This is Rinku Sen – the dynamo behind “Facing Race”

…meanwhile, Melissa Harris-Lacewell rocks the House!

Oh, my, where to start in reporting about my experience at “Facing Race”?

First off, let me say this – “Facing Race” is not your parents’ Diversity Conference.  In fact, it’s not a diversity conference at ALL.

Facing Race is not for the faint of heart – nor is it for people who work in diversity and are usually mandated by your job to be in attendance.  It is not for those who can’t stand to hear the painful, honest truth about race; yet these are the very imbeciles who think if they attend a diversity conference or two, that qualifies them to lead discussions on race and racial issues from THEIR perspective, and not the perspectives of the people of color who suffer and live with race on a daily basis.

Facing Race does just what the name says – FACING the Issues Regarding RACE.  No “Kuubaayah” moments in this set.

And what a profound experience it was.  When 800+ people attend such a conference because they want to really unite our communities; not because they are mandated; not because they are curious:

You have a conference that really does the meat and potatoes discussion of race issues, where POC cheer, and any whites not Tim Wise will wince, moan, groan, leave the room – anything to avoid hearing the hard TRUTH about Race in America, and not how the media wants to frame the issue.

This is the first part of a series of articles I will be doing on “Facing Race”, a nitty-gritty conference held every two years where practitioners attend to plan, organize, strategize and mobilize on the ground forces to facilitate true democracy and equality By Any Means Necessary.

“We don’t do “Diversity” at this conference”, said Rinku Sen, the Executive Director of Applied Research Center, and publisher of the magazine, “Colorlines”, and host of this conference.  “We discuss real issues of race – this is a community of people who care about race gather, and aren’t afraid to confront issues of race in a real and forthcoming way.”

“We are trying to consolidate the base and continue to build the community,” Rinku told me.  “We share are collective learning experiences in modernizing the racial justice movement.  Where there is ‘motion’, we claim it as a ‘movement’”.

A “movement”.  Now, there’s a word I haven’t heard….since the Civil Rights MOVEMENT.  We appear to have stopped, once we were allowed in restaurants, schools, stores, buses.  And we really figured we “MADE IT” when we elected an African-American as President of the United States.

We simply stopped “moving”.  But, guess what?

The Tea Bag Gang began a “movement”.  The bigots never stopped their “movement”. But we, POC, thought we had “ARRIVED” and simply stopped MOVING.

And, says keynote speaker Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, we need to get moving again.  I abosolutely love this woman; she is like the sister I wished I had.  She broke it down in fractions, and anyone who didn’t “GET IT” was because they didn’t want to.

Dr. Harris-Lacewell stated, amid humourous anecdotes, that the real concept of democracy was lost in a battle of “winner-take-all”, which really began when Newt and the boys put a hit out on America and called it the “Contract with America” back in 1994.  These fools forgot democracy really means “shared power”, which also means the winners are required to share their power with the losers.

She then asked those of us POC – “How does it feel to be a ‘problem’? Because that’s what people of color are referenced as in discussion, i. e., “the race problem”.  Well, who’s “problem” is it, really?

I could hear, simultaneously, the cheering of POC and enlightened whites, and the collective wind being let out of a lot of sails.  Did these people not know who Melissa Harris-Lacewell IS?   Did they not know girlfriend would break it down to the point if Strom Thurmond was alive today, he’d be begging forgiveness for raping Essie Mae Washington’s mama?

Dr. Harris-Lacewell stated we are now struggling with “post-racial” when the country has not gone post-racial.  Many thought pulling the lever for Barack Obama would magically erase 450 years of bigotry, oppression, discrimination, and just plain out dogging of POC because they are POCs.

Progressives were not spared, either.  Dr. Harris-Lacewell said they are a bunch who really prefer to defend the status quo – they don’t really want to defend on issues of equality or race.  Look how fast they’ve turned on the POTUS, after busting their asses to get him elected, so they could declare something they really aren’t.

More wincing in the room.  I, on the other hand, was hollering in my corner because the plain, unvarnished truth was being spoken in the room, and no one WALKED OUT.

Some highlights from her talk because I’ll feature more of Melissa Harris-Lacewell in Part II of the series.  But these should make you cheer (and she’s a BIG FAN OF JJP – fact is, we had a lot of FANS at this Conference!):

  1. Inequality = lack of vision, and as a result, there is a lack of vision for POC – assumption that public systems = to failure of public systems.  These assumptions obscure the strutural differences of systems and relies on poor data instead of focusing on structural racism.
  2. The “Cosby Lie” – politics of respectability is old form of racial politics.  You can be safe and equal if you “earn” your citizenship through good behavior.  Well, we behaved well and we are still being dogged out, so where does good behaviour really get you?
  3. Obscuring of the understanding of racism by insisting that racism or racial acts MUST BE PROVEN.  You know how we intuitively “know” when we’re being profiled, subjected to discriminatory treatment, or assumptions that are being made?  Well, the discussion of race, as directed by whites who think they’re informed, gets obscured when demanding that we prove the racial actions or discrimination when we complain about it.
  4. The discussions on race thus far, only focuses on bad behavior of a few, and translates that as bad outcomes for those who live at the margins of society.  To rely on bad behavior of a few in pronouncing bad outcomes based on race is not sufficient in pronouncing bad outcomes of a program, system, solution.
  5. Expect punishment for asserting equality.  How many of you have been banned from “progressive” blogs like Daily Kos, FireDogLake, AmericaBlog, or any others for asserting when some stories were covered with a racial slant that detracted from the whole story (my interpretation)?  This is where Melissa got to brass tactics in the discussion – some of us who call ourselves progressives don’t want to face the fact that when it comes to understanding POC and their perspectives, you really don’t want to.  You expect us to be like Elizabeth Eckford (Little Rock 9) suffer in silent dignity because you’ll  punish us if we assert ourselves.
  6. Your “respectability” will not save you.  – Skip Gates thought that merely being a Hah-vard professor and having 58% white DNA would keep him from police harassment on the basis of his race.  He got proven wrong, and yeah, he probably dissed the officer by playing the dozens and saying “Yo’ Mama”?

Didn’t Skip know that the dozen of “Yo’ Mama” would anger another African-American, but have virtually no effect on whites?

I haven’t even begun to touch the surface of this conference, and I’m afraid I might not be able to.

Tommorrow: Facing Race, Part II: More of Melissa Harris-Lacewell (an interview) and Ten Lessons for Talking about Racial Equality in the Age of Obama.

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