I’m not sure who (if anyone) has stuck with this series, so I’m not sure what your interests are in wrap-up. Drop comments if you want me to address other issues. Here are my thoughts. This was an overwhelming experience in many ways, and there are many threads one could pick up from the things that happened at the conference. I’ll discuss three themes: the content of what people talk about, the importance of listening along with talking, and cultural differences in public talk. I tried to provide a lot of details about what people said and how they said it because I’m very interested in how people talk as well as what they talk about. I have been struck before how the whole tone of interaction shifts when a meeting is dominated by people of color instead of whites. Although the two day conference in Farmtown was a kind of immersion experience, I have had many similar experiences before. As a White person watching the interactions, I’m most struck by how deeply personal and painful these issues are for Black people.* (more…)
August 25, 2008
August 24, 2008
The final session of the two-day conference I’ve been describing in the “Farmtown” posts is supposed to be reports from the small groups that met in the morning. These reports get longer and the discussion gets more animated with each successive speaker. As with the sermon, I’ve tried to capture the flavor of the longer speeches. Again what interests me is the way people weave different themes together when they talk. (more…)
August 20, 2008
(This continues a series. See the earlier posts in the series for context.)
Our lunch speaker is a Black man I code as about 40 plus or minus 10 years. He has a staff job with a college in another state and is also a Baptist minister. His style is passionate Black ministerial oratory interweaving politics and God, interweaving joking and anger and challenge, ranging broadly across a lot of issues and pulling in quotations from many writers. He says his goal is to challenge and upset people. The talk is free-flowing but planned out; there are extensive quotations from religious and political sources. I’ve tried to capture the feeling of the speech/sermon in my notes.
My goal is to make you upset and angry today. People need to stop being PC and talking about “institutional racism” as a cover and being afraid to call out individual racists. We should demand justice. But instead of demanding, we are sitting complacent and saying we are doing something, but we are not doing something. We should demand drug treatment and job training. Socially responsible businesses should offer training at their own cost, benefits to community. We should go back to Operation Breadbasket, when leaders demanded businesses to sponsor jobs. (more…)
August 17, 2008
In this episode: details about problems and programs, some startling facts about returning prisoners, a brief eruption around mistaken racial identity, we talk about mentoring. Again, a mosaic of experiences. Remember, these discussions are not being “performed” for Whites; the point is a group dominated by people of color are trying to understand what is going on and what they can do to contribute to solutions.
Next up is a panel of six people from Unitown, all in their thirties to sixties. None were here yesterday for the first day of the conference. They are a White woman who runs a faith-based nonprofit with a significant prisoner reentry project; an Asian woman community organizer; a Black man who has been a local politician and is head of Unitown’s office of equal opportunity; a Black man who is a former prisoner who is now the head of a returning prisoner’s organization, and a Black married couple (both professionals) who have been involved in a lot of different activist projects; she is now chair of Unitown’s Equal Opportunity Commission. I know five of them from the various groups I’ve worked in and have heard much of what they say before. My notes are details that caught my attention. (more…)
August 13, 2008
(This is the next in a series about a two-day conference I attended on racial disparities in education and criminal justice. I was the first speaker. After that, I attended, listened, and learned. This picks up on day two, after a night spent in a dorm room.) After a buffet breakfast, the morning speaker is a Black educational researcher who does qualitative research on children’s and families’ perceptions of schools, stressing the importance of talking to the people being “served” by institutions. One project involved asking children what their sources of support were and then asking teachers what the children’s supports were; in general the teachers did not know. Children often viewed their families as supportive while the teachers saw the same families as unsupportive or problematic. (more…)
July 29, 2008
It is important to place this discussion in the context of the whole conference, so it you are new to this series, please check out the previous post. For a quick recap, I’m writing about a two-day conference on racial disparities in incarceration and education at a university in a rural area I call Farmtown. The previous post focused the first half of the first day and the ways information was brought into the group. This post focuses on the second part of the first day, which ran from 3:15 – 9pm.
Two Farmtown professors do the short version of a workshop they’ve done often before for white faculty at their institution on the ideology of white supremacy. The black social science professor goes first, and it is relevant to note that he is older, in his sixties. His title is “isms and schisms.” The point is about how demographic differences become structures of inequality. He talks about how people respond to experiences of discrimination and then asks people what they see when the imagine pictures of powerful groups (i.e. Congress, Supreme Court). We are supposed to say “white male.” I hear one of the officers next to me say something like “mostly white males with some women and a few blacks and latinos” to Congress, and for the Supreme Court says “mostly white men and a woman and a black man.” At the end of this exercise, he requires the white man to answer his “what do you see?” question, and the answer is “mostly white men.” I’m glad I’m not put on the spot like that. I learn later that the speaker always forces a white person to answer this question. (more…)
July 28, 2008
My in-house editorial advisor says he likes the longer posts better, that the shorter posts seem like wind-up and no pitch, so I’m going to do this in somewhat bigger lumps. To recap posts 1 and 2, I’m writing about a conference of 35-45 participants on racial disparities in incarceration and education being put on at a university in a rural area (Farmtown) that is organized by faculty and staff of color whose attendees are predominantly people of color, roughly half from the hosting university and the others from the metropolitan areas in the state, which include the state capital with the main university campus I call Unitown, the big city I call Segtown, and other urban areas in the swath between Segtown and BigCity in the next state over. I wanted to write about partly because interactions in a conference that is mostly people of color are different from those in a white-dominated setting and are different from what many whites think they would be. And partly just to give the flavor of a real conference in all its complexity.
