Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

This blog will expand the reach of these community conversations to the online audience. Add your posts and comments to keep the conversation going! Commit to action by clicking HERE to stay up to date on Salon and social justice news.

For updates on Stowe Center programs and events, sign up for our enews at http://harrietbeecherstowe.org/email.

Friday, July 31, 2015

#StoweSalonsatLunch Recap: Race in Popular Culture

On Wednesday, July 29th, the Stowe Center presented the fifth consecutive Stowe Salon at Lunch program. This week's topic focused on race in popular culture. Inspired by the recent episode, or some may say feud, between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj concerning Minaj's omission from the Video Music Awards "Best Video of the Year" award, the discussion predicated on general questions of "who is celebrated in popular culture?" and "who is represented in popular culture?"

Participants discussed the ways in which award shows and the commercial industry surrounding mediums of pop culture celebrate certain identities and body types, namely white, thin bodies.  

Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj via Getty Images 

One participant offered a historical perspective on issues of race in popular culture, arguing that the media, whether music, television, film, or books, has long been a tool to reaffirm the status-quo and maintain a social hierarchy where white people are privileged and people of color are not. Depictions of people of color in popular culture, created  often by large, corporate entities, thus occupy reductive, stereotypical representations as to maintain a narrative of white supremacy. The participant went on to explain that within this media culture many artists of color will also conform to the status-quo and engage in representations that are stereotypical out of necessity or a desire for fame and popular acceptance.      

Other participants offered that in the 1960s and 1970s black musicians and musical groups were the most popular of the day, and that perhaps a situation like that between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj would not have happened. Another participant offered elaboration on this point, explaining that though black culture has always been popular in America, black people, whether in the '60s or today, have been subjugated to unfair and racist policies and actions.
August 2015 Ebony Magazine cover

Several participants lamented on the supposed negativity of the conversation. That music and popular culture at large should be a tool for unity, peace, and progress, seems to have been lost. Yet others offered a different perspective. Participants argued that critical analysis of popular culture can be an effective tool for understanding the world around us.   

What are your thoughts on the depiction and representation of race in popular culture? What do you think of the Ebony cover? Continue the conversation in the comments! 

Join us next week on August 5th for another Stowe Salon at Lunch on the topic of voting rights. Check out this article from New York Times Magazine on the evolution of voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law 50 years ago. Is the vote still open and accessible? Join us to discuss! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

#StoweSalonsatLunch Recap: White Privilege

On Wednesday, July 22nd, participants gathered at the Stowe Center for the fourth Stowe Salon at Lunch on the topic of white privilege. Michelle McFarland, Branch Manager of the Hartford Public Library's Mark Twain Branch, facilitated the conversation which included participants both new and old to Stowe Center Salons. Pastor John Metta's I, Racist sermon served as an anchor for the conversation and Michelle led with this excerpted quote:

"Here's what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.

That's what I want to say, but really, I can't. I can't say that because I've spent my life not talking about race to White people. In a big way, it's my fault. Racism exists because I, as a Black person, don't challenge you to look at it.

Racism exists because I, not you, am silent." 

Michelle used this quote to both thank participants for engaging in a conversation about privilege and race and to remind participants that progress will never be made without the willingness to talk, listen, and learn from those with different perspectives. 

The conversation predicated on the what it means, in lived experience, to have white privilege and to lack white privilege. Participants shared stories, discussed factors of structural racism that influence individuals, and even addressed political campaigns in which issues of racial justice are not openly discussed.   

One participant expressed that there is a "toxic" nature of white supremacy in the United States, and that even though as a white person he was raised to treat others equally and to engage in movements for racial justice, he still experiences and witnesses moments of bias. The participant continued and explained that this "toxic" nature seeps into every institution in the United States- education, the media, law, and policing. 

Participants also worked to distinguish between overt and explicit acts of racism, like the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederate Flag, and less-obvious, but still profound institutional acts of racism, like red lining, mass incarceration, and education inequities. Focused was paid to fighting not just explicit racism, but institutional and systemic racism.  

The conversation concluded with a discussion on the notion of progress. Participants reflected on whether progress has been made in the last fifty years or if the United States has regressed in terms of justice and equality. The questions was posed-has progressed been made? What can we do to contribute?    

