From November 15-17th, Baltimore hosted the Applied Research Center's 2012 Facing Race conference. Fourteen hundred attendees filled the ballrooms of the Baltimore Hilton for three days of plenaries, breakout sessions, and a commanding keynote by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Junot Díaz. I had the privilege of stepping out of my usual role as Hyphen code monkey and into that of Hyphen's live-tweeter extraordinaire for the weekend (my thumbs have finally recovered, a week later).
This year's conference also coincided with ARC's 30th anniversary, and as such, Thursday evening was dedicated to kicking off the event with a celebration of thirty years of ARC. Speakers at the anniversary event included Jamilah King from ARC's Colorlines.com, Monica Novoa from the Drop the I-Word Campaign, Rinku Sen, Executive Director of ARC, and Benjamin Todd Jealous of the NAACP.
Co-emceed by comedian W. Kamau Bell and social media maven Deanna Zandt, Facing Race offered a platform for critical discussion of issues that affect communities of color, including the importance of independent media, voter ID legislation, affirmative action, the DREAM Act, racial profiling, the death penalty, and the school-to-prison pipeline. With so many breakout discussions and so little time, it was hard for conference attendees to choose the four sessions that they would attend, and several people tried to float between rooms with varying degrees of success. (I'm clumsy and not at all stealthy, so I decided not to risk any faceplants and stayed put.) And because I apparently like to torture myself, I chose to attend panels about Stop and Frisk policy and police surveillance. Much of this breakout session focused on local policies being implemented in New York City - Stop and Frisk, for one, and the NYPD Demographics Unit's practice of spying on Muslim communities not only in New York, but also New Jersey, Connecticut, and other northeastern states.
But because talking about racism doesn't always have to be a downer, I decided to head over to the racism and humor panel. Panelists talked about confronting racism at all levels through a creative lens, be it through W. Kamau Bell's own FX show or Negin Farsad's documentary on Islamophobia, The Muslims Are Coming. Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing.com was also on hand to talk about The Mindy Project and the concessions that women of color have to make in order to become successful comediennes. And with quite the media giant on the humor panel (seriously, W. Kamau Bell is really tall), the discussion eventually turned to media representation. It was said that the most effective way to get people of color in front of the camera is to get people of color behind the camera, which is exactly what Kaling and Bell have done for their respective shows. As moderator Channing Kennedy said, "There's no logical reason for television to be so white and to continue to get whiter."
The humor continued with the keynote, where Junot Díaz had an entire ballroom of attendees on their feet as he talked about race across many spheres: sexuality, election coverage, college, his childhood - since he had left his notes on the train, virtually anything was up for grabs, and he managed to tie it all together with a number of Lord of the Rings references, earning even more points from his audience. Díaz urged everyone to abandon the mindset of ergo conquero: "We need to stop seeing each other like conquistadores. Self-hate needs to stop. We need to take possessive investment in our other communities' struggles. We need to have as much love for other communities as we do for ours." As he stared into his audience of racial justice activists and allies, he noted that "the cross-race, cross-cultural coalition that many organizers have been predicted actually materialized." It seemed that everyone walked out of that ballroom feeling energized and ready to take on the world - but first, they had a dance party to go to.
For video highlights from Facing Race, check out Colorlines' YouTube Channel, and be sure to watch Rinku Sen's widely circulated opening speech if you haven't already.
Nina Reyes steps out of her usual role as self-described "Hyphen code monkey" and into live-tweeter extraordinaire at Facing Race 2012. A week later, her thumbs have finally recovered.