2002-03-06 Holland Sentinel "Summit helps to improve community"

Summit helps to improve community
By: Anna and Herb Weller
The Holland Sentinel

It’s too bad Mike Lozon (Sentinel, Feb. 26) found the Summit on Racism, as he read about it in the newspaper, “pretentious” and “an exercise in futility.” It’s hard to know why he objects so strenuously to the efforts of local people trying to address a local problem. To us, a turnout of 600 people is impressive and an indication that Holland its neighbors are good communities that believe they can get better.

That Summit’s intention is to create a place where all people are welcomed and respected, one where residents are not stereotyped negatively or treated unequally because of differences in skin color, culture or religion.

Some say, why don’t we look for our similarities, and not focus on our differences? We would respond, “That’s exactly the point.” Human beings, similar in almost all ways, have been treated differently solely because they were different in some way from the majority. Racism focuses on differences and disregards similarities; anti-racism says we are all in this together.
It is true, as Mr. Lozon said, that progress has been made in this country. Thank goodness, because we had an awfully long way to go and our history of race relations has been appalling.

In our own lifetimes, blacks were lynched; they were kept from voting; they could serve in the military only in segregated units; soldiers risking their lives for this country were sent to the back doors of restaurants, if they were served at all; schools were segregated; housing was segregated; public accommodations were segregated; most professions were closed; and employment discrimination was rampant. People of color were stereotyped in books, movies, songs and household objects; they were seldom acknowledged for their contributions to this country. And thousands upon thousands of American citizens thought nothing was wrong with any of that. So how did change come about?

Change came about because some people believed that such practices were legally and morally wrong, even sinful. It came about because people of color protested nonviolently, all the while being severely criticized for their protests and told to be patient and not rock the boat. It came about after people lost their lives. It came about because, yes, at least some white Americans did feel guilt about the way people of color were treated differently – no matter how hard they worked or how exemplary they were in their public and private lives. We have to wonder if Mr. Lozon was involved in any of the efforts that brought about the “great strides in race relations” that he cites approvingly.

And at what point would he have people stop caring about racism and discrimination and trying to do something about it? Do we now stand on a false pride and say, “This is the best community possible, for everyone” even if it is not always true? Do we say, “We’ve done enough, things are find now and if there’s still racism around, well, that’s just too bad because it will always be there?” Maybe Mr. Lozon is will to, but we are not. A wise and compassionate man once said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

The Summit is attempting to look at whether, and where, barriers to inclusion still exist here for people of color. Do businesses treat job applicants fairly; do textbooks reflect the many contributors to our country or only one group; is health care provided equally; do the media perpetuate stereotypes that they, and we, unconsciously buy into; are people steered into or away from certain neighborhoods; are faith communities really open to all; are courts and laws enforcement fair? – these are among the questions addressed by Summit participants. We work to ensure that opportunities are indeed equal, and that people are treated fairly.

It is not a matter of guilt or pity or creating dependency. It is a matter of justice.
Ann and Herb Walker are residents of Holland.