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Angela Davis, Jane Elliott continue conversation on social solutions

Civil rights activist Angela Davis and educator Jane Elliott participated in the Social Justice Solution speaker series put on by the Graduate College of Social Work at UH. | Alana Howard/The Cougar

On Thursday evening, the third segment in the UH College of Social Work’s student-led Social Solutions series brought civil rights activist Angela Davis and renowned educator Jane Elliott to Cullen Performance Hall to contribute to the conversation about race and privilege in America.

This discussion was held in an effort to spark social change through taking action, the speakers said.

“What we are addressing today are issues that should’ve taken place in the immediate aftermath of slavery,” Davis said.

In reference to racial constructs currently prevalent in the United States, Elliott stressed that everybody is a member of one unifying race– the human race.

“White folks, you may not like it, but all you are is just a lighter shade of Black,” Elliott said.

History of their community involvement

Active in the realm of social justice since the 1960s, Davis is widely recognized for her involvement with the Black Panther Party and the Communist party.

Elliott is most well-known for the “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” classroom experiment that she conducted in the late 1960s. She emphasized that racism is a practice that is taught by telling her third grade students that the children with brown eyes were smarter than the children with blue eyes.

As aggressive patterns of behavior emerged in the children, Elliot came to the conclusion that racism is a learned behavior and thus, it can be filtered out of the American education system. This ideology is the foundation of Elliott’s stance on social reform.

Elliot says she became aware of her “white privilege” in observing her students’ behavior during the experiment.

“White folks, you got to change, because within thirty years, you will be a numerical minority in the United States of America. You better have pray to whoever you pray to or for that people of color are not going to want to get even with us, or treat us the way we have treated them,” Elliott said.

Davis stood on the firm point that racism doesn’t just affect one race, but all people.

“When we think about racism, it is not about anti-blackism, it’s racism that affects all of the communities,” Davis said.

Three practices to combat racism and privilege

Both speakers were asked to provide three practices members of the audience can implement into their lives to combat privilege and racism.

The practices Elliott suggested are to turn off the television, read a book and meet individuals you never have thought of meeting.

Davis suggested figuring out a way to get involved in organizations focused on making a change in a larger community, speaking out against racism at all times and becoming aware of the struggles of other communities.

On a global scale, connecting and understanding other people’s struggles is important, especially now in a time that people need to stand up and support immigrants that are undocumented, Davis said.

“It is absolutely racist to assume that citizenship is equivalent to documents,” Davis said.

The reaction from students who attended the event was positive.

“I loved how raw the event was. I loved their candor,” graduate Counseling Psychology student Ewune Ewane said. “One thing I think some people hesitate to do when demonstrating change is to not say certain things or ruffle any feathers, but in order to dismantle a system, more than feathers have to be ruffled. You have to be raw and not bite your tongue.”

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