Patricia Hill Collins: Racism and Gender Issues

“What does the flag mean to you?

   Sociology professor and published author Patricia Hill Collins, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1948. Collins attended Philadelphia High School for Girls, and went on to further her education obtaining a bachelor degree from Brandeis University. She later earned a masters degree from Harvard University and is currently a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Collins serves as the current president of the American Sociological Association Council, and has published tons of literary work reflecting on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and politics.

  Collins began her lecture by posing the question to her audience of, “What does the flag mean to you?” She reflected back on being educated in a predominately white school setting in which she kept her personal views about issues of race and society to a minimum out of fear of being too “open”. During an experience in school she was approached by her teacher and asked to deliver a speech down at Independence hall in response to what the symbol of the American flag meant personally to her. Collins expressed her thought process as she reflected on the meaning of such a symbol. She began to wonder what the flag had also meant to her family and discovered that it somewhat represented unattained dreams, hopes and aspirations. This story made me think of what the American flag meant to me also. I see the flag as a symbol of perseverance in relation to the “all American dream”. In my eyes such an American dream can only be obtained through education, hard work, and will to succeed despite negative events and odds that may occur on the pathway to success. Collins comments on the means of education and schooling in today’s society, “Schools are gatekeepers; they control what we think and say, privilege to some and none to others.”

  Recent issues on our own campus of Bloomsburg University have raised questions and eyebrows as to if racism has played a factor in the strict regulation an concern being placed on the organization of minority run events on campus. Collins explains that minorities tend to be silenced in mainstream situations. Due to this we must all speak up even if what we believe in or how we feel won’t fully be accepted. She reflects on the theme of “Inequality and Democracy in the U.S. context” by saying that in all aspects of politics, democracy in most cases tries to silence controversy. This statement drew a comparison in my mind to the lack of effort and concern made by the university to initially address the events that occurred at the homecoming dance, with Bloomsburg officials being symbolic of a democracy not in favor of controversy.

  A small part of the lecture focused on the issue of race in America, and why race is even an issue anymore. Many races have overcome struggles and tragic events throughout history, yet African Americans seem to be depicted as having endured the most hardship and struggle. Collins states, “African Americans have had so much to lose, you find them at the front lines of wanting change”. The issue of change in America has recently become a well known slogan for presidents elect Barack Obama who wishes to instill a substantial change among Americans and policies in government. Due to challenges and restrictions that African Americans have had to face Collins suggests that, “the 2008 election shows Obama as a symbolic victory that erases psychological barriers”.

  The final question asks, “Whose flag is it?” In my opinion I think the flag belongs to every citizen of the United States. What the flag means to each individual person is reflected in the achievements they make and the paths they set out for themselves. Nothing in life is handed to anyone; therefore your dreams must be fulfilled at your own hands.