Molly Secours speaks on race and privilege during conference
When it comes to racial inequality, the problem is not being white but rather not understanding what it means to be white. That’s what writer and filmmaker Molly Secours told those attending Elon University’s Diversity Leadership Conference April 2 in Whitley Auditorium.
Secours, who served as the keynote speaker for the two-day conference, said that whether we like it or not, “everybody living in our culture in America experiences a culture of white dominance. That’s just how our culture was set up.”
And though there have been many positive changes in the past 70 years, she said the invisibility of privilege and “whiteness” often allows white people to unconsciously perpetuate systemic inequality in areas such as health care, education and criminal justice.
Secours said even though she grew up in a working-class family, she was still part of a system that favored her over others because of the color of her skin. She added that while white people take their opportunities for granted, non-white people are always aware of the obstacles in their way.
She used her own experience as a cancer survivor to illustrate how privilege and entitlement can be lethal.
“Cancer is an illness that spreads if left unchecked, undiagnosed and untreated,” she said. “White privilege has the same quality; if left unchecked, undiagnosed and untreated, it can cause a lot of destruction in its path.”
She said the reason why we need to have diversity conferences is to come to terms with this reality. She said when people challenge their internalized racial bias they can disrupt the systemic inequalities that happen every day. She challenged students to be willing to speak out and start conversations that can lead to positive change.
“We all have a duty and a responsibility to address what it means to be privileged,” Secours said.
During the conference, which was organized by the Multicultural Student Council, presenters from Elon and several other institutions, including the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Adelphi University and Davidson College, explored the essence of power, privilege, oppression and inequality and provided practical methods and strategies on how to lead difficult dialogues effectively.
“It’s been very inspiring for students,” said Lauren Flinn, assistant director of the Multicultural Center. She said the conference allowed students to open up and discuss topics that are not easy to address. In all, around 160 students, faculty and staff from colleges around the state participated in the event.
Secours’ works have been published in numerous newspapers, magazines and online publications. She has appeared on local and national television and radio talk shows to discuss issues of racism, juvenile justice, white privilege, reparations for slavery and health care as a social justice issue.
Through her film company, One Woman Show Productions, and her documentary films, Secours has earned national recognition in the world of social justice. She recently founded a program called Youth Voice Through Video. As part of the program she works with juvenile inmates being housed in a prison in Nashville, Tenn.
The Diversity Leadership Conference planning committee consisted of the following Elon students: