AYINDE J. STEVENS
On Feb. 12, just hours before President Barack Obama gave his fifth State of the Union address, the College at Florham hosted the first Hot Topics panel of the semester.
The event, “The Media and Race: Are We Postracial Yet?” was held in Lenfell Hall and sponsored by the Becton College of Arts and Sciences, the Student Government Association and the Black History Month Committee.
The four-person panel was comprised of two professors and two students from the College at Florham.
The professors were Katie Singer, senior lecturer in the Department of Literature, Language, Writing and Philosophy, and Henry Margenau, adjunct professor in the College Writing program. The students were senior SaKarra Fite and junior Devon Douglas-Bowers. The event was moderated by Sarah Latson, senior lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies.
The panelists covered four examples from the media and popular culture while debating the posed question.
The first related to the performances of Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé at the Super Bowl.
The second addressed the Volkswagen commercial with non-Jamaican characters speaking in Jamaican accents.
The third involved the Quentin Tarantino film, “Django Unchained.”
The fourth related to the issue of “driving while black,” where police have pulled over black male drivers more than others. The audience was shown a news segment about an incident involving former CNN host T.J. Holmes.
The panelists each began their comments by defining the term “postracial.” Some presented the “no, we are not in a postracial society” position, while others presented the opposite argument.
In Singer’s opening statement, she said, “There may be something inherently racist about the desire to live in a world where there is no discussion of race.”
When discussing the “driving while black” issue, Margenau focused his argument on the media’s portrayal of the incident. He said that “the media tends to sensationalize things” in order to help make a profit and that “the media’s agenda works best when keeping us in the public divided against each other.”
Margenau suggested that “the media perhaps is an impediment to us coming to a consensus that we’ve reached a postracial existence.”
Fite focused on “Django Unchained” first. She admitted that she did not see the movie, but she did see negative commentary about it.
One thing that stood out to Fite was when people were angered by a comment made by Jamie Foxx. The actor said something along the lines of being happy to be killing a whole bunch of white people in the movie, perhaps leading people to believe that all black people think that same way. But, as Fite pointed out, “that’s clearly not true.”
When it came to the Volkswagen commercial, Douglas-Bowers argued it was an example of humor.
“If you are in a postracial society you can do things like that,” he said.
With regard to the halftime show at the Super Bowl, Douglas-Bowers argued it was “a tribute to women” and he did not see race. Instead, he saw Destiny’s Child and a female instrumentalist on stage, as well as Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, who performed prior to the start of the game.
Douglas-Bowers said that it made a space for women in an otherwise male-dominated organization.
During the question-and-answer period, most members of the audience and the panel seemed to agree that society is not yet postracial.
Talmia Igus, a senior majoring in business management and entrepreneurship, said, “If we are not going to acknowledge that things happened then we are not going to get past it.” She added that “things happen behind the scenes,” such as economic factors that prevent us from becoming postracial.
Geoffrey Weinman, dean of Becton College, participated in the open forum, saying that he was unsure “we can be postracial without being post-racist.” After the event, he elaborated on that statement, explaining that the comments of some people in the media “suggest that we are not yet post-racist.”