One look around MSU and anyone can see the remarkable diversity that exists throughout campus. Not so apparent are the stereotypes that still control society and confound us, both the observers of these wicked ideas and their unconscious endorsers.
While individuals may not parade around campus with signs openly condoning racism, it is still a concern, the existence and extent of which is often covered up or ignored. February is Black History Month and some MSU students might know this only from the convenient announcement in their Spartan day-planners. In an effort to recognize a race that has dealt with incredible hardship, does singling out blacks for one month during the year hamper the effort to destroy racism?
[bhm7] The habit of some to endorse racial stereotypes is often an subconscious one. Humans strive to conserve their mental energy at all times. If, for example, a black person does something that is within one’s internal stereotypes of all blacks, this person will just chalk it up as reinforcement of these beliefs and move on, rather than taking the time to analyze the external circumstances. According to Cheryl Kaiser, assistant professor in MSU’s psychology department, once racist attitudes are formed, they are usually instinctively thought of when meeting a member of that group.
“Even though the stereotypes are automatically activated for a majority of people, this does not mean that racism will be inevitable,” Kaiser said. “Some people are firmly committed to behaving [in a non-predjudiced manner] and they will engage in controlled processing to override the automatic activation of stereotyping.”
Explanations for racist ideas in modern society also stem from the fact that many stereotypes have never completely faded from our culture. Although much progress has been made in overcoming racism, it still exists and can damage both the individual passing judgment and the group being judged.
“Another explanation for the difficulty of eliminating prejudice stems from the notion that racism is learned very early in life and becomes part of our initial attitudes about various social groups,” Kaiser said. “These initial attitudes are often bolstered by media and social representations that reinforce these stereotypes.”
The distinction of February as Black History Month could possibly be detrimental to the integration of society as a whole. “This extra attention does put an additional element of separation on African-Americans,” advertising freshman Hannah Juett said. “But I also like the fact that we can celebrate our individual differences.”
Many students at MSU come from widely diverse high schools, so the dedication of time to specific races is nothing new. “I am from Troy and my high school was very diverse,” accounting freshman Ronald Risinger said. “I do not see instances of racism openly existing at MSU.”
Several events on and around MSU’s campus are scheduled for February to celebrate Black History Month. On Feb. 10, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., senior pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is scheduled to speak on “The Emerging of African-American Cultures: Who Stole My Identity?” at 5 p.m. in Big Ten Rooms B and C of the Kellogg Center. Also, on Feb. 13, the Eli Broad College of Business will present the Black History Month Multicultural Heroes Hall of Fame Case Competition, held from 6-8 p.m. in N-100 Business College Complex.
“I think that it is important to take part in Black History Month events on campus,” Risinger said. “I have not heard of any yet, but if I did, I might go to an event or two.”
[black] Solving the problems of racism, both at MSU and within society in general, requires more than just a vow to eliminate stereotypical assumptions from daily thought. According to Kaiser, social psychologist Gordon Allport discovered that simply interacting with other racial groups would not be enough to remedy discrimination.
“According to Allport’s theory and subsequent research, [there are certain] conditions necessary for contact to reduce prejudice and discrimination,” Kaiser said. “Contact must involve mutual interdependence among groups, a common group goal, equal status among group members, casual interpersonal contact, multiple contacts and social norms that promote equality.”
There are plenty of opportunities to begin dispelling racist ideas and stereotypes, literally upon everyone’s doorstep. No matter your color, endorse Black History Month as a chance to celebrate black identity, culture and history, and carry this knowledge past Feb. 28. What good does a celebration of diversity do if it is only for one-twelfth of the year?

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