NIOT Princeton

Prejudice: It’s the Little Things

Not in Out Town opens the fall season for “Continuing Conversations on Race and White Prejudice” on Monday, October 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. The discussion will focus on a Lena Williams article that turned into a video and a book. Barbara Figge Fox and LeRhonda Greats will lead the discussion. The 10-minute video is available for viewing online from the Princeton Public Library website, but everyone is welcome, whether or not they have seen the video or read anything from the book.

Little Things: When Prejudice Is Unintentional was an ABC News program that explored the kinds of incidents and behavior that prompted The New York Times reporter Lena Williams to write an article entitled, “The Everyday Interactions that Get under the Skin of Blacks and Whites.” Focus groups polled and interviewed on the subject reveal how statements, gestures, and even body language can be interpreted—rightly or wrongly—as racial prejudice.

Williams expanded her New York Times article into a paperback book. For an excerpt from the book, click here

Here’s another excerpt.

Those with a Princeton Public Library can access the video here via Films on Demand.

It’s a powerful video and an intriguing book, sure to elicit valuable discussion.


Bayard Rustin: From Protest to Politics

The brilliant, visionary civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1912 and died in 1987. It is very difficult to sum up his long and varied career, but the main source of his amazingly energetic commitment was his deep and detailed understanding of the oppression of “the Negro” and poor people, especially workers of any color, his consummate ability to build a strategy of protest, and until his last few years, his steadfast devotion to non-violence.

“I am fortified by truth, justice, and Christ…There is no need to fear,” he said.

Four events will focus on Bayard Rustin this fall.

On Sunday, September 26, at 12:30 p.m., Delia Pitts will discuss Rustin’s life at the Princeton Friends Meeting, 470 Quaker Road.

On Wednesday, October 27, the Princeton Public Library will show the film “Brother Outsider,” 7:30 p.m. It is co-sponsored by Princeton Friends Meeting and Not in Our Town.

On Monday, November 1, Not in Our Town and the Princeton Public Library co-sponsor a “Continuing Conversations about Race” discussion that will focus on a Bayard Rustin essay, 7:30 p.m. Ann Yasuhara and Delia Pitts of the Princeton Friends Meeting will moderate.

On Wednesday, November 3, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African American studies, will give a talk at the library, 7:30 p.m., also co-sponsored by Princeton Friends Meeting and Not in Our Town.

Here is more about Rustin, taken from the publicity materials of the library events.

Rustin was raised by his grandparents under the special influence of the Quaker teachings of his activistgrandmother. He is best known for his work in the civil rights movement, especially with Dr. King and designing the great march on Washington of August, 1963. However, that came after many years as an activist including getting beaten up and arrested (the first of many times in his life) in 1942 for refusing to
move to the back of a bus in the south. He spent 3 years in jail (1943-7) for being a conscientious objector to war and refusing to do alternative service. He worked on & off for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (starting 1941) under A.J. Muste, a follower of Gandhi’s teachings on non-violent direct action, which FOR had been using since the 1930’s.

He worked for and with the American Friends Service Committee; generally he was involved with many civil rights groups of the period, helping to found some of them. During various periods of his life he worked for A. Philip Randolph. Randolph had dreamed of a march on Washington for years and together they designed such a march and in 1941 told Pres. Roosevelt if he didn’t desegregate the armed forces and promulgate antidiscrimination laws so that blacks could work in the armaments factories the march would take place. Roosevelt answered with an Executive Order outlawing employment discrimination, but did nothing about the army. Though Rustin disagreed, Randolph called off the march.

They later used similar tactics against Pres. Truman in 1948 to get the armed forces integrated; again due to partial success Randolph called off the march. Rustin went to Montgomery in February 1956 to join King and others in the bus boycott. He found that although King professed non-violence, he had heavily armed guards; Rustin convinced him that there could be no guns in truly non-violent work. He was fully involved in the civil rights movement until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He continued his work of protest, adding to it gay rights and liberation for African countries, until his death.

One may ask why such a brilliant and active person is relatively unknown? One answer is simple: he was a gay man who had spent time in jail for homosexual acts, and he had briefly been a member of the Communist Party. Some just didn’t like working with a gay man, but more important he and others feared that if these facts were generally known it would weaken their ability to struggle for their cause. In fact, this was used several times by blacks and whites as blackmail to keep him out of the picture or to stop an action he was part of planning. There is an additional answer – much less simple: In the mid-1960’s as the left in general and civil rights movement in particular was splitting in various directions, Rustin chose to leave protest for politics by working for reforms under the Democratic Party and ignoring the anti-war activists and most of his previous civil rights collaborators like King. Given the strength and clarity of his analysis of what kinds of change in social structures would be needed to arrive at a just society, his move seemed like to treachery to some, was at least deeply disappointing to others who had worked with him for years and relied on his leadership, and confusing to some of us who are admiring observers.

