Rinku Sen: We Are the Majority and We Demand Justice

Sen's opening speech at Colorlines' gathering of 1,400 racial justice change makers set the tone for a conversation that stirred so strongly it became a trending topic on Twitter.

By Rinku Sen Nov 19, 2012

Nearly 1,400 people joined the Colorlines.com family in Baltimore, Md., this weekend to discuss what happens next, after an election in which people of color were once again a deciding force. "This election proved to us that our alliances are gaining speed and strength," Colorlines publisher Rinku Sen told the crowd at Facing Race, our gathering of thinkers, artists, activists and others working toward racial justice. What’s left, Rinku explained, is to marshal those alliances and fight for meaningful change. We’ve been swamped with requests that Rinku’s address make it onto the site, so here it is in its entirety! And we’ll be posting more video from the gathering over the next couple of days, both here and on our YouTube channel. During the conference, the online conversation stirred so strongly that Facing Race trended nationally on Twitter. So whether you joined us in Baltimore or in social media, share your favorite videos with your networks this week so we can keep the conversation going–and begin mobilizing the new majority Rinku describes. Thanks for joining us in creating this amazing, powerful community of people dedicated to racial justice. –Kai Wright, editorial director [Update: Transcript below.] —————————————– What an election, huh? We have reached the age of majority. We are no longer teenagers who can be grounded for committing some sort of wrongdoing. No one else judges whether or not we’re wrong doing but us, no one is going to shut the door or take away the car keys. Not that they might not try. But we have reached the age of majority and we are going to set the agenda for ourselves. This election proved to us that our alliances are gaining speed and strength. Together we beat back, we turned back the three strikes law in California. A law that puts people in prison for life for extremely minor violations of parole, for extremely minor violations. We turned back the rape deniers, and we made the war on women into a meme. And of course we put Barack Obama into office for a second term. Now Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan says it was the urban vote that did this, not the issues. The urban vote, we know what the urban vote is, but it was not the urban vote, it was the majority vote. It was the majority vote that is telling Paul Ryan, in the words of people that are more polite than I, where he can stick those issues. He can stick those issues where the light don’t shine, because there is no light in fiscal austerity. That means that you can no longer provide kids that are hungry a free lunch. That means that you have to privatize everything from teaching to doctoring, all of the collective things that our society needs. So it wasn’t the urban vote that turned that back, it was the majority vote and it’s that majority vote that will prevent people from now on, from being able to call us minorities. They can’t call us minorities, not just because it’s offensive, but because it’s inaccurate. I want to share with you a quote by June Jordan. June Jordan wrote this on the night of November 3rd 1992, November 3rd 1992; a few of us were around then. "Even without revolution" June Jordan said, "we will prevail because we have proven to the world and to ourselves that we are not fringe elements or special interest groups or so called minorities, without us there is no legitimate majority. We are the mainstream, we have become ‘the people’ and we let our elected leadership beware the awesome possible wrath, the awesome possible wrath, of a mighty multi-foliate and faithful people whose deepest hopes have been rekindled and whose needs have not been met." That’s us. We are that mighty multi-foliate and faithful people. So we are making progress, we’ve made progress for thirty years, we made progress in the last election, but whenever you make progress there is always a backlash, people who don’t understand us, who don’t spend time with us, who don’t care about us. They wonder why are we not satisfied. I was at FOX News about a year and a half ago, and I’ll never forget this. I was at FOX News, thank you Sally Kohn for sending me to FOX News, and I was riding up in the elevator with one of the producers and he was asking me what I did. I said I do racial justice work and I mentioned this conference, we have a big conference for people who are into racial justice. And he said "racial justice, right, yeah, yeah, I don’t quite get that, you know, you got Oprah, you got Obama, what more do you want?" "What more do you want? What more do you want?" I’m going to tell you what I really want. I want Troy Davis to be talking with his nephew about how to navigate the verities of this life. I want Brisenia Flores to be running around the seventh grade. I want Parkash Singh to be officiating Sunday services in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this weekend. But the nature of human existence tells me I can’t have those things. Those people were killed, they were killed by a system that glorifies fear and violence and then institutionalizes it. Sweet Honey and the Rock says that the dead are not under the earth, they are not gone from us. They are in the rustling leaves, they’re in the air that we breathe, they’re in the water. But they aren’t here with us now, and in the first instance that just breaks my heart. In the second instance it makes me so angry that I can barely speak. So, I can’t have those people back, can’t get Troy Davis back, can’t get Brisenia Flores back, can’t get Parkash Singh back. So if I can’t have what I really want, I have to settle for something else. So I’m willing to settle, I’m willing to settle for a great free public education for every kid. I’m willing to settle for a living wage that honors every kind of work. I’m willing to settle for the guaranteed right to vote. I’m willing to settle for the end of racial profiling and segregation in our hospitals, in our neighborhoods, in our airports, in our child welfare departments. I will settle, I will settle for justice, I will settle for love, I will settle for freedom. But I know that getting to those things is not a matter of simple demographics. We can’t just bring more people to the country and have more babies and call it a victory. This conference is about defining justice and making change, not just making change. So defining justice is important because people confuse justice for revenge, they confuse justice for selfishness, they confuse justice for borders, they confuse justice for hoarding. Justice is not those things. Justice is real liberation. Over the next few years, over the course of this conference, over the course of these coming weeks, we are going to be obsessed with how we can win as much as possible from our state legislators, from our city councils, from the Obama administration. We need to do that, we have lots of power to do that now and we need to get as much as we can because people are suffering everyday that we are negotiating. But even while we do that, even while we exercise our power and get even the fakers to try to give us, uh, what they think we want, we have to resist giving up the real prize. And that real prize is not about reversing racial hierarchies, so that different people stand in different positions on the ladder. It is about taking that ladder apart, about destroying it, about blowing it up. Adrienne Rich, Adrienne Rich the poet, Baltimore home girl, she said, "we might possess every technological resource, but if our language is inadequate, our vision remains formless. Our thinking and feeling are still running on the old cycles. Our process may be revolutionary but it will not be transformative." It will not be transformative. Transformative is what I’m after. I don’t want to take, I don’t want to reverse the racial hierarchy, I want to take it apart. I want to change the course of human evolution. People say that racism is endemic to human beings, that we hate the stranger, that we need to protect ourselves, that we ‘re going to behave tribally because that’s who we are, but I don’t think we have to live that way. I don’t think that we have to refuse to answer the door when a mother whose children have been swept away by a hurricane knocks on it asking for help. I don’t think that we have to be sheared down to the thing that is least important about us, our skin color. I think that we can be actual full human beings, and I think that we can change the way that human beings see each other. Not by applying some bankrupt concept of colorblindness that has no grounding in reality, but by demanding what we really want which is the taking apart of the racial hierarchy. We are so well equipped to do this. We are such good strategists. We know how to run campaigns. We do this work with so much heart and so much humor. We have so much resilience. We can survive anything. We can do this, we can take the country and the world closer to a new humanity. If we do our part, then our kids with do their part, and their kids will do the next part, and the next kids after that will do more. I am counting on you to do this with me. I don’t think you realize how beautiful you look, the light, you, you glow with the light of compassion and determination and optimism and those things are going to banish away the fog of exhaustion, which would be the code word otherwise. Without you I would just hang it up, I would give up. But with you, together, I know that we can do this. Our ancestors demand it, the dead demand it, the living demand it, and we can answer them if we stand together. We can set the path for true human liberation. We must start today. I know that together we will get there. Thank you.