For our morning session today here at The Washington Center, we had the pleasure of hearing two different college professors speak to us on the topic of race and equity in politics. The first speaker was Georgetown University professor, Dr. Michael Dyson. He was incredibly high-energy and engaging for the entirety of his lecture, which made the morning fly by. For the most part, Dyson’s speech revolved around the idea that the white-working class matters significantly, just not at the expense of the minority working-class. The speakers that we listened to yesterday talked quite a bit about the white working-class, and how this was the demographic group that cost Hillary Clinton the election. Dyson introduced us to a different perspective today, which was the race element in politics. He started out by explaining that race is a social construct. However, just because something is a social construct should not undercut the importance and legitimacy of an idea. He brought many valid concerns that minorities have to the forefront, such as how the white working-class is viewed as being heroic for the most part while the minority working-class is often demonized. In 2016, we’ve all heard a lot on the topic of race. The problem is, according to Dyson, that white Americans have been sheltered in the sense that we are not taught to think of ourselves as part of a race, we are just “white.” This means that white Americans are less likely to think about and understand the full ramifications of a particular policy or piece of legislation, and how it might affect a minority group. Dyson eventually got around to the topic of Obama’s farewell address. He expressed his disappointment in the legacy that Obama is leaving for minority groups, namely for black Americans. In his address to the nation, Obama made a comment about how as Americans we need to all work together to end discrimination in our country. Dyson believes that this sentiment creates a false equivalency between white Americans and people of color, because this implies that both groups have an equal part in making sure that discrimination comes to an end. He said that Obama saying that was almost like saying “women and men need to work together to end sexism.” He closed his time with us by saying that it is our job as citizens to speak out against race discrimination, because it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing. Dyson was incredibly energetic, made the whole room roar with laughter, while also bringing the idea of race politics to everyone’s attention.
The next speaker was Dr. Greg Carr, professor of Afro-American studies at Howard University. Carr’s lecture was much shorter, because he said he’d like to spend the majority of his time answering our questions and interacting with us. His lecture mostly centered around the fact that as Americans, we should not make up narratives in order to prevent people from feeling uncomfortable about America’s history. He believes that the only way that we’ll be able to move on and pave the road towards equality is if we tell the truth of what has happened to minority groups in America since its founding, instead of saying things that fit more neatly into the American story. For example, he said that the Smithsonian Museum of Native American History in Washington tells the true story of what North and South American Indians have endured throughout history with no sugar-coating. Both Dr. Dyson and Dr. Carr believe that President Obama has slacked in this department, because they think that he has watered down minority hardships throughout history to maintain a certain appearance. Carr quoted the Robert Kaplan’s New York Times article by saying “but because settling that continent involved slavery and genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, American history is morally unresolvable. Thus, the only way to ultimately overcome our sins is to do good in the world.” Dr. Carr’s last point that he wanted to make was that historically, if someone or a group of people tries to suppress a crime, it will continue to reappear. We can’t do anything to take back the past, but in order to make up for lost time, we can do something now to change the course of the future.
The next major item on my agenda today was to visit the Stimson Center with my small group. The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan think tank that does research on things dealing with our international security and prosperity. We met with Laicie Heeley, who researches issues within Stimson’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program. She talked with us about defense spending in the United States and what this might look like under Trump’s administration. Traditionally, Republicans are pro-military, therefore, military spending tends to increase under a Republican administration. She explained the how the Budget Control Act of 2015 affects defense spending in a way that, in order to prevent sequestration (cutting spending for programs across the board), the budget must adhere to spending caps. The conversation eventually shifted to nuclear weapons, and she explained what types of nuclear weapons the United States has, what the regulations are, and what the Iran Nuclear Deal consists of. Laicie was very helpful when students would ask questions, and since she wasn’t directly involved with any government entity, she was able to speak much more freely with us than a politician might be able to.
Once my small group left the Stimson center, we were able to walk freely around the Dupont Circle area and see a new part of the city. I can’t wait for day four!