Conversations of Color address racism, Colin Kaepernick

Dylan Grosser

The Conversations of Color discussion series began its second year at Grand Valley State University with the first topic on the protest of the national anthem by NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Leading the series is ReChard Peel, graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

The monthly meetings include a topic based on current events. Students, faculty and staff are welcome to join the hour-long conversation and express themselves, Peel said. Finding solutions to the problems are not always the main concern of the meetings, but rather bringing issues to the forefront and have a dialogue about them. The first conversation was Wednesday, Sept. 21, the next one will be held Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Colin Kaepernick has created a lot of controversy, and support, for his decision to not stand and raise his hand over his heart for the national anthem. Kaepernick has said his reasons for not standing are because he does not wish to show support for a country that “oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick’s stance and other forms of peaceful protests were discussed in the meeting with roughly 26 people. The shootings of black men Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher were also talked about throughout the conversation.

Peel said the topic of Colin Kaepernick is important as it relates to police brutality and also what it means to identify as an American. Many people had stories to share about family members and themselves as it related to race issues and discrimination. Some recognized that the relationship between a silent non-violent protest evoking a violent, threatening response, referencing the threats Kaepernick has received for his stance.

The reason why these meetings bring up so much emotion for some people, Peel said, is because some of the topics are lived experiences by the attendees.

“Particularly, as a person of color, if I’m explaining to someone I experience racism or white supremacy, and then people deny those experiences or invalidate them, of course I’m going to be emotional because that’s a part of who I am,” Peel said.

Peel said he has personally faced overt discrimination based on the color of his skin, but he believes the more overbearing form of discrimination against people of color comes from systematic oppression, like disenfranchised school systems that have predominantly black populations.

Peel said he was inspired to start Conversations of Color because he said there were a lot of “celebratory” events happening in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, but not enough was being done to create a dialogue that is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable.

“Everything is not going to be a celebration, especially with all the things that are happening in our society,” he said. “We need to celebrate some things, and I’m glad we do, but at the same time we need to engage in other challenging things.”

Peel emphasized challenging people and said people don’t grow from comfort, but from being pushed and challenged.

“I want to create a space that is challenging people to think critically and to listen to other people and share opinions,” he said. “I want to create a space like that, not one that is comfort-related.”

Peel said he sees the tension stemming from race issues continuing to build in the U.S. and in some ways it’s good in order to bring about change. However, it can be not good as it could create chaos and more violence.

Overall, he said he is pleased some issues of race are now being discussed by the public, such as a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color, and that all black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated than all white men.

“It’s important we push the envelope because that’s the only way we’re going to achieve justice,” Peel said. “If nobody ever talks about these issues, then how are they ever going to change?”