This past Thursday, Attorney Royce Morris addressed the topic of race at the Black Student Union event “I Don’t Mean to Be Racist But… Don’t All Lives Matter?” Morris, an accomplished attorney dubbed “Pennsylvania Super Lawyer” by Philadelphia Magazine, declared to Messiah students, “I want to have an honest conversation about race.”
Morris recognized that an honest conversation about race can be uncomfortable. “If our country wants to move forward, we need to get to that place of uncomfortableness. Unless we have a conversation, we get nowhere with these issues.”
In order to explain how the United States has not, as some would like to believe, overcome racism, Morris used personal anecdotes and recent research. When his son was in second grade, he experienced discrimination at his elementary school. In a school system where, according to educationnext.org, 38 percent of students are African American, Hispanic, or Native American but 84 percent of teachers are white, the diversity gap creates an institutionalized system in which those who benefit from the privilege of white skin do not find themselves facing as many barriers in order to succeed.
The color of your skin, Morris explained, is not something you can escape. In fact, he has experienced this firsthand when client’s question whether having a black lawyer would hurt their chances in court. “I like to believe I’ve attained a few things in life,” he said. “But those things mean nothing in situations where I’m judged by the color of my skin.”
In addition to current issues, Morris delved into examples of racism in the past. He explained how history influences current social movements. For example, the lynchings of Marion, Indiana in 1930 and the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson last year are not unrelated occurrences. Both of these incidents were acts of violence based on race. According to Morris, the only way to avoid reliving the past is to keep history present in dialogue and conversation.
BSU student leader Naomi Henry said, “An important part of the Messiah community is being able to talk about topics we disagree on. In order to have true communication we have to understand what others are going through.”
While Morris’s visit lasted only one night, he sparked a much greater dialogue on the topic of institutional racism at Messiah College. Morris hopes that his session will be “the first of many open discussions.” This topic will be looked at again next week at the BSU meeting. Follow them on Twitter @messiahBSU and like them on Facebook at “Messiah College BSU” for more information.