2008-05-24 Holland Sentinel "Think of inclusion, not division"


Column - Think of inclusion, not division

By RICK VANGROUW
Holland Sentinel

Holland, MI —

During last week’s Summit on Racism at Hope College, I heard answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask. I also developed a list of questions with no answers. One key thought I took from the summit: We should think about our community not in terms of diversity, which underscores division, but in terms of inclusion.

Both keynote speakers at the event, sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, endorsed “a social compact based on inclusion” to bridge community divisions inspired and sustained by racial differences.

David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., and an expert on urban planning, focused on the link between racial segregation and the structure of government.

“You can’t tell whether an individual is racist, but you can look at a policy and see if it divides a community,” Rusk said.

He observes a clear parallel between communities with multiple layers of government oversight and highly segregated communities. He counted 25 governmental units in Ottawa County, which is typical for Michigan — the state with the greatest racial segregation in the nation.

George Herrera, president and CEO of Herrera-Cristina Group and former director of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, quantified a social compact in economic terms.

“Whether you like it or not, there’s an ethnic transformation taking place,” Herrera said during his no-nonsense address. “I tell people: You can play with us now or you can pay us later.”

Herrera called for reciprocal economic relationships that bring minority entrepreneurs to the table. He also called on minorities to “make the business sell, not the racial sell” to investors.

I left the summit wondering how these insights apply to Holland, Mich., a community grown from separatist, exclusionary roots, where an “us-vs.-them,” “insider-outsider” social compact remains real if unspoken.

A comment posted recently on our Web site, hollandsentinel.com, caught my attention: “For all the talk of race and ‘diversity,’ it’s sure getting sickening. It’s crammed down our throats every day. In my opinion, today’s problems of race are not like any we have had in the past. … Today’s problems of racism are from all races. It’s no longer a segregated society. There are more laws protecting people who are not Caucasian ensuring equal opportunity. So why are we pressured to feel guilty as a white society? Why is it if I don’t attend Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Holland, I am not ‘diverse’? Why is it that if I don’t like or listen to rap music, I am ‘closed minded’?”

To speak meaningfully about active inclusion, it seems we have a long way to go.
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