Charlayne Hunter-Gault speaks at the Holmes-Hunter Lecture in The Chapel in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, February 15, 2018. The Chapel was full with people attending the lecture to hear Hunter-Gault, one of the first African American students to enroll at The University of Georgia, speak. (Photo/Emily Haney, emilyhaney.com)

Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were the first black students admitted to the University of Georgia — they were seniors when I was a freshman. On my first day at UGA, I walked into French class; all the seats were full except those around a Hunter. I sat down next to her and suddenly the students standing took their seats.

Many well-meaning and normally fair Georgians, including UGA students, think that they are not racist when in reality they are. Many of my acquaintances, friends and relatives fall into this category.

This phenomenon is a direct result of non-black children knowing very little about the history of black people in America over the last several hundred years, which is why I am advocating an accurate course in black history, including slavery and reconstruction, be a part of every high school’s mandatory curriculum.

Currently, only seven states (AK, FL, IL, MS, NJ, NY, RI) mandate this course. Georgia only has an optional “ethnic studies” course for public schools.

Of course, racism does not begin in high school or college. Childhood upbringing is a large part of the problem. If you hear your parents talk about an African-American as “one of the good ones,” then you come to believe that all the rest can automatically assumed to be “bad ones.”

When this biased attitude is reinforced by your social groups (“they are all lazy”), the child ends up growing up with a negative, skewed point of view that is difficult to modify — especially if you enter college believing this to be true.

In the late 1970s, I worked and car pooled with a retired army colonel who lived in Fayette County. He is now dead, so I feel free to repeat this story.

He told me that there was no need for any affirmative action at all. The Civil Rights Act was passed — he was against it — and now everyone was on an equal footing so there was no need for affirmative action. Everyone should simply compete. I tried to explain to him the other side of the issue, but he refused to listen. And he made sure his family felt the same way. His son moved to Idaho to be in an all-white area.

I had forgotten about this incident until I recently had a disturbing conversation with another vet — a sincere, caring and bright person — who essentially said the same thing. Per him, we do not need affirmative action, African-Americans can just work harder.

Both were native Georgians, brought up in Georgia public schools. Both of these men have a simplistic view and ignore history, making it much easier for them to justify their own bigotry and deny being racist.

I find clear analogies are often the best way to achieve understanding. The analogy I like to use is that of a foot race. If one runner has their feet together for the first half of the race, one cannot expect them to be competitive.

That is the situation in regard to African-Americans in America. Even if we accept the totally incorrect assumption that African-Americans were suddenly treated equally after the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act (they absolutely were not), they still faced a straight uphill climb just to catch up.

In the early 1970s, I was an industrial management engineering consultant in a large rural North Carolina mill which had profitability issues. The manager of one area had indicated to me that one particular line worker was far better than the rest. He was black, as were all the line workers in that particular area.

I suggested he be considered for the current opening as a line supervisor. The manager told me he could not promote him because he needed someone who the other workers would respect. When I questioned him further, he said that black line workers would never accept a black supervisor.

In Muddy Waters, “I’m a Man,” black people understand what he is saying is “don’t call me boy.” Many whites, including those currently attending UGA, do not understand this fact.

There is no easy answer to the riddle of how to eliminate racism. But having the history of African-Americans taught in our high schools is a good start.

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(1) comment


Here is a picture of a Klan march, taken downtown on Broad St. in 1964, a few years after Hunter-Gault enrolled.


There is a great section in Jason Stanley's, "How Propaganda Works," where he considers how in a democratic regime, the way you educate people into oppressive politics is through omission. You can distort their view of reality and control their behavior by strategically picking what to leave out. Idle reader, if you haven't seen this picture before, then the University is giving you a distorted view of reality. Make no mistake, the people on the right side of the street are your landlords, your donors, your parents of legacy admits. They marched under hoods so that their kids wouldn't have to.

As long as we have an education system that's more concerned with making White students, parents, and donors feel proud, rather than disclose the White racial terrorism that's created so much racialized White generational wealth and Black generational poverty, then we'll never actually get our heads around the terrorism that governs the racial degradation and disparity today. Georgia is a little less than a third black, as is Athens, and at every level of governance-- local, state, and federal-- we've made public policy geared to legitimize violent degradation.

UGA plays a special part in this horror because our law school produced lawyers who testified in support of racial degradation, our social science departments served as an engine of scientific racism using tax-payer fund science to support White supremacy, our History departments promoted scholarship that expressly left out the horrifying conditions violently imposed by White Georgians in order to secure the cotton economy. In short, the University served as engine of ideological production calibrated to legitimize the violent imposition of White supremacy in Georgia, and I'm not convinced that the UGA is serious about redressing it's role in legitimizing White Supremacy.

We need a requirement. We need something akin to a White Terrorism requirement at the University. We can try to pretend that African American studies can do the job, but the primary problem isn't that we haven't sufficiently studied of the victims of White racial terrorism; it's that we lack intellectual and ethical fortitude to address the cultural infrastructure-- churches, schools, and families-- that produced and sustains the standing order of White terrorism in its developed form.

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