All-white spaces dominate Asheville’s culture. Oftentimes the white people in these spaces do not even notice the lack of diversity, which is troubling to say the least. Sometimes they do, then shrug it off as an unchangeable reality. Occasionally white people actually have taken a step or two to invite people of color to an event or opportunity. However, these invitations may not have been accepted, at which point I see more shrugs, and a dismissing the situation with “Oh well, I tried, they must not be interested.” I challenge that assumption.
I believe that conscious effort can help to shift Asheville’s deep-seated patterns of “de facto segregation” (a phrase coined by Dr. Dwight Mullen). We all benefit from authentic, diverse cultural and economic engagement. The shift has to happen on many levels, of course. Today I am thinking particularly about who gets invited to participate in the countless cultural happenings around town and how.
A study done by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that three quarters of whites do not have any black friends (click here for an article about this study). That certainly seems to be the reality in Asheville, in fact that percent might be even higher here. One thing I have observed is that white people who make an effort to include people of color are all often reaching out to the same handful of more “visible” leaders in town. I’ll hear, “I sent an email to so-and-such about our event, I don’t know what else to do.”
My challenge to those that want to change patterns of de facto segregation is to actually change their patterns of behavior.
Here are a few thoughts about steps towards more inclusive invitations:
1.) Expand your social network. White people can make an effort to attend events where there will be a diverse crowd. Look into calendars and announcements from the WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition, Asheville411.com, Date My City, The Urban News, Hola Carolina, Nuestro Centro, WRES, and The Color of Asheville for starters.
2.) Be intentional about promotion. If you are holding an event, look at where you advertise and post flyers, who you are giving handbills to, how you are using social media, what language you are using. Over and over I see people promoting in the same ways as they always have yet expecting different results. It could be time to try new outlets and formats for your invitations.
3.) Partner with other groups or individuals. This is a great way to enhance what you have to offer and expand your reach. An example of this was the “Bringing it Home” conference earlier this year. The planning committee worked with diverse groups to create their event. The turn out at the conference reflected those efforts. Collaboration is powerful.
4.) Ask how you can do better. If your events or business only attract a limited demographic, there are reasons for that. Seek out input on why.
5.) Keep trying. I can’t emphasize this enough. This stuff takes time. Years of no invitations and outright exclusion can contribute to reluctance to accept an invitation. Show you mean it.
This is an important issue that I’m sure I’ll return to.
To close today’s post, here is an announcement from reader Kathryn Liss:
“Last Friday evening we saw this outstanding play, [The Mountaintop, put on by Different Strokes]. It is performed by local actors in a small venue, the BeBe Theater downtown. Both the acting and the production as a whole are outstanding. And a portion of the proceeds are being donated to Building Bridges. I highly recommend that everyone go see it. It is only here till June 18.” Click here for details and tickets!