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Focusing on respect today

Respect, silence, and the need for reflection were the topic of Tuesday’s Colloquium.

Drawing on historical and pop cultural references, visiting scholar Evelyn C. White talked about the need to respect others in order to shape the disarray of today’s society caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Believing that respect makes a non-oppressive environment, White said lack of respect toward other people and their needs has caused a social repression.

White said American’s lack of respect for others dates all the way back to 1607 to when English settlers first landed on North America. The theory of Manifest Destiny allowed them to believe that they were directed by God to move westward to claim the land and consequently had the right to kill and erase whole Native American communities, White said.

White said that settlers did not respectfully address Native American communities in a way that would allow for peaceful co-existence. This violent relationship set a precedent for future relations with other communities and indigenous peoples.

Now, 394 years later, the destructive example that our forefathers began and continued to propagate through the exploitation of other peoples climaxed with the bombings of the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, she said.

“It is time for truth telling and a reevaluation,” White said.

Referring to an African American tradition, White explained, “I was told never to speak unless I could improve upon the silence.”

Aretha Franklin’s voice has broken that silence with a song that spelled it too clearly, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, according to White.

“Everyone on the street wanted respect, it is the inherent right of all human beings,” White said of the late 1960’s when social revolutions were underway. Anointed the Queen of Soul, Franklin tapped into the consciousness of the nation and world. According to White, she single-handedly transformed the spirit of the civil liberties and women’s movement during the Vietnam War in soulful cry that translated everyone’s aspiration into one word that could help solve social unrest.

“I can’t imagine what this country could have been if they (founding fathers) had engaged with communities with respect instead of Manifest Destiny,” White said.

Liza Kuney invited White to speak for Colloquium this fall because her speech, “Aretha: Ready from Within-Musings on Aretha Franklin, ‘Respect’ and the empowerment of Women” related to the Office of Student Life’s annual theme of respect.