Reflections on community, culture and conflict

St. James Episcopal Church “” title=”St. James Episcopal Church, Austin, TX” and “St.Andrews Presbyterian Church, Austin, TX” ( together sponsored a community event for Austin on Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 7:00PM. The event was held at St. James, and donations went to benefit 5604 Manor, a progressive, community center. The reader can go to ” “The Third Coast Resource Center””to see other upcoming presentations.

The headline of this blog was the theme of Ms. Sen’s talk. The presenter was Rinku Sen, the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center, publisher of” “Color Lines” published by the Applied Research Center”, an e-zine that contains stories about racism, immigration and other isms that surround us today.

Ms. Sen began her talk by telling about herself. Her bi-racial came to the U.S. in 1975, and primarily lived in rural, small towns, at times being the only brown face there. As she described it she lived in many Levitt-towns around America.

Growing up Rinku had one passionate goal: to be an American. Rinku, like most small children, just wanted to belong and fit in. When she went to college she reluctantly went to a rally on campus, motivated by a couple of her friends. The rally and what happened after the rally, radically changed her perspective, because she saw the energy and resulting gains won on behalf of the movement with the university. Confidently she said that some of the changes are still visible at the school When asked later by this writer whether this was a major point in her seeing her place in the universe, she responded in the affirmative.

This writer observed Ms. Sen as a very intelligent person under pressure; this blogger has had a lot of public speaking experience, it’s a very stressful role, and you have to collect your thoughts quickly and give your own best answer; Rinku did that very effectively and passionately; her effervescence is contagious.

Rinku then moved onto immigration issues. She pointed out three general stereotypes used about immigrants: terrorists, foreigners, and free loaders. Stereotypes and labels are used to demonize large groups of people. In short, it’s the lazy man or woman’s way of denial. People, whether media journalists, the civilian in the street or politicians, use this tactic to stir up emotions, creating immigrants as straw women or men and the boogeyman behind the cellar door. They become the puppet-masters that hide below and make the targeted people the ‘strangers among us, who have come to take our stuff away.’

She told the story of Mamadou, an immigrant who helped organized restaurant workers after 911. As Rinku told this story, this writer began to see in much greater clarity that racism always has a hierarchy, and the U.S. has based its collective institutes on a white-structured patriarchal hierarchy of oppression. For example, as Rinku explained, in the restaurant business there are the up-front workers who are essentially white, have the most interactions with the patrons; they can naturally do this because they speak English whereas many immigrants don’t; as a result the ‘back of the restaurant workers’ are on the steps of the hierarchical ladder. Rinku mentioned that a friend had told her, “race makes any situation worse.” Seems to this writer to be a very wise statement based on my own experience of being a perpetrator in the past, and what has observed since my own awakening to my Unaware Racism.

Mamadou was indeed a community activist and organizer and his group went up against a very wealthy man who owned seven restaurants in this community of New York City. But he and his friends did something else—they were also creating their own community, out of conflict, and that community grew strong because it had to look the conflict straight in the face. As readers, I hope we are very proud about the accomplishments, and will stand in solidarity.

As she began to include her presentation, Rinku Sen explained her understanding of Racial Justice. First, Racial Justice equals diversity, but it goes deeper than that—diversity equals variety, thus a multiplicity of ethnicities and cultures. In her mind there needs to be a distinction between Racial Justice and diversity. Some would frame Racial Justice this way: it means equality but often includes the notion of sameness. For most of us who are white, our standard is what we feel we have already have, which is our white privilege, and we continue to perpetuate the standard of “rightness.” Some of us don’t have a clue, because we feel threatened about this sort of stuff—it’s just too messy and generates too much guilt.

Rinku demonstrated four levels of Racism: the first two are micro stages, and the last two are played out on macro levels: 1). internalized individual biases; 2). Interpersonal relationships—power here makes a big difference; 3). Institutional Racism—rules, policies and procedures within organizations, sub-systems, and systems; 4). Structural—interactions between systems.

These 4 levels or stages are not chronological, but when life is viewed through these lenses such as From Personal Prejudice To Institutional Inequality—From Who’s the Racist here?–judgment mode–To What’s causing Racial Inequality Within this Context of our community?

© Christopher Bear-Beam March 2, 2012

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