At the University of Pennsylvania the Black Men at Penn make up a tiny minority of the student body, but the small group has launched a bold new initiative to end what it says is the one constant in their lives: American racism.
The Black Men at Penn School of Social Work Inc.-comprised mostly of Penn social work students and alumni-recently announced its plan to raise a $10 million endowment to build the Institute for the Research and Study of American White Racism. The facility will study, record, publish and teach the history and practices of American racism, starting in 1619, when the first slaves were sold in America, to the subtle, subliminal and institutional discrimination practiced against blacks today.
The group’s co-founders, Chad Lassiter and Darin Toliver, who both grew up in Philadelphia, and received their master’s degrees from Penn, say that as black men they feel constant pressure to prove themselves at the West Philadelphia campus and beyond as something other than uneducated thugs.
As a researcher and a behavioral interventionist in the endocrinology and diabetes department at Children’s Hospital, Lassiter, the group’s president, says despite his professional experience and Ivy League education, as a black man he earns considerably less than his white counterparts.
Then there’s the more insidious side of racism.
“A stare or a glare can cost me my life,” says Lassister, 32. “Because of the fear whites have for black men, I’m always looked at as a beast.”
The $10 million endowment will provide funds to study what the men call a perpetual problem with no documented continual history.
“We gloss over the paradigm that is American racism,” says Palmer, “but we don’t really study it. We just put it with the ‘-isms,’ and marginalize the suffering of people.”
The institute will work with scholars and activists across the country to research ways to achieve social justice for blacks through law, education, communication, medicine, politics, economics and direct action. It will also perform comparative analyses of how other races have been adversely affected by American white racism.
The goal is to develop a strategy to help individuals, agencies, institutions, corporations and universities examine ways to end racism in all its forms.
“What people do know about racism they know from a victim perspective, without the heroics on how to change the situation,” says Palmer.
“This isn’t just my degree. I got this for the community,” he says. “I think it was ‘Pac who said, ‘Until the brothers are free, I ain’t free.’”