Launching in January, concerned White residents of Duluth, Minn., formed the Un-Fair Campaign to help fellow Whites in their community recognize their “white privilege” and encourage an honest dialogue to foster racial justice. What they did next, though, has many whites — locally, nationally, and even internationally — up in arms: They set up a number of billboards, such as “It’s Hard To See Racism When You’re White,” around their community, which has ignited a firestorm.
With other billboards asking, “Is White Skin Really Fair Skin?” many of Duluth’s White residents were reportedly angered by the displays, complaining they are being indiscriminately upbraided for racism.
Hundreds of the city’s white residents have complained that the campaign’s kick-off images and messages are offensive. The campaign, they say, blames all racism on whites and implies that white people aren’t smart enough to recognize racism.
One resident, Phil Pierson, was so upset by the Un-Fair Campaign’s placards that he formed the “Stop Racist Unfair Campaign” on Facebook, with more than 425 people becoming members almost immediately.
You can’t open a discussion on race and hope to see it move in a positive direction when you raise the topic by stereotyping an entire race, Pierson said. It spreads animosity and hate, teaches a new generation to point fingers and [focuses] on the color of our skin instead of the idea that we’re all human.
And Pierson — and the hundreds of White Duluth residents — aren’t alone. A number of white supremacist groups and racists are said to now be sending “hateful messages and e-mails from all over the world” to both the campaign and Mayor Don Ness, who is said to be one of the campaign’s sponsors.
I became kind of a lightning rod for groups outside our community, said Ness, who was accused in messages from as far away as Scotland of inviting “white genocide” and being a “traitor” to his race. It was disappointing to see the level of hate and ugliness, he said.
Members of the Un-Fair Campaign say they started the organization because of the local issues in their community. Duluth is said to be 90 percent White, making multi-racial contact hard to come by.
Ellen O’Neill, a YWCA director and campaign sponsor, adds:
“It’s possible to never interact with a person of color here,” O’Neill said. “It makes the problem more invisible.”
More to the point, the majority of the Black and American Indian populations not only have obscene high school graduation rates at 25 and 34 percent, respectively, they also have poverty rates of 67 percent and 56 percent, respectively.
The Un-Fair Campaign and its supporters feel as though this discrepancy in wealth and education is the effects of institutional racism and have organized meetings and workshops, such as “Cracking the White Shell,” to help put an end to this injustice.
To see the backlash residents and campaign members have received isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is the taking up of this endeavor at all. We live in such a racially polarized society, that oftentimes, the simple acknowledgement of racial injustice seems, dare I say it, radical.
But then to go a step further and actually look to bring awareness to this issue shows a courage that is in line with Dr. Martin L. King Jr.’s ethos that all people are capable of calling out injustice even when it is uncomfortable, disadvantageous, and inconvenient to do so.
While many — if not most — would like to see this nation as strictly Black and White, news events such as this remind us that we aren’t just one-dimensional products of our society. In fact, each and everyone of us has the potential to be much more dynamic and powerful in our complexity.