“We need to make this country welcoming to all enterprising, energetic, and ambitious people. This is the biggest no-brainer in the world.” – Richard Florida
As we move at this accelerated pace of urban revival and civic engagement in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Florida’s observation would seem, in his words, to be a “No-Brainer.” Why wouldn’t we welcome the most engaged energetic people to be a part of this renaissance? I had previously stated that the lens of civic engagement is tinted by values deeply rooted in a classist vein, but now we are acknowledging how that lens can also be clouded by specter of race.
The mere mention of “race” raises the defensive shields of everyone involved. It makes us all uncomfortable, alters our rationality and undermines our decision making skills and contributes to a closed community. It uncovers hidden fears and toxicity that shackle us permanently to stagnant social mores and conventions. For this conversation everyone will need to lower their shields like Captain Kirk in Star Trek.
In order for us to move forward we have to accept that there are uneasy race relations in our country which are historic and woven into our Societal DNA. Race relations are messy and complicated and fraught with landmines, quagmires and traps that sometime force us into inaction out of fear. If we want civic engagement and economic development parity, the collective “We” will have to step through this minefield. We need to feel the force of the explosion of old tropes and ideas detonating and disintegrating as if we actually triggered a mine. No one willingly steps into a minefield, but for us to truly become a welcoming and open community we just have to bravely and boldly go where no one has gone before, (thank you Gene Roddenberry for my nerd creds.)
One such example of the boldness of inclusion is Hamilton the musical. Going beyond the spectacle and privilege of attending live theatre, how the subject of the founding of our nation and one its chief architects was presented by a multi-cultural and ethnic cast and crew with the intention of changing the lens of viewership speaks to that audacity. Yes, it was clever in its use of rap as a vehicle to tell this dynamic story, the bigger story was the intentionality of the inclusion and diversity. When it comes to our urban core (which we call Dayton) that kind of intentionality has to come into effect. I applaud when it occurs, however the omnipresent flipside to this progress is tokenism.
Tokenism can very be debilitating to the civic engagement process as the flip side to the lack of inclusion. Tokenism hinders and binds us to an even greater extent than the lack of inclusion. It can create a false sense of progress. It becomes a tricky and complicated situation in these civic meetings and socially uncomfortable, when it becomes painfully and unappealingly obvious that it is occurring. I am willing to acknowledge that personal discomfort not out of a need to avoid this particular social landmine, but out of a need to detonate it, in order to move forward. When we detonate this particular landmine, the blast will leave a lasting impression, an acquired social knowingness, that stings, hurts, shreds and decimates personal barriers and biases in this massive polemic we call “Race.” There will blood, but I also believe there will be the freedom of release and healing.
I fervently believe the next wave of civic projects and urban revitalization that occur must be inclusive. The next wave of progress must involve immigrants and other ethnicities being engaged in the decision making process and actually getting the job done. Going back to my Sci-Fi Nerd Star Trek reference lower your shields. Do not ask me how to begin this process, I am not in possession of a magic road map to the minefield of “Race.” You as leaders and activists have to chart your own paths and bravely take the first step. Trust yourself to screw it up and be honest and verbal about it, take the hits. Yes, it will feel inorganic and messy at first, but over time you will get the hang of it. If you stay still and take no action, progress will pass you by.
“If you’re afraid to die, you will not be able to live.”- James Baldwin