Thursday, September 28, 2000

Frank talk advised

Ohio official speaks on race

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — To improve race relations, you must first acknowledge that a problem exists.

        That was part of the message Melanie Mitchell, executive director of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, told about 150 people Wednesday during a meeting about race at Miami University-Hamilton.

        “Left in the dark, the evils of racism will fester and create deeper scars than it already does,” she said.

        Ms. Mitchell said problems surrounding race will not go away unless we begin to talk about them.

        “More often than not, conversation has been stifled because people want to avoid conflict,” she said. “They believe that if a problem or a perceived problem is ignored long enough, it will go away.”

First steps
        Ms. Mitchell discussed potential solutions to race communication problems, including how to build partner- ships, having honest communication and forming study circles or small-group, democratic, peer-led discussions that involve community members.

        “Part of the reason for not acknowledging (racism) is that people sometimes don't feel a personal responsibility for the problems, and therefore aren't sure why they need to be part of the discussion,” Ms. Mitchell said after the fourth meeting in the “Racial Legacies & Learning — How to Talk About Race” series. The meeting was sponsored by Miami University-Hamilton and the Hamilton Department of Human Relations.

Schools' role
        During her speech, Ms. Mitchell said there are not enough positive discussions about race in schools.

        “One reason for this, we have found, is districts and buildings where teachers and students are predominantly of one race or eth nic group,” she said, “and they sometimes feel that race relations and diversity is not an issue that affects them.”

        Ms. Mitchell said businesses must also acknowledge that racism exists. The commission investigated more than 2,000 employment discrimination cases over the past fiscal year involving alleged race discrimination.

        After her speech there was a panel discussion and a question-and-answer period.

        “Dialogue without change is just wasted conversation,” said Victor Davis, executive director of the Booker T. Washington Center.


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