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Q&A: McDaniel professor hopes Monday Common Ground address about racial beliefs will lead to healing

As a sociology professor at McDaniel College, Richard Smith strives to help his students understand not only each other, but to be people who will be different, or better, than the generation before. And education is what paves the way to such future, he says.

That means teaching students how to understand the world they live in, but also how it came to be and how to address such issues, including those related to race and racism. And for such a bright future to be possible, Smith says, there must be a decolonization of education.

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Monday at 8 p.m., Smith will deliver a virtual keynote address as part of Common Ground on the Hill’s ”Traditions Weeks.” He will be the second speaker of the series and will discuss the concept of colonization and how it relates to Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements.

What does it mean to be a colonizer in the first place?

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It’s not so much being a colonizer but more so being colonized, where there’s a preference for whiteness — white cultural values, behaviors, fiscal parents. Western civilization has been seen as the dominant civilization. That thinking has also influenced the minds and beliefs of everyone — so understanding that the focus is on being the colonizers, it’s not necessarily getting rid of Western civilization, of getting rid of whiteness.

What I’m focused on is really decolonizing the curriculum. And what I mean by that is rethinking, reframing, reconstructing current curriculum to make it more inclusive.

You just said that your focus is on education. How does the whole uprising and controversy among critical race theory play a role on this?

The problem is, when we talk about critical race theory and arguments against systemic racism and intersectionality, most people don’t know what that means. Most people come to it from a colonized framework, meaning that anything that talks against or talks about the problems that we see in our country, the problematic history that we have, the focus on changing or challenging that history of those standards is seen as problematic. As a result, many people who are informed by either what they’re watching, or their political beliefs, or the way they have been educated, many people, instead of understanding what has happened, instead of understanding history, instead of understanding even the meaning of these terms, they just rely on what they’ve heard. So when it comes to decolonizing, it’s really making sure we fully understand what’s going on in our society, and fully understand what’s happened throughout our history.

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theory is a framework that analyzes the role of race and racism. That’s really all it is. And then, it shows how race and racism perpetuate disparities between dominant marginalized groups in our society. I want to make that clear, that it is a framework. I think some people think it’s a way to attack.

So what are some other things that needs to be included in the curriculum?

So I’m a sociologist by training, so I teach classes in sociology. We have often lifted up the voices of white men mainly, so if you think about what we call the founders of sociology, for example, we often look at [Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim.]

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But there’s actually research that dates 400 years before they even existed. That dated to a man by the name of Ibn Khaldun, who was doing sociological studies before these men ever existed. And not only was he doing sociological studies, he was a Muslim from North Africa. You will never see or rarely see him in any of the sociology textbook.

So it’s really recognizing that these other voices and — for me is pulling these voices out — making sure that people learn about Ibn Khaldun. Also, women of color and women in general, regarding how they have helped to build sociology. And then at the same time, still talk about Durkheim, Weber and Marx, but now you have a better picture of how sociology, came to be.

What do you hope that people take away from the keynote address on Monday?

My hope is that they will understand why decolonization is important now. So I want them to understand why that’s so important, in regards to that impacting our colleges or schools, but also impacting our nation and making it better.

But I also want them to go through the process of decolonization for themselves. So, if anyone recognizes, for example, that they have a preference for whiteness — and this isn’t just about white people. This preference for whiteness, it doesn’t matter what race you are; anyone can have that preference. But they recognize how this preference for this one group stops you or hinders you from fully understanding others.

I want them to be able to work on that and be able to deal with that … I’m hoping that when they leave that everyone will be inspired and have some tools to not just to be decolonized … but to be healers within our nation that is still hurting … due to the racial pain that we’ve had throughout history.

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For information about how to view Smith’s address or participate in other Common Ground on the Hill Tradition Weeks events, go to commongroundonthehill.org.


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