Fargo-Moorhead in denial about racism, YWCA event speakers say
MOORHEAD - Racism is a problem in Fargo-Moorhead that people don't seem to care about, said speakers at a YWCA forum Tuesday in Moorhead.
It's an issue that affects the workplace and the general community.
Prairie Rose, Fargo Human Relations Commission chairwoman, said in trying to make change, she struggles with apathy.
"Our experiences as people of color, and as women as well as young people in our community, are hitting this wall of apathy," she said. "Those voices get lost."
The YWCA Cass Clay's third annual "It's Time to Talk: Forums on Race" luncheon featured antiracism speaker, writer and activist Tim Wise, followed by community members who provided a local perspective.
Some local businesses, such as Rasmussen College, used the event for diversity training.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for any businesses ... to be able to learn more about diversity issues," said Angela Bachman, Rasmussen College employer relations specialist. "We're a pretty homogenous community here, but we're getting more diverse."
Many white people believe racism is no longer an issue, pointing to successful black Americans such as Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey, Wise said. There is an underlying antipathy toward the larger black community, he said.
"When we get tired of living in that funk ... others created, we'll clean it, not because we are guilty, but because we are the only ones left," Wise said.
Surveys show white people are twice as likely to believe Elvis might still be alive as to believe that racism is a significant problem, something people of color say on a regular basis, Wise said.
"The first thing we must do is pierce the veil of denial behind which so many ... live," he said.
Wise said there are 2 million cases of race-based housing discrimination every year in the U.S. Job applicants with white-sounding names have a 50 percent greater chance of being called for an interview.
He also talked about a U.S. Justice Department study that shows black and Latino males were three times more likely to be stopped and searched for illegal drugs or contraband than whites, even though white males were four times more likely to have the items when they were searched.
"We have to be honest that to be a member of the dominant group ... is to have certain presumptions of belonging," Wise said. "To be a person of color is to know that there are stereotypes about intelligence, work ethic, criminality ... and people of color know that they have to prove themselves over and above those stereotypes."
Thomas Jefferson of Fargo, who was involved in the 1960s civil rights movement, said Wise felt like a civil rights speaker.
"Not until we do that basic thing of educating children from the beginning and continue that education does the real change happen," he said.
Dave Todd, Fargo police captain, said the department wants to reflect the community, but has trouble retaining minority officers.
"When you just have an all-male, all-white police department, you kind of have one way of doing things," he said. "A diverse police department ... is very valuable."
YWCA Cass Clay is a nonprofit organization. Its mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. The organization's racial justice program started in 2006.
"Through education and discussion we can truly recognize the devastating effects of racism and together work on dismantling racism in our community," said Denise Kamstra, YWCA racial justice committee co-chairwoman.