WEB EXCLUSIVE: Speaker investigates racism in Western Pa.

By Becky Reiser

‘ ‘ ‘ The room was packed with people waiting to hear about two subjects they’re generally not… ‘ ‘ ‘ The room was packed with people waiting to hear about two subjects they’re generally not supposed to discuss in public: race and politics. ‘ ‘ ‘ The dean of the School of Social Work, Larry Davis, began the event by introducing keynote speaker Dennis B. Roddy, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer who spoke to a crowd of about 50 people gathered in the Cathedral of Learning yesterday afternoon. Some sat in wheelchairs or held onto walkers, while a few middle-aged people filled out the crowd, which included people from several ethnic groups. ‘ ‘ ‘ Davis made sure to point out that the lecture was scheduled before the outcome of the election was decided. Therefore, the speakers were not sure what kind of implications race would actually have on the election. Both Roddy and Larry Glasco, a professor of black history at Pitt, tried to provide insight into the topic. ‘ ‘ ‘ Roddy, who reported on the 2008 election, told the audience that race did have an impact on the it, just as it does in other parts of people’s lives. ‘Ethnicity, race ‘hellip; I believe it affects everything,’ said Roddy. ‘ ‘ ‘ Roddy said that several events in the three weeks leading up to last Tuesday’s election put an emphasis on race. First, Roddy said, were Rep. John Murtha’s comments, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, calling residents of western Pennsylvania ‘racist.’ Because of these comments, Roddy’s plans to travel to North Carolina and Virginia to report on the election were cancelled. Instead, he went to northwestern Pennsylvania to investigate the validity of Murtha’s claims. Roddy traveled to Sidman, located in Cambria County, where he had grown up. ‘ ‘ ‘ Roddy said a woman he interviewed in Sidman told him, ‘If Obama wins, [white people] will all be slaves.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Roddy said he discovered that the racism he uncovered in the county ran deeper than that he remembered from his youth, when different ethnic groups had their own churches. ‘Race is a hard thing to talk about,’ said Roddy. ‘No one wants to think they’re racist.’ Roddy added that the counties that went to Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 election, such as Beaver and Washington counties, went to Sen. John McCain this year. ‘ ‘ ‘ Roddy shared another anecdote with the crowd. He said that he was in a bar at a Holiday Inn conducting an interview on election night. When Obama won, Roddy said, a man at the end of the bar used the ‘n word.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Roddy said the comment was ‘uncool’ and asked the man how he could be racist at this time in the United States. The man replied that he ‘never said he was racist.’ This made Roddy wonder, is this how racism exists today? ‘People say that Obama might lead us to socialism, but do they mean to say slavery? Are they just using replacement words?’ asked Roddy in his closing remarks. Davis spoke next, addressing the same issues he has been discussing in his History of Blacks in America class. ‘This [election] is a milestone,’ said Davis. ‘It’s not that racism has disappeared, but race itself has undergone a transformation. It is not a disqualifier, but a barrier.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Davis compared Obama’s win in the presidential election to when Jackie Robinson first played Major League Baseball. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Before, blacks couldn’t get in the ballpark or on the field,’ said Davis. But, he added, other black people followed Robinson’s lead into professional baseball. ‘This is the time [for blacks] to get in there and compete,’ said Davis. However, Davis also said he believes Obama’s victory comes with some consequences. He spoke about the impact the election has on some white Americans who have to psychologically come to terms with a black president. Davis told the audience that he read a statistic that when polled, 25 to 27 percent of white people said they were ‘fearful.’ Davis said he thinks these people worry that the United States will become socialist or that black people will take over and whites will become slaves, or that whites will now be at a disadvantage. Davis said he wonders what the impact will be on white America when Michelle Obama’s family visits the White House. ‘This will be 20 to 50 black people in the White House, not just a couple. What will that image be?’ said Davis. The black persona, he added, will also change. ‘The psychology of being black was founded on being victims,’ said Davis. ‘Is this the end of black power?’