I think a very relevant point to consider is the growing racism towards Arabs in the United States in our post-9/11 world.
I have been a college professor for a bit more than 10 years, and thus, I began teaching shortly after that fateful day. It was perhaps six months later that I had a young woman of Arab descent in my classroom. We were reading an essay titled, "Why I Wear the Veil," which argued for the writer's decision to wear a hajib in public. Suddenly, my student started crying. She used to wear a hajib but did not any longer. After she gathered herself, she explained that during her senior year in high school (which she had just graduated from), she suddenly and personally encountered racism for the first time in her life.
Now, understand, she was not new to our country, nor to the state in which we live. She had grown up with the people who had suddenly turned on her, calling her horrible names, defacing her locker, and generally making her life miserable. She had in no way supported or been involved with the terrorism, but like the Japanese and the Germans during World War II, suddenly her race was the only necessary factor for hateful treatment.
It still breaks my heart that this soft, kind girl had decided to change something so important to her identity in hopes of avoiding taunts and ill-treatment.
Although this was ten years ago, I would argue that there is still a lot of racism directed towards Arabs. Just recently, an Imam on his way to a conference, was detained and not allowed to board a plane, although he had never been in any sort of trouble and was not on a "no-fly" list.
Finally, if you would like to inject a little levity into your speech on racism, consider using some of Stephen Colbert's wry remarks about how he "doesn't see color." (You can find a whole bunch of those videos here.) The audience always titters and laughs because...well, because we all know that that isn't so, despite the fact that we have finally elected our first black president, and the claims of many that we live in a "post-racial" society.
I agree with litteacher8: your own racial identity has a lot to do with the approach that you will be able to take on the topic. To put it blatantly, if you have not experienced racism that has been directed at you, you may have to work harder to understand the true shape that racism takes in America today. (I'm assuming you're from the U.S.) If, on the other hand, you have personally experienced racism, you can draw upon your personal experience to make connections to the larger social situation.
One of the great blunders of our current era is to turn a blind eye to the very real racism that still exists in our society. If I were to give a speech on racism, that's what I would want to address. The majority of us have learned a great deal about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but we are ignorant about racism in our own era. I would recommend two texts to help you out. The first is an essay by Peggy McIntosh, entitled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." This essay talks about the invisible privileges built into white existence that we white folk often overlook because of our position of privilege. Particularly if you are white (like me!), it is extraordinarily eye-opening. Another shocking and contemporary resource is the book Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol, an expose on the unjust gap between public education in urban areas in comparison to more affluent areas. You can bet that race plays a part in that situation, too.
In a nutshell, if the task were mine, my framing message for a speech on racism would be "We've still got work to do."
Where to begin?
Usually the first point to make is that racism is based on ignorant bias—it has no foundation in fact. Racism is not based on any scientific information, but usually on fear and hatred. I would supply examples of racism, which occurs and has occurred all over the globe, throughout the history of mankind.
To drive the point home, I might even mention that prejudice is present with racism, and that teens might be victims of prejudice when store owners follow them around the store believing they will steal because they are teen; or people might treat teens differently if they have funky hair, dark make-up, tattoos or multiple piercings. Seeing people as inferior because of what they look like is the same as judging people based on their race.
I would also provide supporting evidence of the rage, and violent (even murderous) behavior that surrounds racism. The Civil Rights Movement has many examples, and the story of Emmet Till is one that I find especially difficult to accept—and since Emmet was of middle-school age, I know that students, especially, are transfixed by the horror of his death. (We read and discuss A Wreath for Emmet Till—which is a collection of fifteen sonnets—describing the young man and the events leading to his murder.)
Define your stand with a solid thesis, making sure to define what racism is, and provide factual information that argues against its practice—specific examples are a must in supporting your point of view.
There are many, many things that you could talk about in a speech on racism. Here are a few things you could talk about. You should pick one or more of them based on how long your speech needs to be, which of them you find interesting, and which you think you can explain to others.
- Causes of racism in modern society. In other words, what accounts for why some people are racist and others are not? Is racism a product of ignorance and lack of contact with other races? Or is it a product of frustration and anger, which is why it is more prevalent among poorer people?
- How much of an impact does racism have today? Differentiate between personal racism and institutional racism when you talk about this. Discuss whether there are still ways in which our society is set up to (intentionally or not) keep non-whites down.
- Is racism a power relationship? In other words, can non-whites truly be racist in ways that matter? Of course, non-whites can harbor negative attitudes towards whites. But do these attitudes constitute racism given that blacks do not have the kind of power in society that they can use to oppress whites?
I hope there is something you can use in these ideas...
A thesis should be arguable. One thing you could definitely argue is that not only is racism still in existence it continues to grow. Look at the levels of poverty comparing people of color and caucasians. Look at the percentage of prison populations comparing people of color and caucasians. Look at the socio/economic levels comparing people of color and caucasians. In addition, as someone earlier mentioned, there is an increasing amount of racism toward people perceived to be of middle eastern descent.
I would start by thinking about how racism has affected your life. Have you experienced it? Have you had family members experience it? Do you think society has changed with regard to racism? You can take a particular institution and study it. For example, schools. Is there still racism? What form does it exist in? Why does it still exist? Focus on something you have observed and wondered about.
We have certainly come a long way since the days of slavery and segregation, but you could discuss how far we have actually come. Are we a post-racial society or is racism alive and well in the modern day? If we assume that racism will always exist to some degree, how much room for progress in racial harmony remains? How much closer to that ideal can we get?
Whenever you discuss a controversial topic, you always need to remain as objective as possible and consider arguments that come from both sides of issues. Be sure to point out that racism is not one-sided, as some of the news stations would have people believe.