Despite some people’s contention that the US is now a “color-blind” society because of the election of an African-American (though some of the same people question whether he is an American) President, the nationwide debate about American racism continues to rage. In Arizona, there is little public discourse on it, now that immigration reform seems to have been placed on the Congressional back burner. Arizona State University provided a unique opportunity for a diverse audience to explore definitions, evidence of, and emotions re: racism at its latest workshop: “Your Racial Issue: Not My Problem” at Gateway Community College in Phoenix on May 9, 2015.
Prior to the start of the workshop, photos of old signs, like “No Irish Served” and “Public Swimming Pool—Whites Only,” were projected, reminding attendees of what life used to be like in America. Instead of the usual talks from academics about definitions and case studies, the day was devoted to small and large group interaction and discussion.
The event started with an “identity walk,” where members of the audience were asked to self-identify themselves by walking into the center of a circle in response to questions like “Do you identify yourself as Chicano, Latino or Hispanic?” or “Are you an oldest child?” The exercise was revealing, and sometimes emotional, for the attendees, who, for the first time, may have been revealing themselves to be gay or children of an alcoholic.
The breakout sessions among both same-race and diverse groups were honest, open, and intense, as people revealed their own prejudices and vulnerabilities. People also discussed how to resolve misunderstandings and conflicts.
Just in case people think racism against Blacks is not an Arizona problem, late in the workshop, Dr. Matthew Whitaker, Director of the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, interrupted the workshop to say he just received a text saying the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center in Phoenix, had been vandalized with racial epitaphs.
The point of the workshop was that one cannot cure problems in the US unless they are acknowledged. The recent riots about racial bias among police brought the seriousness of the issue to those, who may have believed “post-racial” rhetoric. The violence harms our global credibility. Racism continues to threaten everyone’s peace of mind and all communities’ economic well-being, from jobs to tourism to international investment, even here in sunny Phoenix.