On Saturday, May 10th, four Civic Reflection Fellows, all college students at the University of Chicago, facilitated community dialogues on the topics of labor and race with community members from both on and off campus. These dialogues were part of the program for the Studs Terkel Festival, presented by the University of Chicago and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
The Civic Reflection Fellows used clips from Studs Terkel’s Hard Times Recordings and Race Recordings to stimulate discussion on issues surrounding labor and race both at the time of the interviews and today.
In the morning dialogue, Cameron Okeke and Jeanne Chauffour played an audio clip from Terkel’s 1971 interview with two children whose parents went through the Great Depression. By asking questions about different points of view explored in the interview, they opened up a dialogue on how class differences affect our beliefs about economic opportunities.
In the afternoon, Nadine Brown and Julia Rittenberg began a dialogue about the way racial differences shape our interactions by playing a clip from an interview with Dawn Kelly, an African-American student activist and student government president at the University of Illinois-Chicago in the early 1990s.
The excerpts from Terkel’s interviews illustrated generational differences in people’s understandings of how race and class shape our opportunities in life. Both the interviews and our dialogues also suggested that there is a greater gap between people of different races and/or socioeconomic backgrounds in understanding these issues.
Nevertheless, our dialogues indicated that we could benefit from older generations sharing their knowledge of the historical origins of privilege. For we cannot expect people to recognize privilege as such unless they are aware of the continuities between past injustices and current inequalities.
In my view, the recent article in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations”, and its reception illustrate the kind of historical knowledge that we need to recover as well as the risk of a reactionary response.
The Civic Reflection Fellows’ dialogues provided a glimpse of how humanities-based discussion can give us the critical distance to explore diverse points of view on our common historical past.