On Monday, Feb. 22, Dr. Louis Maraj visited Ramapo College virtually to talk about his written work focused on anti-racism and Blackness at historically white colleges and universities as a part of the Black History Month series. Over 90 attendees were at the event to hear Maraj speak.
Maraj began with a presentation on the ideas featured in his book “Black or Right: Anti/Racist Campus Rhetorics,” which he wrote with experiences both as a student and a professor at historically white institutions.
Being a Ramapo alumnus, Maraj said that some of his first interactions with race and its implications in America were on campus, as Maraj was born and raised in Trinidad.
“One of the first experiences I had was working with the Ramapo News," Maraj said. “There was a big story about an alumni who had posted racist images on Facebook.”
Maraj spoke about this again later in his Q&A, recognizing how this story retrospectively taught him that racism is often in the framing of stories. He learned that diversity is not just about including Black people into spaces, but it is also about making it known that spaces are ones they can claim and share their own stories in.
At the University of Pittsburgh, a predominantly white university, Maraj explored the idea of what “diversity” actually means, and he said that diversity is often “mapped onto” Black students. He shared the story of working as a professor and having a Black student ask him repeatedly if he was Black, and that taught him about their different connections with the university.
Another idea Maraj shared from his book was of “the unthought,” or those who are excluded completely from conversations about racism and anti-racism.
“How do we think about difference in the way that race or Blackness are taken by the people who are not there?” Maraj said.
Maraj’s speech was one that opened up space for questions and new ideas to bloom in listeners. It was followed by a Q&A of panelists and submitted questions from attendees.
Professor Lisa Williams asked Maraj how we can use story and narrative to create healing in an anti-racist space, and as a writer, Maraj spoke on how crucial it is to him to begin change with stories and openness.
He also spoke about the importance of understanding how our stories and conversations have exclusions —the “unthought”— and how to begin considering those exclusions.
Black History Month events continue on at Ramapo until the end of February, but it is safe to say that Maraj left a great impact on his audience that will last well beyond a designated month.