GUEST COMMENTARY: Valuing diversity is an honest acknowledgement of equal opportunity

Sunday, January 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:11 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 19, 2014

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.

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Michael Williams January 19, 2014 | 5:21 p.m.

"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."

And I think this article is one of the very best examples of an author with thinking that cannot be undone under ANY circumstances.

I this woman (Tamera Mowry) subjugated?

As for your invitation to the Poor Man's Breakfast, why would I?

After THIS missive.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 19, 2014 | 10:01 p.m.


You're doing much better than I. I couldn't get past "transformative declarations." That's way beyond my pay grade!

I'm curious as to whom is considered as being "too wealthy" these days. Where is the line being drawn? According to a statement made Sunday on CBS TV my net worth places me in the top 5% of all Americans, yet while my new home is nice, it is no mansion. I drive a nine-year-old Ford sedan, and I don't belong to a country club or have a time share vacation condo in the Caribbean. If I am in the financial top 5% then the remaining 95% must indeed be in serious trouble.

I am not from a wealthy family; indeed, it was a financial struggle for me to afford a BS degree from a state university. On the other hand, I received full value for the dollars spent. Many of those I've worked with or done business with over the years have come from similar situations.

What one studies in college and how he or she applies it to life is what counts. Seems there's no end of nonsense masquerading as an "education" these days.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates January 19, 2014 | 10:38 p.m.

If Mr. Robertson would like to see real diversity, he should ride 2nd class coach from Naples to Paris. It would look very, very different from the usual attendees at the so-called diversity breakfast. As far as his commentary, I seldom bother to read past the first paragraph anymore as he alwlays has the same general conclusions and nothing anyone will write/say is going to change his mind.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates January 20, 2014 | 8:02 p.m.

@Ellis: Well, I am not in the upper 5%; but,solidly upper middle-class. I have picked cotten before I was in the first grade along with both white and black was a family thing regardless of my Grandfathers wealth. Back then, every one was respected because of hard work. Young black girls having babies out of wedlock was as rare as white girls having babies out of wedlock. There was a father figure at home as a leader; both mom and dad raised their children to be good responsible adults and set the standard... and dollar level as a measure of worth had little to do with good parenting. There were no girls being referred to as "my babies momma" instead of by name. I became part of the white privileged class through hard work, initiative, and upbringing... African-Americans who do the same would be, accordingly (I guess) the black privileged class, right? Or, would they be "Uncle Toms"... I guess I am just very, very tired of being a racist and such by definition from the professional grievance industry. I'm just damned worn out with it!

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates January 20, 2014 | 8:07 p.m.

PS @ Ellis: Want my respect, dump the 9 year old Ford and get a 5 year old Silverado.......:-)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 21, 2014 | 7:59 a.m.

@ Skip Yates:

Actually, Skip, I am at sixes and sevens where vehicles are concerned. My Ford 500 (they only made the model for three years and then went back to using the Taurus name) has 85K miles on it but is in fine mechanical condition. The exterior looks almost as if the car just came from the dealer's (in this case, Machens) showroon.

The major question has become this: for how many more years am I going to be physically able to drive ANY motor vehicle?I don't want to be one of those 90-year-old drivers who scares the crap out of other motorists and pedestrians alike (and I'm sure my auto insurance company would like to avoid that situation as well).

I am considering purchase of a Ford C-MAX hybrid, which I would then at some future date give to one of my granddaughters.

Your observation concerning absence of a male figure in a home (this sometimes involves white as well as black households) is more important than some of our liberal friends would have it. There are good reasons why the so-called "nuclear family" has lasted as long as it has.
If you allow something to lapse you need to have a viable alternative to replace it. Where is that viable alternative?

(Report Comment)

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