Southern Oregon, I am having some warring thoughts on where to begin when it comes to the topic of diversity! If this past election has shown us anything, it has revealed the need for education on diversity and inclusion. Diversity sounds favorable but this is not something so easily achieved without knowing where to start and this is where Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity believes the community should come together. SOEquity considers teamwork, amongst all members of the community, necessary to make the dream work. In this article, I will lay out why diversity is essential but troublesome to attain in different settings.
Let’s start with the workplace setting because this setup is designed with the idea that groups of people are working towards a common goal. In this example, diversity brings insight into the needs of a wider consumer base according to forbes.com. When people from different backgrounds come together there is better creativity and increased alternative solutions to problems. So where is the issue that employers run into when trying to maintain variety in the workplace? Employers design the diversity policies that look good on paper, but the response of those policies lack muscle. Variety in the workplace brings different ideas that may also bring tension because new ideas makes us question our own beliefs. Southern Oregon, hear me out, as a Black resident there are some core beliefs that exist here that greatly impact the lack of diversity in this state. I have had white people tell me, I don't see color, I grew up poor so I don’t have white privilege, and I was taught to treat everyone the same. I could go on, but the point is, when it comes to cross-racial dialogue in the workplace, Oregon needs work! If Oregonian employers started implementing racial sensitivity training for their employees, there will be quite a few people feeling attacked by the curriculum. People here in the Rogue Valley think “having the race talk” is taboo and have a limited understanding of what racism is and how it works.
The next setting is within the classroom where I fully learned firsthand how Oregon treats race relations - which is not at all. I went to Mcloughlin Middle School where Black history was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, watching the movie, and about 5 minutes on MLK. Yikes! The focus of this setting should not only be on the lack of knowledge on race relations, but also how school administrators handle bullying based on race. The curriculum did not include the history of racial exclusion in Oregon but teachers would happily tell me that Oregon abolished slavery before gaining statehood. When white boys would taunt me for my hair or my Blackness in general, other white students would stand in silence while hall monitors would only intervene if I used self-defense. When I ended up at the office, the dean would simply tell me that the boys are doing it because they “simply have a crush on you”, as she filled out the paperwork to have me suspended. A school setting like that is not going to inspire further diversity, inclusion, or understanding at all, and the privilege of not being held accountable for racist actions is reinforced. Most Oregonians' first exposure to any religion other than Christianity is in a high school World Studies class, but the post 9/11 attitudes of some SO residents in relation to the Islamic faith has not changed. If we are going to truly encourage inclusion of people from different walks of life, we have to be culturally aware as a community and practice what we preach.
In closing, culturally diverse communities can lead to innovation and a broader horizon for more varied exchanges of ideas. We are already seeing the growing number of apartment complex and business construction sites around the Rogue Valley, so what does that mean for the residents? It means that we are seeing economic changes that are meant to attract new talent, skills, and experiences to go along with this new look! Southern Oregon, it’s time for us to brace ourselves for positive change and figure out what we can do to be a part of it.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. Robin DiAngelo