Un-Fair anti-racism campaign sparks dialogue in DuluthCall it a continued simmer. The Un-Fair anti-racism campaign that launched in Duluth last month has created a lot of heat in the community, but two events Wednesday night spoke to the campaign’s goal of simply creating a conversation in the community.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Call it a continued simmer.
The Un-Fair anti-racism campaign that launched in Duluth last month has created a lot of heat in the community but two events Wednesday night spoke to the campaign’s goal of simply creating a conversation in the community.
Members of the Facebook group called Stop Racist UnFair Campaign were invited to speak at the monthly meeting of the Duluth Human Rights Commission and to join a panel discussion at the College of St. Scholastica on the main tenet of the Un-Fair campaign, white privilege, with a goal of white people realizing the inequities in the community when it comes to people of color.
Phil Pierson created the Facebook group against the campaign and seemed to embody the softening tone of those who took umbrage to the Un-Fair billboards and posters with the tagline of “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.”
Pierson said he wasn’t satisfied with the 5 p.m. meeting at City Hall with the commission. He wanted more time to explain why he was against the tack Un-Fair has taken. “I didn’t get time to explain the reasons for our opposition,” he said of the 45-minute open forum with the commission. Each speaker was given three minutes to talk about the campaign.
Pierson said his complaint is based on the campaign focusing on one race, what he has called using racism to promote anti-racism. “It’s a misguided and contradictory campaign,” he said. “Duluth cannot afford this kind of hate.”
Later, at the Scholastica panel talk, Pierson said he has come to realize that the campaign isn’t about overt racism or blaming one race and more about systems in place that provide an advantage in being white.
He said he was struggling with how his Facebook campaign will move on because issues brought up in the Un-Fair campaign need to be talked about. “I’m having a hard time thinking about solutions,” he said.
The rights commission meeting had 20 people in the audience, something chairman Scott Yeazle said was remarkable.
George Ellsworth told the commission that Un-Fair launched a “very bold advertising campaign” and said it was wrong that Pierson’s group was trying to end the campaign.
Derin Gilbert said people need to get over how they feel about the billboards and posters.
“What are your suggestions besides lingo?” she asked. She urged Pierson and his group to use its energy to talk about the issues Un-Fair has brought up. Without the messages that kicked off the campaign, she said, “Would you be here today?”
“We can get caught up in the lingo,” commission member Sheryl Boman Schneider said. “The bottom line is how we deal with disparities and disproportionality” for people of color in Duluth.
“This dialogue isn’t any different than other places across the country,” she said. “There are a lot of things we need to deal with and it’s not that simple.”
Boman Schneider said the campaign wasn’t saying all white people hold racist views. She applauded those who fight for equality but said being “color blind” is a myth comparable to not seeing herself as a woman.
It’s about systems in place that perpetuate inequalities, she said. “The silence of white people implies consent.”
Commission member Cruz Mendoza said he can’t understand how a racist message is being read into the Un-Fair campaign. “There’s nothing in that mission statement that screams, or even whispers, racism,” he said.
Leslie Bruns-Fralich, part of the anti-UnFair campaign on Facebook, said she apologized for the site name but it couldn’t be changed for technical reasons. “We want to be a bridge,” she said of those vigorously for and against the campaign.
Bruns-Fralich was also on the Scholastica panel at Mitchell Auditorium, where a large crowd of mostly students gathered to hear seven white people providing deeply personal and nuanced accounts of their touches with white privilege. Audience members were allowed to write down questions for the panel and they were read by moderators.
The panel makeup was by design, organizers said, to hear individual stories from one side on how inequalities are perceived. Other UnFair campaign events will offer more diversity.
Panel members described moments in their life when they became immersed in other cultures and realized the differences in perception when it comes to being white.
Panel members talked a lot about being able to look at their community with new eyes when it comes to “systems” in place that become hurdles for people of color.
“It isn’t about me,” Scherrie Foster said. “It’s about systems.”
“I can be a good person,” Kevin Skwira Brown said. “That can be a reality. But systems require passiveness. My silence contributes.”
Un-Fair events are being held across the city into the spring and a full list of them can be found at www.unfaircampaign.org. Here are some of the events coming in the next week: