Meena Krishnamurthy, Ph.D., assistant professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan presented her lecture, “White Moral Blindness and The Importance of Experiencing Racial Oppression” Thursday, Jan. 26, at Halle Library.
Krishnamurthy lectured on the importance of knowing what it is like to experience racism to move toward making a solution to the 50 attendees. She touched on Martin Luther King’s view on the political value of distrust and how it can help promote more just political institutions rather than undermining Democracy.
She said that King assumed that he can rely on white moderates to support him in ending racial segregation. He wanted to find out why they are unmoved. Civil Rights activist W.E.B. Dubois, concluded that White Americans are never going to change and they should be forgotten.
Social reformer Frederick Douglass said that whites know that racism is wrong under rational argumentation. He said that we need something to rouse them and move them to act. King agreed with Douglass' claim that whites are morally blind. They know that racism is wrong but don’t know what it is like to experience racism. If they did, then they would be motivated to do something about it. He also claimed that you come to know what it is like through experience.
Since whites are not victims of racism, there must be other ways of having that experience. Krishnamurthy said that social movements can also show whites what it is like. On the nature of racism, King said that racism is an ideology for superiority. It justifies the institutions of slavery, segregation and colonialism.
“When you see signs that say whites only, it gives a sense of being a nobody. Only some Americans are worthy of being in a space and their interest in eating and drinking in a particular place are more valuable than those of Black Americans,” Krishnamurthy said. “There is a deep social pain from feeling that you don’t matter.”
King placed an emphasis on the value of faith, if you believe that there is a possibility of a better future, you are going to be more motivated to do something about it. Krishnamurthy discussed the importance of moving toward solutions that will have a permanent effect instead of a temporary effect.
“If we are motivated by self-interest there is a worry that it won’t lead to permanent peace. When the self-interest goes away, why would you try to stop racial segregation if it doesn’t impact you anymore,” she said.
Krishnamurthy touched on things that have held whites back from moving from moral blindness. She said that looking for testimony from others about their experience is not going to show white moderates what it is like to suffer racial oppression. A reason for this is prejudice. Some people have implicit bias where they completely discount the testimonies of others. They believe that there is a possibility that it is not accurate or true.
The second reason is guilt, whites are benefiting from a system that gives them privilege but causes suffering to Black Americans. People tend to avoid what makes them feel bad.
Krishnamurthy gave ways that whites can experience racial oppression. She said that when images and pictures are shown, people feel pain and suffering in watching these images. She gave an example of the Black Lives Matter Movement and how images of blacks being mistreated were shown in the national news.
“If you see these images many times, you have the same physiological response as if you were having firsthand experiences,” she said. “It causes an empathic response.”
She said that poetry, film, music and literature can also give a sense of pain experienced in racial oppression.
Deborah Hansen, sophomore majoring in Philosophy and Geography, said that many people can benefit from hearing the lecture.
“I wish that I can grab people into discussions like this, white people can’t ignore this but they choose to. We need to present white moderates with their inconsistencies, and then the consequences of their inconsistencies because when you say you are anti-racist and not act to dismantle racist systems then you are just upholding them,” she said.
Sean Persondek, a Geography and Economics major, said that the lecture gave him a new perspective on racism.
“It was inciteful, never heard that approach before. If we can give people on a large scale to understand what it is like to experience racism then there would be a lot more support for this type of movement,” he said. “A central leader would be a good way to rally support for it. The anti-racism movement doesn’t have someone like Martin Luther King to follow.”