Duluth residents want more from Unfair Campaign

Even with all the media coverage, dialogue, and events, some Duluth residents are still unaware of the Un-Fair Campaign and  its goal. “Everyone knows racism exists but they don’t want to bring it up,” said Director of Community Engagement for Community Action Duluth Xavier Bell. “The Un-Fair Campaign has acted as a catalyst to challenge people to talk about race.”

The campaign’s website states that its mission 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 toward racial justice.

Un-Fair Campaign billboard advertisement

According to the 2010 Census, Duluth’s population was 86,066, with 77,909 being white, and 2,016 being African American.

There has been a series of events held around the Duluth Community to help people understand the campaign and talk about their reactions. Regardless of these dialogues and events some residents of the East Hillside are unaware of the campaign and still feel like there is a lot of work to be done.

One such event was called "New Conversations on White Privilege" on April 9. The event was put on by the East Hillside Patch and some students from the UMD Master of Social Work program.

The East Hillside Patch is a grassroots organization that was developed to address unmet needs of the residents. The goal of the organization is to make the neighborhood a positive place to live in.

15 people gathered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Superior Street to have a respectful dialogue and do some exercises focusing on white privilege. Out of the 15 people there, only two of them were of color.

The night started off with a meal. As people finished eating, they gathered into a circle around Sharon Goens who led the dialogue.

Goens is the racial equity conversation coordinator for Facing Race, which is an initiative launched through the St. Paul Foundation. This organization aims to create a more equitable, just, and open region in which everyone feels safe and respected.

Goens went around the circle and asked everyone to share their name and their reasons for being there. The answers ranged from coordinating the event, being dragged along by their mother, or wanting to know how to use their white privilege to benefit others.

She opened up the conversation by asking who was left handed. No one raised their hand. She asked the circle to think of things that right-handed people don’t have to think about, because the world is set up for them.

After some discussion people in the circle shouted out answers such as pencil sharpeners, desks, cars, notebooks, and rifles.

Goens went on to compare race to right and left handedness and said that since the world is set up for whites they don’t have to spend much time thinking about the color of their skin, whereas people of color do.

She then paired everyone up in the circle and had them discuss their names, where they came from, how they got their name, if they liked their name, and what cultural associations their names have.

A lot of people in the circle had trouble thinking of where their names came from, why their parents chose it, and what cultural associations it had.

She closed up the dialogue by having each set of partners come up with white privilege statements. People in the circle raised their hands and responded with statements as Goens wrote them down on an easel. Some of the statements included:

“I can go into a mall and not worry about having to get my bag searched”

“I can get turned down on a date and not have to think it was because of my skin color”.

“I can walk back from my apartment at night and feel safe.”

“I can get a bad grade and not think it is because of my skin color.”

Some people then went on to share their experiences of racism in Duluth.

Aaron Swanson, an intern for the East Hillside Patch, said he remembers forgetting his student identification card and the bus driver still let him get on the bus. He also remembers a time when an African American student got on the bus and forgot his student identification card. The bus driver did not let him get on.

The Un-Fair Campaign mission and vision statement.

Although many organizations have hosted events similar to this one, some East Hillside residents are still unaware of the campaign.

Sheena Sando, resident of East Hillside, is at the park pushing her baby boy on the swing as she sees groups of young children walk by with children who are of the same ethnicity.

“It is very segregated and not very diversified. You don’t see kids intermingling on the playground. They all play with kids who are the same ethnicity as themselves.”

Sando recently moved from Colorado to Duluth to raise her little boy. After being here about a month, she is unaware of what the Un-Fair Campaign is, but says that racism is definitely an issue in the East Hillside.

She said Duluth is not as diverse as the bigger cities like St. Paul or San Diego.

Sando thinks the first step this community can take toward bettering the situation for minorities is education.

“We need to teach our kids that racism is not acceptable in 2012,” Sando said.

Heather Chanthavong, resident of East Hillside, is also unaware of the Un-Fair Campaign. Although she sits in the same park as Sando, she has had a very different experience.

Chanthavong moved here with her family in 1985 from Kentucky to escape a bad situation. While in Kentucky, Chanthavong said she witnessed her friend get shot by a member of the KKK.

“I have seen and experienced the worst. I chose to live in Duluth because the racism is not as bad here compared to where I came from,” Chanthavong said.

Although she experienced far worse where she came from, her family still has to deal with the issue here as well. Chanthavong is half Lao and half white.

She said her oldest son, 16, experienced racism at school when teachers accused him of doing something he didn’t do.

Chanthavong's son was really struggling for a while, but thankfully they were able to find support from Mind 2 Mind, which is an after-school and summer program for youth who live in the East Hillside neighborhood put on by the East Hillside Patch.

She said Mind 2 Mind helped them hold their heads high through the tough situation.

“Their program has helped us tremendously. It’s the best program out there,” Chanthavong said.

Her kids have been involved with the program for about 10 years now. She said they were their support system through the event and stood up for her son when he couldn’t.

She said her son is doing great now and has even broken some records for power lifting.

“They helped bring out my kid’s talents,” Chanthavong said.

Although Chanthavong received support, she doesn’t think this is an issue that will ever go away, but will stay the same.

The Un-Fair Campaign is still in full swing and is scheduled to revamp the campaign with new billboards this may.

Bell said the campaign has encouraged a much-needed conversation and he noticed that people want to continue the dialogue rather than only having the conversation one time.

“In the beginning of the campaign people took it personally, but now people are realizing it is a systemic problem and not a personal one,” Bell said.

Bell has participated in many events related to the campaign. On April 18, Bell spoke at White Privilege 101 at UMD. At this event Bell talked about the anxiety and discomfort that comes along with campaigns like this and gave some strategies for how to deal with it.

“It is great to talk about a social concern, but it is even better to address it,” Bell said. “Often times people have talked about an issue and think they have done something.”

Bell is not sure what will happen with the campaign in the next couple of months but thinks they will revamp the campaign with a new approach.

The Un-Fair Campaign has various events planned for the rest of April some of which include: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Undoing Racism Workshop, and Un-fair Campaign Partners Round Table.

For more information on the campaign’s upcoming events and how to get involved visit the campaign’s website http://unfaircampaign.org/.

Read more about The Un-Fair Campaign from when it started.



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