Sunday, September 23, 2007

Recap for September 23, 2007

Today we want to talk about immigration. We might hear from Mona, Dalton, and Dexter as a way to introduce the topic. [That was the plan, anyway. At 11:30, we were still talking about the Planning Summit issues. It turned out to be important.]

Two first-time members were with us today, one of whom chairs the Pierce County’s Disproportionate Minority Confinement Committee. Also, Elly Claus-McGahan, candidate in the upcoming Tacoma School Board election, was with us. We went around the room to have people briefly describe themselves, and we mostly focused on what we bring to and get from the Conversation.

October 4, the Broadway Center will have a display and discussion Community dialog with the African Heritage Community. The doors open at 6, program from 6:30-8:30, free admission. Warning: A Nationally Recognized Star will be there.

Dexter told us about the recent Race & Pedagogy Planning Summit. The events went well, and the room was full. He assured us that continuing efforts the organization will keep the high standards, and keep a strong connection to local talent. The keynote presentation by Letecia Nieto, for example, was first rate. We heard from NCORE, from the U. Mich. National Institute on Diversity, and from the College Success Foundation, and from a program at U. of Oregon. The working groups, comprised of about 45-50 overall, and about 35 attending all planning sessions, produced reports and discussed them. He noted that 2012 lights up a room whenever they are part of the group.

Saturday, he said (agreeing murmurs around the room), was “a head turner.” The first question raised at the plenary session was asked by an invited guest: the community partners have observed this work going on, and they asked what the University would do to support these efforts. The question was asked in a different way, then—has the University been supportive of the main people who were behind it? And they were rather straightforward. The message was that the University had not been supportive. So that issue is on the table. The University president attended the session, and he responded to the discussion.

Think carefully about the penalties of success for anyone doing racial justice work. Think about Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and so on. Some of the talk on campus is that the University is somehow devoting too many resources on the RPC, or that it has somehow hijacked the agenda of the University. This seems to uncomfortably fit into a pattern of Whites interpreting such work as Blacks somehow imposing themselves on a community. So it seems like the document to emerge from the Planning Summit (coming soon) has some pointed issues to address. Some of this has to do with how RPC fits into the University’s Civic Scholar Initiative program, which is the administrative rubric that contains RPC. One possibility is that RPC is bigger than the CSI umbrella. And some of it might have to do with the ways that teachers and administrators engage racism.

Several comments around the room emphasized the importance of the work of RPC. Institutional change is needed, and real change will come from engaging the community AND from inside organizations. The critical issue raised at Saturday was how faculty and administrator allies at the University will cultivate the conversation and encourage meaningful change. “The work of antiracism, and dismantling white supremacy, will be advanced significantly when there are more people who in an earlier era were called race traitors.” We need race traitors on all sides of the race issue. White people need to challenge white people about race. It is a real issue that someone like Dexter gets labeled as an agitator. The work has to be shared widely. The metaphor of the Old Guard seems to be useful to understanding the dynamics, and offers a constructive challenge. People support things like RPC, but the willingness to do something about it is very uneven. A University president, for example, is faced by a range of people, some of whom do not at all support RPC. So, supporters will have to make themselves heard in a president’s office, because the Old Guard will surely make themselves heard. There were a couple of recognitions of Grace’s contributions to RPC at the planning summit, and this was the first time her central role has been acknowledged.

It was also observed that among the college campuses in Tacoma, these dynamics are there, at all of them. So this is a challenge for, for example, the teachers of teachers. This is a problem, the production of teachers who are not skilled at or tuned into the need to do the work of serving the least well served of our students.

The picture we are painting of education and race is actually an old one. One member advised us to look at the book, Deep like the rivers : education in the slave quarter community, 1831-1865, Thomas L. Webber, Norton, 1978. And, check the “Portland Baseline Essay Series” online, at

The discussion moved to patterns of racism in different parts of the country. In our part, people talk about equality (you can be among us), but the acceptance of nonwhites into leadership roles, or in full recognition of their professional work, is not there. The discussion had several threads. The work of justice is everywhere, folks.

One suggestion: maybe we can have a White Privilege conference here. We discussed several pieces of white privilege, and the group here is supportive of the idea.

As one person pointed out, racism is a white people’s problem. And it is not all privilege. One focus on the problem of white privilege is to look at what it does to everyone.

One of the things we try to do through the Conversation is to support and empower people to work in their spheres. People involved in the peace movement in our county, for example, need to tell their story and to let us know what is going on. One idea that came up this morning is perhaps a way to provide such support: Examine the disconnect between progressive groups that are predominantly white, and those that are not.

Examine the possibilities, for example, if the white faculty on a university campus were to put on a white privilege conference. That would be a different dynamic than one organized by the faculty of color who usually put on such things. When white people become the ones who extend the invitation to examine racism and white privilege, the level of honesty goes up, the dynamic has shifted. That would be a pretty good day.

RPC might be well served to have a backup plan, in the event that UPS does not offer sufficient support—the advice from one member, and from others, is to not let the limitations of a particular university shape the design of what can be important work.


The Seattle Friends of the Library annual

Rhapsody in Bloom hosts Steve and Kristi Nebel this Tuesday, 7:30-9:30. You are invited to come hear their set. See the list of events they are involved in at