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Text of Q&A session at Toledo forum on racism

The following is the text from a question and answer session with Tim Wise, author of "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son," and a panel of Toledo community leaders at the two-hour community forum “Changing Minds and Changing Lives: Combating Racism,” sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo Community Coalition Friday, Sept. 13, 2013.


Q: How about a forum on “Changing Classism”?

A: Our forum in January will be on the topic of generational poverty, which will touch on what you are asking about. Classism is differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class. Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class. That includes: individual attitudes and behaviors; systems of policies and practices that are set up to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes, resulting in drastic income and wealth inequality, the rationale that supports these systems and this unequal valuing; and the culture that perpetuates them.

Because our purpose was specifically to talk about race relations and racism, we will only discuss this in light of racism. Classism has more to do with economics and can be present in all races. Watch for the Poverty Forum information.

Q: (For Tim Wise) As a result of the work you do what has been the greatest satisfaction? Greatest disappointment?

A: Tim Wise did not answer this question. We will forward it to him and wait for a response.

Q: (For Mayor Bell) What is the status of the Bancroft St. Project? What is your perspective on affirmative action/contract compliance?

A: We will forward this question to Mayor Bell for his response.

Q: What steps do you take when there is no equality on your job, and your supervisor is aware? He himself practices it.

A: First, you need to talk to your supervisor to be assured that he understands what he is doing that is unjust or discriminatory. Follow up your discussion with an email to the supervisor recapping the conversation, expressing your concerns. A conversation with the perpetrator is always best before taking further action and documenting the conversation assures understanding on both sides. Email a copy of the recap to the supervisor so that there is proof of what you discussed in the conversation. Print off a copy of the email and keep it in a file. If the supervisor does not respond within 30 days, you can contact the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or the Federal Commission.

Q: How do we compete with the media in attention to get our community to portray a better image instead of stereotyping?

A: The audience should respond to the media with their thoughts on the issue they disagree with. The community as a whole should demand fair reporting for events or situations that affect specific cultures. One way this can be assured is for the media to have a diverse staff at all levels. In addition individuals can write letters to the editor or articles to be published in the various print media in our city if they think something was unfairly reported. When the media does something right we need to thank them and encourage them to keep it up. Also send in suggestions to the media on articles that reflect positively on the community.

The Toledo Community Coalition and The Blade have been working together for months to heighten sensitivity in this area. Hopefully you will see a difference in the reporting that The Blade does in the future. The Blade staff – editors and reporters – will be participating in a Dialogue for Change group, which will raise sensitivity as well. Other media needs to step up to the same challenge. The whole community needs to encourage them to do so.

Q: Although the laws promoting racial equality were necessary, do you think that they actually kept white people from dealing or talking about the deeper issues causing racial inequality and discrimination? DeJure vs. DeFacto equality?

A: The majority of white America does not understand racism as an issue of power. If we define racism as power and oppression, then it takes on a whole new image. The laws have not kept people from talking about it. People generally find it difficult and uncomfortable to talk about it between races and would rather talk about class and gender issues. When we talk, we mostly talk about personal racism. Structural and institutional racism are around us all the time but we don’t talk about them or maybe even see where they exist. Structural or systemic racism is such a part of our culture and economics that the majority race is oblivious to it. Perhaps we need to talk more about institutional/systemic racism and its effects on people of color. Affirmative Action and election laws have only touched the surface

Q: (For Tim Wise) Why do you do what you do? In other words, what motivates you to speak when many people don't care?

Q: I hear references to religion tonight. What part do you think atheists can play in promoting racial equality?

A: Racism isn’t a religious issue although the Church has been part of perpetuating it. All people, no matter what religion or no religion have to be a part of the solution by reaching out to different races and cultures and establishing relationships with individuals of different races.

Q: Can you please tell us about the artwork behind the presenters?

A: Lorna Gonsalves on the panel talked about the murals. You can contact her for more information.

Q: How do you hold the local newspaper accountable, which helps to perpetuate negative racial stereotypes?

A: Individuals need to respond to the local newspaper about their racial stereotypes, letting them know that the article was unacceptable and why. Dialogue should take place with writers from the newspaper and those who are concerned about the stereotyping. In addition letters can be written to the editor pointing out inaccurate information that was presented. The work of the Toledo Coalition and the Blade regarding racism developed due to such conversation.

