Racism's still strong, theologian argues


“There is no place one can go to escape racism in America,” argued James Cone, Union Theological Seminary professor and self-proclaimed “theologian activist,” addressing a packed Mandel Hall Tuesday night. The inaugural speaker in the University’s Workshop on Race and Religion: Thought, Meaning, and Practice, Cone attacked America’s persistent—and sometimes, he said, hidden—“white supremacy” and the notion that the ’60s civil-rights movement had erased inequalities.

In a deliberate, scathing tone, he challenged the audience to “speak openly and often” and to “listen to one another,” advising them to be guided by empathy, or “living in someone else’s skin.” Although his ideals are based on Christian values, he said, “One does not have to be a Christian as I am to see the grave threat that white supremacy poses.”

The lack of communication and understanding in the United States—including both whites refusing to learn black spiritual and existential history and blacks not grasping their own—troubles Cone, who garnered crowd applause and responses of “amen” and “don’t hold back; tell us.” Blacks should not blame today’s whites for current segregation, he argued, but they should take whites to task for not challenging a government that refuses to consider the problem.

Despite the University’s recent progressive efforts, Cone criticized its history as a “university that benefited from injustices in this society,” suggesting it should have “put back what it unfairly took” (but without citing specifics.) Building off his critique, political-science professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell closed the event by urging community members to call the University in times of need and to speak up when it encroaches on them.

After his talk Cone stayed to sign his books and discuss his arguments. The workshop series continues Tuesday, October 19, with University of California, Santa Barbara, Professor Ines Talamentez discussing Native American religions.


October 6, 2004