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The Aspen Institute Symposium on the State of Race in America explores new attitudes, opportunities, and challenges for and about people of color in 21st century America. The 2011 panels included topics on:

  • Family and Identity Factors
  • Political Factors
  • Institutional Factors: School, Work, Prison
  • Media and Popular Culture

The annual event is presented by the Communications and Society Program in association with Comcast Corporation.

Highlights from the 2011 Symposium on The State of Race.

Dianne Pinderhughes
Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies, University of Notre Dame
Sonny Garg
President, Exelon Power
Daisy Khan
Executive Director, American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA)
Lillian Rodríguez López
President, Hispanic Federation
Omar Wasow
Co-Founder and Strategic Advisor,
Juan Williams
Donna Brazile
Founder and Managing Director, Brazile & Associates LLC
Jane Junn
Professor of Political Science, University of Southern California
Bakari Sellers
Member, 90th District, South Carolina House of Representatives
Michael Steele
Former Chairman, Republican National Committee
Russlynn Ali
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education
Richard Lui
Julianne Malveaux
President, Bennett College
Janet Murguía
President and Chief Executive Officer, National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
Al Sharpton
President, National Action Network
Donna Byrd
Publisher, The Root
Mona Eltahawy
Will Griffin
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Hip Hop On Demand
Spike Lee
Founder, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Light Continental Breakfast
9:00 a.m. - 9:15 a.m. Welcome and Introduction
9:15 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.

Presentation on the Demographics of Race

9:30 a.m. - 10:55 a.m. Panel 1: The Impact of Faith-based Communities on Race Relations

Taken as a whole, Black and Hispanic families are poorer than white families. They live in poorer neighborhoods with worse housing, schools, crime rates and unhealthier environments. Family structure has changed dramatically as 70% of Black children and 50% of Hispanic children are born into single parent households. At the same time, there is a significant increase in multicultural families, such that many individuals from multi-racial, multi-cultural families have an entirely different sense of identity than the more simplistic White/Black/Hispanic/Asian approach.

  • How do we accommodate and respond to the fact that families are becoming more interracial or multi-cultural, and that new generations grow up with different racial lenses and multi-cultural role models?
  • How do individual and family characteristics intersect with institutional and structural factors to determine outcomes for children? How has that changed over the last generation?
  • In what ways can individuals and families counter the deleterious effects of institutional and structural factors of living in poverty and how can we support such resiliency? What are the institutional and structural levers that need to change to support families to achieve?
10:55 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. Break
11:15 a.m. - 12:40 p.m. Panel 2: Political Factors

American politics are becoming more and more polarized along ideological lines, as contemporary fights over health and immigration reform illustrate. What are the implications of this polarization for racial and ethnic minorities? What is the impact of the Obama presidency on electoral politics? How can we end the use of race, language and national origin as political and cultural wedges?

1:40 p.m. - 3:05 p.m. Panel 3: Institutional Factors: School, Work, Prison

Schools in America are failing children of color at alarming rates. Children are not prepared for the work force and specifically not for jobs in the 21st century economy. While the public education system should be a powerful democratizing institution, many charge that it is a stratifying institution that ossifies class difference. The term “school to prison pipeline” is part of the lexicon now. Again, the debate has become polarized. Teacher preparedness and accountability, family engagement, and student expectations account for only part of the achievement gap between whites and children of color. There is a desperate need for public policies, school reform strategies, and teachers, families and students to pull in the same direction.

  • What would it take to dismantle America’s racial education ghettos?

Work is the key to family formation and stability. Work itself is undergoing significant definitional changes, and current unemployment is high nationwide. Nevertheless, labor issues abound for racial minorities.

  • What forces confine so many willing workers of color to the workforce margins where they are most vulnerable to economic dislocations?
  • How are traditional barriers in the workplace for racial minorities playing out in 2011?
  • Are there options and policies that can improve the prospects for more jobs for racial minorities in the future?
  • With millions of men of color disproportionately incarcerated and branded as unqualified and unemployable, are there specific policies that can reverse this situation?
3:05 p.m. - 3:25 p.m. Break
3:25 p.m. - 4:50 p.m. Panel 4: Media and Popular Culture

Domestic and international news media influence and directly affect the quality and accuracy of information being shared with the public. News coverage of stories such as “The Jena 6” and the Don Imus controversy display the ways in which the media can play a role in furthering divisions between races as well as ameliorating them.

  • In the current media environment, what changes are needed to ensure inclusive and balanced reporting?
  • What role should the news media play in solving rather than exacerbating racial and ideological problems?

Racial and cultural attitudes are often formed more from entertainment media than the news. Hip Hop music, movies, YouTube videos and television sitcoms and dramas bring current attitudes to the public consciousness nearly instantaneously. Sports and entertainment icons become role models for all youth whether intentional or not.

  • What are the entertainment media doing today to recognize the broad spectrum of racial situations (isolation, inter-racial, multi-cultural, etc.) in the country, and to reflect changes in racial attitudes?
4:50 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Closing Remarks and Adjournment

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