Sometimes the road to racial justice can feel like it’s paved with the coldest of stones, riddled with torturous twists and turns that seemingly lead to nowhere. It gets even harder when the powers that be construct divisive forks in that road, forcing advocates of the marginalized to diverge from the powerful tide of social change only to be emptied into more easily manipulated dis-tributaries. But if one took away anything from the closing plenary at Facing Race in Chicago this year, it was that the hope of 2008 remains. (Check out video highlights below and on YouTube.)
The conference, organized by our publisher the Applied Research Center, closed on Saturday afternoon by bringing together four progressive heavyweights: Van Jones from the Center for American Progress, Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar, anti-racist activist and author Tim Wise and Rinku Sen, the executive director of Applied Research Center and publisher of ColorLines. You can get watch the full session at ARC.org/FacingRace.
Connecting past to present is the first step for the movement to understand where it must go from here, said Wise. Bringing the inequities of the past to the present condition is key to understanding what steps racial justice advocates have to take to move forward said Wise about the xenophobia targeted at Muslims and unauthorized immigrants that is sweeping the country. “We’ve been down this road before,” he said of about the xenophobia targeted at Muslims and undocumented immigrants this summer. “It’s the continual resurgence of nativist stuff. This is not the new racism; it’s the old racism.”
Wise also urged white liberals to let go of their discomfort in looking past class alone when addressing inequity. Getting white progressives to see that their “racial indifference is another form of white supremacy” is one way to transform what he calls “aspring white allies” into actual allies. He also noted that framing racial justice as a way to “save our humanity” can be appealing to whites who often see race as either irrelevant or threatening.
Sen pointed out another common blind spot for white liberals: the idea that diversity is the key to leveling the field. “Diversity is not equity,” said Sen.
On bridging the gaps between oppressed people of every creed, panelists urged organizations to build longer lasting relationships with one another, so that their collective power is enduring—not just rising during election time and disappearing. “This struggle isn’t about trying to win on Election Day,” said Jones. “It’s about trying to win every single day.”
In the end all panelists championed hope as the most powerful weapon in the fight for equity. Of rough roads ahead, Jones reminded us that “our opponents aren’t acting this way because we suck. They are acting this way because we are powerful.”