Campus, village communities address racism, provide historical context

The Geneseo history department and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church co-hosted “The Inferiority of Supremacy: A Conversation on Racism” at the church on Sunday Oct. 1. Rector Fr. William Daniel Jr., associate professor of history Catherine Adams, associate professor of history and department chair Justin Behrend and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stacey Robertson all spoke.

Daniel began the event by delving into his own thoughts on racism, discussing the many ways in which this phenomenon can manifest. One example he provided was racism among extreme Christians, who take every word of the Bible as literal. The Bible, however, teaches that there should not be intolerance and that people should treat each other as equals, according to Daniel. 

Adams started her portion of the presentation by singing a hymn. 

“I don’t feel no ways tired, I’ve come too far from where I started from,” she sang. “Nobody told me this road would be easy, but I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.” 

This passage should speak to the United States and the racist atmosphere that is largely perpetuated in our society, Adams said. She implored the audience to persevere past all the hate and to not grow tired—instead, the country should continue fighting for what is right. 

The long-lasting effect of racism in the U.S. distinguished itself as theme for Adams. She argued that the widespread prejudice and hate gripping many parts of the nation is not the fault of former president Barrack Obama, President Donald Trump or any one person. Rather, intolerance and bigotry are things that have always existed and will continue to unless communities find new ways to combat it, according to Adams.  

“Like all technologies, this tool, racism, has also become part of our everyday lives,” Adams said. “We become accustomed to its presence. In many ways we can’t imagine ...  a time before it. It’s difficult to imagine life without it. We have to invent a new technology, write a new way, of moving beyond it.” 

Behrend addressed the similar theme of racism’s enduring impact on society. 

“We inherit this legacy of … disparities and the inequalities,” Behrend said. “How can we go ahead and embrace what’s good and then not talk about what’s bad? How can we go ahead and wrap ourselves in all things that make America wonderful and then ignore all the baggage that comes with it? It seems to me that the ethical response as citizens is to at least talk about and try to deal with the wrongs.”

Behrend’s discussion targeted Confederates, white supremacists and significant parts of U.S. history that shaped American racism as we know it. Failure to act against inequality is as bad as acceptance, according to Behrend.

Robertson’s presentation expressed that to fully understand this racist climate, people need to understand the history behind it. Historians must adequately provide information about racism’s long-standing presence in the U.S., Robertson said. Americans need to learn from past efforts against racism to be able to learn and fight it effectively, according to Robertson. 

 “I was particularly interested in how they put it in a historical context and how they were talking about adding context to things that are happening today,” American studies major freshman Katherine Peter said. “It’s something that people discuss—like the Confederate flag—in terms of right now.”

Racism has existed as a persistent problem in American society. All citizens, however, have the opportunity—and responsibility—to find innovative ways to educate themselves and counteract ignorance.