2001-10-17 Lakeshore Press Hope professor details origins of racism in America

Hope professor details origins of racism in America
Lakeshore Press

Racism toward people of color still very much exists in the United States, it’s just gone underground.

That was the assessment of Hope College Professor Fred L. Johnson III, who spoke Tuesday night at the Summit on Racism Community Action Team meeting at St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church in Holland.

“The ‘whites only’ signs on drinking foundations are gone – but they’ve only gone underground when people of color want to rent or buy homes, and run into hidden barriers because of racism.”

Johnson, a history professor who has a doctorate and teaches about the roots of racism and slavery in America, said that while slavery is best associated with the South and the Confederacy, it historically was a part of American history from the nation’s earliest days.

He said as far back as 1640, slaves from Africa were described as “possessions.”

When it came time to end indentured servitude, white Europeans who had worked in servitude were given their freedom while blacks were permanently decreed as slaves.

“The U.S. flag stands for liberty, equality and freedom … but it also has stood for oppression and suppression,” Johnson said, nothing that even the U.S. Constitution, which he greatly admires, has sections when it was written that concurred with slavery.

He said African slavery seemed to be acceptable to white Europeans because Africans where not Christians, but viewed as heathens with “no history, no culture and no identity.”

“There is a toxic legacy of racism in our country,” said Johnson, who said he would like to see people work together to invalidate this “blight against the American character.”

Johnson said racism still exists in the profiling of people of color who are stopped by police for driving in white neighborhoods, a situation that happened to him when he traveled to Maryland for a visit.

He said true understanding begins with people in the community taking stands against quiet racism and getting involved with groups like the Summit on Racism and the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.

The Summit on Racism’s first public conference last February drew more than 650 attendees. The summit meeting defined 20 barrier areas of racism, including education, religion, health care, and the media that need to be improved to combat discrimination in the Holland area.

“We have to learn to respect all cultures,” said the Rev. Marcy Collazo, a Holland resident of Puerto Rican descent who has lived in the area almost 50 years. “As a community, we need to respect all cultures, and it begins in the churches were people should learn to accept one another.”

Collazo said things in Holland had changed drastically since he came here in 1953. Then, there were hardly any other ethnic minorities in the area.

“Holland has changed in a good way, and I feel better with my community,” he said.

Chikage Morishima, a Rotary exchange student from Japan who is attending West Ottawa High School, said her country has social differences among people even though everyone there has the same kind of hair, eyes and skin.

“I like Holland because it has diversity in its culure,” Morishima said.