“Yo! What’s It Like To Be Black?”
“The title is somewhat misleading,” Anita Foeman, professor of communication studies at West Chester University, said before she explained that it was the title of the article on which her presentation was based.
The days preceding her presentation were filled with many questions about the title.
Some students felt that it was perpetuating a stereotype that all black people say “Yo.”Other students wondered if they were coming to a presentation on how to become black.
Much was left to interpretation, and people were forced to decide for themselves whether or not to relieve their curiosity. An entire auditorium of people decided positively.
Scheduled to give the keynote address March 22 for the communications conference, Foeman also attended some communications classes and held conversations on interracial dating.
On March 22, she used a mix of personal experience and research to open up a world of dialogue and conversation about how to help alleviate conflict. She addressed how to get to know different kinds of people.
“Ask questions,” she said.
In the keynote address, Foeman referenced her experiences with differences in society and compared them to current problems.
“There’s a human tendency to see difference as problematic,” she said.
She said many people have dealt with race as an issue that should end in color blindness. She argued that trying to be color blind is the worst thing we can do because it is simply impossible.
Using a quote by Maya Angelou, Foeman opened up the crowd’s eyes to the lenses and biases through which we see the world.
Angelou wrote, “Everyone sees the world from the rock on which they stand.” With that in mind, Foeman proposed a few very simple solutions to the ailments of race relations.
“Let everyone own their own feelings,” she said.
According to junior Brandon Robinson, people seemed more open in both presentations than they were in classes that deal with these topics.
“Usually people clam up, particularly here, about race,” he said.
Throughout the presentation, Foeman asked questions and let students respond. She also drew out students who seemed interested in a point she was making.
In this way, she allowed people to speak on their own experiences and present past feelings. Some talked about relationships, while others talked about stereotypes, since Foeman dealt with conflict resolution and response.
Kevin Maness, a professor in the communications department, said, “To think that she was able to get students in a 150-person audience to speak out loud about race and conflict impresses me very much.”
In this session, people were able to do just what Foeman was entreating the audience to do in life.
“Reach outside your comfort zone,” she said.
The very title she gave was one that reached outside many students’ comfort zones.
The way the students left was not the way the came in.
“When I first heard about it, I had preconceived notions,” Robinson said. “I thought that this was another attempt for Eastern to try not to appear racially biased, and it actually came out with the opposite, and I thought that that was real.”
“I thought Dr. Foeman chose a perfect approach for Eastern students,” Maness said.
Giving small solutions to a huge problem, Foeman charged Eastern students to hold difficult conversations and ask more complicated questions than, “What’s it like to be black?”