By Robin Sales
Reflections on event: CULTIVATING NEW DIALOGUE ABOUT RACE AND RACIAL BIAS
March 7, 2020 at SDSU sponsored by the Community Based Block Program
Keynote: Ibram X. Kendi, PhD
Award winning author and founder of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.
Books: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and How to Be an Antiracist
Wow! I was so honored to be able to attend this forum last Saturday. While I was somewhat fearful of being in a public space in the age of the coronavirus, I conquered my fears so that I could hear Dr. Kendi and an amazing panel of San Diego experts on race and ethnicity, including our own Blair Overstreet, SURJ San Diego founder.
But first, two spoken word artists, Shelley Bruce and Ronald Williams shared beautiful and heart wrenching poetry and rap. This got the crowd excited and really thinking about the trauma of being a POC in this country.
Dr. Kendi spoke brilliantly about how everyone thinks they are not racist! He defined racism as “the denial of one’s own racism” saying that “the heartbeat of racism is denial”. He went on to say that someone who is an antiracist admits their racism and that that is the road to antiracism. It takes constant self-reflection and self-criticism and confession to walk the path.
He pointed out that racism is based on a superior/inferior belief about another group. Something is wrong with them; and the superior group is trained not to disconnect the individual from the group. The white supremacist culture says, “Your culture is pathological” and therefore “You must assimilate into the white culture”. The goal is to make all people become white. You might have heard the saying, “Kill the Indian, save the man” which is a great example of how white culture treated our indigenous peoples. Even the progressives and the liberals in our history wanted assimilation, while the others wanted only segregation.
Dr. Kendi used the example of the SAT test preparation industry to illustrate how the “other test takers” are deficient, rather than the racist policy that gives every advantage to privileged students. His pronouncement is that there is “Nothing wrong with the people and everything wrong with the policy” which we at SURJ NC have been exploring through our various speakers this past year.
He also used the example of “unintelligent self-interest” to describe how the white supremacy culture instituted mass incarceration policies in California that disproportionately affect POC to the detriment of higher education which has the ability to lift everyone up.
Dr. Kendi ended with the statement, “There is nothing wrong with the people, and everything wrong with the policy”.
Following his presentation and a very lively Q & A, a panel of local educators and activists were asked questions by the moderators. They were: Khalid Alexander, Pillars of the Community, Marwa Abdalla, independent researcher on the Muslim identity in socio-political discourse, Nellie Tran, Associate Professor at SDSU Multicultural Community Counseling Program , Blair Overstreet, activist and founder of SURJ San Diego, and Dr. Kendi. Some of the areas covered were microaggressions and internalized racism, and implicit bias. There was a consensus that these terms are a way for white people to relieve themselves of responsibility for their behavior.
This was an afternoon well spent and it was great to see so many San Diegans wanting to understand more about how to be antiracist.