Cultural Harmony Week examines identity, real world diversity

Beginning on Oct. 24, the Geneseo campus embarked on a week of activity for the 14th annual Cultural Harmony Week, hosted by the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services and various student organizations. According to Fatima Rodriguez Johnson, coordinator of multicultural programs, the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services “wants to be deliberate in the connections that diversity has to academic experiences.”

Cultural Harmony Week specifically aims to address identity, race, culture, gender and sexual orientation.

The theme for the 2013 Cultural Harmony week is “Constructing and Reaffirming ‘I’dentity.” The week provides group opportunities to discuss identity as it relates to the LGBTQ community, ability and class.

Keynote speaker Tim Wise approached identity as it relates to race. Wise is a self-proclaimed anti-racist as well as an author of six books, including his most recent titled Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority.

In his talk on Monday Oct. 28, Wise focused primarily on the prevalence of racism in modern-day America.

“You can’t solve a social problem you are not willing to address,” Wise said, explaining that the only way to fully eliminate racism in America is to actually talk about it rather than to deny its existence.

As the lecture progressed, he used statistics and facts to back up his arguments on racism and racial disparity, specifically on drug use, throughout the country.

“It varies from state to state, but Black and Latino folks are between five and nine times more likely than whites to be arrested for drug possession,” Wise said. “It’s not because people of color are five to nine times more likely to use or possess drugs.”

“About 13 percent of drug users are black, the same as their share of population,” he continued. “About 66 percent of drug users are non-Hispanic whites, which is actually slightly higher that our share of the population. So on a per capita basis, whites are equally or slightly more likely to use or possess drugs than people of color.”

He further addressed racial disparity through educational aspects, noting the existence of a black history month, but not a white one.

“When your [background] is the norm, you don’t have to racially designate where it came from,” Wise said. “You don’t have to call it ‘white literature.’ It’s just ‘literature.’”

Wise brought to light the cultural inequalities in America that can only be addressed through social harmony.

Other events for Cultural Harmony Week include both film and theater presentations, recognizing the efforts of organizations like Miss Representation, which battles gender inequality, and the Repertorio Español theater company.

Cultural Harmony Week is organized by a collaboration of faculty, staff and students. According to Johnson, a committee of individuals from diverse academic backgrounds comes together each year in February for the explicit purpose of organizing the celebration.

Cultural Harmony Week concludes on Saturday Nov. 2 with a creative writing workshop presented by alumna Qurrat Ann Kadwani.