Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Notes and reflections on two Social Justice Week events

There are still just over two days left of UWL's Social Justice Week 2017. Social Justice Week is chock full of wonderful (and often wonderfully challenging) events, two of which I have had the pleasure of attending so far.

Monday night, I saw Lee Mun Wah's film, "If These Halls Could Talk." The documentary is an unscripted series of discussions on race that Lee Mun Wah facilitated among a multiracial group of 11 college students. It captures some of the complexities of talking frankly about race and connecting with others in a society that cuts us off from our own emotions and from each other. I highly recommend everyone check it out. Lee Mun Wah's gift for storytelling was apparent not only in his film-making, but also in his presence and facilitating at the event. He made it look effortless. His organization, Stirfry Seminars and Consulting, offers seminars, practical resources, and other similarly-themed films, which I look forward to checking out. He generously provided a packet of handouts and exercises on mindful facilitation skills that are extremely useful. Lee Mun Wah shared that his next project is touring the country visiting cities where individuals of color have been murdered by police, facilitating conversations between communities of color, plain clothes police officers, and their families. It sparked many ideas for me in what we could do in La Crosse to build bridges in our community and open up more honest dialogue about race. I am hopeful about discussing what this might look like here and particularly curious to hear what people of color in La Crosse would like to see in this regard.

Tuesday night, I saw Charlene Carruthers, Director of the Black Youth Project 100, speak about the Movement for Black Lives as a Black queer woman and community organizer. I took notes at this event, which I have shared below. Keep in mind that these ideas were all formed and communicated by Charlene, while the notes are how I paraphrased her, so all credit for any brilliant gems you read below goes entirely to Charlene and her predecessors whom she cites (apologies for names I missed). If anyone else who was there sees flaws in the way I interpreted or stated anything, please let me know. I hope you all take the time to read through the notes to learn from this bright visionary leader. She is truly a wealth of knowledge, and I'm deeply grateful she came to share her thoughts and experiences with us in La Crosse.

"Killing The Black Imagination: Where Do We Go From Here?"
Charlene Carruthers, April 4, 2017
  • Origin of modern policing in US: slave patrols. Police continue now to protect property, which is what enslaved people were considered by the state prior to emancipation.
  • People often use individual examples of cops who are good decent people. She is not concerned with individuals but concerned with institutions and the power they have. Power that could and should go back to the communities. You can replace the people (as naturally happens over generations) but the structures still do the same thing--protect interest of the wealthy and recreate unequal dispersion of resources and power.
  • The Combahee River Collective: A collective of Black feminist lesbians asserting that liberation of queer Black women would mean liberating all forms of oppression. We all benefit when we liberate the most marginalized people.
  • Social justice for ____. We must ask ourselves, social justice for who and for what?
  • Reminder to be thorough in our history. 19th amendment often we say it "gave women the right to vote," but it did not grant the right to vote to Black women. Just white women. Not one single Black woman was in attendance at the Seneca Falls Convention, but curiously enough Frederick Douglass (a Black man) was there.
  • Black Wall Street sometimes used as pinnacle of black excellence. But capitalism has not nor will it ever liberate black people. Recommends the book Black Marxism by Cedric Robinson
  • "It's not about race it's about class" erases so many realities not just in the US but across the world and throughout history. We cannot divorce race and capitalism. Also patriarchy which predates those systems.
  • On "diversity": True biocultural diversity is not about feeling good about yourself, it's about survival of our species. Why we can't care about all the land and all beings on the land? There is enough care to go around for all.
  • We in social justice love to pull quotes without context. We have to include the context! Audre Lorde: "There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives." These words predate the term "intersectionality," which is now often used in social justice lingo. "Triple oppressions," "interlocking oppressions," "double jeopardy," are other ways of describing the reality of black women's lived experiences and the insight their experiences reveal.
  • An older Black feminist organizer from the south told her that coming to understand that trans women ARE women helped her expand her definition of womanhood and be a fuller woman herself. This world tells us that "woman" is a narrow definition. Let's challenge that narrowness. Expand!
  • When discussing privilege, particularly for white people: Guilt doesn't do anything but get us stuck. Recognition of power and acquiescence of power, that's where change happens.
  • Movement for Black Lives is broader coalition, with significant timing and synchronicities between Black Youth Project 100 and Black Lives Matter Network.
  • More than 7,000 people were detained by Chicago police in an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Homan Square between August 2004 and June 2015. Over 80% of those detained were Black.
  • Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 51 schools at once, 97% of those students were Black, closed hundreds of mental health facilities, and continues to spend $4 million a day on policing. This does not keep black people safe.
  • Audience question: The conversation is disheartening to Black organizers. At what point do Black people say forget it and create their own thing? Charlene's response: If we're gonna move, who are we taking with us, who are we leaving behind, and where are we going? And do we want to be colonizers? (no)
  • She is an abolitionist. Slavery and its current iterations of mass incarceration and police terrorism have to be completely abolished. We have to build institutions as alternatives. Divest in policing, invest in communities.
  • She shared powerful experiences in Palestine, where she was a delegate to build solidarity between Black and Palestinian liberation movements.
  • Reform: Electoral politics are a way to impact the immediate material circumstances of our people, but it is not the end. Body cameras are an example of reformist reforms. They don't actually keep Black people safer. Now we just see the videos of Black people being killed; they're still dying. Radical reform: Invest in the community, divest in policing. Radical change: communities have to control schools and institutions. We have to invest in crisis interventions, mental health work in our communities.
  • The toughest conversations are often with our family. Commit to having them for a lifetime.
  • At one point, we all were more ignorant, had different politic. We can use that as a way to connect and empathize with our people who are still more committed to the status quo. We all must be constantly evolving and learning. Do your own work. White people: We need to collect other white people. Do that work with each other.
  • Remember: It is NORMAL to be racist. To be sexist. To be ableist. Classist. Homophobic. The first step is acknowledging there's a problem. Don't come to the solidarity table thinking that you have it all figured out. Constantly be willing to unlearn what you have learned your whole life. White people need to gather on our own and confront our racism and issues before we can be welcome at the solidarity table.
  • Showing up for racial justice (SURJ) is one organization working on that. There is a local chapter recently formed you can find on Facebook if you are inclined to do that work: La Crosse Area SURJ.

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