Scott Colom: The next step in race relations

March 17, 2011 8:59:00 AM

Scott Colom - [email protected]


Recently, I''ve attended several social events in Columbus where I was one of the few blacks in attendance, or I was one of many blacks in attendance with few whites. For example, as I laughed at the hilarious improvisational comedy of Second City a week or so ago - thankfully brought to us by our Arts Council - I noticed I was one of the few blacks present to enjoy it.  


Or, as I ate too much at the Charles Brown Senior Citizens Third Annual tribute to soul food, I noticed how few whites were in attendance. On neither of these occasions, nor during others, did I let this observation detract from my enjoyment of the experience. Nevertheless, I''ve been thinking about how this dynamic is not healthy for our city and wondering what we can do to improve it.  


For starters, we should acknowledge that no state has made more progress on race relations than Mississippi. For most of our history, over a hundred years, mandatory separation of the races and the inferiority of black Americans were the law and dominant culture. From the smallest of matters, such as where you went to use the restroom, to the largest, such as who you were allowed to love and marry, race shaped and controlled our society.  


Fifty years later, most of these past social norms are repulsive to us. We share public bathrooms without noticing the race of others users. While we eat at McAlisters or shop at Belks, we hardly notice the race of employees or other customers. Our children play baseball together at Prospt Park and we cheer for our team''s player regardless of his or her race. These are changes generations of Mississippians before us thought were impossible.  


Despite this historic progress, a few of the ghosts of segregation still haunt us. One of these ghosts is the degree of segregation in our social lives. This continued segregation starts with our failure to successfully integrate our public schools. Because many of our children attend schools without meaningful racial diversity, they are not as likely to develop diverse relationships and friendships. This in turn perpetuates social divisions.  


Thus, too often local bars, nightclubs, and community social events are overwhelming attended by one racial group. With the racial makeup of Columbus almost evenly split amongst whites and blacks, this should rarely be the case. If a social event has only one race of people, there''s a problem with the event or there''s a problem with us.  


Certainly, we can''t and shouldn''t force social integration, but there are specific, voluntary steps we can take to improve it. In the short term, we should step out of our comfort zone and invite friends and associates of different races to social events, and those invitees should try to attend. The Columbus Visitors Bureau should support events that are likely to draw diverse visitors and attendance, such as Market Street festival, and the different civic committees and groups should market the events across racial and generational lines.  


In the long term, we should continue to try to integrate our public schools. Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, the city of Columbus - like many in the Deep South - still lacks adequate public school integration. This is certainly not a problem that can be easily solved or solved in one column, but I do believe it can and needs to be solved.  


Of course, some will fight to preserve the status quo. Anonymous commentators will post comments saying lack of diversity in our social lives is not a real problem, or that the real problem in Mississippi is that people are always talking and writing about race. Critics will try to blame one race of people for all our problems. Cynics will bemoan the idea that Columbus can ever change.  


But, for those of us that believe no problem was ever solved by ignoring it, or that history shows us progress is always possible but takes effort and not pointing fingers; for those of us willing to fight the status quo, I believe our children will one day live in a fully integrated society, one without a thought about race, and it will because we were willing to take the next step in race relations today. 


Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected]

Scott Colom is a local attorney.