2000-09-10 Holland Sentinel "Fighting racism: Summit is good approach"

Fighting racism: Summit is good approach

The Holland Sentinel

Make no mistake about it, racism exists in the Holland area. Not the burn-a-cross-on-the-front-lawn kind of racism necessarily, but very real racism nonetheless.

It's the kind that minority kids hear in racial slurs, both subtle and blatant, at school. It shows up when blacks or Hispanics get skeptical looks or second-class treatment by stores and employers. It manifests itself whenever anyone assumes that a Hispanic teen-ager belongs to a street gang or black family lives in a certain part of town. If you are a white person who doesn't think minorities receive unequal treatment in Holland, consider the question that Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, post at a Holland Chamber of Commerce Breakfast meeting last week: Would you want to receive the same treatment that African-Americans do? Predictably, not a single hand was raised in response.

Few people consciously act in a racist manner - most of us are not intentionally hurtful. Racist behavior is often the result of a lifetime of living in a culture in which white privilege is firmly established and minority groups are all too often reduced to a few, inaccurate stereotypes. Conscious or unconscious, though, prejudice causes just as much pain and indignity, and it behooves all of us to examine the roots of our society's unequal treatment.

A very positive step in addressing this situation is now being taken. A coalition of local activists and organizations is planning a "summit meeting" on racism in Ottawa County in February modeled after a similar event held in Grand Rapids. The goal is not to apply a guilt trip on anyone or just engage in politically correct talk, but to do something about racism, to develop real and practical strategies that can be applied to further the goal of a racism-free society in our area.

To prepare for the February summit, a town hall meeting will be held Sept 28 at St. Frances de Sales Church to identify the various faucets of the problem and to recommend directions for the summit meeting to take. (Another town hall meeting will be held in November in Grand Haven). We urge local residents of all races, including leaders of businesses, government, churches, and other institutions, to participate - to think not just about what the problems are, but how we can solve them.

Fighting racism is a job for all of us, for all of us - white, black, Hispanic or Asian - are lesser persons if we relegate some members of our community to second-class citizenship.