Critic's view: Alienating the audience creates only angerThe Un-Fair Campaign against racism, launched last week in Duluth, is short-sighted and regressive — and alienating toward people it is trying to reach.
By: Mat Gilderman, for the News Tribune
The Un-Fair Campaign against racism, launched last week in Duluth, is short-sighted and regressive — and alienating toward people it is trying to reach.
No one who is either racist or even slightly ignorant is going to see a billboard that says, “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white,” as anything other than an implication that he or she isn’t smart enough to understand racism. Such billboards won’t generate productive conversations among whites already carrying even the slightest animosity toward other races. They’re not going to cause an intelligent conversation among people with questions. Instead, they’re going to cause frustration and anger and create more racism.
It’s Basic Communications 101: If you launch a verbal attack, intended or unintended, it’ll be met with defensiveness and counterattacks. Not compromise. And I fully understand that the subject of racism is one that shouldn’t be tiptoed around. But the Un-Fair Campaign has been, so far, more like a bull in a China shop. You can’t just walk up to a stranger, punch him in the face, and say, “Listen to me!”
I’ve seen some attempt to explain away the campaign to people offended. It seems to me if you have to follow a public-service announcement with statements like, “That’s not what we meant,” or, “You just don’t understand,” you completely failed in conveying your message.
Yes, this campaign created an immediate buzz. However, there’s an enormous difference between “creating a buzz” and “creating productive conversation.” This campaign is creating an empty, shallow buzz among groups of already like-minded people. Racists and even slightly ignorant people don’t think inclusive-people types of thoughts. The Un-Fair Campaign seemed to be created with the assumption they do.
I wasn’t born into privilege, and I’ll never feel guilty for being white. But I can see that white privilege exists and is a major hindrance to race relations. It’s a topic with an extremely high level of complexity that no single anti-racism campaign could even begin to explain.
Unless the Un-Fair Campaign follows its initial splash with citywide symposiums on race relations, with the attendance of everyone mandatory, the campaign’s so-far very-on-the-surface message will prove pointless.
Combating racism is an extremely tall and complex task. A good way to start a great conversation on race, involving every walk of life, can include admitting we all have questions. It can admit we’re all not the same, and that that’s OK. I guarantee: the results can then tip to the side of ending racism rather than worsening it.
More importantly, such an approach can cause people to let down their guard and talk, instead of gearing up for a battle we all lose.
Mat Gilderman of Duluth is a writer who works in public affairs at Lake Superior College. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.