2001-03-30 Grand Haven Tribune "Tri-Citites area census shows lack of diversity"

Tri-Citites area census shows lack of diversity
The Grand Haven Tribune

Census 2000 figures show that the nation is becoming more diverse, highlighted by a boom in the Hispanic population. The Tri-Cities area missed this trend, with numbers released Wednesday showing a predominantly Caucasian population.

Every Tri-Cities municipality, expcet Robinson Township, is 96 percent Caucasian or above, compared to 75 percent nationwide, 80 percent statewide and 91.5 percent in Ottawa County. Robinson Township is 93.6 percent Caucasian.

Gail Harrison, of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said she expects the current status quo to be broken in the coming years.

"I think we're going to see increasing growth in people of color," said Harrison, "I just don't believe the Tri-Cities will stay predominantly white."

Despite an overall rise in minority populations since 1990, the Tri-Citities growth in minorities did not match the rest of Ottawa County.

The Hispanic population doubled in Ottawa County over the past decade, while it went up 75 percent in the Tri-Cities, with Grand Haven Township demonstrating the highest growth.

Despite that growth, the Hispanic population grew so quickly in other areas of the county that the Tri-Cities percentage of the total county Hispanic population actually fell.

The ratio of Caucasians to minorities fell by 1 percent in most Tri-Cities municipalities while the county ratio fell by more than 2 percent.

The African-American population in Grand Haven fell by nine people, in line with the city's overall drop in residents. Grand Haven Township grew 36.7 percent in the last 10 years, but had the same number of African-Americans residents it did in 1990.

The new census figures show significant minority populations in the metropolitan areas surrounding the Tri-Cities. The cities of Holland, Muskegon, and Grand Rapids all have more diverse populations.

At the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism held in February, Harrison said she noticed a marked difference in attitudes towards race between people from the northern half of the county and people from the southern half.

Harrison said people form the south end of the county wanted to deal with systemic problems of racism, while people from the north half wondered how to prepare their children for the real world.

The real world, in this case, means a diverse America. In California, for instance, minorities now outnumber Caucasians.

"We're all very aware that our community is very isolated," Harrison said.

Harrison said the Tri-Cities should prepare for a change in demographics.

"We need to become culturally competent and comfortable," she added.

One obstacle to the area becoming more diverse, Harrison said, is that when people of color do move into the area, it's hard for them to adjust.

Part of the original mission of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance was to give visible support to people of color moving into the area.

Harrison said people of color in the predominately Caucasian community often become singled out because of their race.

"That puts a lot of pressure on the individual of color," she said, adding that the person of color is often assumed to represent his whole race. Any action the person takes, Harrison said, becomes associated with his face, good or bad.

"We look at those folks with curiosity and sometimes with disdain," she said.

"Its simply a lack of exposure and lack of awareness," Harrison said.

The Constitution requires the federal government to take a census of the population every 10 years. The numbers are used to determine districts for representation.