Last night I was one of about 600 people at the sixth annual Facing Race Ambassador Awards presented by MCF member The Saint Paul Foundation. The event honors individuals working to build communities where everyone feels safe, valued and respected.
Dr. Anton Treuer, cultural preservationist and professor at Bemidji State University, was the evening’s keynote speaker and recipient of an honorable mention at the 2011 Facing Race awards. (Here is a list of 2012’s inspiring honorees; another blog post on them to come.)
As a fluent Ojibwe speaker, Treuer opened with a bit of wit, saying he tells administrators at Bemidji State, “If someone calls asking for the department of foreign languages, be sure to direct them to the English department.”
He then went on to use pictures and poignant memories to remind us that there’s been progress in the fight against racism, but we still have a long way to go. Examples of recent offensives include:
- Cross burnings: here’s information from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding burnings and prosecutions, 2001-2004.
- Racist mascots are still used by sports teams.
- The Mississippi state flag continues to celebrate the “stars and bars” of the confederacy.
- Gerrymandering occurs around the U.S.
- Before casinos, the Native American unemployment rate was 50%. The unemployment rate remains at 37% in the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota.
- Wisconsin protests against spearfishing got ugly not long ago.
- In Minneapolis, third-grade reading proficiency is 88% for white students and ranges between 26% and 69% for children of color.
These examples should make us mad, but hopefully they also encourage all of us to DO something to make a difference, small or large.
Treuer says, “Everyone has an opportunity to make things better. Those opportunities present themselves on almost every level. We can all apply slow, steady, compassionate pressure on others to change the way we talk and think about race.”
He also reminds us that there is a major recoil happening right now against the demographic shift taking place in our country and that the future vitality of our democracy absolutely depends on our actions.
Treuer says, “The future vitality of our democracy does not hinge on assimilation of our citizens, but upon our ability to tolerate and support linguistic and cultural diversity.”
Toward end the evening, The Saint Paul Foundation offered a list of specific small actions each of us could take to make our community a place where everyone feels safe, valued and respected. Personally, I committed to writing a letter to the editor or contacting a news director when I see a negative racial stereotype in the media. When I do so, I’ll share my letter here.
What will you do to make our community a place where everyone feels safe, valued and respected? Let us know!
– Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate