Column: Questions of race should prompt about-face

Sometimes I forget how far we’ve fallen behind. Or rather, how far we haven’t come, despite often prematurely crediting ourselves with victory in a war against prejudice.

I tell him that I grew up in a booming suburb of Dallas, Texas, attending a high school of about 3,000 students. I tell him it was overwhelmingly white, and I saw – from an early age – racism firsthand. When I left home for Boston in 2003, I had what I now know was a very off-base expectation. I thought racism wouldn’t be as bad up north.

“You were sorely disappointed,” he says, with a laugh.

Robert Hall and I are sitting in a conference room in the African-American Studies department, discussing race and society last week in the wake of music professor Leonard Brown’s announcement that he received a harassing racist phone call on his campus voicemail.

Hall is an engaging character. He’s an endless conversationalist who often attempts to articulate such a vast wealth of knowledge that it seems he doesn’t have time for vanity. His breast pocket is overflowing with pens. His shirt isn’t completely tucked in. He told a class of his earlier this semester that he averages only one haircut a year.

He’s anything but intimidating. Yet, at night, he appears to be just another suspicious black man targeted by campus security guards who normally would recognize him during the day, he said. It has happened here, and at past job posts, he said. As Chair of the African American studies department and a tenured professor for 10 years, he has heard and witnessed similar stories from other black faculty.

He said he’s told his white colleagues countless times, but their reaction is always the same question.

“You’re not saying that’s because of racism, are you?”

My question is:

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