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Racial and Gender Justice

Rinku Sen: Organizing for Racial Justice

"Gender constructions themselves are racialized. Our overarching notion of what is a good man and what is a good woman, are based on white people being good people and people of color being bad people."

Now  2010

Rinku Sen is the president and executive director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and publisher of ColorLines magazine. A leading figure in the racial justice movement, Rinku has positioned ARC as the home for media and activism on racial justice. She has extensive practical experience on the ground, with expertise in race, feminism, immigration, and economic justice. Over the course of her career, Rinku has woven together journalism and organizing to further social change. She also has significant experience in philanthropy, as vice chair of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, and Advisory Committee member of the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity. Previously, she was the co-director of the Center for Third World Organizing.

20 Years of Social and Environmental Justice

20 Years of  RP&EFrom the Editor

In this issue we celebrate our 20th anniversary with reflections on the social and environmental justice landscape from 1990 to the present. When the journal was founded, the EJ movement was just beginning to be heard on the national stage. A succession of intense local struggles around the siting of toxic facilities in communities of color had brought the impacts of racism back into public view.

The movement welcomed a publication that could, in the words of founding editors Carl Anthony and Luke Cole, “strengthen the networks between environmental groups and working people, people of color and poor people.” In these times of multiple crises, as racial and economic justice seem ever more elusive, we are proud to play a part in reporting on the valuable thinking and work of this crucial coalition. In addition to a sampling of reprints from the last two decades, we share speeches and interviews from a cross-section of today’s engaged activists.

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The War on Drugs and the New Jim Crow

Now 2010Michelle 
Alexander

Over since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.”  Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.
Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality.  There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Related Stories: 

Black Political Power: Mayors, Municipalities, and Money

Earlier this winter, Ron Dellums, mayor of Oakland, California did something that spoke volumes about the nature and effect of political power in that Bay Area city. In his annual State of the City address before a packed City Hall, he pointedly avoided using the “b” word—“b” as in black or black people. Instead, Dellums used a word more common in the modern progressive lexicon—the "d" word—diversity. It's a telling difference.

Although many cities have tried to solve their social problems simply by moving some of their residents out of the city, Dellums said that this was not going to happ
en on his watch. In Oakland, the mayor said, we celebrate and welcome diversity.

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Regionalism and Race

Now 2010 A speech by john a. powell

I grew up in Detroit, in a very large, very loving family. My family was from the South, where my parents were sharecroppers. Which meant, for the most part, they didn’t deal in the cash economy. They dealt in barter. If any of you don’t know about Mississippi and sharecroppers, it’s poorer than poor. Although, I didn’t realize we were poor until I left to go to college at Stanford.

Growing up on the east side of Detroit, I used to hear about all these white people but I couldn’t see very many of them. So I thought it was a myth, until I got to Stanford. Then I started getting a perspective of the community that I had lived in.

In my childhood neighborhood you now see a lot of vacant lots. They are not parks or “open space.” In Detroit, about one-third of the lots—and the houses—are vacant. Today, the average cost of a house is $6,000. Needless to say, the tax base has completely eroded. The people who have left are the people with resources who would help the tax base. They’ve left behind an infrastructure built for two million people that is serving less than a million. The school system has recently been given the dubious honor of being the worst in the country. So, I would say that I grew up in a place where there was declining opportunity—where the chance of succeeding was constantly moving further and further away.

My family had moved to Detroit from the South for the opportunity, but opportunity moved away. Not arbitrarily, but through planning, and the use of public resources to redistribute opportunity in such a way that once again, many families like mine were living in a situation of declining and low opportunity.

john a. powell: Regionalism and Race

john a. powell is the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. He also holds the Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Moritz College of Law. This article is an edited excerpt of a speech given at Urban Habitat’s Social Equity Caucus State of the Region Convening on January 15, 2010.


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I grew up in Detroit, in a very large, very loving family. My family was from the South, where my parents were sharecroppers. Which meant, for the most part, they didn’t deal in the cash economy. They dealt in barter. If any of you don’t know about Mississippi and sharecroppers, it’s poorer than poor. Although, I didn’t realize we were poor until I left to go to college at Stanford.

Growing up on the east side of Detroit, I used to hear about all these white people but I couldn’t see very many of them. So I thought it was a myth, until I got to Stanford. Then I started getting a perspective of the community that I had lived in.

In my childhood neighborhood you now see a lot of vacant lots. They are not parks or “open space.” In Detroit, about one-third of the lots—and the houses—are vacant. Today, the average cost of a house is $6,000. Needless to say, the tax base has completely eroded. The people who have left are the people with resources who would help the tax base. They’ve left behind an infrastructure built for two million people that is serving less than a million. The school system has recently been given the dubious honor of being the worst in the country. So, I would say that I grew up in a place where there was declining opportunity—where the chance of succeeding was constantly moving further and further away.

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