Q: Why doesn't our community look at agencies from the top down? Looking at the board of directors, administration, directors, supervisors; if there is a lack of people of color in these positions then these agencies should be held accountable. Instead, they stack the levels with only white people, keeping out people of color.

A: This is structural and institutional racism at its best. For too many years, our society has ignored the fact that there is very little room at the top for people of color, and many well-qualified people of color have either left the area, or given up trying to break through the barriers. It will take community dialogue and action to make changes, as well as a better understanding of what institutional racism is and how it shows itself. The United Way is making an effort to gather young Black leadership from the Toledo area to give them some skills in barrier breaking and leadership so that there will be a pool of people of color to choose from. But this will be an ongoing effort for all of us. We must act and not accept the status quo any longer. Education is the key – people need to know and recognize institutional racism when it shows itself and then do something about it.

It should be made clear to the organization that they are demonstrating institutional/structural racism and that they need to begin looking for persons of color who are highly qualified and available. Recruitment efforts must cross racial and cultural barriers as there are qualified people of diverse backgrounds who would qualify for positions. Employers need to be honest about the skills and abilities they are looking for so that a broad cross section of persons can apply for the position. They also need to advertise in media that reaches out to different cultures and in non-traditional media. If they are sincere about creating a diverse work place they will continue this process in all positions within the company/organization. By doing this, upward mobility would also be available for all employees regardless of color within their area of expertise.

Q. I have a master's degree in English and have taught in college and high school. I am retired and so phones Woodward High School on the first day of class and volunteered to help in whatever way might be needed, especially tutoring in English. Although I was assured that help was needed and I would be contacted the following week, nothing has happened. What kind of bias is preventing our schools from accepting free assistance for their students?

A: It’s difficult to say if this is bias or if this is just bad communication and administration. Try calling again and if that doesn’t work, contact the Superintendent’s office.

Q:  Where/how do we begin?

A: We begin with dialogue and education. This forum was a beginning but what Tim Wise and others said is true. We have to act. The Dialogue for Change groups will set us on a path to make changes in the way Toledoans see and respond to one another. Pilot groups will be started in November with city wide groups beginning in January. If you are interested, please write to The other programs that were listed on the sheet provided in the packets are other ways we can begin. There is no quick answer to racism. It has been institutionalized for over two hundred years. Some people won’t participate in the discussions and others will continue to perpetuate the hatred and misunderstanding. We have to begin one person at a time to change hearts and minds, which will change lives.

Q: (For Tim Wise) Have you ever been in an inter-racial relationship? Elaborate if you can.

Q: (For Tim Wise) How much would you charge to come speak at Defiance College?

Q: Why do you think things like the Trayvon Martin case are so overlooked after the fact?

A. The Travon Martin case has been set aside because it is no longer news. Many people believe that the case wasn’t about racism and that those who called his murder a racist act were just trying to use race as a trump card. Others feel that Mr. Zimmerman was justified in his use of force. Other news came up that took center stage and it is much easier to talk about those things than it is to have a national dialogue on race. There have been many “Travon Martins” throughout the history of the last decade and more, and there are new Travons every day. Our society would just rather talk about war and class, healthcare and adultery than the life of a young black male, or a host of black males who are dying on our streets everyday.

It is in the interest of the majority population to not discuss it or keep race in the forefront to ease the possibility of public unrest, demonstrations or other actions. The hope is that it will go away. The reality is that there are young Black males being killed or wounded unjustifiably everyday and no one is paying attention. However, people are getting angry about the lack of conversation and action. Hopefully the community forums and discussions taking place in the city of Toledo will open avenues of communication and action in hopes of preventing such situations from occurring here in the future.

Q: We have been listening to this for ages. What kind of commitment should we really commit to be diverse?

A. Each of us must commit to making a difference and to talk with our friends and co-workers and anyone else who will listen about making changes in our lives and our attitudes in addition to interacting in social and community events to get to know each other better. The hope is to establish permanent relationships with different cultures. Unfortunately, most of the racism we experience is based on ignorance and few people want to become informed. Exposure to persons of other races and cultures is a good beginning. Dialogue with them is crucial, and we must do it with open ears, eyes and hearts.

Q:  Could you comment on the NYOPD crusade against Muslims and Arabs? And the bias therein? Can such behavior be considered racist?

