By Janine Wright
Here are some statistics:
Oshkosh population 2000: 92% White, 8% total minority1
Oshkosh population 2010: 88.9% White, 11.1% total minority
Oshkosh Area School District 2005-2006: 86.3% White, 13.7% total minority2
Oshkosh Area School District 2013-2014: 81.4% White, 18.6% total minority
Be honest. How did reading those statistics make you feel? If you are like most people, you have one of three reactions: 1. Your eyes glazed over and you didn’t want to read another article about Whites suppressing minorities. 2. You felt guilty or sad for those whose lives mirrored the statistics. 3. You felt angry because the statistics described your life or those of your love ones.
All three of these responses are common when talking about topics of race. Most of the time, people are afraid to voice their opinion on the topic. Whites are afraid they may say something that will be misunderstood or be pigeonholed as a bigot. Minorities feel angry about the discriminatory system that we live within and frankly are tired and frustrated talking about a system they feel will not change. Often, individuals feel that these are the only two options available to them when discussing race – be quiet and don’t say anything or be angry and let it fester until you can’t hold it anymore. Yet, there is a third option – education.
Race relations have been the elephant in the room in the United States for over 200 years. We have seen our country rise from its infancy where only White men who owned land were considered citizens to a time where, legally, everyone is considered equal. This country has witnessed many atrocities along the way – often committed by the hands of White people. Some decades we have witnessed great advancements in equality, other decades we have been reminded how far we still have to go. The question begs to be answered – why have we allowed this elephant to continue to be in our back yards?
With all the legal advancements, we all have forgotten one critical piece to the puzzle – education. It is true that our legal system has granted equal rights to all people regardless of race or ethnicity, among other things. Yet, these laws do not teach us how to talk to each other, they do not teach us how to disagree without hurting each other, and they do not teach us how to heal the wounds that 200 years of struggle have created. Only education can help us with this these tasks. Each of us needs to know words that can help express our feelings, we need to have the ability to listen to difficult conversations, and we need to have the resources to change the world around us.
For most people, this would seem like a task that is just too difficult to deal with. Tracey Robertson has decided to take on this elephant. She has started Fit Oshkosh, a grassroots, non-profit organization targeted toward racial literacy and technology literacy training in the Fox Valley. The name was birthed out of the vision of the organization –to create a community where everyone feels like they fit.
You may have the same question I had … What exactly is racial literacy? In its most basic form, racial literacy is learning how to talk about race in more effective ways. As Oshkosh becomes more diverse, rules that we formally and informally learned in the past are little help in the present. Racial literacy helps teach the vocabulary and social skills needed to traverse a very different racial and social map from previous generations.
Tracey, along with her training partner Jennifer Chandler, teach classes on racial literacy throughout the Fox Valley. Currently, the classes are offered to non-profit organizations, small and large businesses, volunteer organizations and families. Using interesting curriculum along with hands-on activities, organizations are learning how to become more welcoming to both their clients and their employees and volunteers. One of Fit Oshkosh’s goals is to bring classes to the general public, via classroom and webcast, in the near future.
Why is racial literacy important to your organization? According to the Center for American Progress, “As of June 2012, people of color made up 36% of the labor force”. Business owners and managers, as well as line employees, must be able to converse with each other in an effective and meaningful way to make sure profits continue to increase. Additionally, the growing buying power of minorities in the United States requires businesses, non-profit organizations, and volunteer organizations have the skills to effectively communicate with their customers and donors. Racial literacy is the key.
Fit Oshkosh is in the midst of a fundraiser campaign. Donations can be given to Fit Oshkosh at http://www.gofundme.com/FitOshkosh-Fundraiser
Getting your organization on the class host list for racial literacy is easy. Simply make a call to Tracey at Fit Oshkosh at 920-216-3107.
1 Data from U.S. Census Bureau
2 Data from Wisconsin Information System for Education Data Dashboard. ν
Janine Wright is an Oshkosh community member who believes diversity makes a community stronger. She co-facilitates a monthly discussion group called On Common Ground at various locations in Oshkosh. For more information contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org