Racial Justice - A Conversation with Dennis Parker (April 22, 2018)

  Dennis Parker  ( @DennisDParker ) is director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, leading its efforts in combating discrimination and addressing other issues with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Parker oversees work to combat the “School-to-Prison” pipeline, the profiling of airline passengers subjected to searches and wrongfully placed on watch lists and the racial bias in the criminal justice system. Prior to joining the ACLU, Parker was the chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Office of New York State Attorney General under Eliot Spitzer. He previously spent 14 years at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Parker has also worked with the New York Legal Aid Society. He teaches Race, Poverty and Constitutional Law at New York Law School. He graduated from Harvard Law School and Middlebury College.

Dennis Parker (@DennisDParker) is director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, leading its efforts in combating discrimination and addressing other issues with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Parker oversees work to combat the “School-to-Prison” pipeline, the profiling of airline passengers subjected to searches and wrongfully placed on watch lists and the racial bias in the criminal justice system. Prior to joining the ACLU, Parker was the chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Office of New York State Attorney General under Eliot Spitzer. He previously spent 14 years at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Parker has also worked with the New York Legal Aid Society. He teaches Race, Poverty and Constitutional Law at New York Law School. He graduated from Harvard Law School and Middlebury College.

Inclusion NextWork facilitated its second Community Conversation on Sunday April 22nd with guest speaker Dennis Parker, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program. Our conversation centered around the many ways in which race continues to impact various systems and structures in American society, including housing, health, the media, education, the justice system, and police and community relations, amongst others.

Given the recent stream of high-profile racial incidents (Starbucks, Dove) along with continued cases of police brutality in communities of color, it is clear our nation has a long way to go in addressing the disproportionate impact race has on our society. In many cases, the difference is a matter of life and death for people of color. In sharing a litany of recent examples of racial injustice dating back to the inception of this country, Dennis highlighted that in America, “the problem is not that we don’t talk about race. It’s that we don’t talk about it well.”

During the discussion with Dennis, participants asked a number of questions including about how to productively engage members of the white majority in these conversations as allies and about how to incorporate a racial justice lens into other social sector spaces: environmental conservation movements, nonprofit work, human rights advocacy, healthcare, etc. To engage in more constructive conversations about race in the United States, Dennis advised participants to:

1)     Acknowledge that we all have something to learn and to start any conversation on the topic from a place of genuine inquiry & listening

2)     Remember that race is one, albeit critical, facet of our intersectional identity and often compounds with other elements of who we are (socioeconomic class, religion, ability, sexual orientation, gender expression, education level, citizenship status, age, etc.) in meaningful ways that inform our world views

3)     Avoid indicting individuals for the historic actions of their people groups; we should not relinquish our collective responsibility to foster a more racially just society, but isolating folks particularly in the white majority is unlikely to support long-term change

4)     Use data and facts to highlight the very real ways in which race disproportionately impacts the life outcomes of folks of color; numbers bear out the difference so don’t shy away from them


For a more in-depth analysis of these questions and many others, please check out our longer thought piece on this topic, here

Jonathan Braxton