Facing Race Conference: Day Two

[Editor’s Note: This is the final post in a series of blogs written by guest blogger, Jacqueline Lawton, a DX collaborator who first collaborated with Dance Exchange as the dramaturg in the development of ‘From the Desk of Rachel Carson.’ Her collaboration with the company has continued through our 2014 Summer Institute and ongoing partnerships with artists and activists in Dallas, TX. You can read her first posts in this series herehere, and here. Stay tuned in the future to hear more about the work Dance Exchange is doing to step toward racial equity with those in our local community, in Dallas, and beyond. -AN]

The Conference schedule. Photo by Jacqueline Lawton.

It’s important to note that the 2014 Facing Race conferences was the largest one by far and was the first one to be held in the South. Day Two offered just as many wonderful choices if not more! The opening plenary examined the powerful impact of southern organizing and the closing key note call to actions from three outstanding speakers. My break sessions explored racial equity in the education system and the representation of race in the media. What follows are my notes from each session:


Roots and Wings: Southern Histories, Legacies and Innovations for the Future

Description: When some outside the region think of the US South, often the imagination leads to images of slavery, struggle and protest that starts in the 1800s and stops in the 1960s. For the many of us- people of color, immigrants communities, LGBTQ people – who populate and call this region home, we experience and understand “the South” as not only the place where race, power, and revolution is best understood but also where history and legacies give way to 21st century innovation for our movements. Click here to learn more about the session and speakers.

Having been raised in Texas and in the process of moving to North Carolina, I was particularly interested in this conversation.

  • When the progressive movement separated itself from the South, the organizing didn’t stop. Instead, it grew stronger and deeper and created great, mobilizing change.
  • You can’t talk about race without being prepared to talk about economic justice. Economic issues and development, wage inequities for people of color, job availability.
  • We must work to ensure workers’ rights of immigrants and women. Organizations have to provide living wage, same-sex benefits, “union” wages in order to receive tax breaks.
  • If you are person that identifies as a member of a community that has been historically oppressed, you have to make sure that in your advancement you do no replicate the oppression on others.
  • Whether you came over on the Mayflower (and I’d like to add slave ship) or crossed the border yesterday, you deserve the same rights and dignity.
  • It is critical that you do not allow outside sources to determine what success looks like.


Transformative Approaches for Addressing Race, Healing and Taking Action for Equity in Schools

Description: This interactive session will explore key racial equity concepts and strategies that support an educator’s ability to identify, interrupt and address inequity in their classrooms and schools. Educators will walk away with a deeper understanding and practical tools for engaging in sense-making conversations about racial equity that lead to productive action. Click here to learn more about the session and speakers.

Goals for the Session:

    • Reflect on what it means to take leadership for racial equity
    • Engage with tools for listening and dialogue
    • Practice applying a racial equity lens scenarios in classrooms, schools and districts
    • Gains strategies for creating racial equity in classrooms, schools and districts

Leading for Racial Equity Requires:

    • Navigating the discomfort of not knowing the answer.
    • Working through emotions of our own oppression and privilege … and supporting other to do the same.
    • Creating safe spaces that honor cognition and emotion. Oppression lives and hurts, and thrives in silence.
    • Finding the courage to interrupt and transform inequitable systems into places of opportunity for young people and adults.

Listening: Your Best Leadership Tool

Any kind of transformation begins with how you listen and what kind of discourse that you’re in. Constructivist Listening allows for such transformation.


      • Each person has equal time to talk
      • Listens without interrupting, giving advice or breaking in with a personal story
      • Maintains confidentiality.
      • Does not criticize or complain about others during their time to talk.
      • Gives undivided attention: no food or cell phones.

Talking about Race and Racism in schools provides students, educators, and families with an understanding, awareness, and vision of Racial Equity and Justice. We have to remember that school systems are based in hegemonic patriarchal structures. We have to ask ourselves:

  • Who has power?
  • Who has voice?
  • Who is defining success?
  • Who is determining our behavior?
  • What are the unintended consequences?

We must remember that when racial inequity is present, we much change the discourse. We moved from (Discourse 1) dominant ways of seeing and engaging the work of education that maintain existing practices and serve to reproduce social inequity. From here, we move to (Discourse 2) new ways of seeing and engaging the work that challenge the status quo by naming uncomfortable realities and unequal conditions while pushing for the deep inquiry.

We want to apply tools constructively listen to shift the discourse and create spaces for learning and change. Remember, it’s not enough to stop the bias. We must create a space for something different. This was by far, the most useful session of the entire conference.


Olivia Pope Notwithstanding: Strategies to Transform a TV Landscape Causing Everyday Harm to Black People

Description: Stereotypical images of Black people are not only insulting and inaccurate — they’re dangerous. Research shows that the limited stories we see shape cultural attitudes about Black people and drive the decisions of lawmakers, employers, teachers and police. Media literacy training has taught us all to understand the problem, but what are the strategies for creating real change? Click here to learn more about the session and speakers.

