Having a conversation about culture, politics and race is not always an easy thing to do, but academic and author Marc Lamont Hill — who has appeared on Fox News and CNN — provided insights on these topics Wednesday night at Santa Barbara City College.
Dr. Hill began his talk by addressing the idea of “the university.” While speaking on the grounds of a college campus, Dr. Hill critiqued the way universities operate nowadays.
“Where do we look for inspiration? Where do we look for healing? Where do we look for the next great idea? Where do we go to find the possibility that the world could be different and better?
A lot of people say it’s the university. What better place to imagine new possibilities than the university? Universities in some ways represent the best parts of who and what we could be,” said Dr. Hill. “The problem is today the university looks less and less like a university. Universities look more and more like multinational corporations, maximizing shareholder wealth, trying to figure out how we can get as much out of you and give you as little as possible.”
Not all hope is lost though, according to Dr. Hill. In modern times, the university can be the place to spark inspiration, to promote healing, and nurture the birth of great ideas.
“But to do that, we have to uphold the highest ideals. One of them is diversity,” said Dr. Hill, who added that institutions benefit from diversity. Most universities in Dr. Hill’s eyes, however, approach diversity as if it were an act of generosity.
“In other words, they think of diversity as a hookup for black people, a hookup for Latinos, a hookup for women…doing them a big favor,” said Dr. Hill. “That is the wrong way to think about this thing.”
Dr. Hill then walked the audience through the history of the U.S.
“America is a nation that’s built on European settler colonialism. A nation that is built upon the erasure of indigenous people. A nation that built its economy on the exploited labor of enslaved Africans,” said Dr. Hill. “There’s a long and deep history of exploiting African bodies…black bodies…We have white supremacy and capitalism forming a very interesting marriage that allows us to live in a country that hates black bodies and that normalizes whiteness.”
Dr. Hill told the audience, however, that there must be conversations that extend beyond what he referred to as the white-black racial paradigm.
This portion of Dr. Hill’s lecture seems to have connected with several audience members, some of whom stood up to ask him questions.
One particular student of Persian descent expressed her frustration with University of California applications’ racial categories.
“Racial categories in itself I feel like are not talked about because they’re so arbitrary…” said the student, who added how Census changes its recategorization regularly. She also shared with the audience that she has seen on the applications categories such as “White, including Middle Eastern.”
Dr. Hill responded by talking about the categorizations of races and the sub-categories that exist.
“The Census is not the problem but a reflection of how incomplete of vocabulary we have to talk about race and ethnicity in this country,” said Dr. Hill.
Dr. Hill spoke for the Leonardo Dorantes Memorial Lecture, whose fund was founded in 1990 after student Leonardo Dorantes died in what City College terms as a “race-related tragedy” on its website.
For more information about the lecture, visit http://www.sbcc.edu/studentlife/dorantes_lecture.php.