First Steps to Race in Justice

By Steven Libowitz   |   October 21, 2020

Two MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellows, a Pulitzer Prize winner, an innovative winner of a Grammy for traditional folk music, and a world-famous nun who was the inspiration for an Academy Award-winning movie are all coming to town as part of an ambitious new series from UCSB Arts & Lectures called Race to Justice that launches this week. The season-long in-depth look at systemic racism from a variety of perspectives represents an effort to provide a forum for activists, creative artists, and social thinkers to inform the community’s understanding of racism and how race impacts society, and to inspire an expansive approach to advancing racial equality.

In Race to Justice, Sharon Tettegah, director of the Center for Black Studies Research at UCSB, helped put together one of the largest coalitions of organizations in campus history

The series of events, which was created with participation from multiple UCSB departments and community partners, consists of digital streaming broadcasts through January with live events slated for February to May, and will be augmented by extensive outreach activities on campus and free adult learning activities for the community to further explore race in society and promote change as part of Arts & Lectures’ Thematic Learning Initiative.

The series gets underway at 5 pm on Monday, October 19, when Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, the bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist and the National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,  will talk and engage in a discussion moderated by UCSB professor Dr. Jeffrey C. Stewart, the 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro. Also already announced are events with attorney and activist Brittany K. Barnett, author of the memoir A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom; a Sunday Brunch Concert with Grammy Award-winning musician-historian-writer-podcaster Rhiannon Giddens; a screening of the film John Lewis: Good Trouble that chronicles the life and career of the legendary civil rights activist followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker Dawn Porter; Sister Helen Prejean, who ignited a national debate on capital punishment with her bestselling book Dead Man Walking that spawned the iconic movie, play, and opera; MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of “The New York Times Magazine’s The 1619 Project” about the history and lasting legacy of American slavery; Ta-Nehisi Coates, another MacArthur Fellow whose breadth spans authorship of the National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me and the Marvel comics The Black Panther and Captain America; and Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, whose new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

The series represents one of the largest coalitions of organizations coming together in campus history, as Race to Justice was created and curated in association with the Department of Black Studies; Center for Black Studies Research; Division of Social Sciences; Division of Humanities and Fine Arts; Division of Mathematical, Life, and Physical Sciences; Division of Student Affairs; Gevirtz Graduate School of Education; Graduate Division; College of Creative Studies; College of Engineering; MultiCultural Center; The Carsey-Wolf Center; UCSB Reads; Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor. 

We spoke with Sharon Tettegah, the director of the Center for Black Studies Research, for perspective on the series from the academic, campus, and larger community perspective. Excerpts of the conversation follow. 

Q. This series was created in the wake of the George Floyd killing and the anti-racial protests. You are on the committee that put it together. How do you feel about the timing?

A. Sometimes that’s what it takes, as with any type of social movement, it literally takes a village. As Dr. King said, we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given, it really must be demanded. And the reality is that we always have been told to wait, wait, wait. But let’s be realistic about it: you just can’t wait (because) there’s never a right time.

Universities are known to not necessarily embrace diversity in the way it should be embraced. And I can honestly say that we have – yes, I’ll use the word – a white supremacist perspective. Everybody is expected to assimilate. Blackness is not a priority at any higher education institution and never has been. So while we have things like the Multicultural Center, and programs that invite people of color to participate, there hasn’t been anything like this that was attributed to a specific theme focusing on Blackness.

(After George Floyd), when we didn’t know if anything would be done, myself and two other colleagues, Dr. Victor Rios and Dr. Jeffrey Stewart, wrote a letter to the university chancellor talking about Black Lives Matters even at the institution. We had an anti-racist town hall meeting back in June sponsored by the Center for Black Studies to talk about these issues. (The series) is bringing more events, and we really appreciate that when we asked (UCSB A&L director) Celesta Billeci that question, “Why now?” she didn’t hesitate and just said, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Arts & Lectures brings programs to the community at large and has a broader reach than anything on campus. The series is very timely and important and it’s going to provide recognition and much needed conversations. And by having Ingrid and I involved (on the committee), it helps to deliver the message that we’re here and we’ve always been here. 

It seems obvious with speakers and authors, but how does having singers and entertainers perform address those issues of racial justice?

