Duluth Un-Fair Campaign sets sights on subtle racism

The mission of the Un-Fair Campaign is to raise awareness about white privilege in our community, provide resources for understanding and action and facilitate dialogue and partnership that results in fundamental, systemic change towards racial justice, as stated from the Un-Fair Campaign website. Un-Fair Campaign billboard advertisement

Two representatives from the Un-Fair Campaign, Allegra Henderson and Tanya Jackson, came to UMD during a women’s studies class to inform students what the campaign means and what the campaign is trying to do. The campaign slogan is “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.”

“We started the campaign with the billboards and those were up for 30 days,” Henderson said.

“In our meetings we talked about the reaction and Allegra anticipated the controversy of the slogan,” Jackson said. “But we didn’t really see that people would think that we were calling all white people racist.”

According to Henderson, today's racism is different from the overt racism of the past, such as lynching and the Klu Klux Klan. Today's racism is typically a more subtle type, which looks different and can create confusion when using the word "racism."

“We’re trying to take the sting out of looking at racism,” Henderson said.

The same images that are used for their billboards will soon be available as posters.

“We are going to continue this process,'” Henderson said. “We’re going to start putting these posters up in the community.”

Henderson and Jackson explained that there have been many mixed reactions since the launch of the campaign.

“On March 3, there is a white supremacist group that is going to come to Duluth and hold a rally on the steps of city hall,” Jackson said. “As the Un-Fair Campaign, we are not going to rally.”

People in the community, along with the Un-Fair Campaign, have created an alternative to this event.

“Many of us are going to the rally at the Aerial Lift Bridge. This is a silent protest down in Canal Park that is more of a celebration of racial equity,” Henderson said.

Bob Grytdahl, interim human rights officer for the Duluth Human Rights Commission, believes that this is an opportunity to start dialogue about white privilege.

“Some extreme group coming to town is not an opportunity for learning as far as I can see,” Grytdahl said. “I don’t think that many people who are involved with the Un-Fair Campaign are seeing the white supremacist as any interest.”

Tim Wise, author of “White Like Me: Reflection on Race from a Privileged Son,” recently gave a presentation at UMD. He discussed white privilege and racism.

“There are different reasons why people avoid this topic,” Wise said. “The number one thing that makes people of color think we might be racist, is not talking about race.”

Wise talked about his experiences where he witnessed white privilege as a white male.

He travels frequently to promote his books, so he carries large amounts of cash on him. Wise was stopped by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at the airport during a business trip. They stopped him because they saw on the x-ray machine an envelope of $1,500 in cash.

“[The officer] looked at me and didn’t quite put it together why this guy had $1,500 in cash,” Wise said. “And she called over her supervisor who was a white man. He comes over and she shows him the envelope and at first he has a sort of wide-eyed expression then asks, ‘where is this person?’ And then she points to me. He then takes one look at me, and his face sort of drops, like he’s disappointed. And he says ‘oh it's nothing, just give him back his bag.’”

The entire time Wise was trying to figure out how to prove this wasn’t any type of illegal money. TSA officials can confiscate anything they think to be illegal and will hold it until the person can prove where it came from. Had he been a person of color and in that same situation, he probably would not have been given his money back and would have had an entirely different experience, he explained.

Wise talked about the Un-Fair Campaign and it’s message to people. He was aware that a white supremacist group will be in Duluth and he brought up the story of a similar rally that happened in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 1998 that launched the "Lemons to Lemonade" campaign.

Tony Stewart, was a campaign organizer in ’98 for the “Lemons to Lemonade” campaign. The campaign was created to support human rights and promote equality. Stewart is currently the treasurer of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights.

“What we said to people and individual organizations was ‘when the march takes place, we would like to ask you to pledge to us money for every minute they march.’ And it became a national campaign,” Stewart said.

Stewart said that people need to have a positive approach to these types of events so they can make a difference. With that attitude they were able to gather pledges from all over.

“The march lasted 27 minutes, which wasn’t very long, and we raised $34,000,” Stewart said.

The people who pledged had an option to donate the money to the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, or they could donate it to another human rights organization of their choice.

Through Stewart’s experience with human rights campaigns, he provided Duluth some advice to think about before the white supremacist rally in March.

“Never confront hate groups, we don’t think that makes real progress,” Stewart said.

The Un-Fair Campaign mission and vision statement.

On Feb. 8, the Duluth Human Rights Commission board listened to those in favor of and against the Un-Fair Campaign. Most complaints about the campaign focused on the word “racist.” A speaker from the audience raised the point that people are more focused on the wording more than trying to promote change and start dialogue of the issue at hand.

“It’s about bringing positive dialogue to the community,” Grytdahl said.

Grytdahl and fellow speakers encourage people in the community to get involved.

One of the speakers included Julia Cheng, treasurer of the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial. She reminded community members of the lynchings that took place in Duluth and how there have always been racial disparities.

“In creating the memorial we can uncover the story of the 1920 lynchings,” Cheng said. “The only way that Duluth could heal itself was to recapture and bring the truth back to life, and the memorial was built [and] dedicated in 2003, and it is now the most significant and largest [memorial] that is dedicated to lynching.”

As stated in the Community Action Duluth information on the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial, “CJMM Inc. continues to challenge and support local institutions to acknowledge that racism and discrimination exist in our community, hear from those impacted by that discrimination, and work with them to acknowledge their role in changing. In that goal, we work with other organizations and communities to undo racism in Duluth.”

The Un-Fair Campaign, Duluth Human Rights Commission, and Community Action Duluth encourage people to learn more about racism and white privilege, become educated in the topic and to take action as a community.

Read the update of The Un-Fair Campaign.

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