A diverse group of students packed into the Calhoun College dining hall Thursday night to hear Julian Bond, Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, discuss the current state of race relations in America at the University’s annual Black History Month dinner.
Bond touched on topics ranging from classes he took under Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the war in Iraq, and outlined the problems facing the African-American community today. He told a standing-room-only crowd that the fight for equal opportunity in America today is being hindered by forces unwilling to recognize the depth of the cultural damage inflicted by the twin forces of slavery and state-sanctioned discrimination.
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“Two hundred forty-six years of slavery were reinforced with 100 years of state-sponsored discrimination,” he said. “It is only a little more than 40 years now that all black Americans have exercised the rights of American citizens. Now some are telling us those 40 years have been enough.”
Bond told the audience not to assume that the struggle for racial equality has come to an end, and said the road ahead will be long and hard for civil rights activists.
“We have never wished our way to freedom; instead, we always worked our way,” he said.
Bond defended affirmative action against its critics, arguing that the practice has come under fire “not because it has failed, but because it has succeeded.” Affirmative action was responsible for tripling the wages of African-American textile workers since the civil rights movement, he said, and doubling the incomes of black lawyers, policemen and doctors. He cautioned against groups that hope to end the practice when there is still much work to be done.
“In America, equal opportunity is color-coded,” Bond said. “These people claim to want a color-blind America, but in fact they want a color-free America.”
Bond’s remarks were preceded by a musical performance from a cappella group Shades and introductions by Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway, University Chaplain Frederick Streets and Afro-American Cultural Center Director Pamela George.
Holloway challenged students to change an on-campus racial culture that he termed “dark and stormy.” He asked them to distance themselves from Calhoun College’s namesake, former Vice President John C. Calhoun, by acknowledging the support they receive from the dining hall and custodial staff.
“[Students] pay little or no attention to that primarily African-American staff that fixes our food, keeps us warm and allows us to do our job,” he said.
Bond received a standing ovation and was interrupted with applause several times over the course of his half-hour speech. But as Kevin Stephens ’10 pointed out, Bond’s speech and Holloway’s comments may not have hit home with the people they hoped to reach out to. While the crowd Thursday night was large and enthusiastic, Stephens questioned whether it might have been self-selecting.
“If you’re going to come to this, you’re not part of the problem,” he said.
Norrisa Haynes ’08, Elizabeth Howard ’08 and Andrea McChristian ’08 were also honored for restarting Yale’s chapter of the NAACP this year after a decade-long absence on campus.