Leonard Pitts discussed race relations Feb. 5

by Tina Owen,

“People listen to what confirms their world views. ... Facts don’t matter much to society any more.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts Jr. shared this thought with Willamette students in a special class before he delivered a speech at Smith Auditorium on Feb. 5.

As a journalist, he explained, he felt frustrated with the widespread lack of informed public opinion about important current affairs, such as race relations — the topic of his speech as part of Willamette’s MLK Celebration 2016.

In terms of race, Pitts told the audience at Smith Auditorium, “We all need to be shaken up with regard to how we process this thing we call race and its cousin, that thing we call ethnicity. We regard them as self-evident and imbue them with all manner of meaning. But ... in the absolute sense, there are few things in all of human history that have less meaning. ... Race is [a human] invention. ”

Pitts urged his listeners to move beyond belief in such dangerous, divisive stereotypes, to not fall victim to “weapons of mass distraction” — the historic need to scapegoat and fear different ethnic groups. And he challenged them to continue Martin Luther King’s work by taking action against wrongs.

“Martin Luther King did a whole lot more than dream,” he explained. “He worked. He organized. He marched. He strategized. He spoke out. He did these things in the cause of African-American freedom, of ending segregation and oppression based on the fiction of race. But he also did these things in the cause of human freedom, of teaching us that we are all threads in the same garment.”