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Revised workshop focuses on internalized racism

By Jessica Moulite ’14

November 14, 2013

Over 50 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Dwight Lounge on Nov. 8 to continue the campus-wide dialogue around race.The event, which focused around internalized racism, was a response to the reactions from the Real Talk discussion, which revealed that, although difficult, conversations about race are necessary for Hamilton students to have.

Internalized racism is defined as the conscious or unconscious acceptance of racist beliefs or stereotypes about one’s own racial or ethnic group, or about oneself. In 1947, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark studied internalized racism as a phenomenon with African-American children and dolls. The children designated two dolls—one white, one black—as either “nice” or “bad,” and then identified the dolls that looked like themselves. The children associated positive charactersitics with the white doll and identified negative attributes as “black traits.”

“It’s a concept that has come up in several different ways over the last couple of years. And students have repeatedly asked for a workshop, really a setting, to come together and figure out the ways in which we struggle individually but also as communities in internalizing messages about race and racism,” said Amit Taneja, director of diversity and inclusion. Examples of internalized racism include the stereotypes that “all white people can’t dance” or that “all Asian-Americans are smart.”

The main goal of the Exploring Internalized Racism Workshop was to get people to talk meaningfully across racial boundaries. Due to the sensitive nature of the discussion topic, however, the group chose to keep their workshop experiences private.

A major component of Friday’s discussion was the differentiation between a dialogue and a debate. Debates end when one side wins, whereas people involved in a dialogue ask more clarifying questions and seek to find strengths in their opponents’ argument. Most importantly, dialogues seldom reach a conclusion. Good dialogues generate more questions than answers.

Friday’s workshop was the first of two scheduled for the fall semester. The second conversation with Professor Klinkner, titled The Meaning of Whiteness will take place on Monday, Nov. 18. The second discussion will explore the construction of whiteness in contemporary American society. The Days-Massolo Center will also host a six-week dialogue series called CARE (Conversations About Race and Ethnicity) in the spring semester during which 16-20 students will meet for two hours a week to discuss how racial boundaries are created and recreated in society, with racial harmony and understanding as two of the goals.

“The vast majority of higher education institutions have safe zone programs to train and educate straight allies around LGBTQ issues. However, there is no comparable national model around trainings or workshops or speaker series to promote involvement for white allies around issues of race and racism. So in that way we are really opening the dialogue up in ways to invite more white allies to have these conversations and to be part of the solution,” said Taneja.

Conversations about race are not easy to have, but providing students with multiple outlets and opportunities to engage with the subject is an effective way to promote meaningful discussion.

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