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Changing culture is the first step toward erasing racial boundaries

Culture is more than what we watch, read, and listen to. The movies, TV shows, theater, books, music, and podcasts we consume shape our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live, according to a panel of Northeastern faculty who spoke during the third installment of the university’s Racial Literacy series.

And in the United States, where boundaries have been drawn along racial, gender, and class lines, they said, understanding how the culture both reflects and reinforces those boundaries is key to erasing them.

Our culture can serve to reinforce harmful stereotypes—or build understanding for new ways of relating to each other, said Nicole Aljoe, an associate professor of English and Africana studies who moderated the virtual discussion on Tuesday. But if we want to bring lasting change to society, she said, changing the culture is just as important as changing the law.

Aljoe, who is also director of the Africana Studies Program, offered an example from the height of the Civil Rights era in the U.S. The 1968 film Planet of the Apes has been interpreted by scholars to be an allegory for race, and one that “represents Black power as threatening to white people.”

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