To the Editor:
I was angry and insulted and hurt. I was also lucky. On Feb. 23rd I attended a talk held at Afrikan Heritage House, given by former Black Panther and community organizer, Charles Barron. I have an interest in the history and function of civil rights in the United States, and was anxious to attend a talk by a man who has played such a role in this history as Charles Barron has. I got much more than I expected.
Mr. Barron's talk lasted about an hour and a half with questions from the audience. He had many good things to say. He reminded the audience to be proud of what they were. He praised the African American students for getting to college despite the adversities that they were confronted with. He also warned his audience of around 60 people that the ugliness of racism is still prevalent at every echelon of society, from the neighborhood to the executive boardroom. He received much applause that he rightly deserved and a fair amount that I feel he did not.
Because along with a message of positive encouragement for African Americans, came a strong message filled with gross generalizations about whites. For example, Mr. Barron grouped white males in the United States into a huge and conspiratorial fraternity of good old boys perpetuating racism towards blacks. He also suggested that such tyrants as Moamar Quadafi and Fidel Castro were demonized simply because of their color.
Leaving Mr. Barron's talk, I was quite angry and felt personally attacked. I no longer feel this way. Upon further reflection I have stopped looking at Mr. Barron's talk as a statement of how far civil rights in this nation have yet to travel, and have begun to look at it as dramatic illustration of how far they have come.
Thirty or forty years ago, the tables would have been turned. African Americans and other ethnicities were allowed a very limited voice with which to speak their views, and many were ruined or laid down their lives in the pursuit of a society in which all voices would be accepted regardless of the speaker's race or beliefs. That a speaker with such potentially accepted inflammatory views as Mr. Barron can speak his message at public forums in settings like universities and city halls is a tribute to the changes in our society that persons like himself have fought to bring about.
I strongly disagreed with Mr. Barron about many points in his talk, but his presentation illustrated to me just how far our society as a whole has progressed towards being a place where each of us can freely speak our mind.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 16; March 1, 1996
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