MANSFIELD — The Mansfield branch of the NAACP is hosting two cultural diversity workshops and a town hall meeting to discuss how to improve race relations in Mansfield and across the county.
The idea for the workshops, titled “Embrace Diversity: A Model for the Nation,” formed during discussions between Mansfield NAACP President Geron Tate and James Jones, a Mansfield native and associate professor of history at Texas’ Prairie View A & M University specializing in race and African-American studies.
Tate was Jones’ Sunday school teacher as a child, and the two reconnected through Jones’ successful blog about gender and race, “Manhood, Race, and Culture.”
“America needs to not only have a discussion about race, America needs to in many ways have an education about race,” Jones said.
Tate said Mansfield’s race issues include few people of color in schools, businesses, police and fire departments and city government, calling them “segregated societies within the society.”
It’s easy to identify the problems in race relations, but it’s difficult to propose solutions, Tate said.
“We build up our walls around us, and then we look at our own culture, how we’ve been raised and value systems and all of those things, and that has a tendency to prevent us from moving forward to really addressing the real issues,” he said.
The workshops are meant to start honest discussions about cultural diversity, the history of race in the U.S. and how racial divides started, conversations that are often difficult to start.
“I liken it to that moment where African-American children have to deal with the issue of slavery. They get nervous, they get anxious…They don’t want to deal with it. They don’t want to be embarrassed. It’s anxiety-fueled for them,” he said.
“If slavery is the issue for African-Americans to behave that way, race is the issue, and racial diversity and what have you, those are the issues for all of this nation. All Americans get very, very anxious, very disturbed, in regards to dealing with those matters,” he continued. So it’s most certainly conversations that need to occur, but these conversations need to be (based on) historical fact, reality and truth, and people must get over that initial involuntary reaction of being so disturbed about race.”
Jones said it’s important to look at race from a historical perspective. Many of his college students believe all white people were slave-owners, but he says race was not initially a contributing factor, mentioning indentured servants in Europe.
“When I say America, i’m not referring to just white America,” he said. “You have to look at a profit motive, which is motivating people regardless of race, creed, color or even religion. This was about profit. This was about money. And the African, unfortunately for him, lined up very well with the labor needs of this nation.”
These conversations serve to educate citizens about others who come from different backgrounds and the history of other cultures to help them understand race from a different perspective.
“I see education as being the first step because without the idea of informed an informed citizenry, we’re going to continue to talk past one another and blame one another,” Jones said.
But Jones said education is only the first step in changing the dialogue about race in both Mansfield and the U.S.
“Education has to be followed with a commitment to correcting what’s going on,” he said. “If we haven’t educated ourselves, it’s as if we’re wandering around in a wilderness because without education, we can’t have a realistic and righteous goal….Hopefully we can get to a point where we’re talking about healing.”
The workshops serve as a starting point, but the conversations should be ongoing to work toward solutions like ending racial profiling and discriminatory hiring practices, Tate said.
Both Jones and Tate said the discussions are not just black and white; they include religion, gender, sexual orientation, class and immigrant status.
“If we look at the recent attacks on Jewish cemeteries…what does that say about the living for them to treat the dead that way?” Jones said.
Tate said people should start embracing their differences and accept the differences of others rather than being fearful of those differences.
“”People do usually things they’ve learned, and what happens is we start creating fears. There are so many myths about people, and we sometimes make our decisions based upon things we’ve heard and we have never really experienced,” he said. “Muslim brothers and sisters should not be fearful like they are now. The Jewish community should not be fearful the way it is today. All of it is has been because of people creating fear among groups.”
If you go
The workshops are Tuesday, March 14 and Wednesday, March 15, with the town hall on Thursday, March 16, all from 7 to 9 p.m. in the community room at Mansfield Senior High School, 124 N. Linden Rd.
Registration is not required, but Tate said participants are asked to call the NAACP office at 419-522-9894 so organizers are prepared for the number of attendees.