BLOOMINGTON — Jelani Cobb sees two very different ways to respond to diversity in himself and President Donald Trump.
"(Trump's) nativity and anti-immigrant politics would seem paradoxical for a person who grew up in the most diverse place in the country," said Cobb, a black author and journalism professor who, like Trump, is from Queens, N.Y. "But with that comes a certain ethnic resentment. A certain politics of anxiety. A certain skepticism, looking over your shoulder and saying, 'Who are these people?' ... Are they American? Are they trying to take what I have?'"
"Being 24 years younger than him, (I) represent a tradition in Queens in which that diversity is normal and to be embraced," Cobb added.
Cobb encouraged Illinois Wesleyan University students to embrace diversity as he kicked off IWU's fall semester at its annual President's Convocation.
"What we're actually doing is studying and preparing ourselves for the better upholding of democracy," he said. "Budget out a little time to interact with someone who's different from you. ... That's the basis of community. That's the basis of education. That's the basis of democracy."
Cobb's presentation, “The Half-Life of Freedom: Race and Justice in America Today," covered how racism shaped America, down to its geography; the backlash against President Barack Obama that led to Trump's election; and how those who value diversity can fight back.
"Optimistic Americans think of progress as a line that's built through time, (but) it can stall or roll backward. ... People actually believed that the country had resolved this riddle of race (after the Civil War)," he said. "We've conveniently forgotten those parts of the past that seem most indictous."
Cobb also addressed Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which lets immigrants who came to the United States illegally in their youth stay and work.
(This) places into jeopardy the future of 800,000 young people ... who are Americans in all but the most technical sense of the term, and it's part of a bigger and broader question and movement about what will happen with American immigration," he said.
In his closing remarks, IWU President Eric Jensen invited attendees to a Thursday rally in support of DACA, which Jensen plans to attend.
"As Dr. Cobb suggested, we own our fates to some degree. We don't passively watch," Jensen said of the university.