By Scarlett Birge, student news writer, Office of University Communications
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – “My name is James J.H. Atkins and by the grace of God I was born Black. My name is James J.H. Atkins and by the grace of God I’m going to die Black. My name is James J.H. Atkins but in 2021, I do not want to die because I am Black.”
James J.H. Atkins, retired assistant vice president for diversity and associate professor of education at Centre College, led a Dialogue on Race discussion at Campbellsville University on how media impacts social race relations. He presented this discussion in a poetry class taught by Dr. Susan Wright, associate professor of English.
“Racism is hard to talk about,” Atkins said about having discussions about race.
“We have to agree to be honest with ourselves and with each other and agree to participate without fear.”
Creating a safe space is important to having successful dialogues on race, he said. Atkins asked participants to evaluate how privileged they are and how that might impact addressing racism.
“Race relations are built on a foundation of class and social economic status,” he said.
Atkins said racism is a combination of institutionalized power and prejudice. Racism is taught and developed through derogatory imagery.
“A lot of imagery that we use has to be stopped,” Atkins said.
He gave examples of certain imagery perpetuating racial stereotypes that are harmful, such as images of people of color doing something as simple as eating a banana and then being compared to monkeys. He said a lot of media surrounding race relations perpetuates racism by dehumanizing people of color.
“What does that say to people to put my image of eating a banana next to a monkey?” he said. “It implies a negative message; we have been dehumanized. I shouldn’t worry about that making a racial statement.”
There is racial trauma in educative curriculum, Atkins said. People are often taught about racism in the past tense, which takes away from the fact that racism is still a major issue today.
“You have to be aware of what’s happening right now,” he said.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 12,000 students offering over 100 programs of study including Ph.D., master, bachelor, associate, pre-professional and certification programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.