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Speakers to Discuss Race, Racelessness and Building Community

By Clara Turnage

University of Mississippi

Erec Smith, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at York College of Pennsylvania. Submitted photo

Two speakers will discuss their modern views on race and racelessness next month at the University of Mississippi during a panel aimed at provoking thought on society’s relationship with identity markers. 

Adam Gussow, professor of English and Southern studies, will moderate “New Thoughts on Race, Antiracism and the Dream of Beloved Community” at 5:30 p.m. March 6 in Bryant Hall, Room 209. Sponsored by the university’s Declaration of Independence Center for the Study of American Freedom, the program is free and open to the public.

Erec Smith, professor of rhetoric and composition at York College of Pennsylvania, and the Rev. Starlette Thomas, author, activist and director of the Raceless Gospel Initiative at Good Faith Media, will speak on society’s relationship with the idea of race as an identity marker.

Gussow envisioned the event after reading and hearing the work of the speakers. He said he wants to encourage new ideas on campus and to expose students, professors and other attendees to different viewpoints.

“I want us to have a deeper and more nuanced concept of race and our attachments to race,” Gussow said. “I hope people see that we should do these things to espouse different ways of thinking. Let’s hear these new thoughts. Let’s think in new ways.”

Gussow said he wanted to introduce the aspect of “beloved community” to the event, which is a reference to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1957 speech wherein he said that the ultimate goal was, “genuine intergroup and interpersonal living – integration.” King added in a later writing that the beloved community will transcend “our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation.” 

“The conversation I intend to create will offer a positive vision as well as critical perspectives,” Gussow said. “So, thinking about beloved community as an ideal – the work it did back in the day, the occasional appearances it’s made in subsequent years – is a key part of the conversation we’re going to have.” 

Smith is co-founder of “Free Black Thought,” a journal and podcast dedicated to the highlighting different ideas of diversity among Black intelligentsia, and the author of “A Critique of Anti-Racism in Rhetoric and Composition: The Semblance of Empowerment” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

Thomas, a practicing minister, writes on the intersections of race, politics, identity and faith in “The Raceless Gospel,” a blog and podcast, and through many published articles.

Gussow said the two speakers’ views don’t always align, but that each will bring a new perspective and way of understanding to the discussion.

“They are both fearless,” he said. “I think they will see that in each other.”

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