Institutionalized racism and police brutality during the Obama administration were topics that captured students’ attention, as they sat with wide eyes, open ears and listened to a speaker touch on these issues.
“The unbelievable election of Barack Obama and the unbelievable assassination of Oscar Grant really brought up issues on how we view racism in the United States,” said Keeanga Yahmatta-Taylor, author of “The Race Tax: Black Chicago’s fight for homeownership” and speaker.
SF State’s International Socialist Organization hosted the event, titled “Justice For Oscar Grant: Fighting Racism in Obama’s America”. The gathering took place in the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center of the Cesar Chavez Student Center on Thursday afternoon.
Yahmatta-Taylor went further to explain how the ideas of race have changed fundamentally and that the Oscar Grant assassination exposed racism as being institutional and not just and idea or feeling that resides in certain people.
“The incident of Oscar Grant sill reminds us that we live in a place where racism has never really been about people’s thoughts and ideas but about power, the state and those who are rich,” said Yahmatta-Taylor.
Her talk on racism went into the economy and how it affects people of color. She compared the national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent to the unemployment rate of Black people, which is 13.4 percent, saying, “The system is set up to work for some and set up to not work for others.”
Yahmatta-Taylor mentioned a study done by Northwestern University, that proved how Black men, who have no criminal record, are twice as likely to not be called back after a job interview, then a White man with a felony criminal record.
The end of her talk didn’t end in hopelessness or despair. Instead she addressed the fact that racism doesn’t mean oppressed people should have to play the victim. But encouraged everyone to ban together to become more proactive.
“It’s possible for people to come together across ethnicities, across races, to organize and to fight for things to be different,” she said.
With the room silenced and all eyes on Yahmatta-Taylor, students sat completely still and appeared to have absorbed every word that came out of her mouth.
Sid Patel, 27-year-old engineer graduate of SF State, replied to her talk, saying, “To defeat racism you have to tear it down, overturn the social structures that exist if you want to fight it.”
“But in order to do that you have to confront things like the prison system, the police, schools and public health,” he said.
“We say the government is for the people, of the people and by the people but it’s not,” said Claire Lapresle,22, international relations major.
“People just need to get pissed off and see what’s going on.”