Dialogue Racism offers community a forum for discussion

Dialogue Racism offers community a forum for discussion Beth Todd-Bazemore by David Lias A young Native American man participating in Tuesday's Dialogue Racism meeting in Vermillion reminded the 30 people in the audience that even a simple, unintended remark or action can be painful.

He recently had a conversation with some white acquaintances, he said, who were talking about their jobs, and how it seems everyone wants to be in charge.

"One of the guys looked right at me and said, 'I guess we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians,'" he said.

To many people, such a statement may simply be a figure of speech.

But as Dialogue Racism is helping to point out, such an utterance, no matter how innocent it may appear at first, is racist.

Dialogue Racism is a forum open to everyone in the community for the discussion of prejudice and racism.

Through this forum, the Institute for the Healing of Racism seeks to explore people's experiences and feelings about racism, but also how to progress towards a better understanding of our fellow community members.

Dialogue Racism began holding weekly meetings Sept. 26. The group, facilitated by Jay Bazemore and Beth Todd-Bazemore, meets every Tuesday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the Vermillion Middle School Library.

"How we define racism for this group is an emotional commitment to ignorance," Bazemore said. "It's a belief system that we all have. It's not something that just goes away. We hold on to our ignorance."

Add power to ignorance, he added, and you have institutional racism � meaning an organization, a bank, a government all can lend power to racism.

"Cultural racism is when one particular culture is promoted as being the standard and other cultures are ignored or looked down upon," Bazemore added. "Internalized racism is when a person of a particular group buys into the racist beliefs about their group."

The form of racism that affects most people is what Bazemore defines as "unaware racism � the things that we do, the beliefs that we have that we're not totally conscious of and we're not totally aware of how they effect other people. This form is probably the hardest to deal with because we're blind to it, we don't want to see it, and it's harder for other people to address it with us because they minimize the behavior and the intention behind the behavior."

Todd-Bazemore said it's important to make distinctions concerning different forms of

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racism effectively deal with the issue.

"The vast majority of the kind of racial conditioning that you'll run into is the unconscious, unaware, unintentional form of racism," Todd-Bazemore said. "Every once in a while we will run into the real blatant, hate-based kind of racism where people are aware of what they are doing, but most often what we run into is people not intending to hurt anybody, not intending to convey hate to anybody, not actually thinking I believe as a member of this particular group I'm better than or superior than people of another group. But we unconsciously act out the things that we've been taught, and the information that comes to us."

One of the goals of Dialogue Racism is to help its participants gain a heightened awareness of not only the times they've been victims of racism, but also an awareness of their own belief systems and how they can lead to prejudicial behavior.

"I realize how deeply it is ingrained in me," Todd-Bazemore, "and I realize how difficult it is to change those core beliefs and core attitudes. But I think it is very important to look at who we are as people when we struggle. If you recognize something as racist, and you look at the person that behavior is coming from ? it really more accurately conveys that it's not who you are as a person, it's what you have learned."

Not a single person, she added, was born with racist beliefs.

"Those are things that came to us after birth," Todd-Bazemore said. "Not a single one of us came into this world with those attitudes and beliefs and feelings and reactions. Those are things that we learned."

Last week the topic of discussion at the Dialogue Racism meeting was defining prejudice and racism. Tuesday night, participants discussed how racism is perpetuated, beginning with early childhood experiences, misinformation and segregation.

Topics of future meetings include:

* Unaware racism � How we all have been affected.

* Internalized racism � When anger, hurt and frustration turn inward.

* Stereotypes and how they affect us.

* Cultural racism (This dialogue will be held Monday, Oct. 30).

* Institutionalized racism in the systems that affect us daily � media, justice systems, educational systems, health care and economics.

* Oneness of humanity � achieving unity and preserving diversity.

* Ally building as a way to heal � an individual commitment.

"It's the nature of human beings to seek knowledge, seek experiences and to seek connections with other people," Todd-Bazemore said. "Those are the things that we came into the world with."

She said it's important for people to work at defining what they have in common, but at the same time, not gloss over differences in culture and race.

"We can't really have a relationship without seeing and validating all of each other, and appreciating our differences," Todd-Bazemore said.

People also must realize that since racist behavior is a learned trait, "we obviously have the capacity to un-learn all of these ideas. We can learn a new way, we can un-learn those things that we've learned that have been harmful.

"We are born with a capacity to heal the things that have hurt us," she added. "We are able to grow and heal past the wounds that we've received. We have the capacity to turn painful experiences into growth."

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