On March 19, Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington delivered this year’s Reeb Memorial Lecture. The Reeb Memorial Lecture series, which features prominent figures in the realms of social justice and human rights, was created in honor of alumnus James Reeb ’50, who answered Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for clergymen to march with him in Selma, Ala. and was killed by white supremacists.
“When I was younger … I thought I was going to end racism – still working on that … I thought I was going to end sexism – still working on that.” – Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington
During the lecture, Washington emphasized the importance of engagement. He noted that far too often discussions about social justice, especially racial ones, tend to be surface level, and people avoid talking about what they have actually been thinking and what actually irks them. One of the first things he did during the lecture was make everyone in the audience find a partner. This produced more than a few groans.
“Everything I’m going to do has a purpose … I’m not doing this to fill time … believe me, I know how to fill an hour and a half,” Washington said.
Partners were instructed to tell each other why they came to the event and their feelings about social justice in general. Washington emphasized the importance of establishing connections with others at these kinds of lectures in order to keep the social justice conversation alive outside of specified spaces.
Washington also posited that it is important to be welcoming of those that are ignorant about more contemporary progressive notions and come to social justice lectures to learn.
“There is no reason to shame them … you guys know what woke means? Sometimes it’s okay to be waking up,” Washington said.
Washington then began to introduce his conception of the direction social justice has taken and where it needs to go. He presented the movement as existing so far in three phases: a phase in which a dominant group exists within a bubble of power built specifically for the dominant group – and disenfranchised groups are not allowed in this bubble at all; a phase in which a dominant group exists within a bubble of power built specifically for the dominant group – and disenfranchised groups are also allowed to exist within that bubble but within their own bubble – segregated from the dominant group; and a phase in which a dominant group and disenfranchised groups coexist within the same bubble, but the bubble is specifically built for the dominant group to succeed. Washington believes it is his job, as a social justice educator, to move society towards a fourth phase in which there is no bubble and no dominant groups, but rather true equity and coexistence.
Washington then discussed the ever-evolving mechanics of social justice.
“Often times we try to use 1980s technology to try and change things today,” Washington said.
Washington asked the audience if their minds immediately jumped to racism when they thought of marginalization. When they affirmed his suspicion, he asked the audience if their minds immediately jumped to white and black when they thought of racism. When they affirmed his suspicion once more, Washington delved into a nuanced explanation of the necessity for an adequate model of social justice to contain sophisticated conceptions of both intersectionality and the context in which people live which, as of right now, warrants the image of black oppression as soon as a discussion of marginalization begins. He reasoned therefore, that anyone fighting for social justice needs to fight against racial inequity and the array of other forms of oppression simultaneously.
The audience was made up of administrators, professors and students. At the end of the lecture, Washington answered questions regarding emotion, conversation, theories about intersectionality and his vision of the future. Washington answered all of the questions with sincerity and a smile.
“When I was younger … I thought I was going to end racism – still working on that … I thought I was going to end sexism – still working on that,” Washington said. “I don’t think these problems are going to go away in the time I have left on this earth. What I try to do every day is leave the world a little better than I found it.”