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WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Rinku Sen

Rinku Sen, the Publisher of ColorLines magazine and Communications Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC), has a rich history of organizing, writing and lecturing on issues of race, gender and activism...

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Rinku Sen's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND... Race

I am the publisher of ColorLines magazine, the national newsmagazine on race and politics. I will be writing about the ways in which women of color are treated in the media, as well as representations of gender and sexual issues in communities of color. I am particularly interested in how the press reports and the public responds to public policy issues, the way the rules are set up.

For about twenty years, I have been writing about the relationship between race, gender and organizing. From 1988-2000, I worked at the Center for Third World Organizing, where we used to publish a quarterly journal called Third Force, which was all about organizing in communities of color. Third Force eventually merged with the Applied Research Center’s weekly digest of news stories, RaceFile, to create ColorLines. Much of what I learned in that time is reflected in my book Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy. I’m interested in femininity and masculinity, so both are likely to show up in my contributions.

I have written about the racial and gender conflicts confronting family day care providers in Rhode Island, who were the first in the nation to win health insurance as part of their compensation package from the state. I also wrote about the contemporary welfare rights movement, about the ambivalence that women of color feel in using the criminal justice system to deal with domestic and sexual violence, and about the difference in the Black and South Asian experiences of racial profiling. My current writing projects include ongoing reporting about the home day care committee of Families United for Racial and Economic Equity, and about immigrant restaurant workers in New York City. Occasionally I write about emerging trends in American popular culture. Lately I’ve noticed that Black men/Asian women couples are showing up frequently on nighttime medical dramas, a combination that isn’t seen much in real life. Is there something newly palatable about this particular coupling? At ColorLines, we began devoting an annual issue to coverage of sex, race and gender. Published twice now, the “sex issue” is wildly popular and has addressed such topics as racial BDSM, HIV criminalization, reproductive rights, and porn.

Media coverage of the issues emerging from racial, economic and gender conflicts has significant effects on public policy. For example, the public perception that Latina women are super conservative when it comes to sex leads many school officials to push abstinence-heavy sex education programs in the public schools. My own research, however, shows that Latinas, whether immigrant or U.S. born, are strong supporters of comprehensive sexuality education.

Next year, I expect to be writing a lot about the effects of ten years of welfare reform. How the press reports the results of this decade will definitely affect public opinion about how the policy should be reshaped for the next ten years. Just before the fifth anniversary, I wrote about the contemporary welfare rights movement and its demands; also see < a href="http://www.arc.org/C_Lines/CLArchive/story3_3_07.html">this article. While the feds go on and on about how reform offered women a road to “self-sufficiency,” we’ll hear less about the studies revealing that significant racial and gender discrimination at both the welfare office and the employers office.

2006 is also the 5th anniversary of September 11, and I expect we’ll see a lot of stories about grieving widows. But I wonder if anyone will really cover the women whose husbands are still alive but have been caught up in the post 9/11 national security/immigration dragnet. These women whose husbands have been detained illegally, deported without hearings or simply sent on the run because they feared such consequences. You can read some of these stories in my colleague Tram Nguyen’s book, We Are All Suspects Now and get more information from Families for Freedom, where activists work to end the immigration detention and deportation policy that creates single mothers from married couples.

Making good public policy is more than a matter of working the halls of government and reading all the latest briefs. The public can play an important role in making policy. People find their way through complicated policy issues by using the information and images they get from the press, whether mainstream, alternative or ethnic. Communities struggling to find their way at the crossroads of race, class and gender have a lot of great stories to offer, full of muck and conflict. I plan to use this blog to raise them up.


Rinku Sen's Biography

Rinku Sen, the Publisher of ColorLines magazine and Communications Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC), has a rich history of organizing, writing and lecturing on issues of race, gender and activism. She started her organizing career as a student activist at Brown University, fighting race, gender and class discrimination on campuses. She received a B.A. in Women’s Studies from Brown University in 1988 and is currently pursuing a M.A. in Journalism at Columbia University. She has written extensively about immigration, community organizing and women’s lives for a wide variety of publications including Third Force, AlterNet, Race, Poverty & the Environment, Amerasia Journal and Colorlines. She edited We are the Ones We Are Waiting For: Women of Color Organizing for Transformation published by the Urban Rural Missions of the World Council of Churches in 1995. She was the principal investigator on research projects for the Ford and Ms foundations. Her latest book, Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing, a guide for community organizations of all orientations was released in the fall of 2003. The book is a finalist for the 2004 Nautilus Book Award in the social change category.

From 1988-2000, she was on the staff of the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO), a national network of organizations of color. As a staff member, then Co-Director of CTWO, she trained new organizers of color and crafted public policy campaigns around poverty, education, racial and gender equity, health care and immigration issues. She is a board member of the Center for Third World Organizing, Speak Out Speakers and Artists, and is on the advisory board of the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity.

She is formerly a member of the board of Independent Press Association and the Tides Center. She was recognized by Ms. Magazine as one of 21 feminists to watch in the 21st century in 1996, the same year that she received the Ms. Foundation for Women's Gloria Steinem Women of Vision award. She was a Gerbode Fellow in 1999 and was selected as a 2004 Charles H. Revson Fellow on the Future of the City of New York.


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