Attending an HBCU offers me an interesting perspective into the race discussion in America. In the Caribbean, our discussion on race is more about financial sway than historical oppression. So, we feel economic disparities and can tie them into race, but we do not per say have one antagonist on which to level this contempt. It’s different here.
Why the soliloquy on race relations you ask? What was that? Now, someone else is wondering how this discussion became part of a blog on Power Shift 2011, an environmental conference. Simply, race, or more specifically racial inequality, drew together about two dozen black, Asian, Hispanic, Filipino and other racial groups for a minority/people of color caucus during Power Shift Saturday night.
In a small, and as one attendant called it “intimate session,” the “People of Melon” gathered to talk about environmental injustice and racial disparities. And no, People of Melon was not a typo. Just to get it out of the way, our opening discussion came from an older attendant who moved that we rename the gathering “People of Melanin” caucus – melanin being the pigment that determines skin color. While he was voted down, the phrase “People of Melon” stuck for a while as a sidebar laugh among attendants.
And then the serious talking started. Our facilitators were four young men and women who are fighting for a fair and equal America, as part of the environmental justice move for unity and understanding. In attendance were young adults from around the U.S. who argue that minor communities shoulder an unfair and disproportionate burden of the environmental crisis.
Impassioned men and women talked about the lack of information going into the communities about environmental problems and the growing global climate crisis. One speaker’s plea was for people of color to demand to be included and to ask why others of their races were not in the discussions. Her name is Kari Fullton, a well-known face among the youth environmental justice movement. She said simply: “Just because you’re at the table doesn’t mean you’re a diner.”
Attendants talked “in this safe space” not about overthrowing an oppressive establishment but about building cohesion into different races who may not normally, intentionally or not, cooperate and strengthen the dissenting voice to balance the climate change discussion. One speaker was entirely against integrating movements. Instead, she said people of color need to band together to fight for our own interests.
Unfortunately, despite moving discussion about divided campuses and inequitable treatment in the discussions on climate, the attendants could not settle on a final action point before leaving on the trip. Although there was consensus on throwing an off-year, colored people equivalent to Power Shift to build the discussion as another group. The next Power Shift is scheduled for 2013; so maybe there might be another event in the works. At least the “People of Melanin” know each other and want to know each other even better. Is that a hopeful sign for change? Maybe. Only time will tell.
As for me, I’m still soaking in the discussions on race and I’m curious as to where my next round of reading (or social science class) will take me. – until then.