the space traders: intersections of race, politics and education

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Building on Bell’s fictional narrative, we invite researchers, activists, educators, practitioners, community members.

Derrick Bell’s The Space Traders (1993) [watch and read], is a creative, yet candid analysis (and commentary) on the permanence of racism in the U.S. Bell’s science fiction story posits the willingness within the political sphere to disregard the suffering of Black people, demonstrated through the passage of laws enabling injustice against them. The Space Traders illumination of the concepts of erasure and denial of one’s humanity in trade for unlimited access to wealth and resources do not seem far-fetched in today’s political climate. Keeping in mind the 2016 presidential election cycle, we draw inspiration from Bell’s work to focus this year’s conference on interrogating the relationship between race and politics as significant determinants of educational outcomes. These documented trends include police brutality committed against people of color—Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Tyre King, Sandra Bland, Keith Lamont Scott; hate crimes—Orlando Shootings; and, the repeal of voting rights across the U.S. to name a few. Drawing on Critical Race Theory, these issues of injustice reflect the historical function of white supremacy in society as both law and politics have played a vital role in the process of perpetuating and upholding white racial domination and power over people of color. The Space Traders remains relevant today, documenting issues of power and access that have, and continue to shape the individual and collective material realities of people of color in the U.S.

The Space Traders reflects historical and current manifestations of interest convergence, the permanence of racism in the U.S., and critical race praxis. The function and outcomes of these dynamics are apparent in the educational spaces young people of color must regularly traverse. Further, education curriculum, policy, and “reform” efforts are deeply entrenched in structural racism and produce outcomes such as state sanctioned violence, increases in poverty/homelessness amongst U.S. residents and the widening of the “education debt” (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Political platforms repeatedly purport to address educational issues that disproportionately impact youth of color and indigenous persons. However, empty promises persist and the actions of our government seem to result in little, if any, significant and long-standing improvements to the learning conditions in historically underserved schools and communities. Critical analyses that disregard the formidable role race plays in political and educational discourse and praxis are shortsighted. This year’s theme attempts to capture the transformational power of education as a tool for liberation; politics as a means for, access to, and negotiation of said power; and race as a mediating factor in negotiating/shaping the systems and spaces of education across various political climates.

“This election year has brought about intensified political debate and discourse thereby amplifying CRT’s rejection of social institutions as neutral or colorblind, and the theory’s assertion of color consciousness as necessary for rectifying current [and historical] racist systems and practices (Wing, 2009). The Space Traders is in many ways an allegory to contemporary mainstream political discussions. Unabashed pandering to historically marginalized culture groups and campaign platforms to make “America great again,” for example, pose complex dilemmas for voters across a multitude of political and geographical landscapes as they negotiate issues of power, political will, and self-preservation. This is especially significant given the continued shift towards neoliberal policies and practices (e.g. Every Student Succeeds Act) that have, and continue to result in the increased privatization of education and subsequent escalation of educational disparities for students of color.”