Dr. Harold Braithwaite, the first speaker to come to UR in honor of Black History Month, delivered a speech Monday entitled “African Centered Psychology as a Mechanism to Eradicate the Impact of the Myth of White Supremacy.”
Sponsored by the Ronald E. McNair Program, the College Diversity Roundtable and the Black Students’ Union, Braithwaite lectured to a diverse audience. Some attended as a class requirement, others because they are McNair Scholars and others out of sheer interest.
His speech incorporated the theme for this year’s Black History Month, “Blacks and Education: Pursuing the Ph.D. and Beyond” as well as discussed the psychology behind the myth that white males are superior to all others in the world. “I say myth because I do not believe in white supremacy,” Braithwaite said. “In the science of psychology, we have done more in the study of this topic than any other discipline.”
Braithwaite grew up when the United States was deep in a civil rights movement. He saw segregation laws change and as a result of affirmative action, was given the opportunity to attend the University of South Carolina after achieving a grade point average of 3.96 at Kingsboro Community College in Brooklyn.
“We did not change what anyone felt. The law said you must change your behavior,” he said.
“Speaking on affirmative action, Braithwaite pointed out that the playing field still was unbalanced and tilted favorably to white — particularly male — Americans. This assertion was unanimously agreed upon by the racially mixed audience,” sophomore and McNair scholar Richard Tipton said.
For Braithwaite, race has dominated his existence. “I didn’t need a Ph.D. to figure out that what race I am has steered the course of my life,” he said. “People make certain assumptions about you based on the way that you look, particularly your color and then your ethnicity.”
Braithwaite’s lecture focused on the origins and implications of white supremacy and how one should ignore such beliefs. “The only way someone can make you victim of the white supremacist is if you feel that way about yourself,” he said.
Two main points stressed in Braithwaite’s lecture were the importance of the truth and the ability to look beyond appearances to see the common bond between all human beings.
As members of the same species, all people need to take back the power from everyday expressions geared towards inflating the white, male ego and deflating that of African-Americans.
“It is interesting, he offers, that we take issue with ‘black’ listing, ‘black’ balling, ‘black’ sheep, and ‘black’ cats. Noting the difference in color between angel food cake and devil’s cake, Braithwaite added half-jokingly, ‘even dessert seems to be against me’,” Tipton said.
Braithwaite also pointed out that he has found no other culture in history where there exists such global domination.
According to Braithwaite, the European race has invaded nearly every continent on the planet, including Africa and Australia. They take advantage of those who look different.
“In World War II, it was never a question of whether or not to drop the bomb on Europeans, who were the original aggressors of the war. However, the Asians were fair game,” he said.
The audience’s opinions of the speech were mixed. “I found the talk today to be interesting, but also a bit disappointing. I expected to focus more on ways that we can start to eradicate the power of white privilege, rather than simply a lecture pointing out its existence,” senior Rachel Shiffrin said.
Donna Simmons, a McNair staff member, enjoyed the speech. “His talk was a confirmation of how I’ve always felt inside,” she said. “Braithwaite’s message to the audience was to realize the truths about society. You don’t have to buy into it, just believe in yourself and follow your heart.”
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