Conversations on Race: Disinformation & Its Adverse Impacts on Racial Equity

This year’s Conversations on Race topic was the issue of disinformation and its adverse effect on progress in the areas of racial justice and racial equity. This speaks directly to our local mission and to our goal advocating for racial integration and equity everywhere so that people of color and marginalized people are empowered as fully included members of society. The planning team was especially motivated to address this topic given the enormous amount of media attention on how the news-consuming public navigates competing narratives and disentangles truth from falsehoods.

Over ninety people gathered at Congregation Beth El in South Orange to listen to the speaker, Dr. Kelly Harris, sr. staff director at University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Africana Studies, and to join in small group, facilitated conversations. Dr. Harris opened the evening by exploring the threats of disinformation and its historical roots in perpetuating racial stereotypes and dismantling progress in equity and inclusion. He shared the long and broad history of using racialized propaganda to manipulate public opinion, maintain racial hierarchies, enforce racial segregation, and undermine civil rights.

Many concerns were shared by the attendees both about the proliferation of misinformation and the difficulty in having productive conversations with people who hold tightly to their perspectives on current events. Some of the reflections included that people remain silent because they fear that what they are hearing or reading is untrue; people doubt media because they see so many inconsistencies; too many people argue to be right rather than to engage in productive solutions; social media encourages the spread of disinformation.

The main take-aways from Dr. Harris and the participants to support growth in personal learning and to support productive community dialogues included:

  • Try to get comfortable with the discomfort of disagreeing
  • Tension and conflict should be seen as opportunities for new understanding
  • Fear blocks growth in understanding; we need to build our courage to engage in productive conversations

Dr. Harris made a final suggestion about a pathway to deal with our national impasse in racial justice. He suggested that a constitutional convention could facilitate the revision of existing constitutional language to explicitly address issues of racial justice and equity and propose amendments to strengthen civil rights protections, safeguard voting rights, and ensure equal treatment under the law for all individuals regardless of race.





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