Sunday, March 04, 2001

Why this project? Time for a community conversation

By Ward Bushee
Editor, The Cincinnati Enquirer

        About a year ago, I spent a Saturday listening to several successful and outstanding people from Cincinnati being dishonest about their feelings on race relations in our community.

        It was dishonest in that some would not speak their minds when asked about race.

        The occasion was a diversity workshop for about 35 people from all walks of local professional life. These people liked and respected each other, and they had carried on lively debates on many other topics. Yet when it came to race, real communication died.

        The African-Americans spoke openly and frankly about their feelings and experiences, in what seemed to be a cathartic outpouring. But although many white members had been outspoken in other settings, they shut down into “polite silence” on the topic of race. Some of them confided afterward that too much was at risk to share honest beliefs and biases, because they might say something ignorant or insensitive that could be misconstrued as racism.

        Cincinnati's “polite silence” is one of the reasons we asked a group of community leaders, who appear in the stories above, to meet recently to talk about the state of race relations. The lack of good communication may be a special problem hindering better race relations in Cincinnati.

        We brought this influential group together with the hope of starting a community conversation on race relations. It's time to have that conversation. It's time to start tackling the problems of race relations that hold back a fine city from being better.

        There is urgency. Some of the pioneers of race relations here are getting weary and frustrated that progress isn't being made.

        With the stories today on the panel, the Enquirer launches an on-going, periodic look at race relations in Cincinnati. Our goal is to get people thinking and talking about racial tensions and ways to significantly close racial divisions in our community - for everyone.

        Race relations is not in good shape, our panelists tell us, and our problems run much deeper than the issues of police-community relations now in the news. Blacks say they exist in a complex world in which the color of the skin is part of everyday life. For most whites, race is an “issue,” an abstraction, not a part of daily life.

        By doing a series on race relations, we don't presume that we can change anything. And our panel isn't the only one in the region looking at improving race relations. Nor is it a complete list of influential people from the region. But by starting with these leaders, we hope that the Enquirer can start a significant conversation on race in our community, one that may lead to change.

        The discussion -- and future -- is yours.


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