Facing Race Conference Opens in Chicago

Melissa Harris-Lacewell will deliver the keynote address at the Facing Race conference tomorrow.

The Applied Research Center’s Facing Race conference opens here in Chicago, and promises to be a gala event.

Packed with presenters ranging from science journalist and friend Sally Lehrman, our editor Kimbriell Kelly and anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise, the conference is sure to provoke, challenge, and hopefully inspire its attendees.

I’m sure it’s also exhausted Terry Keleher, who has, I understand, been coordinating all kinds of logistics for ARC here in Chicago.

Among other activities, the Applied Research Center publishes ColorLines magazine.  Former ColorLines editor Tram Nguyen, my brother Jon and I were all Racial Justice Fellows in 2007.  During that experience, we hatched the idea, along with ColorLines publisher Rinku Sen, of doing a collaborative project on fatal police shootings.

The project resulted in a national look at police shootings that focused on Chicago, New York and Phoenix and in a project that had impact in each of the three cities.  It was, and remains, one of my favorite journalism projects.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell will deliver the keynote address tomorrow.  The Princeton University professor is the author of Barbershops, Bibles and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, the book that resulted from her dissertation at Duke University.

The book’s central argument is that public spaces like barbershops are frequent places where conversation among black people leads to the formation of political opinion and thought.  Harris-Lacewell uses qualitative and quantitative methods to advance her ideas.

I’ve written before about my general distaste for converted dissertations that stems more from the authors’ demonstrating that they understand and can apply the tools of the trade than because of the weakness in their argument.  I generally find that scholars’ second and subsequent books are a more valid reflection of how they actually write than the more constrained voice that customarily appears in books like Barbershops.

Harris-Lacewell’s book is not an exception to this rule, although I will say my favorite chapter is the one she co-authored with Quincy Mills.  This section of the book delved into the barbershop conversations and engaged me to a greater degree than the other ones.

Dunreith was hoping to attend today’s panels, but Aidan’s continued ill health prevented.  I’m optimistic that we’ll make it tomorrow to Harris-Lacewell’s comment and connect again with the ColorLines and ARC crew.

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