Let Friendship and Pride in Diversity Prevail

Not in Our Town Princeton distributes lapel buttons with the slogan “Princeton: Let Friendship and Pride in Diversity Prevail.” In that spirit, Princeton-based clergy and a Princeton-based national organization, Fellowship in Prayer, are sponsoring a day “to strengthen the ties in our diverse community,” as below.

The Princeton Clergy Association (PCA) is an inter-faith gathering of religious leaders committed to dialogue and understanding in our community. As elected leaders of the clergy association, we want to express our support of our Muslim neighbors. We believe in religious freedom and equality for all under the law in our nation and give thanks for the Muslim tradition that falls in the lineage of Abraham.

We seek to send a clear message of welcome and inclusion that counters the hateful and divisive actions and beliefs of far too many who have been given way too much attention in the media. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community and will actively counter any disrespect, discrimination or vandalism of worship space, businesses, schools, or homes.

Please join us in the commitment to strengthening the ties in our diverse community. We invite you to join us on Tuesday, Sept. 21 at noon on Palmer Square as the Fellowship in Prayer sponsors Princeton’s participation in the UN International Day of Peace and the call to “a million minutes for peace.”

Rev. David A. Davis, PCA president,
Nassau Presbyterian Church

Rabbi Adam Feldman, PCA vice-president

Jewish Center of Princeton

Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash, PCA vice-president

Princeton United Methodist Church

New at the Library: Documentaries

News from Janie Hermann at the Princeton Public Library: The library recently purchased a subscription to a Films on Demand – a wonderful new database that provides access to high quality videos from Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Cambridge Educational, and Meridian Education. These films are streamed directly to the desktop and can also be shown on larger screens. Access is provided via your PPL library card.

Here is how you access it from the library’s web site.

It has been suggested that NIOT’s Continuing Conversation discussions could focus on videos that relate to race, the history of discrimination and civil rights in America, etc. Group members would watch the assigned documentary for the month at home via the Films on Demand and then gather to discuss the documentary (and perhaps view a few clips). Much like a book discussion group, but with media instead.

Here are just a few of the many videos available (some produced by PBS, Films for the Humanities, etc):

A Class Apart In the 1954 legal case Hernandez v. Texas, defense lawyers forged a daring strategy—one arguing that Mexican-Americans did not fit into a legal structure which recognized only white and black racial categories. This American Experience episode interweaves the story of that landmark case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, with the broader narrative of the civil rights movement. Viewers will learn about the heroic post-World War II struggle of Mexican-Americans fighting to dismantle Jim Crow-style discrimination targeted against them. Distributed by PBS Distribution. (60 minutes)

Anatomy of Prejudice: Jane Elliott’s Seminar on Race: She may be an overzealous crusader. She may be on a power trip. Then again, maybe Jane Elliott has pioneered a truly honest and viable way to talk about racial prejudice—a way in which white people and people of color can explore the subject together. This program documents one of Elliott’s diversity training seminars, modeled on an experiment she first conducted as a third-grade teacher in 1968. In the film, British citizens of varied racial and cultural backgrounds are separated into brown-eyed “superiors” and blue-eyed “inferiors.” Before the day is over, a handful will have stormed out and the remaining group will face painful truths and equally painful opinions about race in the 21st century. (48 minutes)

African-American Lives 2: The Road Home: From travesties of justice to the pursuit of the most intimate truths, this program focuses on participants’ ancestors in the early 20th century. Stories include the account of Tom Joyner’s great-uncles who, in 1915, were convicted by an all-white jury and executed for a crime that new evidence suggests they did not commit. Meanwhile, Bliss Broyard learns more about her father, renowned New York Times critic Anatole Broyard—a light-skinned black man who chose to pass as white. Ms. Broyard learned of her African-American roots upon her father’s death in 1990. Distributed by PBS Distribution. Part of the series African-American Lives 2. (54 minutes)

America Beyond the Color Line: Black Hollywood: Does the increasing success of African-Americans as film actors, directors, and producers signal a genuine shift in the role of race and the influence of people of color in the movie business? In this program, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. journeys to the West Coast and asks whether Hollywood remains institutionally racist or whether it is becoming increasingly color-blind in pursuit of the box office dollar. Interviewees include Chris Tucker, Samuel L. Jackson, Alicia Keys, Quincy Jones, Nia Long, Don Cheadle, and John Singleton. Distributed by PBS Distribution. Part of the series America Beyond the Color Line, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (56 minutes)

Suggested as a starter film:

Little Things: When Prejudice Is Unintentional. A great classroom conversation starter, this ABC News program explores the kinds of incidents and behavior that prompted The New York Times reporter Lena Williams to write an article entitled, “The Everyday Interactions that Get under the Skin of Blacks and Whites.” Focus groups polled and interviewed on the subject reveal how statements, gestures, and even body language can be interpreted—rightly or wrongly—as racial prejudice. (10 minutes).

