We have entered a new era of globalization. Through this lens social justice advocates and scholars throughout the world are building connections across national borders. While the bulk of the Policy Forum’s work relates to domestic issues, we find that the nature of the work that we do in the realm of institutional/structural discrimination compels us to carry our analysis into the international arena.
Our Global Affirmative Action Praxis Project (GAAPP) represents one of the ways that we have entered the transnational domain. Its 2009 incarnation was embodied in the workshop: “Critical Race Theory and the Struggle for Equality in Brazil, India, and the United States.” We convened this gathering between June 7th & 16th in 2009, and it proved to be a remarkably rich experience for all concerned.
GAAPP seeks to connect students in the Critical Race Studies Program at the UCLA Law School with students studying human rights issues at the Columbia Law School in a setting where they can meaningfully interact with activists, civic leaders, and policymakers who work to promote race and caste conscious remedies in different societal contexts—with a particular focus on Brazil and India.
Students in the program participate in a groundbreaking seminar. Taught by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, with the assistance of Saul Sarabia and Luke Harris, the guest lecturers for the workshop included distinguished UCLA Law School faculty from the Critical Race Studies Program (namely, Cheryl Harris, Devon Carbado, Jerry Kang and Russell Robinson) and leading human rights activists from Brazil and India, such as Jurema Werneck, Martin Macwan and Manjula Pradeep.
The course examines a broad range of concerns including: the role of the legal system; the ways in which racial and caste identity are constructed; the impact of social movements; and the meaning of the idea of color/caste blindness in Brazil, India and the United States. To accomplish this goal, we bring together diverse actors from a variety of social justice fields. Together they explore concrete strategies to address key issues of race, class, gender, and caste discrimination, while engaged in a robust debate about the role of anti-subordination measures such as affirmative action. Of particular concern to the workshop participants, however, was the profound ideological and political resistance to such measures in all of the countries in question.
In this light, we sought to use the workshop to nurture and disseminate creative approaches to advance innovative social inclusion policies. Indeed, we have worked hard to fashion an eminently accessible curriculum and to develop public education tools and trainings that enhance the ability of workshop participants to engage effectively in the mainstream debates in this domain.
In the first two years of its existence, GAAPP took Columbia and UCLA law students to Brazil and India to study these concerns. This year, for the first time, we invited students from Brazil and India to the UCLA Law School to explore these questions in an American setting.
Regrettably, many of the Indian invitees were unable to join the conference this year because they were summarily refused visas on two separate occasions. This was an extremely disappointing and unfortunate situation, but we managed to still make the workshop accessible to these students by posting Twitter commentaries on our daily sessions, and updating our Facebook page each evening.
At the workshop’s end, the participant’s created a multinational GAAPP Executive Committee so that they could sustain their transnational dialogue. As we move forward, their first task will be to try to assure that the seven Dalit students who were denied visas by the Indian Government this year are enabled to attend the workshop next year.
Unquestionably, students and faculty alike gleaned many valuable insights and ideas from the seminar. One student—who seemed to reflect the sentiments of the entire group—commented as follows: “What an important piece of work we have begun here. This is the boost we all needed … in the struggle to have our collective voices heard.”