Lewis Gordon, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, came to speak at the 20th annual Seymour Riklin Memorial Lecture at the Bernath Auditorium on Sept. 15.
Gordon’s lecture, “Thinking Race Constructively,” discussed a philosophical take on understanding racial issues in society today. The lecture was hosted by Wayne State’s philosophy department in hopes of bringing the greater public to philosophy.
The annual lecture is held in honor of Seymour Riklin, a renowned and well-respected figure in humanities education in metropolitan Detroit.
Provost Keith Whitfield described Riklin as a Renaissance man in the introductory remarks of the lecture.
“He was a major figure in humanities education, and someone who helped to craft what I like to call the cultural Detroit that we benefit from today,” he said.
Gordon began his lecture by explaining that the main problem of discussing race is that no one really wants to talk about it because, from the moment we are born, we have been conditioned to not see it.
“[Race] is that thing that is everywhere, but we pretend it is nowhere,” Gordon said.
When speaking about race, Gordon said it must be in a constructive manner.
“Constructively means you go somewhere with it,” said Gordon, “So as I speak with you today, I’m hoping you get something that can get you to go somewhere.”
Gordon’s lecture covered many topics, including the history of race, constructive and unconstructive ways of discussing it, and the importance of humanizing one another in order to create positive change.
He said in order to have meaningful and constructive conversations about race and racism, it is important to recognize others as human beings so that relations can be established.
“If you treat a human being as a human being, she or he flourishes; if you treat a human being as not a human being, he or she withers,” Gordon said.
Gordon then explained non-constructive discussions about racism, such as colorblindness, racial tensions and privilege and reasons as to why they don’t help the conversation.
He said, “In order to respect black people, you have to see black people as not black people to respect them. I shouldn't have to disappear in order to be respected.”
Haneen Mahbuba, a fourth-year political science student, said Gordon’s message resonated deeply within her. Mahbuba said she thought it was interesting how Gordon highlighted the humanitarian perspective of thinking about race.
“I believe we are all human beings regardless, so we should learn how to address matters differently,” Mahbuba said.
Mahbuba said she related to the lecture on a personal level. She tied it all back to her religion: Islam.
“In Islam, there is a teaching that says: ‘love for yourself what you would love for your brother,’” she said, quoting the Prophet Mohammed. As a Muslim, Mahbuba said she believed that she has the responsibility to spread more peace and understanding.
Gordon closed the lecture by calling people to action in order to spark change in a democratic society.
“Political action is about doing things,” Gordon said.
He said everyone shares the responsibility for the actions of an institution because people gave it power.
“When you understand it that way, you should be able to answer the question of who should do something, not only about racism but also about the global humanization of our species,” Gordon said. “And the answer is very straightforward: everyone.”