Facing up to race in U.S.


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Identity, history, and racism were all on the table during a discussion on Wednesday.

After meeting with media and students in the Old Capitol separately, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, gave a lecture titled “A Deeper Black: Race in America” at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St.

Last summer, Coates sparked larger conversation about reparations for African Americans after a cover story in the Atlantic.

“The past is critical … and you can’t move forward unless you have a firm understanding,” Coates said during the media availability Wednesday afternoon.

The focus of Coates’ visit was to spark a larger discussion about race and black identity on campus. After the roughly 40-minute lecture, a panel of UI faculty, staff, and students led further discussion alongside Iowa City City Councilor Kingsley Botchway.

The UI Chief Diversity Office, Office of the Provost, and black student organizations including the NAACP, were among the organizations bringing Coates to the UI.

“As black students, when you get to Iowa, it’s rough,” UI senior and panelist Justin Roberson said. “One of the realities that goes unsaid is that black university of Iowa students come here and don’t stay long. They need support to succeed at the University of Iowa. I want to be able to go to my classes and see people like me.”

The main theme of the lecture was about how resources, Coates said, have been taken from the black community to benefit the white majority throughout history.

During the panel portion, participants expressed outrage at what they said is a lack of resources and guidance available to black students at the UI and in Iowa City,

“I think a lot of the discomfort that I heard in the other room, when I was talking to the other students, really is ultimately rooted in history,” Coates said about the earlier private session with students.  “It’s not just a matter of Iowa and Iowa City, Iowa; it’s a part of America. These problems are American problems. “

Large conversations surrounding race and the black-student experience at Iowa rose in December 2014 after UI Visiting Professor Serhat Tanyolacar placed a piece of artwork resembling a Klansmen on the Pentacrest.

Students discussed not only the result of the statue’s placement but also their experiences as black and minority students on campus during the private session with Coates.

With an admitted small knowledge of the controversy, Coates told media the statue’s placement reflects an overarching idea that historical situations and policies all connect and continue to affect American blacks today.

“Listen, I just got here … but I suspect you can begin to understand why so many people were pissed off,” he said. “There may be some consideration due.”

Tanyolacar addressed the controversy himself on Tuesday at Kirkwood College and criticized the UI’s handling of the incident.

UI sophomore student Bryan Porter, who participated in events surrounding Coates’ visit, said, “I was very interested in his opinion on things, most importantly his opinion on identity. For a lot of people, being black is a part of who they are, and being black is not a part of who they are.”

Throughout the evening, Coates repeatedly emphasized the importance of remembering the past when dealing with present racial issues.

“The chasm that University of Iowa students face is a chasm of history,” Coates said. “It doesn’t go away easily; we have to pay a debt for that.”

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