MLK365 Beer Summit Continues Conversation on Race Relations
By Baba Bob Shipman
In the aftermath of the summer, 2009 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates on his own front porch by Cambridge police sergeant James Crowley, President Obama invited the two to the White House to discuss the incident. At the same time in Center City, Philadelphia, Global Citizen and MLK365 organized their own Beer Summit for concerned citizens to meet, mingle, and discuss race relations in Philadelphia and throughout America.
This year’s 3rd annual MLK365 Beer Summit: A Continuing Conversation on Race Relations, will feature a special guest, Yale professor Elijah Anderson, to continue the discussion about race, class, and power and how we can overcome the barriers that have divided us. Professor Anderson’s latest book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, will serve as the backdrop and theme for our discussion.
The event will be held in the Beer Garden at Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia. To register, go here. For more information, call 215-665-2655 or email here.
Wednesday, May 11, 6pm
Inside Reading Terminal Market, in Piano Court
FREE and open to the public
Join PBS’s Ray Suarez for a provocative panel inspired by the new book, THE COSMOPOLITAN CANOPY: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (W.W. Norton), by Elijah Anderson, a work Annette John-Hall of the Philadelphia Inquirer says, rivals only W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Philadelphia Negro for its groundbreaking insights into the African American experience in Philly. Panelists will include the author, Elijah Anderson, Princeton Professor Mitchell Duneier, U Penn Professor Renee Fox, Temple University Law Professor David Kairys, journalist Linda Wright Moore and former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode.
In diverse cities across the nation many Americans have adopted a “pervasive wariness” of one another, says sociologist Elijah Anderson. In his book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Every Day Life, Anderson writes that too often, people “divert their gazes, looking up, looking down, or looking away, and feign ignorance of the diverse mix of strangers they encounter.”
But in Philadelphia’s Center City, Anderson, a professor of sociology at Yale University, has found a place that offers a respite from that well-ingrained wariness. The city’s Reading Terminal, with its bustling multi-ethnic market and busy lunch counters, offers a neutral space where all kinds of people feel comfortable enough to drop their usual defenses and interact with total strangers.
Which is exactly what happened to Anderson one afternoon at Reading Terminal’s Down Home Diner, where a man visiting from Sacramento “gets a pancake or two, sits down next to me, and we chat.” In a very short time, the man, who was white, told Anderson, who is African-American, that he “has friends who are white supremacists … And he’s amazed at the civility, the diversity, the wide range of different kinds of people he sees, and the civility that is palpable at the Terminal.”
It’s a mixed bag, but the one thing that characterizes this space is civility. Civility across racial lines. – Elijah Anderson, sociologist
Elijah Anderson’s new book points up an identity crisis.
In the late 1980s, I fell in love with the discipline of sociology by reading books written by patient, perceptive observers like Elijah Anderson. As I told my father excitedly during my sophomore year in college, these scholars helped me see my immigrant anxieties as “normal” and a signature American experience. Concepts like identity and ethnicity let me express sentiments that until then had been inchoate and threatening. Going deep into the pockets of American society and hanging out at length, sociologists could draw on the human ballet to examine our cherished beliefs and institutions as well as our stereotypes and misguided social policies. This seemed to me to be a great magic trick, taking us into foreign, seemingly impenetrable worlds and emerging with useful insights.
For over a century, sociologists were some of our country’s influential truth-tellers. They gravitated to those issues—race relations, social inequality, and the workings of government—that were part of the American experiment to build an open, free democracy. Think of battles to end school segregation, ensure fair housing policy, and promote public sector accountability. A data-carrying sociologist—St. Clair Drake, Herbert Gans, James Coleman—was often at hand, gathering evidence, providing analysis, writing intelligibly for the citizenry. Anderson’s own ideas shaped criminal justice, welfare, and urban development policy. The sociologists may not have been household names, but they were important cogs in the civic wheel.
Racial difference is a constant, even unremarkable presence in city life — as simple as the way that, as you walk from one neighborhood to another, you’re aware of whether or not you “belong.” Racial differences, though, aren’t always cause for wariness or unease. Often, they’re invigorating. In The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, the Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson writes about those parts of the American city that allow “complete strangers to observe and appreciate one another” across racial barriers. Anderson calls these spaces “cosmopolitan canopies,” and says they let ordinary people become amateur anthropologists, watching and, eventually, reaching out to people of whom they’d be more wary in other places. His broader question: can we encourage the growth of cosmopolitan canopies? Or do they only grow from the bottom up?
President Obama in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.
Anderson’s book is focused on Philadelphia, and starts with a walking tour of that city from a racial point of view: he takes in the Philadelphia equivalents of Back Bay, Downtown Crossing, Faneuil Hall, and South Station. Walking through Philly’s neighborhoods, Anderson writes, often means having “a pervasive wariness towards strangers,” created by the feeling that each neighborhood “belongs” to one group or another. By and large, this proprietary feeling is the rule. But scattered throughout the city there are oases of cosmopolitanism — places characterized by “acceptance of the space as belonging to all kinds of people.”