Three Events Illuminate One Day

September 11, 2020

Knowledge also thrives outside of virtual classrooms at CSUMB.

By Walter Ryce

Wednesday, Sept. 9, was a rich day at California State University, Monterey Bay for advancing racial understanding and democratic participation. That's because there was a convergence of three virtual events throughout the day that, together, formed a nearly spontaneous extracurricular seminar of social and political consciousness.

How to Vote

It started at noon with the Otter Cross Cultural Center's first in a series of Social Justice Dialogues, this one titled "Election 2020: Call to Action When Democracy is at Risk." It was billed as a conversation among students, faculty and staff in which participants were invited to leave rank and title at the door—a nice touch of equalization from the get-go.

It took form in two distinct parts. One was a multimedia slide presentation. One slide addressed the false specter of voter fraud leading to voter suppression, stating that California professor Justin Levitt tallied almost one billion votes from 2000-2014 and found only 35 cases of voter fraud. Another slide showed the patchwork character of different states' felon voting laws.

Then there were breakout group discussions over what participants had just learned, and suggested question prompts. Amelia Parker, the OC3 student coordinator who ran the event, said, "People shared their reasons for voting and a lot of people think the next, and most important, step is education about voter suppression. Many people come from first-generation families or other underrepresented communities where they didn't grow up with a lot of experience with this political system."

It ended with calls to register to vote, advised voting at least two weeks in advance, supporting the ACLU and volunteering as poll workers. Showing a savvy grasp of foresight, the third part in the Social Justice Dialogues series is on Nov. 12 and is titled "Post-Election 2020: Cultivating Our Path for the Future."

Teaching in Solidarity

The next event, a Zoom webinar that began at 2 p.m., was titled A Day of Action for Racial Justice. It was billed as a "systemic racism teach-in" and co-sponsored by CSUMB's Office of Inclusive Excellence, the Committee on Racism and Social Justice, the Otter Cross Cultural Center and others.

It was quickly conceived and organized to coincide with the Sept. 8-9 #ScholarStrike campaign, which was launched just a few weeks ago for university employees to augment WNBA and NBA boycotts against police violence on Black people, including the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the shooting and paralysis of Jacob Blake.

Organizer Vanessa Lopez-Littleton—an Associate Professor and Chair in the Health, Human Services and Public Policy Department— described the CSUMB teach-in as a variation of the sit-ins of the Civil Rights Era. But it also encompassed and embraced the very current Black Lives Matter movement.

It consisted of featured speakers, mostly Black CSUMB faculty members, expounding individually, in turn, on themes of social justice, resiliency, anti-Black racism, systemic racism, personal struggle, and Africana religions—all of it coming together like a mosaic on Black scholarship and activism.

Allen McClellan showed a painting and a schematic of African people crammed like cargo inside slave ships, and said he had read 400 of 2,300 first-person accounts from a 1930s Library of Congress collection titled "Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives."

"The constant theme that comes through is the resiliency of the individuals," he said.

Kamilah Majied, Ph.D., a mental health therapist and professor in the Department of Social Work, showed a slide that, among other points, referenced author and Stanford social psychologist Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt's own keynote talk at CSUMB on Sept. 3 about unconscious racial bias against Black people starting as early as preschool.

"And that translates into the professional realms," Majied said. "It translates into law enforcement."

The teach-in garnered 1,008 registered users and 988 participants, and can be viewed on YouTube.

Ibram X. Kendi Takes Questions

The final event of the day starred Ibram X. Kendi—professor, historian, and author of the National Book Award-winning "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America," and the widely embraced and freshly relevant bestseller "How to Be an Antiracist"—for a talk and Q&A.

The entire webcast had an understated power, starting with the downtempo lo-fi mix that preceded the event, to Kendi's opening statement which he kept short to get to the Q&A, to the deliberate pace of question and answer which stretched past the stated ending time.

Otter Student Union Assistant Director, Shantel Martinez, Ph.D., hosted and read questions from attendees to Kendi.

The topics ranged from how k-12 teachers can avoid passing on racist ideas ("…realize that you're either educating students to be to be racist, or to recognize the problems of our society or our policies"), discrimination in gender and sexual orientation ("by fighting racism, [you are] simultaneously fighting [other] forms of oppression and bigotry"), and whether people of color can be racist ("I think that's the question that we need to be asking when we, as people of color, are supporting [discriminatory] policies").

It was a conversation that revolved broadly around the topics of race and racism and justice, exploring their many angles like a prism. But also on display was the depth and sensitivity that Kendi has been admired for (and for which the administration and faculty have touted "How to Be an Antiracist" as essential campus reading), as in this fuller exchange.

Martinez: For our last question, what parting words or what advice would you give people moving forward, especially as this is an election year and the next couple months will be very tense?

Kendi: So particularly for young people of color, I wrote a series of pieces in the Atlantic earlier this year that revolved around what I call the other swing voter. The "traditional" swing voter is the voter who swings between Republican and Democrat. Typically these voters are white and older and obviously centrist.

Typically, our political apparatus—particularly the campaigns and the major parties—even now, they are typically jockeying around trying to woo these voters. I argue there's another group of swing voters that [affected], along with these white swing voters, the 2016 election and will swing the 2020 election, and that is "other" swing voters. These are voters who swing between voting Democrat and not voting. Typically these voters are people of color, young, but especially young Black and Latinx voters.

I wrote these series of pieces because I was arguing that the Democratic party in particular needed to ensure that they were attracting these voters by the policies and the candidates they were putting up. All of that is to say that I want voters who are in this sort of voting block to understand themselves as swing voters, to understand their power. And certainly for the campaigns, to be seeking to persuade them to vote for, let's say, the Democrats in a way that both campaigns are persuading or trying to persuade these white swing voters.

Many of these young Black and Latinx voters were able to really see themselves and come to understand how they were really operating within the political process. But they also felt more in power. Certainly, I think that it's important for everyone to realize that politics is power. So for those of us who are saying things like "I don't do politics," it's like saying "I don't do power." Those who say "I don't do power," are essentially saying "I want to be dominated," which is saying "I want to be a slave." We have to be involved in the power of politics because that's the way in which we were made free.

In one day, three events with overlapping spheres of relevance to each other and the present community.

Michelle Czarnecki, Assistant Director of Programs and Communications for the Otter Student Union, called it "A day full of intentional conversation."

And according to Lopez-Littleton, "It was a perfect line-up."