Thursday, March 27, 2014

WPC15 - Dispatch #2

I've been too busy absorbing ideas and processing them with others to remember to take any pictures of the conference today. This is the biggest White Privilege Conference ever (as last year's was the biggest to date). It's getting harder and harder to manage the sheer numbers of people, but the venue in Madison is working out very well. Instead of having the conference in a hotel, the plenary sessions and concurrent sessions are held in a remarkable Frank Lloyd Wright building a few blocks away, the Manoma Terrace Community and Conference Center. Here's a promotional photo from the Web site of the center. Of course, it looks a bit different today, as the water is still largely ice-covered.


The day was full, and I'm bringing back a helpful set of materials from a two-part session on "Creating Social Justice in Organizations," presented by Dr. Jamie Washington and Dr. Kathy Obear, of the Social Justice Training Institute.

The biggest take-away for me came from the morning's keynote speaker, Jacqueline Battalora, who completely blew me away with her compelling analysis of how we became so intensely divided racially in the United States - in fact, pinpointing the period when "race," became a concept in law, which led to the creation of race identity and institutionalized white privilege, contrasted to the earlier period when there was no concept of race as such, and white and black .

A legal historian, Jacqueline walked us through the relationships between early settlers from England, slaves brought over from Africa, and Native American peoples. (In her presentation, she also had illuminating things to say about how women were treated as the laws developed that increasingly divided us from each other.)

Initially, in the early 1600s, African people who were enslaved had many of the same experiences as English indentured people, and many of the same opportunities to eventually be released from slavery and gain full rights. By the late 1600s, the situation had changed dramatically, both because the large influx of English indentured workers had diminished (making it more important to exercise controls on the enslaved workers, especially for the labor-intensive tobacco crops in Maryland and Virginia), and most directly as a result of the year-long Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, where black and white workers together rose up in rebellion against their economic and political constraints.

Jacqueline pointed out that, "a united labor force is a threat to the form of capitalism taking shape in the colonies" at that time. Subsequent laws provided a "divide and conquer" approach, especially anti-miscegenation laws (repealed only in the early 1950s), immigration laws, and naturalization laws - the means of gaining citizenship. Laws developed after Bacon's Rebellion made gaining citizenship impossible for those who were not defined as "white" - which, of course, impacted the Chinese and Japanese workers who came over later. Interestingly, there were laws that stripped women of their citizenship if they married someone who was not eligible for citizenship.

The first use of the term "white" to designate those who were eligible for citizenship, gun ownership, etc., came in 1681. A really telling point of structural oppression being institutionalized was when laws were passed prohibiting persons who were not "white" from testifying in court against those who were "white."

These are just some of the surprising points that came up through this presentation. I am definitely going to get my hands on Jacqueline Battalora's book, Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and Its Relevance Today.


Ellen Sunshine said...

I'm so glad you are sharing your experiences - thank you!

shoreacres said...

I must say - that's a beautiful building. And, an interesting post.