The Department of History and Anthropology hosted a virtual Interdisciplinary Conference on Race on Friday, Nov. 12.
The event consisted of four panel discussions followed by a conclusionary participant roundtable and reflection. One panel, titled Politics and Social Change, featured panelists Katherine Parkin, Julius Adekunle, Justin Montana, and Rajnarind Kaur.
In this session, panelists provided a brief 15 minute presentation of their research about various topics, all pertaining to race as it relates to politics and social change.
Katherine Parkin began the panel with a discussion of her paper “Black Women and WONACC: Abortion Rights 1971-1973,” which drew attention to the often overlooked work of black activists who contributed to the reproductive justice and abortion rights movement.
“White women tend to dominate our understanding of the popular discourse surrounding abortions in the pre-Roe v. Wade era,” said Parkin, noting the lack of conversation about how black women equally contributed to advancements in reproductive rights during this time.
“Most discourse around black women and abortions has been remembered as being centered on black men charging black and white women with supporting the genocide of black people through abortion,” said Parkin. “It is true that black women spoke out in support of abortion rights in the context of a discourse that decried the risk of genocide for the black community, if abortion were made legal and accessible.”
Parkin discussed how minority women, especially black women, were disproportionately harmed as a result of a lack of access to safe, legal abortions. Even illegal abortions were costly, both in terms of money and risk, which led to an uptick in self-induced abortions that were often fatal. This began a large-scale movement in which women started to talk openly and affirm their experiences, grouping together to call for the repeal of all anti-abortion laws and forced sterilizations and generally rejecting the accusation that abortion was a form of genocide.
“WONACC understood that their success in achieving their goals of reproductive justice for all meant that they not only had to strive to secure abortion rights, but they had to ensure that black women had access to contraceptives and protection from forced sterilization,” concluded Parkin.
The next panelist, Julius Adekunle, presented his research on “Unforgettable African Women of Power,” focusing on the political, economic, and social contributions of women of color throughout African history, particularly in the colonial period.
“More often than not you hear about the men, and not much about the women,” explained Adekunle. “Women have always been active in politics. They have also been involved in social change and social justice, and their contributions should not be overlooked.”
He stressed the importance of historical objectivity when teaching, especially as it relates to gender. Furthermore, women played an especially important role in the establishment of democracy in Africa, which Adekunle noted cannot be overlooked when studying its history.
Yet, as Adekunle describes, these women often receive little to no credit for their contributions to the political, economic, and social advancements of colonial African society. “I want to give them something, at least in my own little contribution.”
Adekunle expressed that he is not an expert in this field, but also noted that he plans to conduct more research about significant female leaders in African history and hopes to continue to publish more work about them to give them adequate recognition for their accomplishments and contributions.
The third panelist, Justin Montana, discussed findings from his research on the Asbury Park riots of 1970. He began his presentation with background about New Jersey’s involvement in World War II, explaining how many military training facilities were located throughout Monmouth County. This led to a sudden influx of African American trainees who chose to remain in New Jersey after the war for a chance at a better life, in a population spike now known as the Great Migration.
Many of these African American families settled in western areas of Asbury Park, commonly referred to as the “West Side.” Growing concerns about the effect of West Side residents on infrastructure and the local job market led to racial tensions, setting the stage for what would eventually occur in 1970.
“We had this group of black youths who were in poor living conditions with very little they were able to do recreationally, no jobs or income of their own, and the general underlying tension of living in a place where no one cared about them that much. That all ended up coming to a boiling point on the 4th of July of 1970,” said Montana.
“We don’t know much about the exact who did what on this night, but we do know that after a late night dance event, there was a group of black youths who were engaged in a startlingly common pastime of throwing rocks and glass bottles and loose bricks and other such things at each other. At some point in the night, one of these projectiles ended up hitting a stopped car. As far as we know, this was an accidental event,” he explained.
Regardless of intent, many other youths began to join in the destruction. What started as a small group of kids causing a minor disturbance escalated into four days of rioting that resulted in large-scale destruction.
Montana described how the rioting ultimately ended after Asbury Park police officers opened fire on a group of black youths who were beginning to disperse, resulting in countless injuries and subsequent hospitalizations. West Side leaders attempted to use the rioting to demand urban renewal projects and new job opportunities for west side residents, but Asbury Park did not approve these requests during or after the riots.
“This massive outcry against the city and what it was doing took place for 4 days, and the city continued to ignore it,” said Montana.
Rajnarind Kaur was the final panelist of this session and began her presentation by showing the trailer of a documentary she was involved in, “Declaration of a Revolution,” which started as a white paper about the farmer’s revolution happening in India but was ultimately adopted into an award-winning film.
“Voiceovers are something I’ve done before,” said Kaur. “I had the opportunity to do the narration for the Declaration of A Revolution, which is the trailer you just saw. At this time, this documentary has skyrocketed.”
“Declaration of a Revolution” was entered into the film festival circuit and picked up by 21 film festival selections across the world. It has also received nine awards, including Best Editing, Best Feature Documentary, and two awards for the narration and voiceover.
“The livelihood of these individuals is really at stake, so when they leave their homes to protest, their farms and everything is being taken care of by children and their wives,” she explained. “They’ve been staying through the freezing rain, through the cold, everything. It’s the largest sustained peaceful protest in human history, and we don’t know how to get the word out. I just want to increase the awareness, so I thank you for this opportunity and for really giving me the space to spread the word.”
Kaur strongly recommends documentaries as an effective way of conveying important information, suggesting that each of the panelists who presented before her could turn their research into documentaries as well. “The documentary world has opened up my eyes in a way to really connect with individuals in telling a story,” she explained.