Michelle finished the conversation with a call to action and quote from Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights and gay rights activist: “The proof that one truly believes is in action.”  

What does white privilege mean to you? Have you heard the term before? Where? Have you read Metta's I, Racist? What are your thoughts? 

Join us for the next Stowe Salon at Lunch on the topic of race in popular culture. Wednesdays at 12:00 pm in the Stowe Visitor Center!       

Monday, July 13, 2015

"A New Day Dawns" in South Carolina after the Confederate Flag is Removed

After weeks of activist work and protest, on Friday July 10th, officials at the South Carolina statehouse removed the Confederate Flag that had flown in front on statehouse grounds since 1961. The flag was removed after intense debate in both the South Carolina House and Senate and subsequent vote over the status of the flag. In the early morning hours of Thursday July 9th, South Carolina House members sent a bill to Governor Nikki Haley ordering the immediate removal of the flag from statehouse grounds.    

Activist Bree Newsome, drawn here as a superhero, removes Confederate Flag herself weeks before it was officially removed

Confederate Flag taken down in Charleston, South Carolina

An emotional vote and debate for many, the removal of the flag inspired poet Nikky Finney to pen "A New Day Dawns" on the symbolic importance of taking down the Confederate Flag. 

It is the pearl blue peep of day. All night the Palmetto sky was seized with the aurora and alchemy of the remarkable. A blazing canopy of newly minted light fluttered in while we slept. We are not free to go on as if nothing happened yesterday, not free to cheer as if all our prayers have finally been answered today. We are free, only, to search the yonder of each other’s faces, as we pass by, tip our hat, hold a door ajar, asking silently who are we now? Blood spilled in battle is two-headed: horror and sweet revelation. Let us put the cannons of our eyes away forever. Our one and only Civil War is done. Let us tilt, rotate, strut on. If we, the living, do not give our future the same honor as the sacred dead – of then and now – we lose everything. The gardenia air feels lighter on this new day, guided now by iridescent fireflies, those atom-like creatures of our hot summer nights, now begging us to team up and search with them for that which brightens every darkness. It will be just us again, alone, beneath the swirling indigo sky of South Carolina, working on the answer to our great day’s question: Who are we now? What new human cosmos can be made of this tempest of tears, this upland of inconsolable jubilation? In all our lifetimes, finally, this towering undulating moment is here. 

What do you think of the removal of the Confederate Flag? What are your reactions to Nikky Finney's peom? What do you think she means when she writes "Our one and only Civil War is done. Let us tilt, rotate, strut on"? 

Do you have more thoughts about the Confederate Flag and other symbols of white supremacy? Come to the next Stowe Salon at Lunch on Wednesday July 15th from 12:00-1:00 pm. We'll be discussing the Confederate Flag, its meaning and power, as well as the implications of its removal. Join us! 

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/living/article26928424.html#storylink=cpy

Friday, July 10, 2015

#StoweSalonsatLunch: Charleston Part 2 Recap

In continuation of the first Stowe Salon at Lunch on July 1st, participants gathered once again to discuss the implications of the shooting in Charleston and the current politics surrounding racism and race relations.

The conversation began with an excerpt of Mellody Hobson's (Chairperson of the Board of Directors at Dreamworks Animation) viral TEDtalk, "Color Blind or Color Brave?" 

"You see, researchers have coined the term “color blindness” to describe a learned behavior where some people pretend they don’t even notice race. If they happen to surround themselves with people from their own race, it’s purely accidental. But color blindness doesn’t mean that we’re exhibiting a lack of prejudice. Color blindness means that we’re ignoring the problem." 

From the excerpted quote, the conversation delved into the meaning of the terms "color blind" and "color brave" and the ways in which explicit conversations about race can be brought to spaces, particularly white spaces, in which these discussion do not happen. One participant asked the group why there is such a fear to engage in these discussions. In response, one participant offered that for white people, who occupy political, social, and economic privilege due to their racial identity, these discussions threaten this state of privilege. To acknowledge that there are certain privileges granted based on race requires and work towards racial equity, requires white individuals to release some of the power granted by their skin color.
When one women expressed that she often feels guilty as a white person when discussing American history, several participants of color in the discussion expressed that one should not feel guilty, but rather take those emotions and propel them into action on issues of racial justice and equity. Drawn from these points was the topic of black liberation, and the question of what a movement focused on black liberation would look like. One participant noted that a movement focused on liberation would not concern itself with matters of white guilt.

