From Wednesday March 21 to Saturday March 24, I attended the Facing Race Conference in New York City. The Applied Research Center and the Graduate Department at the City University of New York collaborated to create this dynamic space for academics, lawyers, organizers, and artists to build. Like many participants, I walked out of workshops and plenary’s with a glow on my face from the challenge of incorporating new strategies, new information, and new questions into my analysis of racial justice. I connected with strong folks from the around the country, and this blog should help us stay in touch. I want to hear from you: What set this conference apart? What about the conference could be upgraded for next time?
What set the conference apart?
Keynote: Walter Mosely so effectively inserted the idea of *context* into my mental domain that I am still thinking about it on the daily. Context. What is my context? How can find and apply the right context for my work? See, I know it was a good speech because it expanded the range of my questions, rather than feeding me short term answers. Mosely offered an anecdote about a public intellectual who placed his own non-filmmaking self in the context of four of the greatest filmmakers of all time. That anecdote has stayed with me too. What is the best way to contextualize myself, and why do it? I feel like it comes down to the idea that we must define ourselves, because, if not, someone else will define us.
Contextualizing the work in an Intellectual Matrix: I came back from the conference with a new and renewed sense of where my organizing work fits in. We are barraged with labels like “bleeding heart,” which distract away from the truly rigorous strategy and historical awareness that fuels every good campaign. So the conference was a strong reminder, our work lives in this context as well as in the context of living rooms, stereos, offices, and mind-numbing meetings. To be honest, I came back with a sense of relief at the visage of others who work through the mind, heart, and body in the context of doing justice based work. The plenaries were abundant with regularly jaw dropping analyses, observations, and statistics. Which brings me to my next point.
Desis in the MotherF*&%ing House: Yo, was it just me, or did Desi’s represent lovely at Facing Race? I can’t tell you how many times I was beaming proud of my brothers and sisters in the game. From Rinku Sen to the good folks at SAYA to Aladdin, to the plenaries, it was clear that Desi’s are taking a strong role in shaping the course of racial justice efforts in America. And, I gotta say, half the joy of the conference was after hours, in New York city, crawling the streets for a home to dance into. And night after night these homes were there for the finding, spaces with hip hop and bhangra mixes complex enough to make this conference goer feel right at home. From DJ Rekha at Cielo to Desilicious, I felt the formation of a new home, the visage of a place that reflects externally the nunances internally. As a Desi, an Indian born and raised in America, a hip hop head, and a serious advocate, it was affirming to be reflected day and night during Facing Race.
Art/Performance/Entertainment: Off the chain night of performance. Jen Soriano (Youth Media Council), Jennifer Pozner (Women in Media and News), and I (Political Commentator) kicked off the dancing at the end of the evening. That was us on the aisle steps, tearing it up with all the energy traded to us from the artists. Go right ahead ARC, that evening was ablaze!
What about the conference could be upgraded for next time?
This list is simple:
1. Increase the integration of performing arts into the workshop spaces.
2. Try to have more food on site, so people spend that valuable energy on building with each other.
3. Some plenary space on whats going on in NYC particularly, just to ground the whole of us in the context of the city.
4. Greater attention to the physical/spiritual health of attendees, ie. yoga, meditation, creative circles in acccesible spaces.
That’s some of my take. What’s yours?