BYU professor pays 'respect' to Black Panther Party during 'antiracist' panel

Brigham Young University hosted a panel on Ibram Kendi’s book “How to Be An Antiracist."

One professor paid "respect" to the Black Panther Party during the event.

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah hosted a panel on Boston University Director of the Center for Anti-Racist Research Director Ibram Kendi’s book How to Be An Antiracist, during which four professors discussed how the book could shape the future of America.

BYU’s Kennedy Center for international studies nominated Kendi’s book as the “book of the semester,” offering to provide free copies of the book to students who request it.

The panel consisted of Associate Professors of History Leslie Hadfield and Rebecca de Schweinitz; Assistant Professor of Sociology Ryan Gabriel, and Assistant Professor in the College of Life Sciences Lori Spruance.

At one point, Hadfield stated during the beginning of the virtual seminar that the book is an “important work pointing us to a possible antiracist future.”

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Rebecca de Schweinitz recommended that the audience also read Kendi's Stamped From the Beginningin which Kendi claims that "racist thought is alive and well in America - more sophisticated and more insidious than ever."

Schweinitz said that “we’ve all been nurtured and educated to be racist."

She went on to quote slavery abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper as saying, “being American is more than a pride we inherit, it's the past we step into and how we repair it." 

Schweinitz said she finds "helpful" Kendi's "reinvestigation and redefining of racism in a way that encourages us to not separate ourselves from the unfinishedness of our nation.”

The professor also talked extensively about protests and demonstrations, stating that these actions alone are not enough and “they have to translate into political action, into power and policy change in order to be successful.”

BYU President Kevin Worthen formed a committee on Race, Equity & Belonging in July following the Black Lives Matter protests and riots around the country.

Schweinitz mentioned this initiative during her speech, saying that “we, according to President Worthen’s directive, can put the resources of the university and ourselves into the work of antiracism.”

[RELATED: University asks students to 'pledge to practice antiracist behaviors' in full-throated endorsement of BLM movement]

Gabriel, the next speaker, is a member of that committee.

Gabriel talked about Kendi’s argument of assimilation and stated that his writing “really says that a racial group or one in particular can be the superior standard that another racial group should be measuring themselves against," and that “the assimilatist [sic] thinking typically put Whites as the standard, so there is subtle and in some ways not so subtle racism here that I would say many Whites bought into in the sense that it can uplift them in some ways through, I would say pride.”

[RELATED: Penn State will fund research on ‘Raising Antiracist Kids,' including infants]

During the seminar, Spruance talked about the influence of the Black Panther Party’s “Free Breakfast for School Children” program by the federal government. 

“I owe my respect to folks from the Black Panther Party for their development of social programs that helped to alleviate food insecurity in our nation for years.

Spruance declined to answer questions about the event when Campus Reform reached out.

“One of the main messages that I took from the book was the purpose that we should all have in trying to combat racist policies,” Spruance said during the seminar. “In my opinion, racist policies usually are covert. They’re hard to identify and may not seem like a racist policy from the outset.”

Spruance also spoke about her work in combating racist policies, she mentioned House Bill 209 in Utah, which would raise the cost of registration for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.

“Clean air influences asthma and Black and American Indian and Alaskan natives have higher rates of asthma than Whites, so in my opinion, this is a racist policy if we are trying to make it more difficult for clean air to exist within our community," Spruance said.

When asked by the audience about the specific actions one can take to follow Kendi’s writing, Gabriel stated that “we need to ask ourselves some core questions like how do I know my assumptions about race are true? Right? We’re born into a racialized system, we’re taught how to think about race. We need to step back as adults and reflect on the fact, are there really biological differences between races? How big are those differences? Do those differences account for differences in intelligence? Is that something we know or believe in?”

Schweinitz said that “28 states are now in the process, after record numbers of people of color went to the polls last fall, are purposely trying to restrict voting rights. So paying attention to that and not believing the rhetoric about securing our elections and about fraud.”

In the closing of the panel, Gabriel stated that “one of the things that my wife and I have done is for Christmas gifts we provide anti-racist books to our entire family.”

The Kennedy Center will host another panel in April, entitled “Race: Myths and Realities.”

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