Because it’s really about connection. That’s what human nature is about, that’s the social aspect of it – bringing us together, bringing other people together, bringing the community together to create connection. Santa Barbara doesn’t have a large Black population, but that’s the point. That’s why you need to bring that diversity to the community so people can hear their voices, and see the diversity of representation, even across Black communities. Black is not homogenous; it’s a lot of different people from a lot of different places with different mindsets and different social classes. The series offers multiple perspectives. The university’s role (from an educational point of view) is huge because it sets the precedent for every mindset that goes out into the community as well as the workforce.

Can you expand on those concepts of connection, particularly in light of your own recent research that examines affective, behavioral, and cognitive facets of empathy and empathic dispositions toward improving equity in leadership, teaching, and learning?

I really like Simon Baron-Cohen’s perspective that if we can learn empathy, put ourselves in someone else’s place and understand oppression from that perspective, if we can suspend our judgments in ways that are hard because human beings have schemas that are locked in solid, if we could be more empathic and be able to listen and hear what people are saying, then you can have compassion. To bring it back to the Race to Justice series, it’s a type of expression of empathy in some ways, a response to George Floyd and all those things that have happened. 

So is there then a sense of achievement or gratification that UCSB is sponsoring this series?

I see it as a step. You’ve got to start somewhere. Some generations ago you wouldn’t have had anything like this at all because Black people had to come through the back door. The Race to Justice series is a way of coming in through the front door, a way of acknowledging that everyone has a right to be here and everyone’s voice needs to be heard. It’s a way of giving the university a type of a facelift. Ideally more will come. But you never know. Because people could be reactive and stop the momentum. But it has to keep coming. So we’ll see what people are going to do to make a difference.
As Dr. King said, you can’t legislate people’s minds. So let’s see what we do as a university community, in the city and county and state and a nation.

This is a step. 

(Single tickets for Race to Justice virtual events are $10 and are available at or by calling 805-893-3535.)

Connecting the Community

In an effort to connect the community and keep the conversation going, James Joyce III, founder of Coffee with a Black Guy, has scheduled one of his signature events over Zoom for 7 pm to 8 pm Thursday evening, October 22, three days after Dr. Kendi’s event. 

James Joyce III, founder of Coffee with a Black Guy, keeps the conversation going on October 22

“It’s great that Arts & Lectures has stepped up with this series,” explained Joyce, whose initial in-person events in 2019 drew upward of 100 participants well before the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests. “I wanted to provide an opportunity for more engagement for people who might have some questions or want to talk through things they heard that are new or were reiterated. They’ll have a few days to chew on the conversation between Dr. Kendi and Dr. Stewart and then talk about it.”

Joyce said he welcomes all to participate, no matter their perspective or response to the event.

“It doesn’t matter whether they agree or disagree as long as they have some reason and validation,” Joyce said. “That’s the conversation I want to have, to give folks the opportunity to engage and learn.”

For more info visit

Westmont Event… 

Westmont College English professor Kya Mangrum moderates an interdisciplinary panel in discussing the topic “What is Race and Racism?” at the Montecito-based Christian college featuring faculty members Yi-Fan Lu (biology), Tom Knecht (political science), and Meredith Whitnah (sociology) at 7 pm on Thursday, October 15. The Ethnic Studies department lecture, the first in a series of events supported by the English and modern languages departments, will explore the keywords “race” and “racism” from a Christian perspective and in light of the developments of the past several months. 

The panelists’ nexus to the topic is varied, as Whitnah studies the role of religion in both perpetuating and mitigating different forms of social injustice, Mangrum is completing a manuscript that examines how photography transformed U.S. slave narratives, Knecht researches the politics of sports and Lu uses multi-electrode arrays to model human neurological disorders in the laboratory.

“As a community that places Christ first, we hope to facilitate a conversation that helps us to see each other the way that God sees each of us,” Dinora Cardoso, Westmont professor of Spanish and ethnic studies faculty member, said in a press release. “We aim to establish a foundational understanding of race and racism in the U.S. that will allow each participant to feel empowered to ask honest questions. Even as we hear different disciplinary perspectives and recognize different points of view, we hope participants leave the panel with a shared set of concepts that can further our understanding and engagement in the work of racial healing and justice.”

Register at to receive an email with the link to the Zoom event. 


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