Discussing diversity and disparity
We live in a highly interrelated community. Actions within a single sector of our community affect many other sectors. It is far more likely that a business will be successful and healthy if that business is located within a healthy community. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it far more eloquently: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied by a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The Duluth Area Chamber’s leadership understands and appreciates the connectivity we share as community members. Consequently, we believe in challenging ourselves and others to come together to address our community’s shared concerns. This understanding and belief motivated us to recently host a forum aimed at considering our community’s effectiveness at discussing diversity. We specifically wanted our business community members to better understand the impact the UnFair Campaign is having on our community. It is likely you recently have noticed the campaign’s billboards stating that “It’s hard to see racism when you are white.” I suspect you have also experienced the various reactions evoked by the campaign. The Chamber’s leadership wanted our members to have the opportunity to understand the original intent behind the campaign. One of the original campaign partners participated in the forum, and shared with us that the campaign’s intended outcomes are to:
- Provide opportunities for white people to see white privilege.
- Create dialogue throughout the community on white privilege.
- Break the silence around white privilege and racism.
- Move white people to accept their role and responsibility for racism.
- Build a base of white allies to work together with people of color to eliminate racism individually and institutionally. At the forum, we also learned that our community is proud, resilient and strong. Yet, it is also filled with disparities. It is these disparities that we would benefit by acknowledging, discussing and addressing. For example, Duluth school district data for 2010 illustrates that 80 percent of white students graduate from high school in four years (grades 9 through 12), compared to 34 percent of Native American students and 25 percent of African-American students. Adding to this challenge: the 2010 census data for Duluth shows that 18 percent of whites live in poverty, compared to 67 percent of blacks and 56 percent of Native Americans. How will our community continue to prosper and grow if such disparities exist? How are local businesses and organizations affected by these disparities? What can each of us do to work toward resolving these disparities? These are the questions we began to consider at our recent forum. It was the kind of dialogue the UnFair Campaign partners hoped the campaign would generate. The Chamber was pleased and proud to encourage this kind of needed dialogue.