Tufts Launches 'National Dialogue on Race Day'

Today is the first annual National Dialogue on Race Day (NDRD), started by Dr. Peniel Joseph of Tufts University's Tufts Center for Race and Democracy.  NDRD comes on the heels of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and is meant to continue the long overdue, candid conversation about race and highlight the impact of racism on communities of color.

“The number 1 goal is to convene a conversation about race and democracy that is specifically focused on policy driven solutions that will impact all communities,” Dr. Joseph told EBONY.

“When we talk about racism now, we need to be talking about racial outcomes.  The biggest problem is the United States with regards to race is not racism, but inequality of outcomes. NDRD is about raising awareness and conversing about how we can get equality of racial outcomes in the criminal justice system, in jobs, in public education, and in health care.  These are areas where Black people and racial minorities are overrepresented in a negative way."

There are three major topics being addressed on NDRD: “1) 50 years after the March on Washington, where are we?; 2) African Americans in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration; and 3) Race relations in the 21st century.”

Dr. Joseph says that we’ve stopped talking about racial integration to the detriment of Black Americans.  “The more segregated existence African Americans live, the worse their quality of life.  Black people are willing to have that conversation [about race and racial integration] even when they’ve been shut out.  Historically we’ve had that conversation.  The March on Washington really forced the rest of America into the conversation, which was led by Black people and their allies.  By including secular faith and democracy, these folks were able to connect racial equality to economic justice.  Freedom summer, Malcolm X, the March on Washington, Selma, and Fannie Lou Hamer all were part of that struggle.”

The killing of Trayvon Martin was a flashpoint for America on race and many have compared the case to Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 955, which helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement.  But Dr, Joseph said, “The wider public only gets wind of it when someone is killed as a result of racial profiling.  Or a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina.  NDRD is to really be part of leading that conversation.  It becomes too political if it’s led by a politician like President Obama,” 

When cases like these happen, it’s imperative of grassroots activists and allies to bring the conversation about race and inequality to the forefront and that is what the NDRD is about.

“There has been a mythology about the end of racism,” said Dr. Joseph. “Irrespective of color people don’t know what happened during the civil rights movement.  The case of Trayvon Martin has galvanized people to dig deeper into their history.  We want to do this every year.  NDRD is about confronting the fact that institutional racism still exists.  The way in which American democracy exists is that it can exist side by side with Beyonce, Oprah, President Obama and at the same time put [1 out of every 3] Black men in prison.”

The NDRD will be a jumping off point for an ongoing conversation about colorblind racism and disparities in outcomes, an often overlooked part of the conversation about race in America, and likely the most vitally important component of any conversation that will move this country forward.

Zerlina Maxwell is a Tufts University graduate, a political analyst and soon-to-be attorney.