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Opinion: Community's color blindness masks tones of racism

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I was fortunate this month to be a part of a small group of business and community leaders who participated in a two-day seminar offered through the Institute for Healing Racism.

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce became acquainted with the institute last year during a community visit to Grand Rapids, Mich., and envisioned a systematic approach to influencing a Springfield culture that is more diverse and open to all races. A sponsorship from Empire Bank in Springfield made it possible to bring the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce program here June 3–4.

I was immediately intrigued by the opportunity to participate because I firmly believe that the continued economic development of Springfield is integrally tied to the issues of diversity (or lack of diversity) that this community faces. I believe that progressive firms will be attracted to this locale only to the extent that it is possible for them to recruit, retain and advance the best and brightest employees regardless of their cultural or racial background. I believe that because Springfield is the second “whitest” U.S. community with population greater than 100,000 (the first is Portland, Maine) the road to cultural awareness and sensitivity is uphill all the way.

Clearly, I walked in to the seminar ready to change the world. It never once occurred to me that it would be an opportunity to look at myself.

I’ve always touted that I’m color-blind. In my ignorant bliss, I believed that there were no important differences among people. During the two-day experience, I began to see that the differences are in our experience of the world around us.

As a white person, I am afforded privileges that are not equally afforded to all. I can buy a bandage that matches my skin. My children can play with toys and watch television shows that are reflective of their culture. I feel confident that my neighbors will open their door to me, if I knock. I can walk in to any public space in Springfield and be surrounded by people that share my skin color.

I am quickly becoming cognizant that my “color blindness” has really just been me pretending we are all white. The magnitude of the problem we face is hitting home.

Literally.

I think I speak for the small group that attended the diversity seminar in saying that we have each been called to action. Each participant left with an action plan (the first of which for me was to write this column) and an accountability partner. As we travel down this journey to heal racism, we will continue to examine ourselves, the organizations with which we are associated and our broader community.

I have always seen myself as part of the vast majority of Springfieldians who are tolerant. I believe that still. I just didn’t realize the destruction that comes with such tolerance.

It’s time to be intolerant of racism and to take active measures to ensure that we are creating community, corporate and organizational cultures that are inclusive.

Our continued economic growth and viability depend on it.

Jennifer Jackson is associate publisher of SBJ Publishing Inc. She may be reached at jjackson@sbj.net.[[In-content Ad]]

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