This past Tuesday, scholar and activist Rosa Clemente spoke at an event hosted by The Office of Social Justice, Inclusion and Conflict Resolution in the Boyd Recital Hall. Clemente, a leading expert on Afro-Latinx identity, co-founder of the National Hip Hop Political Convention and the Green Party’s 2008 vice presidential candidate on the first women of color ticket in U.S. history, came to Rowan to present her talk, “Race, Gender and Nation in the Age of Black Lives Matter and Trumpism.”
A serious tone was set by Clemente’s opening quote from Harry Belafonte: “Those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.” She went on to discuss her upbringing in the South Bronx as an African American and Puerto Rican woman, where her parents shielded her from the realities of her people’s past.
Clemente found herself years later as the president of the Albany State University Black Alliance. There, she began questioning all facets of her society, from “whiteness in general” to Bill Clinton. “Life as a rabble-rouser began,” she recalled, when her major was changed from political science to Africana Studies.
Upon studying Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and hearing the music of artists like Queen Latifah, her activist life blossomed. Exposure to hip-hop during its “golden era,” as Clemente referred to it, caused her to realize, “I’m not what they say I am.”
Views on Donald Trump and his rhetoric were also expressed. Clemente felt that “it has allowed for people to think that they can freely express hatred and racism.” On inequality, she pointed out that “this country has become so disparate with the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ with the majority of ‘have-nots’ being people of color.” The recent videos of police killing people of color were also tackled, having “jolted black and brown folks out of a post-racial reality,” she said.
Clemente stressed that understanding social systems are the most important aspect of overcoming racial injustice. “We’re not the minority,” Clemente said. “We’re the majority of the world’s people. It’s our conditioning that has taught us differently.”
The audience seemed quite inspired by Clemente’s talk, including sophomore writing arts and international studies major Kaitlyn Gaffney. “She was moving, intelligent, passionate and an incredible speaker,” she said. “I could tell she is someone who has truly dedicated herself to her work and activism, which is something I seriously admire.”
Maitta Dabla, a junior communication studies and radio, television and film major, felt that it was important to understand how media affects people. “A lot of people like to ignore race,” she said. “As a communications major, I thought it was important to see how the media shapes these issues.”
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