2/24/21 - RICK KAZMER – United Way of the Laurel Highlands
Participants during the second diversity and inclusion training session on Feb. 23 were asked by the instructor to “lean into” uncomfortable topics.
The group of 33 participants, attending virtually on Zoom, talked about race, racism, sexism and other -isms and their impact on society.
The session, hosted by the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, is funded by a Lee Initiatives grant. A session will be held in March and April as well.
“We are not taught how to speak about it,” instructor Dr. Melissa Marks, an education professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, said during the training. Marks talked about the history of race. She said it is a social construct that was often used throughout world history to gain power and profit. Nazi Germany is an example. But
Marks said as early as 1450 conquering societies used race as the onus for exploiting others who were deemed to be lesser.
She pointed out that at times “Jewish” was considered a race, rather than a religion. The distinction was used to persecute an entire population.
“Race is not a problem,” Marks said. “Racism is a problem.”
She highlighted changes in U.S. Census designations. At times choices on the census included “Fee Whites,” “Mulatto” and “Mexican.” A person’s heritage often runs deeper than skin shade. Assumptions made by color alone can lead to implicit biases about how we view ourselves, and about how others view us, she said.
Marks showed a list of other -isms. Some of them, including sexism, are talked about more frequently. Others, including ageism and classism, get less attention. Toward the end of the session, Marks highlighted three parts of discrimination that she called dangerous: denial, avoidance and victim blaming.
“We think about racism as the KKK,” she said. “We need to think about the invisible system conferring privilege on one group over another.”
Marks added that talking about it is the first step. She highlighted a Fred Rogers’ quote.
“If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable,” she said, referring to the Mister Rogers statement. The session built on last month’s class, which focused on implicit biases. The March session will be about building diverse organizations.
“We have to have a willingness to ask. A willingness to be open. A willingness to have the conversation in our communities,” United Way of the Laurel Highlands President and CEO Karen Struble Myers said.
The remaining two sessions will be held at 7 p.m. March 23 and April 27 on Zoom.