Community Politics

Conversations on Race 2019 Drew Hundreds to Discuss the Invention of Race

From the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race: The Coalition was excited to partner this year with Seton Hall University on this important community conversation. Many thanks to Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett, an esteemed activist and mentor who currently serves as the director of Seton Hall University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program, for his collaboration with the Coalition on Race’s Conversations on Race committee. Also thanks to Seton Hall for providing the space, table facilitators and bringing to Seton Hall Community together to participate in this event:

Peter W. Shoemaker, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall University; Nancy Gagnier, Executive Director, Community Coalition on Race; Dr. Nell Irvin Painter, guest speaker; Robert A Marchman, Community Coalition on Race; Rev. Forrest M. Pritchett, Director of Special Projects at Seton Hall University

On Wednesday, May 15, Conversations on Race was held at Seton Hall University, drawing 200 people–many of whom were first-timers to the event series–to learn about the invention of race and its implications. They were led by Dr. Nell Irvin Painter, professor emerita at Princeton University and author of New York Times bestseller The History of White People, in which she discusses both the invention of race and also the frequent praise of “whiteness” for economic, scientific and political ends. To begin, she introduced the topic by noting that most people don’t know why white people are called Caucasians, and to understand the answer one must go back in history to review the evolution of race.

Dr. Painter gave the audience an opportunity to understand ‘whiteness’ and the creation of ‘blackness’ in the context of historical racism and the ideologies of race. For example, she explained that the idea of race became useful in the western hemisphere in the 1700s, which coincided with the industrial slave trade. Although this wasn’t the first slave trade in the world, it was the biggest because of technology enabling people to transport millions across the Atlantic. Economy, imperialism, maritime market and the slave trade helped create a concept of race (“human difference”) during the 18th century. Dr. Painter noted that throughout the 20th century in the U.S., exclusionary ideas of whiteness were developed using science, economics, and politics, and that those racial definitions changed–and continue to change– to suit the needs of those in power.

Dr. Nell Irvin Painter

After Dr. Painter’s informative speech, groups of 5 or more at tables came together to discuss the topic and their personal opinions on the matter through a trained facilitator. Participants were also asked to choose one question to write on a card for Dr. Painter to answer at the end of the group discussions. Attendees wanted to know how to confront institutional racism; the connection between privilege and construction of race; and if race history would ever end. Dr. Painter related that we must all do our part to help confront racism and not be a bystander. In her opinion, race history will never end and the next defining factor of race will be nationalism. “Ethnic” and “racial” are the 21st century race dynamics and every 10 years it will change. She reminded everyone, “You make race. How you act on a daily basis makes race and things change.”

Dr. Painter suggested the following three books to read:

Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities by Eric Kaufmann

White Identity Politics by Ashley Jardina

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzel

About the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race

The South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race is celebrating more than 20 years of being a nationally recognized non-profit organization committed to building a unique, suburban community that is free of racial segregation in housing patterns and community involvement. Recently featured in Dr. Beverly Tatum’s 2017 anniversary edition of her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, the Coalition is often acknowledged as a model for the nation.  It was founded in 1996 by a diverse group of citizens concerned about stagnating property values and a perceived decline in the quality of local public schools. Three key strategies were developed: promote strong and sustained robust demand by all racial groups for housing in every area of our community; build a community where the leadership of civic, governmental, business and community organizations is racially inclusive and values integration in policy and practice; and promote dialogue and understanding on race-related issues. To learn more, go to communitycoalitiononrace.org and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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