Alum, author Kristen Green addresses racism during book talk
By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
Kristen Green, author of newly released “Something Must be Done about Prince Edward County” and University of Mary Washington graduate of the class of ’95, spoke about the extent people will go to maintain prejudice during a talk given in the Hurley Center’s Digital Auditorium last Monday.
The hour-long presentation, talk and slideshow Green gave explained her experience researching and writing her book, which was based in the hometown where she grew up, Prince Edward County, roughly three hours from UMW.
Following the court case Brown vs. Board of Education, where the Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools in May 1954, Prince Edward County, a small Virginia town where Green was raised, closed and barred its public schools. The decision forced hundreds of black families and children to relocate or grow up without an education.
Public schools were closed five years following Prince Edward County’s resistance. In its place, county leaders opened “Prince Edward Academy,” an all-white private school that did not admit black students until 1986.
In her slideshow, Green included the pictures of several students affected by the school closings, and she told their stories, including a student named Dorothy Lockett who pretended to live in a home in an adjacent county in order to go to school.
“White parents would sacrifice a child’s education to avoid their children sitting next to black children,” Green said.
For Green, beginning the topic on racism can be a difficult experience, but worth it.
“Working towards equality means making yourself vulnerable,” Green said. “That’s the only thing that works to overcome racism and xenophobia.”
She also advocated for a discussion on racial equality involving the avoidance and defensiveness about racial inequalities that take place today.
“The entire discussion of race in America hinges on protecting white people’s feelings,” Green said.
“But it’s time to stop being defensive, and to acknowledge how racial oppression continues to play out in this country today via mass incarceration, police shootings of innocent people and infringement on voting rights.”
In addition to discussing racial equality, students also gave their opinions in how best to understand the experiences of different races.
John Martin, junior English and education major, believes that recognizing racism is an important step in combating it.
“You have to know about the problem before you can even try to work on it,” Martin said.
Lexi Darnell, senior English major, agrees that creating awareness about the racism people experience can open the discussion about race, and is open to understanding the ways others’ situations differ from her own.
“As a white person, I only see things in one way and take that into consideration when I know [other people have different experiences,]” Darnell said.
Kadeem Gittens, junior business major, said racism takes on a different form today than it had in the 50s and 60s, when Prince Edward County chose not to desegregate.
“I think it’s a personal thing,” Gittens said. “I think you, in yourself, have to choose not to be racist. There are initiatives that talk about this, but mainly it is a decision that you have to make within yourself.”
Gittens, who was born in Trinidad in the southern Caribbean, and is a student aide with the James Farmer Multicultural Center, believes that individuals need to be intentional about overcoming prejudice in their own lives.