MARIETTA - During Marietta College's annual Black History Month dinner Monday, author and teacher Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie spoke about "the why" of racism and the history connected with it.
Tallie brought up a lot of history she said isn't in the textbooks. She said Columbus typically is portrayed as a hero, Thanksgiving as a happy feast and that Martin Luther King Jr. had a good dream.
"We can't undo history, but when we ignore it, we are doing so at our peril," Tallie said. "So much of what we do today is influenced by our history."
Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie speaks Monday during Marietta College’s Black History Month dinner. (Photo by Amanda Nicholson)
She said oppressing someone is not inherent; it is taught.
"What happens from the time you are little to the time when you are older?" Tallie asked, asking what makes it OK to hate, oppose and harm another human being.
"What have we all in this room been taught, and what do we need to unlearn?" she asked. "Think about the 'why.'
What's the benefit of having our country divided-black and white; man and woman; straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered-so that we never look across the lines and see what we have in common? There's a whole system built off of our distraction...The sickness of racisim is everywhere, just like the sickness of sexism."
Tallie said what everyone needs to do is look beyond those lines that have been created and see other people, and be there for each other.
One workshop she does with her students is bringing in an apple and having them write about it, but the twist is they can't use identifiers, like 'apple,' 'red,' 'fruit,' or 'temptation.'
"You strip away the vocabulary you have for an object in front of them; they have to really look at the object," Tallie said. "You take away the stories and preconceived notions they have."
Tom Perry, executive director of strategic communications and marketing for the college, said it is a good thing to have someone who can bring a new perspective to students.
"The big thing for us is having someone who brings a different perspective," he said. "Someone who can bring a voice or opinion our students don't see everyday."
Richard Danford, vice president for Diversity and Inclusion, said the college lucked into finding Tallie as a speaker.
"She came onto our radar when she was supposed to (speak) at Ohio University," Danford said. "That didn't pan out...We were happy to have her."
Danford said Tallie's experiences are broad, but she is a modest person.
"She has amazing life experience... (that experience) gives her important perspectives on the human condition," Danford said.
Tallie is the author of "Karma's Footsteps," in which she tackles issues of racism and sexism while celebrating the healing power of voices raised against injustice. She is a poet, writer and educator, and is the poetry editor of the literary magazine "African Voices."
She has taught English at York College in Queens, N.Y., and Medgar Evers College in New York City and her work primarily focuses on women, creativity and the healing power of art.
Tallie said it is the job of everyone to help break down prejudice.
"It's our job to really see, to look at each other (as human beings) and unlearn the boxes and categories (we place people in) and take the time to really see each other," Tallie said. "We might get to know each other in ways we (otherwise) wouldn't."
Tallie said she hopes those listening took something away from her words.
"I just hope that something was useful; talking is not fun unless it yields some fruit," she said. "I hope people
were able to get some tools for living, maybe reconsider their way of thinking or know they're on the right path."