Written by Shelley Russell, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
WATERLOO (KWWL) -
"Racial Divide" is a pretty self-explanatory title for this investigative piece I've been working on over the past few weeks.
I started this project with a few ideas in mind, but wanted to find out if there were any local experts on racism and the topic of white privilege.
Some of you might recall what I refer to as the "Facebook post from Hell," where I basically put out a plea for help:
"Is anyone willing to share their opinion on racism/white privilege?" I asked on KWWL's Facebook page.
Within seconds, the post exploded, and my desk phone started ringing off the hook.
The first person who called was a man.
"What the f*** do you mean about white privilege?!" he yelled.
"All the black people are taking my jobs!!" He screamed.
It was then that I realized what I was in for in undertaking this important story.
My heart raced as I hung up the phone. Of course, I offered him the opportunity for an interview to talk about how he feels white men are mistreated, but he wasn't comfortable doing that.
After weeding my way through hundreds of comments and personal attacks and people bickering back-and-forth online, I was reassured that skin color, indeed, needs to be talked about.
And I'm happy to report the "Facebook post from Hell" wasn't a total waste. There were hidden gems in the firestorm, and I actually made some great contacts through that post and ended up talking with some fascinating people who were willing to share their experiences with me.
The first person I interviewed was a woman of color.
Terry Stevens is an activist in Waterloo. She was born and raised in Waterloo, and she talked to me about not only how black people are treated differently than white people, but about why it's important to recognize peoples' skin color.
She said if you ignore someone's skin color, he or she is essentially non-existent. You're ignoring their presence by not recognizing the race of the person in front of you.
She said it's impossible to NOT recognize someone's skin color.
"You recognize someone if they're crippled, if they're smiling or if they're frowning," she said. "How can you not recognize someone's skin color?"
Stevens was fascinating. We actually talked for two hours. She is fierce, and she's not afraid to say it like it is. Even if our viewers don't agree with what she has to say, I think they'll appreciate her honesty and willingness to share her experiences as a black woman.
Zorana Wortham-White was my next interview.
She identifies herself as a "proud black woman." And she should be proud!
This gal's a stay-at-home mom of eight children, she teaches diversity at UNI, and -- as if that's not enough -- she's an attorney!
She talked to me a lot about the notion of "color-blindness."
She said if people say they are "color-blind," they're lying.
Wortham-White also brought up fascinating stories about how hard it has been for her and some of her friends (who are people of color, too) to get jobs because of their affiliations with so-called "black organizations."
She told me some of her friends have even removed the groups they are a part of from their resume, or changed their name, just to get an interview.
As an attorney, she told me many people are surprised at her ability to handle a case.
I think a lot of people will appreciate hearing her honest perspective.
Kim O'Day was my final interview. Kim identifies herself as a white woman.
For most of her life, she believed she treated everyone fairly and didn't recognize the skin color of the people around her.
But everything changed years ago when she attended one of the top diversity programs in the country.
O'Day shared her "ah-ha" moments and what she took away from this intense training, plus how she recognizes those around her differently.
The bottom line is this: Race needs to be talked about. And what I've learned in the past few months is that -- just because you recognize someone's skin color -- that doesn't mean you're racist.
It's impossible to sum up all these loaded issues in three minutes or less, but on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m., I'm going to give it a try.
Using the voices and experiences from the brave, honest people listed above, I think I've got a fair shot at starting some important conversations in our communities.
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