy and racism are sustained as much by action as by inaction, and that privilege is inherited whether whites are aware of it or not.

“The privilege of making your voice heard and claim your rights. The privilege to define who you are, but especially who is the ‘other’. The privilege to exclude, white people don’t think about it, they just have it and they use it,” she said.

Monteiro-Ferreira said white privilege has created a global system of control, based on the disruptive effects of punishment and reward as a function of the color of one’s skin.

“Eurocentrism has the epitome of a superior and ethical civilization in relation to which every other culture, people and civilization was to be measured as inferior and primitive and has created internalized perceptions of whiteness as metaphors of privilege, and negative perceptions of blackness as metaphors of exclusion,” Monteiro-Ferreira said.

Kelsey Goodman, 20, an EMU double major in political science and African-American studies, said knowing political history is necessary to understanding the world of today.

“I think it’s essential for us to know like how we got to this point, especially because you can’t move forward if you don’t know where you’ve been,” Goodman said.

Goodman, who is also the vice president of the EMU chapter of the NAACP, said people shouldn’t “talk about it, talk about it, but not be about it,” and that there are plenty of activism organizations for people to join.

“We have to organize. We have to get motivated about something. Feel urgent about something and learn the ways that we can all work together,” she said.

Goodman said it’s also important to be a positive example to your community.

“Another much needed step in order to progress is not only to arm ourselves with knowledge, but also to teach what we learn and let our success be the success of other people. Because you shouldn’t be the only beneficiary to what you have achieved,” Goodman said.

Monteiro-Ferreira said she agreed with Goodman that sharing knowledge is important in building and maintaining a community.

“There is more to it than just getting a degree, and there’s where activism comes to the fore. Build networks and expand knowledge, educate, bring children together, teach them, make them proud of who they are. Build their confidence. These are small steps but this is also activism, and this can grow into leadership, and this can grow into unity and this can grow into power,” Monteiro-Ferreira said.

Monteiro-Ferreira said a people without a history and without a culture are a people without roots, and people without roots have no foundation.

“There is a cultural crisis,” she said. “[African-Americans] have been prevented from developing their footing on their historical and cultural roots. And this is what has to be rebuilt to give people a sense of who they are, of their humanity, of their value.”

Monteiro-Ferreira said people need to be less individualistic and embrace the value of community like African cultures, and return to harmony where the ultimate need and responsibility of human beings is to improve the quality of community.

“People bought into the individualistic ideologies of this society and are forming materialistic values, instead of the values of the community, in order to be able to grow together and become a whole and regain power,” Monteiro-Ferreira said.

Terrance Finch, 22, an EMU political science major, said since the assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. there has been a void of powerful black political leaders.

“You take out the main political figureheads within the black community of that time and that era, it’s like, ‘Who’s going to do it now?’” Finch said.

Monteiro-Ferreira said the best response is become a leader yourself.

“We cannot talk or think about just heroes,” Monteiro-Ferreira said. “What we have to talk about is the general population and the empowerment of the general population, [which] needs leaders, needs role models [and] needs activism.”

Finch said the Civil Rights Act seemed like little more than an attempt to placate African-Americans outraged over the deaths of Malcolm and King, and the idea of equal opportunity is just that, an idea. 

“It seems like somewhere along the line after the Civil Rights movement, that it seems like African-Americans kind of settled,” Finch said. “The only difference now is the racism and oppression is not upfront as it used to be, it’s covert.” 

Monteiro-Ferreira said concealed racism is much more dangerous than open hatred.

“Because now you have nothing material to go against,” she said.

Monteiro-Ferreira said she will continue to fight racism and injustice wherever she finds it, and called for all attendees to join her in the battle.

“Never give in. If you can raise awareness you are doing your job, wherever you are,” Monteiro-Ferreira said.

Previous Times Talk lectures have covered topics such as “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation, media literacy and political elections.

Student Government Director of Diversity Olivia Mateso Mbala-Nkanga said the March 15 Times Talk lecture, “The Sanctity of Marriage: What Can Kim Kardashian and The Bachelor Teach Us?” will feature EMU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center Program Coordinator Mary Larkin, in the Student Center room 301 at 5:30 p.m.

Times Talk lectures earn students Learning Beyond the Classroom credits needed for graduation, and are sponsored by EMU Student Government, the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and the provost’s office. Visit http://www.emich.edu/studentgov for more information or call 734-487-1470.

Related Material:

Eastern Echo article archive: Times Talk Discusses Racism Fight

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