February 27, 2009

OBS invites former prof Wilson for Kent lecture

[img id="77353" align="alignleft"] Former University of Chicago professor William Julius Wilson delivered the Organization of Black Students' (OBS) annual George E. Kent Lecture at the International House Tuesday. Wilson, currently a professor at Harvard University, delivered a speech entitled “Framing the Issue: Political Discourse and Race Relations During the Era of Barack Obama.”

“The timing of this lecture could not be better,” Wilson said. “It is time to seize the moment to have a frank and honest conversation.”

The talk is held in honor of Kent, one of the first tenured black professors at the University.

“We had to decide between many speakers and Professor Wilson simply stood out among the other choices,” third-year and OBS board member Angelica Chestleigh said. Wilson received the National Medal of Science in 1998 and was one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People in 1996.

Wilson addressed the issue of race relations head on. “I am accustomed to entering the elevator at my upscale apartment building in Boston and seeing the uncomfortable expressions of the white occupants.” He responds to the fearful whites by telling them, “Not to worry, I am a Harvard professor and I have lived in this building for nine years.”

He also revealed that he has acted in a similar way when he encounters black males. “I would tense up when I walked my dog and saw a young black man approach me on the street,” he said.

Wilson attributed the tension he and others feel towards young black men to crime statistics dominated by the demographic. “As long as crime rates persist, people will continue to react to black males in negative ways,” he said.

Wilson said that despite different opinions about the effect that racism has had on America, one thing is clear. “Racism has had harmful effects on African Americans as a group," he said.

Wilson said that explaining why differences between black and white people have resulted in racism is more of challenge. “When experts rely on cultural differences there is a lot of tension. Structural forces should receive more attention than cultural forces."

Some African-American students felt that Wilson's lecture touched on familiar territory.

“Professor Wilson offered a lot of quantitative information concerning the education of many disadvantaged youth living in the American ghettos, but for the most part I felt like what he was saying was common sense - especially since I am black,” first-year Henry Love said.

The election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United Sates elicited Wilson’s humorous side. “I was on a conference call just after Obama won the election and I was really impressed with a guy named Sean Diddy Combs. He really mobilized the black youth and got them to vote.”