On November 30, just before the conclusion of the Fall 2016 semester, Mr. Robert Bernstein, journalist and former educator and administrator in the New York City public school system, gave a talk at the UTS Manhattan extension center on the theme “Black/White Relations” in the United States.
Mr. Bernstein began his remarks, outlined in full below, with a timely and moving expression of concern about the impact that the recent presidential election has had, and will likely continue to have, on the state of race relations in America; he went on to discuss in turn the historical, educational, judicial and law enforcement, and media inequities that continue to fuel racial inequality and discrimination in this country.
The audience of current UTS students, faculty, and staff who filled the Oak Room at 4W43 to hear the talk also had the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments about the substance of his remarks. Some of these were questions about potential solutions and means of interracial and intercultural reconciliation in America, the nature of racial profiling among law enforcement personnel, as well as the psychological roots of racism and the discrimination of difference, to which Mr. Bernstein respectfully responded by citing his personal experiences growing up and working in New York City and the experiences of his own interracial family.
I think that part of the problem in this country is that we have some very fundamental issues when it comes to race. We’ve never really dealt with those issues in a real, honest way."Robert Bernstein, Journalist
Regarding what a potential solution to the challenges of racism might entail, Mr. Bernstein commented, “I think that part of the problem in this country is that we have some very fundamental issues when it comes to race. We’ve never really dealt with those issues in a real, honest way. We seem to talk at each other but it’s like I’m talking with somebody and it’s going in this ear and out the other. I don’t think we’re really ever, in this country, going to be able to solve any of these issues until we sit down at a table and we’re willing to understand that these issues are fundamental to the success of this country.”
Mr. Bernstein further specified that these issues are deeply psychological in nature. Referencing the enduring psychological scarring of American slavery on its perpetrators and victims alike, he stated, “I think this is a part of the American psyche that’s going to take a long, long time to change.”
Mrs. Maria Bernstein, who also sat in the audience, was invited by Dr. Drissa Kone, the event moderator and UTS director of Student Life, to offer concluding comments in response to the various issues and questions raised by her husband and the UTS students, faculty, and staff. While disagreeing with some of the methods for change advocated by her husband, Mrs. Bernstein expressed a shared hope for future generations to realize the changes he had described and a personal sense of responsibility to help them do so.
Describing the positive experiences of one of her former students in getting to know classmates of different races, classes, and ethnicities in college, Mrs. Bernstein shared, “I think it has to start there. Definitely we have to integrate the kids with other people, but it also starts with our child and other children in school, because it has to start with the family.”