Forum in Elon looks for the roots of racism

2017-09-13 | Times-News

Sept. 13--ELON -- Obviously used to some eye rolling whenever the subject comes up, organizers with the Racial Equality Institute bring a lot of research to support their ideas.

Terrence Young, retired Guildford County Schools principal and public information officer, spent the better part of a two-hour forum Monday evening, Sept. 11, at Elon Community Church talking about a long series of studies and research, questioning ideas like disparities among races really being the result of differences in income or education, and like research from the Centers for Disease Control correlating infant-mortality rates by race with levels of education.

"You would think a college-educated black woman would have great access to health care, would know about prenatal care, know about vitamins and not have an infant mortality rate that is higher than a white female who only has a high-school education," Young said.

According to the CDC, Young said, infant mortality is higher among black women however well educated.

There were similar results looking at test scores and incarceration rates along income lines.

"Rich black kids are more likely to go to prison than poor white kids," Young said.

The research also shows that the stories people tell about race don't always match up to reality.

"The recent studies showed: Guess who does more parenting when they look at men across race and look at their parenting -- bath time, feeding, helping with homework, going to activities, events, -- guess who does more parenting? Black men," said Deena Hayes-Greene, managing director of REI in Greensboro,. "You know who didn't believe that? Black men.

"This is just profound, to go from health, to education, to criminal justice, to higher education and to see the impact of race on your outcomes," Hayes-Greene said. "And we have to ask ourselves, What's our explanation for that? What's our narrative?"

Definitions

Racism, she said, isn't about calling someone a nasty name.

"If your definition of racism is individual acts of meanness, your definition is totally different than mine," Hayes-Greene said.

The institute has developed an 18-month to two-year process to help leaders and organizations understand racial inequality in their communities, where it comes from and how to dismantle it, according to its website, racialequityinstitute.org. The site defines racism as "a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history."

More than 100 people came to Monday's forum hosted by the Alamance Racial Equality Alliance, which has the ambitious stated goal of eliminating racism. County Commissioner Bob Byrd is a prominent member. REI is putting on a two-day workshop Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13 and 14, at Alamance Community College, according to the United Way of Alamance County, which is sponsoring the effort by helping those in need pay the workshop fee.

"I think it's very eye-opening," said Heidi Norwick, United Way president. "If we're going to have a discussion about racism, we need to be informed, we need know the history -- how we got to where we are, and where we're going."

The Alamance County Health Department sponsored Monday's event with state Health Communities Funds for training staff and community partners, according to Stacie Saunders, county Health Department director. She was out of the office and could not provide the exact amount Tuesday.

Roots in history

"For the first 350 years in this country, your race determined your class," Hayes-Greene said. "As a matter of fact, race was class."

She talked about an exercise in which students in a graduate course played Monopoly for three hours, but the white students didn't get to start until the third hour. It was very rare for them to catch up.

People, Hayes-Greene said, have tried to address inequality person by person, but even if those efforts worked and every kid was brought up to grade level, the next generation would have the same problems unless people take on the causes.

She compared it to the effort to take on a public-health crisis like breast cancer that needs a large-scale, scientific approach.

"You have such a powerful predictor of the outcomes in our lives," she said, "and it's merely been left up to our opinions."

Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached at igroves@thetimesnews.com or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.