A University of Pennsylvania professor discussed the negative effects of segregation on white Americans in a speech Thursday night in Funger Hall.
Almost 100 GW students and faculty turned out to hear guest lecturer Rogers Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, discuss the “rise and decline of racial equality in America.”
Smith’s lecture focused primarily on the judicial history of racism and segregation in America, and laid out two conflicting visions of racial equality in the 20th century.
“Whites too were damaged by segregation,” Smith said, describing the first vision. “(Under it) education was corrupting and debilitating to whites (and) bred fear, hatred and violence.”
He said many modern scholars have overlooked the negative impact of segregation on whites.
The first viewpoint was reflected by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. The court unanimously decided that separate schools are unequal and violate the 14th Amendment, which guarantees all citizens “equal protection of the laws.”
“Warren’s language depicts a devastated image of blacks under segregation,” Smith said.
Smith contrasted Warren’s viewpoint with that of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who he said believes “the only way the law can help blacks is to abandon any racial or ethnic classifications at all.”
“It is not so clearly valuable for whites to believe that race is not a factor in modern society (because this can create) complacency and indifference in whites,” Smith said.
He said Americans would have to do more searching before a solution to the problem of racism is reached.
Audience members said Smith’s lecture made them look at the issue of segregation from the white perspective, which is usually not examined.
“I never in my exposure to white-black relations encountered the idea that whites were also disadvantaged,” freshman Jinmi Lawson said. “I need to know more, but I disagree for now.”
Graduate student Lee Ann Fujii said she enjoyed the speech, though she was “a little disappointed with the turnout.”
“This is the best thing I’ve seen at GW since I’ve been here,” she said.
GW chapter of honors fraternity Phi Beta Kappa sponsored Thursday’s lecture in cooperation with the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Elliott School of International Affairs, Honors Program and the political science and sociology departments.
“My main point in speaking today was to show that America’s long history of racial inequality is damaging (to both parties),” Smith said after the event.