Old Poison in New Bottles: Dr. Darby’s Plea for Peace
Those who attended Dr. Derrick Darby’s lecture at King’s on April 5 found themselves listening to a talk that tied into the “Agents of Change” film shown on campus earlier this semester.
Dr. Derrick Darby, of the University of Michigan, is, as he pointed out a number of times, a philosopher. However, the man is not limited in his abilities. At the very least, all who attended would agree that Dr. Darby is an impressive storyteller who has a certain knack for making a crowd react.
Dr. Darby started his speech by referencing his own family. His brother and sister both have traditional African names, a personal connection that stuck with his initially posed question of “What’s in a name?” Darby pointed to the story of Alex Haley’s ancestry masterpiece Roots to highlight the name change of Kunta Kinte to Toby when he was sold into slavery. By contrast, Darby pointed to Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who changed their names in order to distance themselves from the shadows of slavery that came with their original last names.
Later on, Darby presented his concerns about modern college campuses. He read a quote from the great American writer, and Harvard alumnus, Ralph Waldo Emerson which came off as shockingly racist. Gasps could be heard throughout the full auditorium as he continued to read the notably free-spirited Emerson’s personal journal entry. He concluded by saying that Emerson is the namesake of a building on Harvard’s campus.
He followed this by bringing up the highly publicized racism of former President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson who, like Emerson, also has his name on a school building. In Wilson’s case, the building is on the campus of his alma mater: Princeton. Ultimately, Dr. Darby questioned the message that this sends to students on those campuses
Dr. Darby is in the process of co-writing a book detailing his extensive work in the trends of racism. As he explained the book to the crowd upon being questioned about it, Darby began to describe a short piece he and his writing partner put together. The piece proposed that buildings that promote diversity should bear the name of historical figures in the vein of Emerson and Wilson. This would, in Darby’s mind, at least slightly flip the legacies of these racially insensitive historical figures.
Once the final remarks of the presentation were completed, I spoke to Justin Derenzis, a student who was impressed by Dr. Darby’s lecture. He described it as an overall “great talk,” that pushed the message of tolerance and living together as one.
It seems that many in the audience that evening would echo Derenzis’ thoughts. A large crowd swarmed around Darby at the stage hoping to speak with him after the presentation,
Later on, event organizer Dr. Bernard Prusak shared the story of how Dr. Darby was brought to King’s.
“The topic of ‘race and social justice’ was a common theme to programming organized this year by several offices and programs at King’s,” noted Prusak, before referencing two similarly charged events that took place earlier in the year. These events were a panel discussion entitled “After Ferguson,” and the showing of the film “Agents of Change.”
Prusak went on to explain the thought process that went in to selecting Dr. Darby by saying, “We were interested in Darby’s use of the disciplines of sociology, psychology and history to throw light on matters of race and social justice.”
When I got the chance to speak with Dr. Darby, I asked him about racial integration on college campuses in a modern setting. Darby answered by calling back to the themes that ran through his earlier comments, saying that he feels that there are still representation issues on many college campuses, in regards to the faculty and staff.
Darby, who has had stints at a number of different schools, including Texas A&M and the University of Virginia, pointed to King’s College as a school that seems to be behind the representation curve, noting that King’s lacks minority professors.
His thoughts came full circle when he said that minority students could be discouraged by this fact, once again stating that it sends a poor message when professors aren’t necessarily a reflection of the student body.
Overall, it is more than fair to say Dr. Darby was engaging and inspiring. He certainly wasn’t afraid to say what needs to be said on the topic of racial inequality, and did not shy away from the difficult questions posed by the audience.
As someone who is absolutely qualified to speak on such topics, it is encouraging to see that King’s reaches out to the great minds of this country to express and reveal the viewpoints of many diverse communities that are not always exposed on the campus itself.