Local view: Un-Fair tries to break the silenceEight words on a billboard became a flashpoint for the Un-Fair Campaign.
By: Tanya Jackson, for the News Tribune
Eight words on a billboard became a flashpoint for the Un-Fair Campaign. The billboards generated discussion and dialogue, and when they went down there was a collective sigh of relief. Yet the work of the campaign started long before the first billboards went up and will continue long after the next set of billboards goes down.
The mission of the Un-Fair Campaign is to raise awareness about white privilege in our community, to provide resources for understanding and action, and to facilitate dialogue and partnerships that result in fundamental, systemic change toward racial justice. This is long-term work. It is work that is focused on changing the systems and institutions in our community to benefit everyone.
The Un-Fair Campaign has two levels: campaigns in each of the partner organizations and a public campaign. Work with partner organizations began a year ago. Each partner agreed to use tools of the campaign (including posters, our website, workshops, trainings and films) in their own organization to stimulate dialogue on the relationship between white privilege and the perpetuation of racism. Partners created a campaign to fit their own organization.
The work that CHUM is doing as a partner of the Un-Fair Campaign is an example. Elizabeth Olson, the congregational outreach director at CHUM, said, “We started by putting up the posters first in our administrative offices and then in the drop-in center and food shelf. We found that they opened up conversations about racism and white privilege and people started sharing their stories. The conversations have continued in staff meetings, in our programs and in our partner congregations. Clergy have written articles for congregational newsletters and bulletins, created opportunities for dialogue, and written and shared sermons. This work is part of CHUM’s mission to organize for a just and compassionate community.”
Working together as partners in the Un-Fair Campaign creates opportunities to share resources, to hold each other accountable in addressing white privilege and racism in our own institutions and to leverage change in our collective spheres of influence.
The public campaign began in late January. The use of public media — billboards, Facebook, e-mail, and newspaper and TV news — allowed thousands of people in Duluth, as well as around the world, to get involved in the campaign. The purpose of the public campaign was similar to the partner campaign: to engage people in the community at large to work toward racial justice.
Since the public campaign was launched, there have been reported conversations in workplaces, places of worship, grocery stores, pool halls, board rooms, book groups, restaurants and basically anywhere and everywhere else people gather. There also have been reports of increased racial tension specifically aimed at people of color in our community. The website has had 56,328 visits, 44,817 of them new visitors. There have been 11 workshops, a film series, and a national speaker, all open to the public, as well as presentations to members of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Rotary 25, and AmeriCorps.
Silence about the systems of white privilege and racism is one of the things that keeps those systems in place. Eight words on a billboard can never do justice to the complexity of the systems of white privilege and racism — or the Un-Fair Campaign. Yet eight words on a billboard can remind us to break the silence around these issues, dig deeper and become a flashpoint for action. It is up to each of us to help create a racially just community.
Tanya Jackson is board president for the YWCA in Duluth. She wrote this for the Un-Fair Campaign.