Challenging Conversations: Rinku-Sen


Challenging Conversations: Rinku-Sen

Rinku Sen, president and executive director of the Applied Research Center, is devoted to creating a more inclusive America. If we’re willing to be explicit about the ways racism works around us, Sen says, we can create the society we all want to live in. Sen also publishes the ColorLines, a magazine on race and politics. (www.arc.org)

photo by Kris Krug

Rinku Sen of the Applied Research Center, a think tank that popularizes racial justice ideas and fights for them, tells us that she wasn’t always a professional person of color. (She refers to Pat Buchanan as a “professional white person”.) “I didn’t always identify with the brown-skinned people around me.” Her family came to the US from India when she was 5 years old. She was the only immigrant kid in schools, in her neighborhood and classes. “I spent all my time figuring out how to be an American – watching hours and hours of TV a day… I am living proof that it’s okay to park your kids in front of the TV.”

She watched the Brady Bunch and begged her mother to feed us hot dogs every night. Despite the fact that speaking English was banned in her house, she speaks with absolutely no accent. The lesson she received, despite her parents ban on speaking English, was that only white people got to be Americans… and she got this lesson from American TV.


Rinku tells us that she was so assimilated, she decided to skip her university’s special orientation for people of color. When racial tensions and rallies erupted around the beating up of a black student, she avoided the subject. Finally, Yuko and Valerie, two friends who are students of color, told her, “You’re a woman now, and a person of color – it’s time to grow up and go to the rally.” CONTINUE >>