By Jalen Wade

For The Diamondback

The media has a critical role to play when it comes to toppling racial barriers, said Jabari Mahiri, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“If we want to tell a story, we need people who look like that story to present it, and not just who’s the best actor,” Mahiri said at a University of Maryland lecture on Thursday.

Films like Black Panther, Get Out and BlacKkKlansman — all created by, and starring, black and minority actors — are a positive influence on racial identity as they create a relatable characters for people to grab onto, Mahiri said before a crowd of about 100 attendees at Stamp Student Union.

Mahiri is the most recent speaker in a series hosted by the Baha’i Chair for World Peace, an academic program in this university’s college of behavioral and social sciences that has previously hosted talks gender in politics and structural racism.

For him, confronting racism is reminiscent of refuting the idea that the Earth is flat.

“For me race is the new flat world,” Mahiri said. “We as educators have to bring in information to round out this world.”

“Skin is illegible. We cannot read skin to get a read of who that person will be,” Mahiri said.

Mahiri detailed the origin of racial identities, noting that the idea of blackness did not exist until black were brought to America as slaves. People must identify beyond simple categories like “black” and “white,” Mahiri said.

“These structures and ascribed categories give rise to prisons and prisms,” Mahiri said.

A barrier to ending racial marginalization, he said, is the social hierarchy that is reinforced by racial identity.

“People don’t see their interests connected to the interests of others that have been marginalized,” Mahiri said.

The media can have a positive influence on racial identity, Mahiri said.

Katie Constantine, a freshman nursing major, said people shouldn’t be labeled based on race.

“You can’t label someone,” Constantine said. “Their story is more than that — their identity is more than that.”