Arguably, few evils are more insidious than racism perpetrated under the guise of “Minnesota nice” in this so-called socially progressive setting where bigotry is considered bad form but routinely practiced. It is the elephant in the middle of the room, which one blithely pretends isn’t there.
“Here in our Minnesota culture,” says Alicia Sojourner, Racial Equity consulting manager at YWCA Minneapolis, “we hardly ever confront [race or] racism, and if we do it’s often in a way that simply shuts down the conversation.” She underscores, “It’s real. It’s real.”
So is Sojourner’s approach to a solution with her workshop, “Confronting Racism Minnesota Style.” It is designed to disabuse people of the notion that it’s okay to discriminate as long as you’re nice and polite, and the effort is cloaked in a politically correct, socially acceptable behavior.
The workshop helps participants to disarm that defense. To quote Confronting Racism materials, “We’ve all been there: You hear or see something that your gut tells you is racist, and no matter how badly you want to respond, you don’t know how. Learn new response skills at this workshop in the dominant communication styles of the Midwest.”
Sojourner states, “The plan is to have people [especially White folks] walk out of this workshop with tools that enable them to talk about race and racism.” She says people of color shouldn’t always be depended on to discuss racism.
“Sometimes White folks need to talk to other White folks in order to call things out.” She mentioned the need to intercede. “We have major disparities in Minnesota, and tools are needed to interrupt that [by having] intentional conversations.” Sojourner adds that her workshop on confronting racism does not do the job for the participants. The workshop provides goals. “What people do with [the tools] is up to them.”
The Racial Equity initiative is part of YWCA Minneapolis’ Racial Justice Department. The organization’s mission attests that YWCA Minneapolis “is dedicated to [breaking] through barriers that perpetuate racism, promoting racial equity by partnering with individuals, organizations and businesses through racial justice training, consulting, advocacy, outreach and education.”
The department holds true equality as a high priority. Materials note, “Our programs will teach skills that individuals can utilize as they begin or continue their journey against racism; help build commitments to policies and practices that create long-term, sustainable change; invite open dialogue and discussion toward the goal of mutual understanding; [and] raise awareness of oppression on the interpersonal, institution and systemic levels.”
Also at the Racial Justice Department is Include, devoted to the premise “Inequity in the workplace doesn’t work”.
Asked how effective the outreach by the YWCA Minneapolis Racial Justice Department may be, Sojourner says the department has reached thousands of people each year in the community with skills and tools to address racism. “I’ve had people say, ‘I was able to go into work and look [differently] at how we do policy.’”
She is by no means under the impression that “Confronting Racism Minnesota Style” is some sort of cure-all. “It is not a magic pill. I tell people that all the time. We’re trying to undo 500 years of oppression when talking about race. [We’re] trying to change a system of racial injustice.”
Sojourner stressed the importance of her department helping to eliminate racism by just celebrating some of the smaller victories. “I probably won’t see the elimination of racism in my time on this earth. I wish it [were] simple, but it’s so complex.
“[It is not just] racism, but ageism, sexism, classism as well. There is…intersectionality when you see that women’s [salaries] are also affected by their race, our Black sisters, Latina sisters, Native American sisters.”
Hence, Alicia Sojourner has no illusions about the formidable nature of the task. She is, nonetheless, committed to winning the overall war against institutionalized racism by waging battles that can be won realistically, “as long as people move forward and work intentionally.”
For more information about the workshop, go here.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403