Straight talk about race, class and community

One reason it’s so hard to talk about race is the dread you feel for the moment when, as one woman recently put it, your ignorance accidentally flops out onto the table.

It’s bound to happen. We live such segregated lives, we don’t even know what we don’t know when it comes to issues of race.

That might especially be true here in Iowa where the population of racial minorities has traditionally been very low.

And it might be especially true for the families who moved here when the City of Chicago started tearing down the large public housing structures in which they’d lived.

Iowa City’s shifting demographics have brought real changes to our neighborhoods and schools. But “those people from Chicago” have also been convenient scapegoats.

And our collective squeamishness about race has kept us spinning our wheels — unable to tease out issues of race, class, culture and community standards to accurately define the problems that do exist.

That lack of communication struck filmmaker Carla Wilson when she moved to Iowa City in 2004 and started talking to recent Chicago transplants about why they moved here and their impressions of the town.

She also talked to them about what it was like to live, some for the first time, as a part of a racial minority. About the barriers, real or perceived, that kept them from feeling truly at home.

There will be a free screening of her documentary film, “Black American Gothic,” at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City, as part of the Landlocked Film Festival (disclosure: I’m a volunteer member of the Landlocked board).

It presents a little-heard perspective that is a critical part of our community conversation.

That’s why I’ve helped organize small-group discussions immediately following the screening — working with people like Ted Gutsche Jr. of, Iowa City Human Rights Commission Coordinator Stefanie Bowers, Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program Executive Director Roger Lusala, University of Iowa Professor Frank Durham, Johnson County Social Services Community Projects Specialist LaTasha Massey and the Rev. Orlando Dial.

There is no agenda for the discussions — we just want to help jump-start a candid conversation. I hope to see you there.

Because before we can solve real problems, we have to accurately define them.

We have to sift through the myths and straighten out misunderstandings that have had us stuck for over a decade.

We have to talk.

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