Beer-garden session fosters racial dialogue

Elijah Anderson chats with visitors at the Reading Terminal beer garden last night.JARID A. BARRINGER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Elijah Anderson chats with visitors at the Reading Terminal beer garden last night.JARID A. BARRINGER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER (Author)
Posted: August 03, 2011

IN THE EYES of sociologist Elijah Anderson, the Reading Terminal Market is a "canopy" - a place where people from all races and walks of life experience each other's humanity.

"We come to a place like this and learn that people who may be different are like all of us," said Anderson, who used the market as a backdrop in his recent ethnographic work, The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life.

Last night, the Reading Terminal again played a role in bringing a diverse group together, but for a more deliberate reason: Global Citizen's third-annual MLK365 Beer Summit on Race Relations. Dozens gathered in the market's beer garden to participate in the discussion, led by Anderson.

"It's an opportunity for people to come together in dialogue to break down barriers [and] find common ground," Global Citizen's president, Todd Bernstein, said.

"I don't think there's any issue more important in Philadelphia than how people who are different come to understand each other," Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City District, said before the discussion.

Anderson touched on the phenomenon of Center City flash mobs in the discussion, saying that they exacerbate pre-existing stereotypes. He referred to prejudices as "fault lines" and said places like the Reading Terminal force everyone to practice civility.

Defense lawyer and activist Michael Coard said he attended the summit to hear the public discourse on race.

"I would hope we can all sing 'Kumbaya' and walk away holding hands, but that's not going to happen," Coard said. "But the beginning of this dialogue is the first essential step toward a solution."

The economy also played a role in the discussion. Anderson said that in hard times, a sense of competition can deepen prejudices related to race, ethnicity or other differences.

"People get very interested in protecting or defending what they sense they have at stake. They can feel threatened by a new group and feel race prejudice," he said. "I think Obama understands that."

He stressed that in tough economic times that may give way to prejudice, canopies become more important as antidotes to it.

"We've come a long way and have a long way to go," he said. "This place is a manifestation of the progress we've made."

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