Saturday, March 01, 2008

Conversation Recap for February 24, 2008

Good morning. About 30 of us entered the Evergreen building under a thinly overcast sky, a pleasant 48 degrees Fahrenheit, a gentle breeze. Yet most of the gathering could tell something was up. Perhaps the more sensitive souls could tell the barometric pressure was rising (29.72 in. as we started). We welcomed some new participants who shared.

Some announcements:
• A PBS special, “Unnatural Causes,” a 4 hour series about the connection between health and inequality. It is scheduled to be broadcast on March 27, April 3, 10, and 17. BUT our local PBS broadcasters have not yet scheduled it. Hmmmm. Contact them at
• The Fair Housing Center of Washington needs volunteers to do research into civil rights cases. Contact them at 253-274-9523, or at
• The Rev. James Lawson will be in Tacoma. Here him speak Monday, Feb. 25, 7 pm at Shiloh Baptist Church; Tues. Feb. 26 12-1:30 at St. John’s Baptist Church; and Wed. Feb. 27 7 pm in the BHS room, above the University of Washington book store, 19th and Pacific.
• The second community forum for parents of kids who have issues with the way they have been treated by Tacoma Public Schools, will be March 17, 6:30 pm, at Shiloh Baptist Church. If you know parents of Tacoma schools students, please tell them.
• United for Peace of Pierce County has some speakers coming up: Friday Feb. 29, 7 pm, go to Kings Books to see David Smith-Ferri, who will be speaking about his encounters with people in Iraq. On Monday March 10, also at 7pm at Kings Books, hear David Bacon describe how the world economy “creates migration and criminalizes immigrants.” The whole UFPPC schedule of events is found at
• Check out for a description of efforts to start a food coop here. A member of the organizing group, who among other things works at an organic farm in Puyallup, told us about the efforts.
• People doing work with nonprofit organizations, take note: Professor Callista Brown is teaching a course on Writing in Professional Settings, and during April and May the students will be working on projects from some local organizations. If you have some writing projects coming up, please come to the Conversation, or contact her directly at
• One first time participant showed us a book he just published, You May Kiss the Bride: Now What? See it on Amazon at

A couple of weeks ago the Conversation discussed the use of the N-word. One impetus for discussing it was a participant, a teacher, assigning a book (Bodega Dreams, by Ernesto Quinonez) in her class that used the word repeatedly. Michael Dyson spoke at Pierce College a few months ago, and included a section on the topic. Part of his talk was also a response to the Bill Cosby/Alvin Poussaint. We watched a tape of part of his talk. As one participant said afterwards, “That was some performance.”

Among the topics we focused on, is his use of the N-word. As his talk demonstrated, its use taps quickly into many charged topics. Many of the comments were descriptions of experience with using and hearing the word, and their own rules about using it. Nearly all of those who spoke referred to feelings and reactions that raised contradictions. Just about everyone has their own set of rules about use, and understand rules are needed due to the ways the word affects others. Most people referred to the importance of not losing sight of the historical and critical dimensions of its use.

Some of the comments were about Dyson’s use of the N-word, and objections that he may have violated some rules that are there to protect black people. An interview with Michael Eric Dyson about several things, including his use of the N-word, is available online from the DemocracyNow site, from July of 2007.

The word is part of the construction of reality—so we will see words and their use change, just like the rest of reality. The rules surrounding this will be contested. We were given some demonstrations of similar changing rules. Sorry, no film on this, you had to be there.

As part of wrapping up the discussion, we were invited to reopen the question of whether we want to share what goes on here more widely—such as on YouTube. Last week’s discussion with Dr. Maxine Mimms, for example, was a big deal, and 28 people were able to be part of it. So one issue is whether we want to offer some of the discussions we have as models for a wider audience. So we need to think about this.