The conversation ended with a call to action and a question of when direct action, not just conversation, will begin on matters of racial equity. One participant exclaimed that changes [political, economic] need to start soon or else people will take matters into their own hand:"People of color will do more than march and who will be the John Browns who join them?"

Join us at the Stowe Center next week on July 15th for the third installment of the Stowe Salons at Lunch series. The conversation will focus on the Confederate flag and symbols of white supremacy. What are the power of these symbols? What do they mean for racial equity? What do they say about the history and present state of the U.S.? 

Monday, July 6, 2015

#StoweSalonsatLunch: Charleston Recap

On July 1st, the Stowe Center presented the first Stowe Salons at Lunch, a program in which members of the public gather for a facilitated conversation on a pressing current events issue of the week.  The first Stowe Salon at Lunch focused on Charleston and the related issues of white supremacy, privilege, violence against people of color, and racism. Unlike traditional Salon programs, where featured guests serve as experts of the topic being discussed and curate the discussion accordingly, this conversation was fueled by the stories, experiences, and knowledge of participants. Stowe Center Executive Director, Katherine Kane, began the conversation by asking "How does what happened in Charleston connect to Hartford and Connecticut?"

Participants responded by sharing stories of experience racism in Hartford, Connecticut, and other Northern states, including one guests describing that though she grew up in the South, she experienced "real racism" when she moved to Connecticut. She noted that though symbols like the Confederate flag are prominent in the South, segregation based on race and class is a defining feature of Northern cities and towns.

Matt Davies, June 22, 2015, Newsweek

The conversation shifted to discuss white supremacy and white privilege and the ways in which white individuals can often ignore the realities faced by people of color. One such reality is the violence, whether by police or by white supremacists like Dylan Roof, towards people of color. Participants also noted the unfair burden and assumption often placed on people of color to forgive attackers, whether they be Dylan Roof in Charleston or Darren Wilson in Ferguson. One participant proclaimed, "I am so sick of being expected to forgive after something like this happens. Did anyone ask white parents to forgive after Newtown?"

Participants also discussed the ways in which implicit bias (the subject of the next Salon at Stowe), or unconscious attitudes that affect our understanding and perception of others, result in the perpetuation of stereotypes toward people of color. One participant noted that "If a black person wears baggy pants or has tattoos, then people will make assumptions that they are a thug or a criminal, no matter what that person actually does. Even if they are not wearing baggy clothes, people [white people] will make assumptions, often negative, just because of how they look."  

The conversation ended with a guest proclaiming a simple, yet understated solution directed towards white people: "Just listen. Listen to those who have different life experiences than you, and believe what they are saying."

Did you attend the fist Stowe Salon at Lunch? Will you attend the next one? What steps do you think can be taken to improve our cities, state, and nation? What will you add to the discussion?  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Beyond July 4th, 1776

Though July 4th, 1776 marked the ceremonial start of independence for the United States and some Americans, the date has also marked other notable events, speeches, and actions that have culminated to move the U.S. closer to liberty and justice for all Americans. 

Below are some examples of U.S. history beyond July 4th, 1776 gathered from the Zinn Education Project

July 4th, 1827: New York abolishes slavery
A gradual emancipation law started in 1799 ended on July 4th, 1827, when the last of enslaved persons were emancipated. Despite the abolition of slavery in New York, the state, like many others in the North, benefitted economically from the continuation of slavery in other states. 

July 5th, 1852: Frederick Douglass delivers "The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro"
At an event commemorating the fourth of July in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass delivered  a speech addressing the paradox of celebrating "independence" in the U.S., when not all were free.  

William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, and other abolitionists gathered for a rally sponsored by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  

Broadside from rally, via Zinn Educaiton Project. 

When you hear "Independence Day" what do you think? How can we continually work as a country to bring liberty and justice for all Americans? Learn more about July 4th in United States history at the Zinn Education Project.