Noel Ignatiev, co-editor of Race Traitor: Journal of the New Abolitionism, spoke to St. John’s students about a multitude of topics including white supremacy in the United States and institutions within society that “reproduce the racial gap.”
“The race gap is being reproduced today not by separate color and white binds in a jury room, in the voting booth, and the other places,” Ignatiev said, “but rather it’s being reproduced today by mechanisms which appear to be color blind but serve to deliver to the next generation the advantages that are accumulated from the past.”
Ignatiev is a former professor of history at Harvard University where he received both his Master’s in Education and PhD. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is currently a professor of history at Massachusetts College of Art. In 1993, he co-founded Race Traitor, a scholarly journal whose aim, according to their Web site, racetraitor.org, is, “to serve as an intellectual center for those seeking to abolish the white race.”
Ignatiev spoke in a forum presented by the Sociology/Anthropology Club. During the discussion, which took place in Council Hall, there were several moments during which Ignatiev spoke of “whiteness,” which he defined as being “unaware of the operation of the system of privileges” that coincide with the status of a member of the white race.
“Race is a distraction that is not going to go away simply by wishing that it ought to go away,” Ignatiev said. “It’s only going to go away by changing conditions.”
Ignatiev brought up sociological issues such as accumulated wealth and its generational effects as well as the higher education system. He also addressed topics concerning race within the prison system and the disproportionate statistics concerning the black population versus the white population.
“I say we abolish prisons,” Ignatiev proposed. “I want to force you to think of another kind of society that does not need prisons to maintain social discipline and social responsibility.”
Ignatiev received a various reactions from the audience with some students standing and applauding while others were stunned and silent.
Senior Kurt Osterman, who debated with Ignatiev during the question and answer session, felt “disappointed” with Ignatiev’s appearance.
“If they are going to bring a speaker with what I consider a militaristic agenda on campus, at least allow the opportunity for a counterpoint,” Osterman said.
Osterman also believed having Ignatiev as a speaker was, “a detriment to the academic culture they’ve built here at St. John’s.”
However, some students held a different view.
“He provided a great opportunity to the University with a very deep and controversial issue into the open academic forum of discussion,” said graduate student Christopher Coes. “The speaker himself was well documented in his presentation; he presented a lot of his own bias’s and weaknesses in his own analysis.”
Ignatiev encouraged students to fight for change in society.
“Do not appeal to people not to be racist, not to be prejudice, its useless, but rather [encourage them] to examine the institutions that reproduce the color line.”