Thursday, February 07, 2008

Conversation Recap for February 3, 2008

During introductions we welcomed some new participants.

This morning we heard Cathy’s story.

Watch for her book, working title “Standing on Both Feet.” Some of the stories in the book were parts of the story today.

The discussion of her story brought up the views people have of personal identity. Some of us grew up in an era which emphasizes assimilation, and when I was illegal in many states for people classified as different races to marry (the Supreme Court case overturning such laws, Loving v. Virginia, was in 1967—at the time 16 states had such laws).

Two kinds of stories that caught the imagination of the group—stories about kids recognizing features of personal identity, and how couples meet. The working title of the book project, ‘standing on both feet,’ resonated strongly. It came from a man’s story about identity, when he finally felt it was clear, and acceptable, to be from two different backgrounds.

The patterns of the stories told and briefly described were many, but one constant seemed to emerge—we are still living with the “one drop rule,” in which people find identity imposed on them and, when things go wrong, is the focus of social judgment. Several stories featured the reaction of families when told about an intention to date or to marry. One participant commented that the USA is seems to be hard wired to prejudice. Start discussing the gene pool, see what happens. Thinking of race as a biological category has many assumptions that quickly dissolve upon examination. Readers may want to see Joseph L. Graves, Jr., The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America (NY: Dutton, 2005). On the history of natural scientists using the concept of race, continuing to the present use by social scientists, see John P., Jr. Jackson and Nadine M. Weidman, Race, Racism, And Science: Social Impact And Interaction (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005).

Another focus: the people who appear in advertising, especially the use of couples in advertising. Watch for the patterns.

One feature of the book is about how these patterns are not set in stone, that they are linked to who has power. They shift over time. If Obama receives the Democratic nomination, wait and see how this is publicly discussed. He will be a vehicle for carrying many visions of race in America.

Susan led a presentation on the documents that describe the Conversation’s content, operating protocols, and messages to the public. She distributed copies of the documents. We broke up into groups to discuss them. Remember this is a revision of an earlier draft which we discussed in groups, and this draft was edited to incorporate the comments from the earlier group suggestions.

We met in groups for more than a half hour, and reported a number of suggested changes. These will be incorporated into the document.

One suggestion that emerged was for The Conversation to produce a descriptive list of valuable resources—books, videos and other things that Really Made A Difference for participants.

One announcement was that Group 6 was the best.

A rabbi at Temple Beth El will be inviting Conversation members to join in a discussion this coming March, probably on a Sunday.

The V-team has discussed the possibility of the Conversation making itself a 501(c)(3) group, and has decided it is time to do that. This status makes the group tax exempt (the term ‘501(c)(3) is a reference to the US Code dealing with the Internal Revenue Service, 26 USC sec. 501(c)), makes it possible for donations to be tax deductible for donors, and enables us to handle financial matters ourselves. The rules require such groups to have articles of incorporation, complete with bylaws governing their conduct, and an application for that to the Internal Revenue Service. They make the decision as to whether 501(c)(3) status is granted.

The main restriction on 501(c)(3) organizations is that they are not to influence elections to public office. Some lobbying is permitted, as is education of individuals about issues. If we get Really Big we will be allowed to spend as much as a million dollars on lobbying….