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“Breaking Through Shades of Color: Transforming Race Relations and Conflict” was the theme of the Center for Conflict Studies’ annual conference last week, building on the center’s 2015 conference focused on addressing race conflicts. “The conference this year was about exploring the creative and innovate strategies that are used by individuals and institutions to mitigate and manage race conflicts,” says Professor Pushpa Iyer, founding director of CCS.

Celebrated activist and speaker Dr. Peggy McIntosh gave the keynote address to a packed Irvine Auditorium on the topic of white privilege, describing how white allies can use this privilege to dismantle structural racism. Dr. McIntosh is the author of the 1989 paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” and the founder of the National SEED Project, which helps to foster inclusivity in schools and workplaces.

Dr. McIntosh candidly shared her realization that there exists a “parallel litany” for men and for white people in American society: both are taught from infancy how to be oppressive towards women and minorities, who are deemed inferior in every way. She emphasized that to eventually overcome systemic racism, we must “use our white skin privilege to weaken the system that gave it to us.” In the second part of her speech, Dr. McIntosh asked audience members to pair up. Each person had a minute to discuss the ways in which they possessed undeserved advantages and disadvantages in life. The exercise was designed to show that there are many different types of privilege, and we must all be aware of how they are replicated in ourselves and our actions.

Conference participants had the opportunity to study the link between race and the prison system and activism in a series of workshops and panels exploring racial identity. Speakers included Reena Carroll, executive director of the Diversity Awareness Partnership, Obie Anthony, founder and president of Exonerated Nation, and Ayoola Mitchell, community and survivor outreach specialist. On Friday evening, Rebecca Gilman’s “Spinning into Butter,” was performed by the Insight Theatre Company in Irvine Auditorium. Named one of the best plays of 1999 by Time Magazine, the drama is set on the campus of a small liberal arts college in Vermont, and provides a complex and nuanced analysis of racism in academia. Jenni Ryan played the part of Sarah Daniels, the well-meaning yet ineffectual dean of students who is overwhelmed by a series of racist incidents on campus, and Rahamses Galvan gave a poignant portrayal of a student of color struggling to express his identity in a hostile environment. Trish Brown, Kurt Knoedelseder, and John Pierson played fellow academics. Members of the cast stayed after the performance to discuss the themes of the play with audience members.

On the third and final day of the conference, members of Allies at MIIS discussed their work towards promoting racial equity on campus and in society. Alie Jones MPA ‘17, and Yosimar Reyes, a poet and performance artist from Los Angeles, discussed their respective backgrounds and current work in the fields of art and activism. The conference concluded with a screening of the documentary “Out in the Night,” which explores the criminalization of race and sexuality. After the film, there was a discussion with Blair Dorosh-Walther, director and producer, along with Renata Hill and Patreese Johnson, two of the documentary subjects.

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Jason Warburg

Eva Gudbergsdottir