Is our community open to dialogue on race relations?
Going by the most recent U.S. Census numbers, Dunkirk could be considered one of America’s real melting pots. The city is filled with great diversity. Of its 11,849 residents, 31 percent are Hispanic or Latino while the African-American population is 6 percent.
Educationally, the city schools have the highest number of Hispanic students in the state. About 1,036 of the 1,953 — or 53 percent — attending the district are Hispanic or Latino. The Caucasian population represents 36 percent — or 711 students while the African-American enrollment is 122 — or 6.2 percent.
Though these ethnicities and groups all call Dunkirk home, we do seem to go our separate ways. At noon Friday, Nov. 16, in the Clarion Conference Center Marina & Hotel, the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters will present a program that may bring an understanding of the divide. But it could also bring some major angst.
Rianna Moore, a Fredonia resident and independent consultant for 30 years in organizational development, will speak for 20 minutes of the presentation on white privilege. Following her talk, there will be discussion as well as a question-and-answer session.
For many in this community, and quite possibly across the United States, the topic can be uncomfortable. Moore is one of three authors of the book “Journeys of Race, Color & Culture: From Racial Inequality to Equity & Inclusion.” Her goal in the presentation, as well as the focus of the book, is to educate and help people understand race relations in our country today.
That is no easy task. The first chapter of the book, published in 2017, gets right to one of the more divisive current issues in our capital and nation: immigration.
“We like our nation-of-immigrants image but struggle with how to balance the right of those who came after our people did to pursue the dream with our wish to protect what we think of as ours,” the book notes. “Do we welcome the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ or build a wall?”
Our nation’s founders may have put together a brilliant Constitution and Bill of Rights, but they were shortsighted when it came to freedoms for all. Those early years, Moore believes, are what continue the divide in our country today. “I think that society has been racist since the colonial times when white people and people of color were differentiated so that people of color were put into slavery,” she said.
A war between North and South ended the dehumanizing practice in the 19th century, but values were slow to change. Consider how different life was in the 1950s and ’60s when compared to today. Thanks to the annual efforts of the Juneteenth Committee Celebration, our community pauses to remember the life and efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to bring all of America together by ending segregation.
“In some ways, we have made strides on the legislative fronts, and that has made a difference,” Moore notes. “Affirmative action made a difference of helping people of color gain access to education and other opportunities … so they could better their lives.”
Barriers, however, are not easily broken. In northern Chautauqua County, and across the country, there’s a sentiment that we are a one-language country and that those who cross our borders need to agree with our way of life.
Those who have traveled the world know that is an unrealistic expectation. So that’s where Moore’s book comes into play. It is being utilized by major universities, a medical school in Philadelphia and adult-education classrooms in the United States and European countries.
But be warned. The beginning could be tough to take. “The first few chapters are probably the most challenging for white people to read,” she said. “As you get toward the last half of the book, things start to be more positive and more oriented toward that vision of equity and inclusion. It’s more hopeful, positive, encouraging.”
One would hope that is where we are in our region today. After the horrific hurricane that struck Puerto Rico last year, some of those victims relocated here because of family connections. They also came because of the diversity, recognized in Albany, that comes from Wilfred Rosas, the first Hispanic mayor in New York state.
As for her Nov. 16 presentation, it has been embraced and criticized. Moore said there has been even hostile response on some web sites to the discussion.
Without it, however, we’ve lost hope for bringing together future generations. “We co-authors recognize that there are parts of it that are going to make some readers uncomfortable … but when we’re comfortable, we’re not learning,” she said.
“Journeys of Race, Color & Culture” by Rick Huntley, Moore, and Carol Pierce includes a chart that takes readers through the process of being open-minded and accepting. It is available through the web site rickhuntleyconsulting.com/store.html as well as Amazon in the coming weeks.
“Healing is always my hope … that’s my ulterior motive,” Moore said, “in addition to just educating those who would be very open to it.”
John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 366-3000, ext. 401.