The Power of Language

On November 6, 2013 Applied Research Center (ARC) was rebranded as Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. The content on this page was published on the ARC website prior to the rebrand.
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Rinku's Message

A couple of weeks ago I struck up a conversation with a man on the train from New York to Washington D.C. He asked me what I did, and I said it was racial justice work and described ARC. He asked me what I did before this and I told him I was a community organizer. He said, “you’ve taken a vow of poverty,” in a tone that was half admiring and half exasperated. I said that I wasn’t even close to suffering. This is an experience I often have.

Not only am I not suffering, but I’m happy. Consistently happy, every day. For the first time in my long career, and longer life, I feel like I have a clue about how to make racial justice and, more importantly, what I can contribute to that grand project. My coworkers and friends are a constant source of humor and sustaining wisdom. My family is lovely.

It turns out that it’s easy to be happy if I dwell in sufficiency. I used to feel the lack of things more than I felt their presence, which paradoxically brings more lack than anything else. I’m more likely to focus on solutions when I can see the assets, time, people, money and skills we do have, rather than only what we don’t. It takes some discipline not to slide into scarcity mode, but the notion of scarcity itself is so central to racial discrimination that living in it seems inconsistent with ARC’s, and my, mission. For me, happiness is different from complacency or triumphalism. The burn I feel for my work is more of a smolder now than the flame I had when I was younger. The fire has been tamped down some by compassion and loss. I’m okay with that. It’s less flashy, but lasts longer, and it fuels happiness instead of an ulcer. I'll take it.

 

Research: Defining "Asian American"

When reporting data on "Asian Americans", it's critical for researchers to be transparent about exactly which national-origin groups are included in the figures. It’s even more important for us to strive to be as inclusive as possible when collecting and reporting data on this incredibly diverse population. The more than 18 million Asian American and Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander individuals in this country represent more than fifty different ethnicities, and speak more than one hundred different languages.

For this incredibly diverse group, the range of data results on such socioeconomic indicators as income, education, poverty, wealth, and access to health care, etc. vary so much as to render the concept of reporting the "average" Asian American figure to be of little, or even misleading, value. For example, previous ARC research reported Asian family incomes of $.62 per white family dollar for Bangladeshi families, up to $1.36 for Asian Indian families. More recent work has also highlighted the need to account for the relative geographic concentration of Asian American populations in some of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the nation, and the larger than average family sizes which make per capita income a more accurate measure of economic means than median family income.

These facts and conditions lead to recommendations for "Best Practices" on collecting data and conducting research on and with the Asian American community to be covered within a document co-produced by ARC, the National Council on Asian and Pacific Americans, and other groups (release now slated for mid-July).

And for a lighter take on misperceptions, watch the video ‘What Kind of Asian Are You?’ on Colorlines.

Network: The Power of Words 

When ARC conducts trainings on framing issues and storytelling, as we have on several recent occasions, we recognize that words pack a lot of punch. But the power of words is only as strong as the people behind them. We need to combine powerful language with organized people and strategic action. Otherwise, our words, however carefully crafted or eloquently spoken, will fall by the wayside.

We’ve been thinking about the power of words lately, with the success of the Drop the I-Word campaign—the coordinated efforts by ARC and allies to get a string of major media outlets to agree to stop referring to immigrants as “illegals.” It took young DREAMers bravely telling their personal stories, netroots activists mobilized by Presente.org and MoveOn signing tens of thousands of petitions, Latino journalists moving their peers from the inside of professional associations, and allies like Define American and local immigrant rights organizations taking up the fight on many fronts.

Words alone do not make change. People do. While ramping up our issue framing and storytelling chops, if we also build and activate a real base, our collective voices and actions can lead to real change. Indeed, the revolution will not be wordsmithed.

 
Congratulations to ARC’s Board of Directors!

Congratulations to Chris Rabb, ARC board member, who was selected for a 2013 BMe (Black Male Engagement) Leadership Award. This award, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, honors Black men doing invaluable community service. Mr. Rabb, who teaches social entrepreneurship at Temple University, received the highest grant award of $20,000 to continue his work teaching the fundamentals of commonwealth entrepreneurship and invisible capital to low-wealth individuals through cutting-edge workshops, seminars and webinars.

We also congratulate Kamau Bell (also an ARC board member), for the success of his TV show Totally Biased. FX recently extended the popular show into a five-nights-a week series!

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