Definitions and context are very important when transformative declarations are made.
Thus, valuing diversity might mean an affirmative effort to achieve equality in the opportunity to access, participate and benefit in all aspects of life by anyone, regardless of race, gender, religion and income.
On the other hand, the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration might just be an empty public relations slogan perpetuated by a breakfast celebration once a year where organizations invite any person viewed as different to the event.
The proof is really in the pudding. When Columbia didn’t claim to value diversity, a big gap existed between the white haves and the white and black have nots.
The gap was apparent in every educational, social, religious and economic context. The haves maintained the power and attributed it to being superior beings.
They wrote the rules. Media and history codified their claim of superiority. They rewarded African-Americans who copied their behavior and/or exhibited talent.
This group of have nots were given intermittent attention. They aided and abetted the haves and considered themselves to be better than others.
Valuing diversity and tolerating diversity to win sports games and acquire needed skills are two different things.
It has been said that doing nothing is worse than subjugating. Denying one's subjugation is worse than acquiescing to one's subjugation.
The valued have-nots were masters of denying subjugation. Many people of color are to blame for the lack of a genuine value for diversity among Columbia residents. All that glitters is not gold. Subtle subjugation is different from integration. That kind of integration is certainly not valuing.
Rarely did anyone of color have power over any aspect of Columbia that wasn’t controlled by a white man, including the institutions that served him or her. People of color were valued — to be of service to whites as beasts of burden.
Now when some are proclaiming that Columbia values diversity, there appears to be little difference in any of the relationships, resources, rules of behavior or perceptions that things are different for African-Americans.
While time, technology, population increases, policies and overt behaviors have been modified, values appear to have changed very little. Columbia Values Diversity is little more than a slogan and a breakfast. The gaps in education, social and economic status and judicial protection continue to exist. The only change is the absence of overt negative expressions toward non-whites.
The absence of any significant change is not due to any deliberate meanness, on the part of anyone, white or black. Old, rational perceptions of the value of people are harder to change than one thinks.
The song in the musical “South Pacific” states, "You have to be taught. Carefully taught.” It is hard for anyone, no matter their race, to undo the careful teaching that took place at home and in all media, including the psyches of the people teaching and being taught.
Visually, African-Americans are present in all public and most private organizations. Their roles are only utilitarian to feed the image of affirmative action. The small exception is the few African-Americans imported here because of a needed talent.
Rarely have local African-Americans been elevated to top decision-making positions. Many African-Americans in Columbia share responsibility for this situation because of their failure to speak out, organize and demand more.
Too few African-American professionals have made an impact in the African-American community. They appear to have little value for their own internal diversity.
Among the leaders of color, only two former head basketball coach Mike Anderson and former Police Chief William Dye are credited with engaging with people of color in Columbia's African-American community.
Many have been so aloof that they could not even been viewed as role models. They have failed to even organize in their own behalf. Consequently they only feed the broad notion that Columbia Values Diversity.
The Poor People's Breakfast was the Douglass Coalition's response to the Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast. It was intended to show authentic Columbia diversity.
The Almeta Crayton's Poor Man's Breakfast will again be held Monday at St. Luke’s United Methodist church from 8-11:30 a.m. All are welcome!
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU. He writes occasional columns for the Missourian.