This is an ambitious and even exhausting conference. (more…)
July 27, 2008
I wrote this from notes I took at a conference on racial disparities in incarceration and education at a branch campus of the state university located in a rural very-white area I will call Farmtown. I was invited to give my disparities talk by a group of university-connected people in Farmtown who have been meeting because they want to do what they can to fight problems of racial disparities. The call to the conference expressed the hope of linking up people in different communities working on these issues. Farmtown is 150 miles away from metropolitan Segtown, where most of the state’s African Americans live, and 75 miles away from Unitown, the state capital and home of the major university where I work and live, so this seemed an odd locale for such a conference. I could have just given my talk and left, but I am a member of the “community” who is working on these issues, so I decided I’d like to stay for the whole two days to talk to people and see what was going on. I told the organizer that if they covered my conference registration fee (which includes three meals and a dorm room) I would consider myself adequately compensated, and did not need an honorarium. I was told that about 45 people have registered for the conference, although not everyone is spending the night, a large contingent of Unitown people are coming tomorrow only, and some people have been coming and going from the room.
When I counted at the opening session, I got about 11 whites and 18 people of color who are mostly black. I learned as the day progressed that I had miscategorized some folks, about which more later, but the errors were in both directions. The conference is about 2/3 people of color. Thinking about it later, I realize that I am the only white speaker at the conference. Although most of the groups I talk to are overwhelmingly white, I have addressed and worked with groups that are at least half black before, and am comfortable in the setting. I’ll talk more later about the impact of racial mix. Roughly half the attendees are from Farmtown, virtually all university faculty, staff, or students, including mostly people of color but also a couple of white deans. In pre-opening chit chat, a white woman who is one of the deans chats with a black woman who is a U-Farmtown staffer about the new choir director at the church they both attend. Most of the non-Farmtown people I talk to turn out to be alumni of U-Farmtown, and the core of the conference is clearly African Americans who know each other because of the U-Farmtown connection. This surprises me, as it had not occurred to me that ANY African Americans would be at or have gone to a university in this very-white part of the state. Shows what I know. I learn more later about what they have been doing at U-Farmtown and think there are things to learn from them. There are few representatives from the criminal justice system here, unlike the groups I’ve worked with in Unitown or Segtown. Unitown’s police force has three representatives here, one black (who seems to know the organizers well) and two white, a man and a woman; all seem fairly young to me. I chat with the black police officer as we wait for the opening; he knows of my work and we talk about the issues. There is also someone from the state university system and her intern; I don’t know whether she is part of the network or not.
July 26, 2008
In the past 8 years, I’ve given over 80 speeches to various audiences about racial disparities and have attended some or all of dozens of conferences, as well as participated in over a hundred meetings of various groups, boards, and commissions. These range from lawyer-dominated professional groups to white church groups to student groups to mixed-race community groups. Although I am a good public speaker and articulate and forceful in manner, I’m also by nature an introvert and by avocation an academic who is quite happy spending hours in front of a computer or otherwise minding my own business. So being at all these conferences and meetings has opened me to a lot of experiences I would not otherwise have had. I’m interested in what people talk about and how they talk. Last week, I spent two days at a racial disparities conference organized by university people in a rural area I’ll call FarmTown. I took detailed notes on what happened and my reactions and thought I’d write some of this up as a blog, as a reflection on what this “public sociology” stuff is really like out there in the trenches. I told some of the organizers of the conference that I was going to do this, and they were ok with it, agreeing with me about not using real names. It was a complex event, and my impressions are more about the juxtaposition of many different themes and kinds of experiences than about drawing any single conclusion or point. I’m going to follow the wise lead of some other bloggers (especially Bradley Wright who does this so well) and break this up into a series of small posts, rather than one long one. In so doing, I’ll lose the kaleidoscopic impact of the event as a whole, but avoid producing one big block of indigestible prose. My point, to the extent that there is one, is to counter what I see as a common one-sided romantic or patronizing view of “public sociology” as a sociologist bringing revealed truth to the uneducated masses or the national elites, and to stress the extent to which I learn things I did not know when I get out of my office and go spend time with people in different social locations.
Next: Farmtown #2: The Set Up