Reaching out to Improve Race Relations

Article excerpt

Eencouraging data can be found in the recent study on race relations issued by the Metropolitan Diversity Coalition.

First of all, 85 percent of those polled, both blacks and whites, agreed with the statement that "good race relations are very important for improving the St. Louis region's quality of life." Even more significant, 75 percent of both black and white participants believed they had "personal power to improve race relations." How right they are!

Each of us can, in fact, work to improve race relations if we are willing to work to expand our "data base." It is easy, of course, to build a broad data base about those who are similar to us. Most of us are surrounded by such folks in our neighborhoods, churches and jobs. They are our friends, co-workers and neighbors. The 1990 census tells us that more than 80 percent of whites live in suburbs in which less than 3 percent of the population is non-white.

Reaching out to others whom we perceive as different takes courage and conviction. But each time we do this, we expand our personal data base. We make it much less likely that we will return to stereotypes about any group. When our data base has been built with personal experiences, rather than media stories that often focus on heroic or villainous members of any group, we are more apt to realize that each group is composed mostly of reasonable human beings, with only a few "bad apples."

Two years ago, Post-Dispatch columnist Gregory Freeman asked for suggestions to help people make connections with folks who are different from themselves. One result of that column was the creation of a number of small groups of people from differing backgrounds. These groups meet regularly and discuss politics, personal experiences and books.

Schools and churches are places where groups such as these can be started by any one of us. Another possible first step may be asking a work colleague whom you'd like to get to know better to go out to lunch or dinner with you. A yes answer is more likely than a no.

Each of us needs to take the risk and talk with people whose experiences have given them different data. Let's listen to those who have different stories to tell and accept their stories and the reality they offer. As a middle-aged, middle-class white female, I can remember only one experience I have had with the police. …