How socially constructed racial categories and stereotypes affect people’s lives was the topic of conversation at the Community Study Circle discussion Tuesday.
The Columbia Human Rights Commission began organizing the monthly meetings in January 2004 after receiving requests for more outlets for community discussion, HRC staff member Nanette Chun-ming Ward said.
“I don’t think there is any part of our lives that is not affected by race and how it is perceived,” said Ward.
The discussion, which pulled in an above-average attendance of roughly 50 people, began with the showing of the hour-long video “RACE: The Power of Illusion.” The film’s exploration of the history of racial categorization and the lack of scientific evidence for such theories provoked active, small-group discussions.
Randy Cole, one of Columbia’s seven Human Rights commissioners, said the topic of race is particularly important in Columbia. “There are blocks of racial and ethnic communities in town,” Cole said. “This physical separation is reflective of other barriers that exist between groups.”
The Rev. Edgar Lopez, pastor at the bilingual Horeb United Methodist Church, said it was important for people to reach out to other groups, especially for those isolated in their own ethnic communities. He added the meeting also gave the seven accompanying members of his church an opportunity to interact with people from other cultures and practice English.
Others, like the 10 assistant managers at area Wal-Marts, participated because their managers encouraged them to go.
“We came to broaden our horizons and better understand our community,” said Greg Glascock, assistant manager at a local Wal-Mart. “We came here to learn and help run our business better.”
Racial stereotyping can be found at local schools as well, Hickman High School junior Joneesha Bynum said.
“There needs to be more of this done at our school,” said Bynum. “I’m often the only black person in a classroom. Sometimes people look at us like we’re not smart.”
Bynum said she and her classmates, Natasha Hornes and Marquita Johnson, came to give the discussion a “teenage point of view” and earn extra credit for their African American Experience class.
Next month’s community circle, “Religious Covenants: Sharing Different Perspectives,” is scheduled for Oct. 20. To learn more about study circles, go to www.gocolumbiamo.com, keyword “study circles,” or e-mail HRC@gocolumbiamo.com.