Together Tupelo: Workshop opens dialogue about race, privilege
TUPELO – In some ways, the organizers of Tuesday night’s Together Tupelo meeting set the bar low.
For instance, nobody was expected to end racism, violence or inequality.
“What we’re trying to do is make a deposit on each of those things,” said Tony Caldwell, one of the event facilitators.
He and Jandel Crutchfield, both with the University of Mississippi Department of Social Work, led about 150 people in a workshop at Link Centre in Tupelo. The goal was to break down barriers and talk about difficult topics.
“What’s it like to be you in this world?” Caldwell said. “Let me tell you what it’s like to be me in this world. Let’s talk about that.”
Crutchfield devised a survey and asked people to check statements that applied to their lives. Statements included:
• Was born in the United States.
• Had two parents with college degrees.
• Was never the only person of my race in the classroom.
• Never had to wonder if I would have enough to eat and drink.
• Have never been followed in the store.
People totaled up their numbers and then grouped together with others who had the same number. The result was a visual display of privilege.
“Privilege, ladies and gentlemen, has nothing to do with hard work,” Crutchfield said. “What we do in society is we mesh them together.”
She asked people to look around the room at people with different numbers.
“We know there are hard-working people at every number,” she said.
Some are born with more advantages than others. Crutchfield said that’s not something to praise or blame because it’s beyond anyone’s control, but people can choose what they do with their advantages.
“If we have privilege, we have to reach back and help others,” she said.
Caldwell compared the community to a family where divorce was not an option.
“How do we stay together? How do we stay functional?” he said. “It comes from being interconnected.”
It might sound counterintuitive, but one of the first steps is for individuals to examine their unconscious biases.
“I do mine, you do yours, you do yours and you do yours – simultaneously,” he said.
Though he’s a social worker with a history of reaching out to white and black people in need, Caldwell said he still catches himself making judgments based on skin color.
“Bias is in me, I can admit, because I know it is in you,” he said.
Tupelo and Lee County NAACP President Chris Traylor was eager to attend the meeting and liked what he heard.
“I think it’s phenomenal,” he said. “I think it’s great for people to come together to learn about each other and learn to dialog together.”
Debra Morris, 48, of Shannon, said she’s sometimes concerned for her children’s safety. She has sensed fear and anger in the community.
“Maybe there’s some hope in this. Maybe there’s some hope in this,” she said, “because we’re supposed to all be together – race, color, creed – all together.”
Lisa Schwenk, 67, of Tupelo, was more skeptical. She said the workshop would not address the community’s underlying problems, including the lack of good jobs and quality leadership.
“The whole system is stacked against people,” she said. “The whole system.”
Caldwell and Crutchfield collected names and contact information, and they’re expecting followup meetings.
To be included, visit the Together Tupelo page on Facebook, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.