This week the University of North Georgia apologized for publishing a continuing education catalog that features two white men in business suits beating a more casually-dressed black man and a woman in high heels in a race with the caption “Why Follow When You Can Lead!” The image was quickly called out for its racist and sexist overtones. The school has called the incident an “isolated case of poor judgment” and claimed that any offense was “unintentional.” They went on to express their commitment to diversity and made vague promises to do better in the future.
Now that the school has apologized, those who took offense are presumably expected to (as the media no doubt will) sweep these events under the rug, along with the countless other racist and sexist incidents that have dotted our academic and cultural landscapes. But the very fact that this image was produced and made it to the front page of a catalog and the web site of a major university speaks volumes to the ongoing pervasiveness of white supremacist and sexist attitudes in our community and at the University of North Georgia.
The state of Georgia has one of the highest percentages of people of color in the country, but the UNG student body and faculty are both over 80% white. This fact alone is troubling. The continuing marginalization of minorities and women at the school and in our community is unacceptable. The fact that there aren’t more claims of racism against minority students at UNG speaks more to the homogeneity of the community, and the attitude that minority students are expected to conform to white campus culture, than any lack of racism among the student body or faculty.
Nor is UNG the only school guilty of this sort of behavior. Colleges and universities across the country are constantly forced to make apologies like this. The racist chants of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which has a chapter at UNG, are still fresh in most of our minds and minority students at the University of Georgia rallied against racism and homophobia on their campus in 2013.
The racist and sexist attitudes that infect our academic institutions only reflect the ongoing white supremacy and patriarchy of our broader culture. They are symptoms of a larger institutional problem. We can, and certainly should, continue to call them out, but we must recognize that these problems are a core feature of American culture.
Apologies may serve to ease our collective guilt, but they do nothing to put an end to the damage wreaked by white supremacy and patriarchy in our society. In an age where college age men of color are more than 5 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from police violence and women, even when they earn college degrees, are expected to have careers and still fulfill their traditional role of unpaid domestic labor, we must demand more. Racism and sexism in our school and communities will end only when we stand up to put an end to it ourselves.
Update on this article and local coverage here.
More on the UNG situation:
Further reading on sexism and racism in academia :
Police killings of young black men in the US: