The Flintridge Room at the USU overflowed with students from the departments of Chicana/o studies and Pan African studies ready to engage in a discussion and lecture about history and racism Tuesday afternoon.
Students resorted to sitting on the floor against the walls in order to be able to listen to a lecture by Robin D.G. Kelley, a historian from the University of Southern California. Kelley’s lecture, ‘Confronting Obama: A Primer on Race and Empire for the New U.S. President’, explored the complexity of what it means to be the first black president of the United States and the issues that come along with it. Kelley’s discourse is the fourth lecture in a series by the Chicana/o studies department.
‘This semester is a prequel to a longer series that we intend to have that features progressive, cutting edge speakers who are pushing the envelope in fields of scholarship, journalism and art,’ said Renee Moreno, associate professor for the Chicana/o studies department. Moreno organized the series with the College of Humanities, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the graduate studies program to bring a variety of speakers to the CSUN campus.
The discussion opened with Moreno telling the story of how she met Kelley, a long time friend and colleague, and notified the audience that the discussion would be filmed and broadcasted at a future date.
When Kelley took the floor, he began his lecture by discussing the concept of neo-liberalism in American society, encouraging students of all social classes to fight for the ability for working class students to obtain equal opportunities in education.
For the duration of his lecture, Kelley read a draft to President-Elect Barack Obama that he has continually revised. In his opening statement, Kelley does not claim to be an expert in foreign affairs, but a ‘historian deeply abiding in the interests of the globe,’ he said.
During the course of his lecture, Kelley shared with students his entire letter in which he brought to light his admiration for Obama’s victory, but also the flaws and inconsistencies he sees within Obama’s policies. Acknowledging how difficult it was for Obama to have to consistently appease right-wing parties, continuously receive death threats and live in what Kelley calls ‘a tragic culture of violence,’ Kelley congratulated Obama on his win but criticized him for his belief to transcend color lines, ignoring racism and taking it off the discussion table.
Kelley took a break from reading his letter and advised that it was each student’s individual responsibility to work for change.
‘I tell my students all the time that if they have a vision of change they must not lay blame on everyone else. They need to stop watching television, pick up a book, and educate themselves,’ Kelley said.
After Kelley finished with his letter, he opened the floor to student questions. Luis M. Rodriguez, a 25-year-old graduate student, was one of many who were interested in how Obama would use his term to transform discussion on race in both the political and educational spheres.
‘The most valuable thing that I took away from this discussion was that the most important thing to do as individuals is to continue to uplift and empower ourselves,’ Rodriguez said. When Kelley finished addressing questions, he and Moreno remained to further discuss with students the message of Kelley’s lecture.
‘Lectures like this have really brought folks to campus who we otherwise would not have been able to get. Schools like USC and Michigan have the funding to regularly bring quality and interesting speakers to their campus. I hope students will be inspired to look up the work of these speakers and read more about them,’ Moreno said.