As part of Communication Week, Khalil Muhammad spoke Thursday at the Baker University Center Ballroom on race, its historical context and its effect on the present.
Muhammad, who has a doctorate in American history, is the executive director of The Schomburg Center for the Research in Black Culture. He was chosen as a guest speaker by the Scripps College of Communication Diversity Committee, who hosted the event.
“Without inclusion, diversity is purely ornamental,” Tom Castello, director of the diversity committee, said to begin the event. “Dr. Muhammad is with us tonight to make the invisible visible.”
Aaron Macer, a member of the NCAA Student Athlete Advisory Committee and a former football player, moderated the event and started off by inquiring into Muhammad’s career. Muhammad described the Schomburg Center in New York City and discussed how it archives and tries to eternalize African American history.
Activists are known to use the Schomburg Center for research. One such activist was Langston Hughes, whose ashes now lay within the center beneath the floor of the auditorium. Additionally, the center was used for research during Brown vs. Board of Education and currently holds papers from Malcolm X, Muhammad said.
“History matters,” he said. “Every society has an origin story, every culture has an origin story.”
He discussed the importance of knowing and comprehending history, saying how current political matters turn to history for parallel situations and decisions. He said the role of our government today is being questioned because of what happened in the past with Jim Crow laws and other racial injustices.
Muhammad then went into an explanation of his book “The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America.” It focuses on the role of social sciences and the shaping and sanctifying of racial data.
He compared the similarities and differences between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. The first similarity he said is the leadership of young people. Another is the death of an individual sparking the movement.
“It is a thing that illuminated the vulnerability of their lives that made them appear cheap and vulnerable,” he said on reactions from the death of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
Both also used campus protests, which he said “reflect the bi-directionality of movement from on campus to off campus.”
On their differences, he said the civil rights movement started out as study groups that contemplated colonialism internationally and connected it to the U.S. He said Black Lives Matter began from the focus on decentralization, saying there are many versions of the organization.
In regards to media, Muhammad said they have become a powerful way to shed light on situations that would otherwise be invisible and unheard.
“(The media are) both critically important and critically flawed,” he said. “You as viewers of the media have to be critical. All sources and all information is not equal.”
Macer then questioned the purpose of Muhammad’s visit to prisons in Germany. Muhammad said he was there to compare Germany’s prison to American prisons. German law requires prisoners to be treated with human dignity, with no harm and with a chance for resocialization, also called rehabilitation.
“We don’t just put them behind bars, we remove any capacity for rehabilitation,” he said on the American prison system. “But this is a mixed story; some states do better than others.”
Muhammad concluded his interview with Macer by opening the floor to the public, welcoming questions from students and faculty. One student asked for Muhammad to discuss Beyonce’s feminism and another asked whether forcing students to learn more about racial history will push them away.