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      Philadelphia Speakers Series

      Spirited Panel on Racism Enlightens the Speakers Series Audience

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      Philadelphia Speaker Series at Widener

      Former NPR Host Michele Norris speaks to students.

      On April 17, for the first time in its sold-out, 13-year history, the Philadelphia Speakers Series offered a panel discussion to entertain its audience with disparate, informed views from distinguished experts. The subject was racism in America, and the panelists were Michele Norris, former host of NPR's All Things Considered and an award-winning journalist and author of "The Grace of Silence;" Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Jason Riley, Wall Street Journal columnist and author of "Please Stop Helping Us."

      The panelists began by defining the term racism and noting how much it has changed and expanded over the years. Riley said the key to the original definition lay in the belief that one race is "genetically superior or inferior" to another race. Norris replied that the meaning has become "amorphous" and "race and class are often two sides of the same coin." Also, racism is not just a black and white issue. Dees concluded that the panel and the public "are not all going to agree on a meaning, but we can all agree that racism is a problem that affects everyone."

      The panel discussed the impact that former President Obama had on racism in America. Riley said a major contributor to racism was the breakdown of traditional family structures after the 1960s, especially among black families, resulting in women trying to raise children on their own.

      Dees disagreed, saying not much has changed from the past to the present, although social media makes it seem like hate crimes are on the rise. Dees told a story about what happened in a white neighborhood in Alabama during the days of Jim Crow when black people first moved there. Two white policemen followed a young black man driving to his parents' home. The police thought the black man in a white neighborhood must be up to no good. The young man ran up onto the porch, and his mom came to the door and tried to tell the police that it was her son. The police pushed her back and shot her son in front of her. Dees said those particular police had their hatred fixed and minds made up.

      Riley and Norris pointed out that, despite what social media has been depicting, there are actually fewer hate crimes now than there were a 100 years ago, and the numbers have been decreasing every decade. We can take heart in that.

      Norris gave a talk and visited with students and faculty on Main Campus, before taking the stage at the Kimmel Center. She left both audiences with this message: "Reach out. Make friends. Be open to new experiences and new people. See the good in others."

      The panel concludes the 2016-17 season of Philadelphia Speakers Series presented by Widener University. The Philadelphia Speaker Series returns on October 2 with David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.


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