On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions
by Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, Mon May 07, 2007 at 08:22:05 PM EDT
The discussion Chris began on diversity in the blogosphere is an important one, and I'm happy to see it being brought up here.
While diversity as a progressive value is assumed, and the overly white and wealthy make up of the progressive blogosphere is a noted problem, there seems to be some confusion around what the right solutions are. People are struggling with this for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being that progressives are still not comfortable confronting, dealing with or talking about issues related to race. I think exploring this issue requires some level of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.
No real substantial progressive change in this country has ever occurred without a strong multi-racial coalition. As demographic changes continue to make the population more diverse, particularly in the younger generations, this becomes even more true for the future. It's an important thing to realize. But the fact is that for many white progressives, and particularly those who tend to populate the blogosphere, working in a multi-racial coalition may be a completely unknown quantity. My friend and colleague Daraka Larimore-Hall wrote a piece years ago about this same challenge as it related to the student movement at that time. The entire article is a great read, but I want to highlight that one portion, the steps to building a multi-racial coalition, are relevant to this issue the blogosphere is wrestling with:
Include racial justice issues in your organizational discussions and analysis.
Commit to doing serious work against racism as part of your organizing and to forming meaningful, principled alliances with people of color organizations in your communities.
Make sure that your agenda isn't set before considering the goals and demands of activists of color. Too often, white activists think of the issues that they are working on as "universal" and approach activists of color asking them to join their "big tent". Why aren't white activists holding themselves accountable in the same way and viewing racism as a universal concern?
Take steps to create a more tolerant culture within your own organization. Sometimes, white culture is "invisible", meaning that methods of work, choice of music, food, ways of communicating, etc., are thought of as "progressive" ways of doing things, instead of "white progressive" ways of doing things. One way should not be held up as "authentically progressive", especially when that cultural form is typically or historically white.
Consider the needs of people of different backgrounds than your own. Can people with jobs attend your meetings? What about people with children? What email list or social scene do you have to be a part of, to hear about meetings?
Work to build long term, authentic and trusting relationships with organizations led by people of color in your community. As we stated above, white activists are prone to "shopping" for minorities. Too often, when it comes time to host a conference or chose speakers for a rally, white activist organizations are out looking for brown faces, when they haven't supported the daily work of anti-racist organizations all year long.
Speak up when people of color in your community are being attacked! Don't wait for the Black Student Union on your campus to write all the letters to the editor of your student newspaper. It is time for white people to police their own communities around these issues -- after all, whose responsibility is it to fight racism in the white community?
Listen harder, and better. Too often, white activists try to be the savior -- instead of the ally. One of the legacies of the early Civil Rights Movement's organizing style, which came from people like Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses of SNCC, was the deeply rooted belief that there is no one who knows more about the experience of oppression than those who are oppressed themselves. Simply put, go to meetings of people of color organizations, find out what they are up to, and help out. Period.
Working in an inter-racial coalition can be a difficult and humbling experience, but also a sweet one. The most important things we should take with us on this winding road are a willingness to be vulnerable, to make mistakes and be self critical, and to listen to each other. We have a lot to learn, and we need all the brains and hands we can gather. Within the movement, as in the civil rights movement of the 60's, we need a "division of labor," in which the special responsibilities of various groups are recognized. Andy Goodman was one of the many who acknowledged his own responsibility and sought to accept leadership from African American activists. To broaden and deepen today's movement, we need to learn from that spirit of listening, uniting and acting with courage.
Part of me thinks that the progressive blogosphere needs to better define itself before truly being able to tackle these questions or put these suggestions to work. That discussion is ongoing on blogs like MyDD and Daily Kos as well. What I mean is, where does the blogosphere see itself fitting in to the four main components of successful movement-building, which Northwestern Professor Aldon Morris lays out in his book, "Origins of the Civil Rights Movement." They are: a compelling narrative, indigenous local leadership, mass organizations, and communication channels. If the blogosphere is primarily a communication channel, then it's not the diversity of the bloggers that matters so much as ensuring that the content being communicated reflects the entire movement. But if the blogosphere is part of creating the narrative, then diverse voices are absolutely critical, and getting there should be an immediate No. 1 priority.
As I have said before, this is an important conversation, and it cannot be solved in one blog post on one blog. I hope the various communities in the blogosphere will continue to have these robust discussions, and begin taking steps to go deeper.