One of the first steps in tackling racism is getting people to talk about the problem and its possible solutions, says sociologist Edward Rhymes.
Some of those problems and potential solutions were the topic of the 10th Annual Black and White Reunion Summit Against Racism, held Jan. 26, at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. The event featured forums, with discussions about and proposed solutions to problems like racial profiling.
While some view such forums as all talk and no action, co-coordinator Melissa Minnich explained that the summit allowed people to cooperate to find solutions to racial profiling and violence.
"[The summit] gets people thinking about holding themselves accountable to our problems," she said. "Networking is also important here, because it gets people to solve problems collectively. It's a lot harder to do something by yourself."
Minnich pointed to one of the more popular workshops, entitled "Speaking the Unspeakable: Let's Talk About Racism," which focused on racial profiling and staying conscious of racism in everyday life.
Rhymes, who led the workshop with his wife, Lisa, said that their objective was to begin conversation on racism by tackling topics that aren't normally addressed. Workshop attendees were asked to fill out worksheets with specific questions about daily interaction with other minorities. One question, for example, asked the attendees how many had employers who were minorities
According to Rhymes, crafting a tangible solution to Pittsburgh's race issues starts with deconstructing such fundamental problems as stereotypes, racial profiling and inequality. Through such discussion, he says, we become more conscious of racism and more focused toward effective solutions.
"I want whites to examine their places of privilege and how that came about, because to be privileged means that someone else is denied the privilege," he said. "They get that privilege whether they want it or not. The question is whether they want to use it for social justice."
Discussions of racial profiling also led to addressing issues of violence within the community. Tim Stevens, founder of the Black Political Empowerment Project, highlighted a summit forum led by the Coalition Against Violence that introduced a document in progress containing strategies for change. The document was drafted in response to a report stating that Pennsylvania has the nation's highest homicide rates for African Americans.
"This [document] is part of our solution," he said. "It will be the result of collaboration within the community to end violence and will allow us to move from paper to possibility. We're getting things done."
The CAV document, set for completion in mid-February, lists different sets of long-term solutions to violence from the varied perspectives of government, education and young people. Examples of provisions include community education on political processes, increased diversity among the community's teachers, and better communication between youth and police.
Valerie Dixon, founder of Prevent Another Crime Today, helped lead the workshop. Dixon said that although solutions to Pittsburgh's problems with racial profiling have been provided by organizations such as B-PEP, there are barriers. As an example, she mentioned that although some employers practice affirmative action, they often place "quotas" on how many minorities they should hire.
"We have these types of summits so our voice can be out there," she says. "But the ones we're really against don't hear us."