A multi-panel event, titled “The Other America: Still Separate. Still Unequal.,” was held Friday at the Michigan Union to highlight continuing racial injustices from economic, social and political standpoints, while commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. The conference presented three panels throughout the day on discrimination African Americans face in today’s society.
The conference was organized by Rackham students Hakeem J. Jefferson and Steven Moore. Each panel examined a different realm of racial injustice and inequality, ranging from mass incarceration and police violence to socioeconomic and educational inequalities. This event followed Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations on Jan. 15, and gave the audience a deeper insight into the realities African American life in the U.S. in a way that indicated much of the fight against racism is far from over.
By discussing a breadth of subtopics in the conference, such as economic inequality and inequities in healthcare, Jefferson said this event challenged conventional events that only focus on one strain of inequality experienced by African Americans.
“This was an ambitious attempt to bring a real academic focus to these questions of inequality that Black people face in the U.S.,” Jefferson said.
Megan Ming Francis, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington, spoke to the audience on “The Strange Fruit of American Politics,” which included allusions to both past and current racial issues, such as the August incidents in Charlottesville. Additionally, Francis stressed top universities don’t typically host events with such directness surrounding racial injustice, emphasizing the importance of the conference.
“These types of conferences don’t happen at institutions,” Francis said. “In so many ways, I think this conference is history-making.”
The panel also featured Frank Baumgartner, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Baumgartner touched on issues of criminal justice and the gap between Blacks and whites being questioned or searched at a traffic stop. In his presentation, Baumgartner cited the greater likelihood of being searched as an African American and the consequences of racial profiling on the roads. Baumgartner also noted age and gender, in addition to race, play a role in the probability of being pulled over.
“(Racial profiling) is not a Southern thing, it’s not an old Confederacy thing … it’s an American thing, and it’s ubiquitous,” Baumgartner said.
Andrea Ritchie’s presentation, “Invisible No More: Police Violence and Criminalization of Black Women—Remedies and Resistance,” concentrated on issues pertaining to increased discrimination toward Black transgender women. Ritchie, a researcher in residence at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, noted that one in two Black transgender women will be incarcerated in their lifetime, thus making them the most incarcerated population the United States.
Ritchie finished by bringing the conversation back into the overarching theme of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy as a leader in the movement for civil rights and racial equality. King’s hopes of desegregation and building a society free from racial discrimination are still being fought for today.
“We all need to commit to realizing Dr. King’s dream a world free from police brutality, which is the only way we’ll achieve Black liberation,” Ritchie said.