A new anti-racism campaign focusing on what white people can do to help reduce racial disparities in the Twin Ports will make its public debut today.
"It's hard to see racism when you're white" is the slogan for the Un-Fair Campaign, sponsored by 15 local organizations. The campaign's goal is to raise awareness about white privilege in the community and to provide resources to help overcome the problem.
Or, as the campaign's literature puts it: "See It, Know It, Stop It."
The campaign will use posters, billboards, a website, events and television and radio public service announcements to make the public aware of white privilege. Groups involved in the campaign include the city of Duluth, St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services, the Central Labor Body, Lake Superior College, University of Minnesota Duluth, University of Wisconsin-Superior and the YWCA.
Organizers describe white privilege as white people receiving advantages in life simply because of the color of their skin.
"Generally, white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it," scholar Peggy McIntosh has written.
Duluth's demographics -- 90 percent of Duluth's population is white -- promote the feeling that white is "normal," organizers say. They hope their campaign will help white people become aware of the unfairness of judging people by their race, and of their responsibility to help bring racism to an end.
"The only alternative is not to have this conversation, and that doesn't seem like a good idea," said Ellen O'Neill, executive director to the Duluth YWCA.
A simple exercise at a Duluth workshop on racism illustrated the concept of white privilege, said Allegra Henderson, an integration specialist with the Duluth school district. Workshop participants were asked to stand and to take a step forward each time they could answer "Yes" to a question such as "I can go shopping without being followed or hassled" or "I can look at the paper or TV and see people of my race widely represented."
"All the people of color in the room were in the back and all the whites had advanced to the other side of the room," said Henderson, who is black. "It was very clear -- some of the advantages and privileges that whites have that we didn't have."
When Henderson has tried to talk about racism or white privilege with whites, she said she often meets with denial or people turning defensive.
"This is not something to be feared," Henderson said of the Un-Fair Campaign. "This is about education. Most of us are living in historical amnesia. Most of us don't look at our history or don't really understand how we got where we are."
Various local groups have talked about launching such a campaign for some time,
"We often heard from people of color: 'When are white people going to take racism seriously?' " O'Neill said.
With the help of a small grant, the YWCA and a Duluth-based marketing and design firm began developing graphics for the campaign a year ago with input from community partners and others. While the campaign goes public today, the partners received the campaign's materials last year so they could begin planning on how they would use them.
Lake Superior College will use the campaign's posters and offer opportunities for staff and students to discuss the issue of white privilege, racism "and all the other 'isms' that are out there," said Carl Crawford, the college's coordinator of intercultural services.
The campaign is long overdue, Crawford said.
"Now is a great opportunity to take this on as a city and, of course, on college campuses," he said.
Organizers hope the campaign and its use of partners will serve as a model for other cities looking to increase discussions about racism and white privilege.
"It has the potential to go nationwide," O'Neill said.