Author and illustrator Joel Christian Gill gave the audience a fresh perspective on racism and human empathy during an interactive presentation in the Student Union Theater on Wednesday night.
He began with the powerful statement, “Racism has died.” People mourned the death of Muhammad Ali, elected Barack Obama as our president, and turned the Black Lives Matter movement into an All Lives Matter movement, he said.
All of these meaningful actions create the perception that racism has died in our country, but systematic racism “is alive and kicking,” Gill explained. He said that people refuse to see subtle racism that exists every single day.
However, Gill pointed out that calling someone racist puts up a wall. It should be replaced with, “You lack empathy,” he said.
Gill said that poor white workers were just as oppressed as black slaves in our country, but when the workers began to relate to the slaves, it frightened masters. They created races, telling white people that they could work hard and climb higher while the black slaves were stuck and never could.
Gill instructed the audience to draw a variety of everyday objects such as a house, a flower and a tree on a blank sheet of paper and then trade papers with those around them. He pointed out that everyone had very similar drawings. While most audience members described the bark on their trees as brown, Gill revealed that, in reality, tree bark is grey.
The purpose of the activity was to prove that we are all more alike than different, Gill said.
“I truly enjoyed the drawing exercise,” Maddy Eldredge, a fourth semester student, said. “It broke down borders and showed that despite the color of your skin and where you come from, we are more alike than different.”
He explained that, for his whole life, “because I was black, I was not the default.” This norm did not carry over to a trip that Gill took to the Middle East with a white, female New Hampshire politician.
He noticed when he walked into a restaurant with the woman that people were looking at them differently. He assumed that it was because a black man was spending time with a white woman, until he realized that, “they connected us because we shared the story of America.”
The word and definition of racism is dead, but our empathy is still there when we share stories with each other, Gill said.
He urged the audience to rebuild their empathy, and “when all else fails, hug somebody.”
Sarah Maddox is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.