“We’re all of African descent and science proves it,” Kemit-Amon Lewis, a marine scientist, said during the second racism discussion presented by the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix.
The event, held on Thursday, was the second of four planned and sponsored by the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix. About 40 people took part in the session.
Alan R. Templeton, a biology professor at Washington University, has analyzed DNA from humans. His research showed that genetic variations down through the eons are very small. He used molecular biology to analyze millions of genetic sequences in three types of human DNA.
“Race is a real cultural, political and economic concept in society, but it is not a biological concept,” he said.
Lewis was one of four presenters who discussed how racism has been used to reinforce class differences. It is a social construct not supported by science, they all agreed.
Two of the presenters said they didn’t know about racism until they went to the States. Both were adults and thought racist comments were meant for someone else. One said he saw himself as a “Crucian” who didn’t need to “go back where he came from,” and the other couldn’t understand why people said she wasn’t black enough, just because her music taste and fashion was eclectic.
The presenters agreed racism is more prevalent on the mainland but is present in the territory “whether they know it or not,” said Tarik McMillan, a presenter and mental health counselor.
The community should work together to eliminate racism, the presenters said. One presenter, Charlene Springer, added that the Virgin Islands is “a petri dish” and could set an example for the rest of the country.
Class differences were illustrated by Lisa Harris Moorhead, one of the event organizers. She displayed a graphic outlining income and poverty by class in America. The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 18.8 percent of 7.6 million Black people are living in poverty versus 7.3 percent of 14.3 million whites. Hispanic, Asian and Native American/Alaskan are worse off. One percent of the population, driven by self-interest, controls 99 percent of the wealth, Moorhead said.
“They stand on the underclass,” she said.
Next, the 40 or so participants attending the session via Zoom were divided into groups to talk about what they heard from presenters and how the conversations could translate into action. The last question was similar to that which ended the first session – to talk about what individual acts people are willing to take to address racism.
One group discussed racism as a construct not supported by science. One person said that class and gender are used more often to discriminate, and another one said there was a lot of racism on St. Croix. They agreed it is a complex subject with a long history and people need to put forth a concerted effort.
A lot of time should be spent on education, another person said. The writings of Ibram Kendi were recommended to learn more about how to be anti-racist. Calling people out when they display racism was suggested by white participants, and one woman suggested “calling in” people privately and to avoid confrontation.
“Gently begin to have a conversation regarding white privilege and internalized racism,” one man recommended.
A woman said, “This dialogue must continue. It must begin in the schools.”
Another group suggested confronting internalized and systemic racism without negativity and uniting in common groups to come up with solutions. A better economy was mentioned by another group as a way to alleviate poverty and allow education to make a difference.
White children need to learn about white privilege, said a white woman, adding the parents should choose diversity for their children.
“No one had a good experience learning about racism,” a white woman said.
The next forum – Identifying Historical to Current Racism in the USVI – will be held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 15. Those interested can register at the Women’s Coalition website, where previous sessions can be accessed.