A: There is plenty of evidence in the news that racial profiling and discrimination is being perpetrated by the NYPD. Some of it is still based on fear from the 9/11 attacks. However, the longer it is allowed to continue, the greater the backlash will be and the greater the anger on the part of the Arab and Muslim community. It should be considered racist because there is the issue of power and oppression.

Q: How can you stop gangs? You cannot throw away the keys on these kids. Before they had the military or jail. Now they don't have that.

A: Gangs have been around for decades in various forms. All gangs cannot be considered negative. A gang is a group of people working together. It can be unlawful but not necessarily so. They usually have close, informal and sometimes formal relationships. There are many groups that fit that bill. So all gangs are not bad. Offering resources to individuals who are part of gangs that are considered negative, in many instances could change the nature of the group. For example, offering free educational tutoring services, training, medical assistance, counseling and mentoring to individuals who are part of gangs, and genuinely want to change their lives. Individuals who want to make a difference by developing genuine relationships should work with individuals to develop a lifestyle conducive to upward mobility and hope. This could encourage a gang member to sever ties with a gang.

It truly is all about relationships. Rather than turning away from gang members we need to turn to them, talk to them about their needs to determine how they can develop a better future for themselves and society and how we can help.

Q: I am a former employee of affirmative action in the early 70s. I was employed by a Fortune 500 company which hired 1% of minorities. With my credentials I was afforded my job. Is affirmative action still in practice?

A: Yes, it is. It is still the law of the land although it has been amended through the years. Many organizations and institutions have been affected by rulings in regard to affirmation action, some positive and some negative. On the positive side, many people who would not have had the opportunity to be employed have been considered. On the negative side, some employers may use percentages to show that they have the required amount of minority employees and limit hiring because of a quota. Businesses and organizations who qualify under affirmative action are required to file reports about their hiring practices. Affirmative Action used in the spirit it was created could be a great equalizer.

Q: Dr. Claude Anderson reports that African Americans owned and controlled one half of one percent of all the wealth in this country on the eve of the Civil War. In 2013 African Americans own one half of one percent of all the wealth. We have not moved. What does that mean for progress?

A: It means there are many challenges before us. We still have a very uneven playing field between whites and people of color. Progress is always slow and because of the institutionalization of racism in our country, progress will continue to be difficult. Until we can dismantle systemic racism, the gap between wealthy whites and others will continue to be perpetuated.

Q: Do you believe it is possible to have reverse racism in the U.S.? Or does racism require power to control situations?

A: Because racism is based on power reverse racism is not possible. Power plus oppression equals racism. People of color can show bias or prejudice but not racism.

Q: What role does government play? Or what role should government play regarding race relations and systematic racism?

A: Through the decades since before the Civil War, government has played a role in perpetuating racism in our culture. Attempts have been made through the years to eradicate laws that created inequality between the races, I.e. Jim Crow laws, employment discrimination, segregation, etc. Although there are still issues in this area, the government has played a part in making things better. Recently, particularly in election reform, however, our country seems to be going backwards.

The government should be playing a major role in establishing positive race relations and eradicating systemic racism wherever it exists. However in a democracy like ours, change is difficult and it will take all of us working with our representatives to being about major changes.

Q: (For Tim Wise) Would you agree whites are like recovering alcoholics and have to fight their inherited racism due to their “white” experience?

Q: Can we start the conversation with what race is and what it is not? Can someone address the myth of pure races?

A: Race is a group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution. There is no reference to color in the definition of race. We are not equipped to answer the second part of your question but would refer it to an anthropologist or sociologist.

Q:.(For Tim Wise) We know that the majority of the poor are unfortunately blacks and brown people. Today's problems appear to be moving towards classism rather that racism. First, do you agree? If so, what are some ideas/solutions that we as a city/community can implement to eliminate this?

Q: When asked by a white person “What can I do to help you now?” what would be an appropriate response?

A: It's interesting that there would be an assumption that people of color need help. This is part of the issue when we discuss racism. The appropriate response should be, "Why do you ask?" The motivation of the person asking could have a bearing on how it is answered and what further discussion needs to take place. Is there some way the person asking the question can even the playing field or open a door of opportunity or introduce you to someone who can assist you with your goals. If the individual is sincere and genuinely wants to share their expertise or connection, take advantage of their kindness. However, it you suspect their motives are different ask them “Why are you asking me that question?”

Q: (For Tim Wise) Can you speak to the issue of “color blindness” and how this supports or hinders combating racism?

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