What would you choose? If you are interested in attending “Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege
on first Mondays at the Princeton Public Library, would you want to discuss documentaries, as in this post? Or books, suggested in the post below. Or have you another idea? Put your opinion in the comments section below. It’s easy. Just choose the “Anonymous” option. Then you may include your name — or not — as you wish!

Don Stryker: Continuing the Conversation

CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION: Thoughts on further discussion of race, class, gender and privilege, by guest blogger Don Stryker.

Don regularly attends Not in Our Town Princeton’s workshops at the Princeton Public Library and presents his suggestions for the “Continuing Conversations on Race” series that will begin at the library on Monday, October 4, at 7:30 a.m. Thanks for this excellent, well-considered contribution, Don!

As summer ends I look forward to resuming the conversation that we began last fall around the idea of “White Privilege,” but which during the course of the year evolved into a broader conversation on race, class, gender and privilege. In talking about this broader range of issues I realized my limited knowledge about the topics and the relative narrowness of my perspective. As I looked for answers I discovered how much material there was available and of course I found that the process of answering one question brought up more questions which led to more reading and reflection.

I focused on written material because that works best with my schedule, although information in other media such as documentaries, lectures and music are readily available. I’ve found this written material in so many forms and genres: biographies, personal narratives, autobiographies; letters, journals and diaries; local, state and national histories; novels, poetry, song lyrics and sermons. There exists
a rich trove of ideas, thoughts and experiences which stand apart from the content of the traditional textbook histories we typically learned from while in school. These standard histories, while offering sweeping views of events, omit the complexities, richness and contradictions of the human experience.

In one of our monthly conversations the discussion touched upon learning about race and class through the reading of history. An observation and a caution were offered about the limitations of relying upon these “standard” histories as a way of understanding any culture or group which has been denied full and equal participation in the social life of a nation. Since standard historical accounts are generally written from the point of view of the dominant culture, such histories can result in a narrow or biased point of view, even if unintended. The historian might ignore material that presents a conflicting perspective, might be unaware of that material, or might consider it unimportant.

These “other” materials include the records people create through their letters, journals, travel accounts and private diaries. When many of these personal narratives are combined they provide a rare window into everyday life while at the same time offer additional and sometimes conflicting viewpoints of events. The documents people produce by their participation in political processes at all levels, and also through their participation in religious, educational and artistic endeavors, provide
additional insights into the understanding of a culture and its history. These varied sources offer a diversity of viewpoints which standard histories, based on a unified theme, are unable to explore.

Because there are so many interesting and thought provoking books available I’d like propose that the discussion group consider a monthly format in which books, documentaries or a combination of them are chosen to serve as focal points for conversations. Last fall, many of us had a chance to read Jennifer Baszile’s book, The Black Girl Next Door, some of us had an opportunity to hear her speak, and then we had a conversation discussing the book. In The Black Girl Next Door I remember
a passage about an old coffee grinder that was treated as a venerable object, passed down through the family from slavery times. I didn’t fully understand the importance of this until I read Remembering Slavery, edited by Ira Berlin, et. al. Although people held in slavery were by law and custom not allowed to own property, they often did acquire small items such as kitchen utensils, furniture, blankets, farm tools or even farm animals. These items were passed from generation to generation to provide a “start “ for surviving what were the most difficult of living situations, and these items retained a deep emotive meaning years after slavery had passed. There is a similar tradition for European Americans whose ancestors brought with them on the immigrant ships a few cherished items which were their last links to the old country or to their ancestors. In those days most people knew that once they had crossed the ocean it was unlikely that they’d ever return to the land of their birth. So likewise the passing down of these items became significant to the succeeding generations. In thinking about the similarities of these two examples I realize the commonalities we all might share.

I’m aware that the issues of race, class and privilege are very complex and that the reading of a few books or the viewing a few documentaries will only provide a brief overview of the subject and offer only limited insight. Perhaps in the course of a year, or for as many years that we might want to continue the conversation, we could read and discuss a book every few months. Or we might view and discuss a documentary one month and discuss a related book the next. The books for discussion might be
contemporary or historical or pertinent to current events. They might be fiction or non-fiction. There might be documentaries based on a book or a documentary and book which together explore the same subject. Or, a book might supplement the conversation about a documentary film when only a few people have time to read the book. Others may enrich the conversation with ideas from personal experience or from additional sources.

Through the process of being together and listening to and learning from each other and bringing new ideas into the discussion, we may be able to better understand this complex and stubborn human problem of race, class, caste and gender prejudice. Out of this discussion we may also better understand how being in a privileged position potentially narrows one’s perspective and limits the understanding of the social realities around one’s self. Likewise, restricted contact with a variety of
people may heighten one’s awareness to the differences between people while at the same time making it difficult to perceive the similarities between people. Both situations severely limit one’s awareness of the richness and complexity of the shared human experience.

Don Stryker, September, 2010

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