Later this week 1,500 educators, students and others will gather at the Race & Pedagogy Conference in Tacoma to examine issues at the intersection of race and education.
The three-day forum will begin Thursday at University of Puget Sound and bring several high-profile speakers, including Angela Davis, Winona LaDuke, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The conference, previously held in 2006 and 2010, is open to the public. Along with the speakers there will be more than 50 panels, roundtables discussions, artistic installations and music and theater productions.
Gates is a Harvard University professor, literary critic and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
His documentary series, “Finding Your Roots,” which traces the ancestry of public figures, will begin its new season Tuesday on the Public Broadcasting Service.
Gates’ list of academic and cultural achievements, honors and awards is extensive. But many Americans first became aware of him in 2009 when he was arrested by a Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer on the front porch of his home.
President Obama weighed in on the arrest, causing even more controversy, which lead to a “beer summit” with Gates, the police officer, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.
The News Tribune spoke with Gates on Friday.
If we walked in (to a classroom) and said, “Today’s lesson is Watson and Crick and the double helix (DNA molecule),” they’d say, “Get out of town.”
But if we walk in and say, “See this Q-tip? We’re going to swab your cheek and in six weeks we’re going to tell you where in Africa your family comes from and what your admixture is, your percentage of European, Native American, Asian ancestry.”
Who wouldn’t be interested in that? Nobody is not interested in learning about themselves.
I’m whiter than black. When they told me I was shocked. But my father looked like a white man. My grandfather was so white we called him Casper behind his back. So, I know I had a lot of mixture in my family but not that much.
A: Nobody knows anything when we do these family trees. People cry, they laugh, they’re shocked.
She is the first person we’ve ever done whose ancestor actually came on the Mayflower. She is a descendant of William Bradford, who was the governor of Plymouth Colony. The same family had patriot ancestors and loyalist ancestors.
We don’t need to lower standards. We don’t need to bury white dead males. We just need to add to the canon in the form of excellence. Excellent women writers, black writers, etc. etc. I never wanted to throw out the canon. I was trained on the canon. I just wanted to add to it.
When I was growing up, I’m 64, the blackest thing you could be, speaking metaphorically, was to be an educated man or woman. I’ll often ask audiences, “There’s 42 million African Americans. How many are in the NBA?” People guess the most outrageous numbers: a million, 5,000.
But the problem is that such a huge number of people of color live in an economic crisis. The problem is not primarily race. It’s economic discrimination and scarcity. Racism has always been rooted in economic scarcity. Slavery was an economic institution rooted in racial differences because it made it easier to control and justify.
My goal is to figure out ways to affect individual attitudes of poor people of color so that they know their liberation lies in education.