Speaking in Statler Auditorium yesterday, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond shared his thoughts on the future of civil rights and race relations in America.
“The word ‘America,’ after all, if scrambled, spells ‘I am race,’ and America is race,” he said.
Bond established himself as a civil rights leader as a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta in the 1960s, where he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He would later go on to serve in Georgia’s state legislature, teach at the University of Virginia and American University and chair the NAACP, which he has done since 1998.
“I believe in an integrated America,” Bond explained to the crowd of students and residents. Yet he stressed that there was much work to be done in achieving that mission.
“We are such a young nation, so recently removed from slavery,” he continued, “that only my father’s generation stands between Julian Bond and human bondage.”
Commenting on a perceived state of complacency around the civil rights movement, Bond noted, “I think there are a fair portion of Americans who think that all of these issues were settled during the period when Dr. King was alive … but any realist knows that that’s not true, that there are still enormous racial divides in this country and that we have much more to do to get past them.”
Despite the Democratic Party’s gains in Tuesday’s mid-term elections, Bond remains wary of the political system which the NAACP will have to work with in the future.
“There is, indeed, a right-wing conspiracy, and it controls the administration, both houses of Congress — until January — much of the judiciary, and a major portion of the news media,” he said. “They want to make any government consideration of race illegal, and thereby do away with our rights and much of the legacy of the civil rights movement.”
Bond also criticized President George W. Bush’s judicial appointees, calling them “hostile to the basic principles of civil rights law and civil rights enforcement.”
Laying out an extensive agenda for reform, Bond called on the Democratic leadership to pass “comprehensive Katrina legislation that includes a victim compensation fun akin to that awarded to the 9/11 families,” end the war in Iraq, equalize education funding in all fifty states, generate universal access to healthcare, enact massive election reform to eliminate de facto disenfranchisement and step up efforts in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Bond also supported affirmative action policies, citing their success in neutralizing “inherited white privilege.”
Cornell’s ACLU and a slew of other sponsors brought Bond to the University to address race with some authority.
“After the recent stabbing of the [Union College] student at Cornell, we thought there was a lot of racial tension and division, and so we wanted to bring someone who has experience from the 1960s, from the civil rights movement to come and talk about unity and what needs to be done,” said Everet Yi ’08, president of Cornell ACLU.
In an interview with The Sun, Bond addressed some of the issues facing Cornell, including program houses and campus diversity.
“I would think that they would be an asset, to say to incoming minority students, frightened of being in an overwhelmingly white institution, as this is and as this will be, that here is a place where you can go to be safe from whatever it is that you might find there,” Bond said of program houses.
Speaking on the trend toward self-segregation on many college campuses, Bond added, “It’s upsetting to see, but I think it’s part of a normal and understandable desire to be with people like yourself. It’s something I would hope that students would try to overcome because one purpose of coming to a place like [Cornell] or any big school in the country is to be with people who are not like you, to find out who they are, and to learn something about them.”
Bond also expressed strong disappointment with the lack of progress in confronting the situation in Darfur.
“This is really a scandal,” he said. “We have declared genocide as occurring there, yet so far have taken no active steps to stop it, and haven’t employed the kind of diplomatic, heavy weight pressure that we could have.”
Speaking on cultural issues, Bond explained that while some would describe popular rap as “a voice for the black people,” he found many of the lyrics disturbingly offensive.
When asked what he thought of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” movie, Bond responded, “I really think you can make jokes about almost anything. It doesn’t mean I have to like them, but I think there’s almost nothing off-limits to humor, so I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
Students generally reacted positively to Bond’s lecture.
“I think he glossed over some of the issues he could have gone into a deeper discussion on, like gangster rap,” said Ashli Sadberry ’07. “But all in all, I think he was pretty frank and it was a refreshing voice to hear at Cornell.”