While most directly related to the work I do as a playwright, this session left me and others quite frustrated. Unfortunately, we didn’t discuss action plans or next steps, but here are some poignant thoughts and reflections:

  • The culture has to change in order for policy to change. As the cultural presence shifts the cultural power has to shift as well.
  • We live in a world that is routinely hostile to black people and where we’re not given the benefit of the doubt. We see this hostility played out in every aspect of our lives. We see this hostility played out on television every single day.
  • Hollywood is wants to depict black men and women as angry, violent, ignorant, and hyper sexual people, because it’s making them a lot of money.
  • We need to have more diverse options on television. We don’t get a fair balance. The one or few black shows have to be everything for all black people.
  • Until we change white as the default to relatability, then we’ll be stuck in the same cycle.

Ultimately, the problem is that people of color aren’t at the table.  Until we are, change will be incremental, if at all. We need to figure out to organize ourselves to make a difference, to create television programs and content that better and more fully represent us.


The Next Fifty

Description: This year and next we will celebrate the anniversaries of major racial justice victories like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. In this plenary, big thinkers will reflect on trends and strategies for the next half century. Get your long term on with Ian Haney Lopez, Van Jones, and Rinku Sen. Click here to learn more about the session and the speakers.

Ian Haney Lopez spoke to the 2042 demographic shift, the evolution of racism, and the boundaries of whiteness:

  • 50 years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and declared that we would end poverty and racism. However, that didn’t happen. Racism evolved to a cultural discourse.
  • Politicians have been driving the coded evolution of race and using race to control votes.
  • The term minority is not about numbers, it’s about power. Whatever happens in 2042 whites will not be in the minority in terms of power.
  • If Latinos consider themselves white, then the white population will expand. The strategic racist will allow this to happen. Strategic racism isn’t rooted in hate. It’s calculated to manipulate anxiety to achieve what one class wants.

The boundaries of whiteness doesn’t matter, it’s the concept of whiteness that drives the narrative. It’s the narrative of whiteness that is dangerous for us all. That’s what we have to fight. We need to fight the concept of whiteness among nonwhite.

Van Jones challenged leaders of color to expand our presence and expertise in the four centers of power: Washington DC, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood.

  • Technology impacts every aspect of our lives. The future is being written in code in Silicon Valley and it is being built w/out people of color.
  • It is very dangerous to have a tiny, tiny demographic control all the technology to build the future. Democratizing the tools to create the future is a civil rights issue, a human rights issue, and a commonsense issue.
  • When I talk to young people of color, I ask them: “Who has a smart phone” And they all hold it up. Then I ask, “Who here has ever downloaded an app?” And they all raise their hands. Then, “Okay, who here has ever uploaded an app?” And nobody raises a hand. I tell them, “You know, you make money when you upload an app; you make somebody else money when you download an app. You’re moving your thumbs around making somebody else money.” We deserve to be more than ‘digital cotton pickers’ in the digital economy.
  • #yeswecode initiative targets low-opportunity youth and provides them with the necessary resources and tools to become world-class computer programmers. These young people will shift the trajectory of their futures and transform their relationships with their communities and their country.

Rinku Sen delivered another rousing address that marked the next 50 years of our work together and how we have to see ourselves as one constituency.

  • We have to understand the role of the black/white paradigm and the role of anti-blackness. We have to find ourselves within this paradigm in order to survive because anti-blackness sets the national discourse on race. But it can’t be the only thing on our agenda.
  • Europeans wiped out 90% of the indigenous culture. Genocide begat slavery. This is the blood on our ground. The native struggle deserves attention, admiration and solidarity
  • Remember that identify is complex and that race is only one part of who we are. All of our identities–race, nationality, LGBT, gender, class–should be able to come to the racial justice movement. Also, we must recognize that our identities are complex and shifting.
  • We haven’t developed the emotional muscle to live in the discomfort of conflict long enough to resolve it. We have to work things out with a lot more compassion and kindness than we currently show to each other when we mess up.
  • To do this work, we must be intellectually, physically, and emotionally disciplined. Emotional discipline: Stay in the present. Life is only available to us right now.

With that, this amazing conference came to an end. I left feeling exhausted, but armed with resources, methodologies, and passionate allies. I felt a shift occur in my thinking, in how I want to spend my time, effort, and energy. I’m not the same person from all that I’ve experienced over the past four days and I’m grateful for it. I’m excited to take this knowledge and new sense of self back my work in the American Theatre and to my new home in North Carolina.

Our incredible team of Dance Exchange artists, collaborators, and partners.


About Jacqueline Lawton

JACQUELINE E. LAWTON was named one of 30 of the nation's leading black playwrights by Arena Stage’s American Voices New Play Institute. Her plays include: Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful;The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: the African Roscius; Lions of Industry, Mothers of Invention; Love Brothers Serenade (2013 semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference); Mad Breed; Noms de Guerre; and Our Man Beverly Snow. Ms. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She is a 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color award recipient, National New Play Network (NNPN) Playwright Alum, and member of Arena Stage's Playwrights' Arena. She is also a proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America.