2002-02-26 Holland Sentinel An exercise in futility

An exercise in futility
Holland Sentinel

Organizers for the second Ottawa Area Summit on Racism blamed the lower-than-expected attendance on the weak economy. More than likely, the attendance didn’t grow significantly beyond the 2001 total because most residents recognize the summit for what it truly is-an exercise in futility.

How else can you describe a day-long event that champions a victim mentality instead of personal responsibility? How else can such an event be perceived when it’s hosted in a community where tolerance is the norm and wide-spread racism has never been tolerated?

According to news accounts, the summit focused on how racism-hatred or intolerance of another race-is the source of most ills suffered by minorities in this country. If a minority community member begins life out of wedlock, fails in school, lives below the poverty line, does drugs, becomes ensnared in a life of crime, and ends up incarcerated, the culprit is white racism and not the result of any choices made by the individual.

If you are a minority who hasn’t succeeded, it’s because white racism is holding you back, said one of the summit speakers: “White people must deeply enter into the trauma of racism and be wounded. Racial justice will not come to our society until those who are not injured are as indignant as people who are.”

If the problems of minorities continue to be laid on the doorsteps of white racism, then that means minority success will continue to depend on white guilt and a handout. But if we haven’t learned anything else in the past 40 years, the last thing minorities need from this society are more ways to become dependent and more reasons to expect less of them. For examples of bankrupt social experiments related to race, one need look no further than welfare assistance and affirmative action.

The summit’s sponsor, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, would have done a real service for minorities and the community as a whole by bringing in speakers who preached a message of optimism instead of pessimism.

Those speakers would no doubt have chronicled the great strides in race relations since the 1960s civil rights movement. Since then, this society has legislatively and culturally denounced institutional racism and extolled equal opportunity. That does not mean racist behavior has been eliminated, nor will it ever be, no matter how hard utopian groups like the Diversity Alliance try. But we have relegated that undesirable conduct to the “back of the bus,” so to speak, and given minorities the opportunity to move up front and succeed in this society.

The key word in the equation for personal success is “opportunity.” This society cannot guarantee equal outcomes for all of its citizens. But it does guarantee that those with reasonable intelligence can succeed at a goal if they work hard and don’t allow themselves to be handicapped by an attitude that blames one’s failing on others.

I can’t think of a better place than the greater Holland area for minorities to succeed. And that is why I can’t think of a worse place than Holland to have show-cased the pretentious summit. For its size, Holland has to be one of the most culturally diverse cities in Michigan. For proof, one need only attend the weekly Farmers Market in the Civic Center parking lot or stroll the aisles of the local Meijer store. The diversity of languages and cultures gives the town a United Nations flavor.

And there is an historical reason for that diversity Holland’s Christian foundation, which demands that we treat each other as we would like to be treated. This community’s churches sponsored untold numbers of Asians who were seeking to escape the suffering in their homelands.

This community never stood in the way of Hispanics who wanted to settle here and leave behind a life of grueling migrant labor. And this community is not standing in the way of blacks who are moving into this area to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families.

Nowhere in this community’s legacy is there any broad notion of hatred or intolerance. If anyone is being held back in this community, it’s not because of racism. It’s because they lack determination and perseverance

Mike Lozon is a Holland free-lance writer and editor. He can be reached at writeway@egl.net