Facing Race conference highlights hope, vision and change

CHICAGO – “We need to put the spotlight on how major corporations continue to impact quality public services,” said LeAnn Hall with the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations during the opening plenary of the Facing Race conference held here recently. “Our struggle is bigger than one big event, boycott or protest. It’s a consistent drumbeat to break the right wing direction from moving forward,” she said.

Defining the radical right, Manuel Pastor with the University of Southern California added, “The Tea Party is really the last gasp of white supremacy in this country.”

Ai-jen Poo with the National Domestic Workers Alliance recalled what a day laborer recently told her: between fear and anger lies courage. “We have to have real power for the long haul because our struggle is a marathon,” said Poo.

Panelists discussed the struggle for a vision based on equity and social inclusion in the U.S. among minority communities.

Xochitl Bervera with Social Justice Leadership ended the plenary. “Let us not forget this moment is about the next one. The future is now. We’re here because we are the dreamers offering hope for the future so that our vision can become a reality.”

More than 1,000 racial justice activists, educators and journalists convened here Sept. 23-25 at the McCormick Hyatt Regency during the Applied Research Center’s 2010 Facing Race national conference.

Facing Race, dubbed the nation’s largest multiracial gathering of racial justice advocates, featured presentations, workshops and forums on the following topics: debunking “post-racial America;” the economy and green jobs; reproductive justice; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights; the 2010 elections; disparities in health care reform; the DREAM Act and immigration reform; educational equity; welfare; and criminal justice.

Conference organizers say their goal was to provide a strategic space for participants to wrestle with the realities of structural racism and forge a vibrant vision for change.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University was the keynote speaker. Harris-Lacewell is a frequent guest on MSNBC and regularly provides expert commentary on U.S. elections, racial issues, religious questions and gender concerns for both The Rachel Maddow Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. She also writes a monthly column for The Nation magazine titled “Sister Citizen.”

During her power-point presentation she addressed issues of race, gender, sexuality and class.

“Democracy is being attacked on all sides,” she said. “The 2008 election of President Obama was an extraordinary moment. And it matters that Obama’s election was much better than the alternative. His victory was more about us than him.”

The problem of race today, she notes, is about freedom, citizenship, the vote, racial integration, economic empowerment and cultural autonomy. The idea that because Obama was elected and because things are different – then things are better, in a so-called “post-racial society,” is not necessarily accurate, she said.

Harris-Lacewell added Obama’s election signaled a new America and shifted partisan power reversing various versions of older white guys when you think of a typical U.S. president.

“Obama’s election changes what we think is possible and there is powerful political discourse on race right now,” she notes.

She highlighted fighting for women’s rights, gay marriage, health care, getting people active to vote and against the privatization of public schools.

“Justice requires that some of us are going to have to give up some things,” she said. “Who said changing America would be so simple? We’re not going to solve all of our problems tomorrow.” But at the end of the day with Obama’s election, “We have done something amazing,” she said.

Founded in 1981, the Applied Research Center (ARC) is one of America’s leading think tanks on racial justice. The group has several offices across the country and aims to investigate the racial consequences of public policy initiatives and develop new frameworks and solutions to address racial inequality. ARC also publishes ColorLines magazine.

Meanwhile ARC is about to release a new study called “Better Together” about the relationship between racial justice organizations and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) constituencies. The study aims to explore the understanding that communities of color and their LGBT members have a good deal at stake in strengthening their relationships. According to the reports executive summary, when racial justice groups, including those focused on LGBT people take on issues of race and sexuality alongside LGBT activists, both can build enduring political power to make policy and practice changes that improve communities nationwide. The study recommends that funders should invest their support both in money and in resources toward LGBT organizations of color and in collaborations between such groups and racial justice organizations across the map.

Photo: Pepe Lozano

From left to right panelists Rinku Sen, president and executive director of Applied Research Center, Rickke Mananzala with FIERCE, Princeton University Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Monica Novoa with ARC and Erica Williams with Center for America Progress discuss race-related topics during the Facing Race 2010 conference in Chicago.



Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.