2008-09-27 Holland Sentinel "Program designed to reveal everyday impacts of discrimination"

Program designed to reveal everyday impacts of discrimination
The Holland Sentinel

A racial slur painted on the driveway of a Park Township family last month is a blatant sign of racism — but it’s not the only racism that exists in Holland, say organizers of a program designed to show how discrimination impacts the workplace, government, schools and more.

“People forget that there are different dimensions to racism, from who has access to education to who gets hired and who doesn’t,” said Roberto Jara, executive director of Latin Americans United for Progress and a facilitator for the fall session of the Institute on Healing Racism. “You don’t necessarily have to be mal-intentioned to have racist attitudes.”

The program is sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and the Holland Chamber of Commerce. Since 2000, more than 700 people have completed the eight-week course.

This session’s classes begin Wednesday, Oct. 1, and run through Nov. 19. Courses go from 3 to 5 p.m. and cost $100.

Jara said it will be his first time co-facilitating the program alongside Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance Executive Director Gail Harrison.

Jara said he took the course a year ago and was blown away by the experience — even though he deals with the issue of racism every day in his position with LAUP.

He said it took some time to understand concepts of unconscious racism and institutional racism.
Those types of racism can easily go unchecked if the perpetrators seem to be otherwise well-intended people, he said.

“It took me eight weeks to begin to grasp this pattern of racism that is ingrained in our culture,” Jara said. “Imagine someone who is unaware of that problem and thinks there is no problem to begin with.”

Jara said that he knows the current investigation into a racial slur being painted on the driveway at a North Bristol Street residence in Park Township may have piqued some community members’ interest in the topic of racism.

He said he hopes it brings more people to the program.

“These things are damaging,” he said. “People look at (that event) and say, ‘That’s rare,’ but yet so many of us support a system that unfortunately enables racism to happen. Most people just don’t perceive that racism.”

Raechel Haller, who took a position with the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance two months ago, will attend the Institute on Healing Racism for the first time.

She said that reading through past participants’ comments on the program has made her excited to watch the program run from start to finish. At the end of the program, she said participants submit “action plans” of how they will challenge racism in the community — whether it’s attending diversity events, talking to their children or employees about diversity or getting to know neighbors of a different race.

“What I continue to see over and over is that this institute really touches people on a personal level,” she said. “It’s not just reading a book or watching a documentary. It’s an open dialogue and that’s why it’s so effective.”

To register, contact Patricia Strachan at the Holland Chamber of Commerce at (616) 392-2389, extension 110.