Race and Education: A Lecture by Philosopher Laurence Blum

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Baltimore native and well-known philosopher Laurence Blum lectured on race and education within his experience teaching a high school course on race and racism in a Cambridge, Massachusetts’s school. The event was co-sponsored by the DeSousa-Brent scholars program, Educational Studies and the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department. Blum achieved his PhD at Harvard University for Philosophy and has been teaching at the University of Boston since 1973.

He handed out a course outline to the audience previous to beginning the lecture. It looked like a standard syllabus for a class and you could tell he was a teacher. He started the lecture with a description of the course he taught at Cambridge and Rindge Latin High School and then talked about his students in the class. As he explained, Blum approached the topic of race through a historical and scientific lens so he could show his students where today’s societal racial categories were born. He compared the racial systems in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States in order to trace their origins. One of the exercises he gave students in class was to think about the African role in the slave trade and in particular the morality of selling other Africans to Europeans.

Blum stresses the importance of talking about race without being stigmatized or shut down, as he says that “I think that Americans ignore race” and to even talk about it is considered an attack on the person. There is a civic side to his teaching, where his students could learn “basic racial literacy”. This means they learned how to engage with and learn from other students who did not belong to the same group as them. The school in which he taught the class was 33% white and a mix of Latinos/Hispanics, African American/Black/ Caribbean and Asian students. In making the composition for his class, Blum wanted to evoke cross-racial conversations and also, an atmosphere where all would feel able to speak freely about their experiences without persecution. He wanted students of color to be a majority in the class, as in most of the Advanced Placement classes white students were the majority and that can cause discomfort as well as feelings of inadequacy. Sophomore Kareem Adams thought that the lecture “was informative and opened up a proverbial window to look at race differently regardless of ethnicity. We all need to get out of our comfort zones.”

One of the main reasons Blum taught this class was to show that anyone could talk about race and he wanted to “deracialize race”, meaning that no matter who you were you should be able to talk about it without being ostracized. A common misconception is that white people in the US are not interested in race and Blum challenged that through his designing and implementation of the class. As a white teacher teaching about race and racism, Blum had a few rules for himself to follow. Some of these included affirming people of color’s stories (giving them the same validation all humans should get), showing belief in student’s abilities, to really be interested in what they have to say and lastly, to make clear that there is a lot a white Professor such as himself will not understand since he is a white male.

Highly informative and fascinating, the lecture ended with a question and answer session open to the audience. Several people raised their hands and around six or seven people were called upon. The questions ranged from how to implement a core class on race that is a requirement across counties or even states, and also about how even relating a experience of what someone has had to go through is often seen as an ‘attack’ on white students. An example would be a person of color relating the experience of being followed around a department store and another person denying their experience or perceiving it as a threat to their belief system because it does not fit into their idea of what happens in the world. Fatima Dainkeh, junior, “thought it was wonderful and important to have a person not of color talk about race especially at a majority white school.” The lecture was an enlightening and well-thought out look into modern American society and our education system in regards to our perspectives on race and ethnicity in this country.

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