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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

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Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

‘Civil discourse is the lifeblood’: Symposium launches with debate on racially colorblind America

Daniel Guel
Peniel Joseph (left) debates Coleman Hughes and Ann Huff Stevens moderates a discussion on race politics in the United States as a part of the Civil Discord Symposium at Hogg Memorial Auditorium in Austin, Texas on March 21, 2024.

The Civil Discord Symposium kicked off on March 21 with a discussion of whether society should work towards creating a racially colorblind America. 

The Symposium, the first official collaboration between the University of Austin and the University of Texas at Austin, is a collection of moderated debates. Ann Huff Stevens, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, moderated the keynote panel, “Should We Strive for a Colorblind America?” with speakers Coleman Hughes, podcaster, opinion columnist and author of “The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America,” and Peniel Joseph, a UT professor and the founding director of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.  

University of Austin President Pano Kanelos said the three hallmarks of civil discourse — intellectual humility, equal dignity and humanity’s passion for truth seeking — are critical to the connection between higher education and society. 

“Civil discourse is the lifeblood, or at least it should be the lifeblood of both universities and civil society,” Kanelos said. “Neither can function unless we speak civilly to one another.”

UT President Jay Hartzell said the symposium shows the University’s commitment to free speech and expression, though it is limited in its position as a public institution and its requirement to follow certain policies. Hartzell encouraged professors and academics in the audience to model open and respectful dialogue to their students. 

“Sending graduates into the world to fully respect the free exchange of ideas will also have an impact on the world, as what they’ve developed here propagates throughout society,” Hartzell said. “Changing the world one graduating class at a time may seem like a slow process, but it’s a good and necessary place to start.”

Hughes said he pushes for a colorblind society that treats people without regard to race. He said he wants race to disappear as a distinctive feature in one’s identity, and public policy should focus more on class than race to bring about social change. 

“(A colorblind America) is an abstraction that points the way like the North Star — it’s not something that we’ll actually ever reach, so my argument is not that we’re going to get into a country with zero racism,”  Hughes said. “That’s never going to happen.” 

Joseph said the idea of colorblindness is rooted in a history of injustice, such as with the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case that created the “separate but equal” doctrine that governed society until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. 

“It’s not just that when we think about this idea of colorblindness, it’s not just an idea of past injury or past harm,” Joseph said. “It is systemic and structural and institutional and contemporaneous.”

Throughout the panel, the two speakers agreed with some aspects of the other’s argument while bringing their own points to the table. 

“Coleman is coming to the conversation in good faith, and I think that that’s important, because part of good faith versus bad faith is this idea that, even if we disagree, we’re after the same aspirational, overarching goal … (of) a just society,” Joseph said.

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About the Contributor
Daniel Guel, General Photographer
Daniel is a fourth year journalism student from Houston, TX. He is currently a  general photographer at the Texan.