Last week, I was one of the many students who crowded the Alumni Memorial Building to hear the amazing Angela Davis speak.

She spoke about our country's history of slavery and slavery's modern incarnation: our nation's prison industrial complex.

"We should seriously question the fact that punishment can be profitable," Davis challenged. She was referring to the multi-billion dollar industry of privatized correctional facilities, one of our economy's fastest growing sectors.

The thing about capitalism is that in the right conditions, a profit can be made from just about anything — including the suffering of other people. Why do we pump billions of dollars and millions of citizens through our prisons but neglect the increasingly dysfunctional education and healthcare systems?

After I left the talk, this and many of her other points reverberated within my mind, but one stuck out to me the most.

She criticized the way race is broached as a topic of discourse in the U.S. by comparing it to South Africa.

We all (or at least, we should) know the tumultuous history of South Africa, of Nelson Mandela and his "long walk to freedom." In many respects, the violence and the unrest were much worse than that which occurred in the U.S.

Yet Davis claims that in South Africa, white and black people are better at having critical discussions about this history as well as the current situation than we in the U.S. are. I think she's right.

In the U.S., many people are often criticized — myself included — for talking about race-related issues. Davis added that many white people in our nation seem to be unable to talk about our country's racial history without feeling guilty in such a way that derails discussion.

We all need to learn how to have this conversation because it is an important one. Slavery and racism are, unfortunately, intricately weaved into our history and society. American capitalism was birthed on unpaid laborers, and it is maintained on the backs of inadequately paid workers.

Our country has engineered the plight of Native Americans, Latinos and Asians — and yet, we refuse to talk about it, because for some it is an uncomfortable topic?

Ignoring a disease does not cure it.

And as scared as people are of the disease of racism, they fear much more its public diagnosis. White America is more concerned with being called racists than it is about actually having constructive discussions of what we've inherited from our forefathers.

What did George W. Bush call "one of the most disgusting moments" of his presidency? Hint: It wasn't the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and it wasn't the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq.

It was during a telethon fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina when Kanye West infamously said that the former president "doesn't care about black people.

Let me repeat: President George W. Bush perceived one of his lowest points to be a hip-hop celebrity calling him a racist.

(I'd just like to say, for the record, that there are worse things than being called racist. For example, you could be subjected to racism. But let me go on.)

There are many reasons that we need to be able to discuss race in America. For one, the prison industrial complex that I mentioned earlier disproportionately affects men and women of color. And contrary to popular belief, Trayvon Martin is not the only hate crime that has happened in the last five years.

Socioeconomically, there are still huge gaps in income and wealth that correlate with race and ethnicity. Pseudo-egomaniacal talk-show hosts like Bill O'Reilly exist.

We have work to do people.

Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at aricha43@utk.edu.