Facing Race: Define Justice. Make Change.

I participated in a really interesting conference last week, entitled Facing Race. Sponsored by the Applied Research Center, it brought together academics, politicians, organizers and activists to discuss racial justice.

I was psyched to participate, particularly because I love talking about reproductive justice work outside of the reproductive rights spaces. The whole point of what we’re trying to do is emphasize the connections between movements, and moving beyond the world of single issue activism. The other side has gotten it right–they’ve figured out how to all be on the same team: the anti-immigrant people, the anti-choice people, the anti-peace people, the anti-sex people and the anti-gay rights people. And the big problem is: we’re not. Instead, we progressives fight for airtime for OUR issue (which has to be THE issue), and the other side wins.

So this conference brought together people from different worlds, with a focus on race and racial disparities. I participated in an awesome panel about sexual health and communities of color, and we were able to have a really dynamic conversation about some key issues. What does the pro-choice movement look like in communities of color? How can we organize around sexual health in these communities? How can we broaden the conversation beyond just abortion rights, to talk about things like the rights of welfare mothers, HIV/AIDs, research, new technologies and birth rights? How can we include people who don’t identify as feminist, or pro-choice?

The other great thing about the conference was the discussion of the war in Iraq. While obviously a progressive issue, it’s not one that gets any airtime in reproductive rights spaces. The speakers at this conference were really intent on talking about the war as a racialized one, and emphasizing that social justice movements will go nowhere without an end to the war in Iraq. That’s a pretty strong statement but a powerful one. We really do have to keep in mind how the foreign policy decisions our government makes influence progressive movements in this country. Like the Global Gag Rule and domestic abortion advocacy.

One important thing I learned: it’s not enough to simply TALK about people of color, or women of color, and how their experiences differ. We have to continually highlight the moments where racism is a motivating factor–and call it out as such. Theories about the biological differences between races and individualism are used by the other side to de-emphasize the role that institutional racism plays in shaping our communities, in holding our communities back, and we have to combat this by continually calling it like it is–particularly when it comes to the racist policies that are being implemented by our current administration.  

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