Social Justice and Race Across the Americas in the 21st Century

Convener: Yolanda Flores

On November 4, 2008, Senator Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African American to be elected President of the United States of America. The election of the first man of color was a tremendous victory not only for the U.S., but for all of the Americas and the global society as well. The U.S. has a checkered racial past including slavery and segregation (as with many other countries in the Americas). It is no wonder that Obama’s racial identity provided a feeding frenzy for journalist and political commentators covering the U.S. presidential campaign.

The question that political analyst have been struggling to answer is how much did race and racial politics play in Obama’s victory? There is no doubt that people of color and college students of all races came out to vote for Obama in record numbers. But does such a victory mean a shift in the way racial minorities will be perceived and treated in the Americas? Despite Obama’s win, negative stereotypes regarding racial minorities can still be observed in the workplace, in many types of performances and other facets of life. When the concepts of social justice and race are applied to performance politics, workplace politics, national politics, gender politics and/or sexual orientation politics, it is interesting to note how many well-meaning individuals in the dominant culture may still argue—unfair! This sentiment is in fact echoed across the Americas.

The purpose of this workgroup will be to discuss through critical discourse, how social justice, race and other identities, play out in the lives of people of color living in the Americans. For example would Obama have won if he were African American and gay or transsexual? There are three objectives for the workgroup:

1) Develop a critical discourse on the significance of social justice and race.
2) Develop a critical understanding of race as it relates to other identities.
3) Develop a framework for continued dialogue on social justice and race.

The workgroup invites 15-20 scholars, artist and activist to write a scholarly paper (10-15 single spaced pages) addressing the significance of social justice and race. Identity is fluid and multidimensional, therefore, individuals may also intersect social justice and race with other identities as well. Examples may include the significance and intersection of social justice, race and sexual orientation; social justice, race and social class or; social justice, race and gender. Each paper must demonstrate an understanding of social justice and race as a foundation before bringing in a third dimension. Though, a well-integrated paper addressing only social justice and race is also acceptable. Social justice is defined as the marginalization of four specific groups, race, gender, sexual orientation and social class (Johnson, 2009). There will be two tangible outcomes of this workgroup:

1). Participants will have the opportunity to engage in authoring a group article for publication.
2). Participants will be expected to produce a class syllabus or project that can be used in their college/university or community setting.


Yolanda Flores is Associate Professor at the University of Vermont where she teaches comparative literature and culture of the Americas (U.S. Latino, Spanish-American, and Brazilian). The guiding principle of her interdisciplinary research and teaching is to challenge hegemonic constructions of gender, race, class, and sexuality as manifested in the literature and culture of this continent. She is the author of The Drama of Gender: Feminist Theater by Women of the Americas (2000, 2005) and numerous other scholarly articles. Professor Flores is currently working on her second book-length project, Brown-eyed Daughter of the Sun: A Memoir.


  • Ana Palacios
  • Dora Inés Munevar
  • Luz Zaret Mena Ortiz
  • MaryAnn Talavera
  • Sheila Graham
  • Vera Regina Rodrigues da Silva
  • Yolana Flores