Activist Perkinson speaks his mind

James W. Perkinson, a long-time activist from inner city Detroit, spoke to Sonoma State students regarding issues surrounding racial discrimination and segregation that are still taking place to this day.

Perkinson spent 30 years living in the inner city; therefore he knows what it is like. The living is rough and the discrimination is even worse. Now, he is a professor of social ethics at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary and lecturing in intercultural communication studies at the Oakland University  in Michigan. 

Perkinson holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Chicago and has numerous published works on topics such as white supremacy, black subversion and white theology.

Living in the inner city, Perkinson got to experience the way the residents of that area were treated. Oftentimes, he likes to speak his thoughts through poetry. 

“Not our Father in Heaven but our Mother on the concrete,” said Perkinson. This was from his poem regarding how the world is now and how it needs to change in our future. People are still looking negatively towards people of color and by now, in the twenty-first century, that needs to be done.

Lately, there has been an unnecessary outbreak on the murders of African Americans at the hand of police officers. The most recent controversial situation took place on Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Missouri. A police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown who was said to be unarmed. Witnesses claim Brown was surrendering to Wilson, however Wilson shot multiple bullets that took Brown’s life.

Former Sonoma State student Michelle Loeffler recently transferred to the University of Missouri St. Louis, which happened to be only three miles from Ferguson. Moving there was a big culture shock; from a friendly and accepting town, to a racially violent and discriminative. Although Ferguson is receiving a lot of negative connotation, Loeffler said it is not all that bad.

“There are really nice people out there who do not want to harm anyone,” said Loeffler. “I think Ferguson might be suffering from non-contact with people because everyone is afraid to go there. So [those who live there] actually really appreciate [it] when whites] do go there because they do not see as many white people now because of what has been going on.” 

Perkinson explained that studies show 90 percent of whites will have an immediate amygdala response to a negative reaction on colored people. The amygdala is the part of one’s brain that experiences emotions. Even if they do not think they have a negative opinion on people of color, their brain will still have an immediate negative response. Colored people have a 50 percent negative immediate amygdala response to people of color. 

However, when children under the age of five are tested for this, their response is not the same. One of the major impacts on these negative responses is based on how one was raised. If someone has a family that is open and accepting of all types of people, there is a small chance of feeling this negative response. Until children are potentially taught otherwise by society, they see no difference. 

The situation in Ferguson is just an example of the wrongdoings that have been continuing to occur. All across the country, even locally in Santa Rosa, African Americans have been losing their lives in situations that they did not deserve. The main problem is even in the twenty-first century, there are still issues of racial discrimination and segregation. Taking that back to the amygdala response studies, most people have that negative response to people of color. 

The only way to change this is to get to the root of the situation and by raising children with open mindsets. If brains are wired to think negatively upon people whose skin tone may be different, that is something that needs to be changed. It probably is not something that will go away quickly, but Perkinson believes if we take slow steps in the right direction, hopefully the days of racial discrimination and segregation will soon come to an end.