(Posted February 26, 2015)

Daniel Welliver, professor of sociology
Daniel Welliver, professor of sociology

Many people today are convinced that the age of racism is long gone. However, because of the many recent accounts of racism-related incidents, there are clear signs that racism is still very prominent in our society. Last week, Jeanine Staples, a professor of education from Penn State University, came to Juniata and talked about modern-day racism.. She claimed that racism stemmed from ontology and that it is imperative that we find a way to stop it. In order to enrich our understanding of why this racism still exists, we asked Daniel Welliver, professor of sociology, more about this topic.

Q: How do you define racism?
A: As a sociologist, there are a couple of options. The one that stands out to me has to do with decision-making, power, and resources. It's about an exercise of power, a distribution of resources and the decisions that go into these actions. To me, race is an idea; an idea that has been constructed by human beings because humans believed that it was necessary to socially construct their reality..Racism is when that idea is accepted and thought of as a legitimate reason to make decisions about the distribution of power, wealth, or resources.

Q: What makes people racist?
A: Now we're looking at human behavior, and why humans do anything and behave in the ways that they do. One dynamic that we see in sociology is based on socialization. This process, which reinforces our ideas about race, begins as soon as we are born. We start to learn what is expected of us and what our family or significant others expect us to think. And if these thoughts are against people of a certain race, then we will grow up thinking that is what we must do. Sometimes it also has to do with scapegoating. If we can have a group that we can feel "better than" and claim "at least I'm not like them," it makes us feel better about ourselves. So the degree to which we want to make ourselves feel better by comparing ourselves to or putting another racial group down also causes people to be racist.

Q: In a modern world such as ours, why do you think such a thing exists?
A: Maybe one of the answers to that question exists in a question. Who benefits from racism? If racism still exists, someone is clearly benefitting from the idea and that person or institution would be the reason as to why it still exists in this day and age. Mass media uses it as entertainment and many institutions use it as a way to keep people under control. It may suggest to some minorities that they are not good enough to be paid more or to have more benefits while working certain jobs.

Q: What is your opinion on racism being an ontological problem like Dr. Staples had stated?
A: I thought it was a very helpful way to present and frame the challenge. For one thing, the audience was exposed to all of the ways that racism manifested itself and yet, it ended with something that was deeply personal. It showed that more people have to be aware that just because they are white or just because they are males, they are going to have benefits over other people who may not have white skin or who are not males. It asks the question of whether we care enough about the benefits that we get from ideas like racism.

Ichiro Narita '18 Juniata Online Journalist

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Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.