MONROE — For Monroe County Community College, there is a local lesson to be learned from Donald Sterling: It’s time to talk about race.
In a panel discussion Tuesday entitled “Race Relations: An Honest Conversation,” MCCC officials and students spoke about the media frenzy surrounding racist remarks made by Mr. Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and the relevance of having a dialogue about race in Monroe.
The event is the latest in the college’s Culture and Current Affairs Speakers Series, a free series that seeks to contextualize national news events.
The discussion was hosted by MCCC President Kojo Quartey, and the four-member panel included trustee and former history professor Jim DeVries, adjunct professor of sociology Joel Fiedler, assistant professor of history Ed La Clair, and former student government president Christopher Holmes, who graduated in 2013. There were more than 60 audience members in attendance.
Mr. Holmes said fear of being judged often prevents people from wanting to have a conversation about race, but the media attention generated by Mr. Sterling offered an opportunity to have that conversation.
“If we miss these opportunities, then we will continue down the same roads and repeat ourselves,” Mr. Holmes said.
While some in attendance debated whether Mr. Sterling should be publicly punished for comments made in private, Mr. La Clair argued that focusing all the attention on Mr. Sterling merely prevents society from dealing with larger issues.
“Sterling was a chance to deflect criticism away from many of the issues today in the sports world in terms of race and class,” Mr. La Clair said.
“By punishing Don Sterling for his comments, we have successfully diverted all attention from the cause to the symptom.”
Mr. Fiedler said speaking of race often makes people uncomfortable to the point that they would rather ignore the issue.
“Dare we even show a film that depicts racial discrimination in the past?” Mr. Fiedler asked.
Mr. Fiedler was speaking of Monroe Middle School history teacher Alan Barron, who was placed on paid leave in May — and later reinstated following a national outcry — for showing a short video of a minstrel show including white actors in blackface as part of a lesson about stereotypes.
“We blow everything out of proportion because we’re afraid of what? Race,” Mr. Quartey said of what he believes was a knee-jerk reaction to suspend Mr. Barron.
The conversation was generally well received.
However, audience member Parnella Baul said talking about race was not enough.
“We talk too much about not talking. ... At some point, we have to decide what our path will be,” she said.
Contact Stephen Gruber-Miller at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.