Love explores racism, healing at UN conference in South Africa
by Sarah R. Buchholz, Chronicle staff
Barbara Love (Stan Sherer photo)
arbara Love played dual roles during her visit to Durban, South Africa, as part of the United Nations' World Conference Against Racism Aug.31 to Sept. 7.
"I went because for a group of people from around the world to get together to talk about racism would be a historic event," said Love, chair of the Department of Student Development and Pupil Personnel Services. "This meant that governments would tackle issues of racism, some of which would be manifest in their own countries.
They would have to acknowledge that racism is wrong and should be eliminated."
Love attended the conference as part of an international nongovernmental organization, United to End Racism.
"I led a series of workshops on healing the damage caused by racism and creating safe space for people from many different perspectives to come together and talk about racism and how it has impacted their lives," she said. "A primary premise is that all humans are hurt by racism and our best efforts to eliminate racism will have only limited affect until we can put attention on healing how we've been hurt."
Love also led an institute through the Social Justice Education Program that ran in conjunction with the conference. The group included graduate students and in-service teachers and other community members.
"Participants attended sessions at the world conference and then had group discussions about the issues," she said. "We participated in a seminar with a group of students and faculty at the University of Natal at Durban. We met with people from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We visited a township where we talked about issues in the township. We visited local schools and the Phoenix Settlement and talked about the work of Mahatma Gandhi with his great-granddaughter."
Gandhi began the development of his nonviolent peace movement at Phoenix.
The goal of the institute was understanding racism in the global context, she said, so the group talked with people from many delegations from around the world.
"It was very powerful," she said of the conference. "The participants report that it was deeply moving and life-changing for them."
Love was disappointed that the United States pulled its official delegation out of the eight-day conference on the fourth day over language about Israel that U.S. officials called "hateful."
"It's so hard for them to come to the table and then stay there," she said. "If they stayed, it would amount to an acknowledgement that racism exists and they would have to become a part of the discussion about what to do about racism. As it was, since the United States' government left, they never had to sign the document. The document says slavery was a crime against humanity. They avoided being in a position of guilt about slavery and things like that. Such a conference would serve as a moral court and have governments consider the effects of their practices and policies on humans."
She also has been disappointed that she hasn't seen links in the media between the United States' behavior and the recent use of airplanes as bombs and dissemination of anthrax.
"I have been waiting to hear whether any news commentator would make a connection between the refusal of the U.S. government to sit at the table to talk and these acts of terrorism," she said. "If you won't sit down at the table, what is left is to fight. Our refusal to sit at the table and talk in the world community about racism and oppression should be reexamined on many levels."
Love said her understanding of racism expanded as a result of the conference. Some behavior she had previously considered classism, for example, she began to see as people treating others on the basis of their appearance or heritage.
"One of the things that I learned was about the many ways that people are targeted for oppression that I had not previously thought about in the context of racism," she said. "For instance, the Dalit people of India or the Roma people of Europe." Love said she also learned from listening to indigenous people from many parts of the world address their issues.
"The idea of people coming from as many different places, perspectives, and issues and trying to find common ground - ways to talk so we could hear each other, ways to stand in solidarity with someone else and not fear that you are giving up your own issue - was very powerful," she said. "It was a major lesson in how to have dialogue about racism on a global scale."