Openness is Indeed the Key!

As I prepare to make a presentation to the newest Leadership Oakland class (XXI) on January 12, as part of their Diversity and Inclusion section, and look toward Martin Luther King’s birthday on January 17, my thoughts go to two recent surveys that have been conducted in metropolitan Detroit.

The first, a three-year Gallup study of the Detroit metropolitan area and 25 others, entitled the “Soul of the Community,” has found, not surprisingly, that peoples’ love and passion for their community may be a leading indicator for local economic growth. They point to three main qualities that attach people to place: social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness (how welcoming a place is) and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces). Metropolitan Detroiters responded that social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important than their perceptions of the economy, jobs or basic services in creating a lasting emotional bond between people and their community. The importance of Openness, as “the perception of how welcoming a community is to different types of people, including people with young children, senior citizens, college graduates and minorities, among other groups,” to metro Detroiters is extremely gratifying for a region that continues to rank as one of the top 3 most segregated areas in the country. Our racial and ethnic groups live in geographic separation , resulting in what research has shown to be vastly different levels of neighborhood opportunity across our region. A commitment to openness and a recognition that all residents deserve equal access to opportunity must become our mantra.

The second survey, a Statewide Race Relations Survey conducted for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, is also in its third iteration. While high profile events such as the O.J. Simpson trial and the 2008 Presidential campaign, have served to show differing opinions between African Americans and Whites, many hang on to the belief that racial discrimination is a thing of the past and the level playing field is the order of the day. Results from this survey of Michigan residents clearly show that this is not the case. African Americans were almost twice as likely as white respondents to say racial discrimination happens, with 59% of African Americans (33% for white respondents) saying racial discrimination happens all the time (31%) or happens frequently (28%). The 59% response is actually an increase from the previous two years (53% and 51%, respectively).

The survey found that 77% of African-American respondents said people of color have worse opportunities in education and employment than whites, up from 53% in 2008. Interestingly, white respondents also perceive that opportunities for people of color have diminished over time increasing from 29% in 2008 to 43% in 2010. Finally, when asked ” When do you think we will achieve racial equality?” 49% of African American respondents said “Never.” As for the others, 23% gave it 100 years, 16% thought it would occur in their lifetimes and an optimistic 2% felt we had it now.

We continue to struggle with the issue of “Race.” There are many who insist that we revisit the history of race and its place in making the city and suburbs what they are today. They say that we must study and learn from the past in order to move forward. There are many others who insist that continuous references to the past are unproductive and serve only to make race a bigger issue than it really is. They feel strongly that we are living in a post-racial society and we need to move on.

As I prepare to present the facts for the region and Oakland County, I find myself “hugging the fence.” I know that things have changed a great deal in recent years, but I also know, from surveys such as that of the MI Roundtable, that many folks see the results of institutional racism still clearly evident. True Openness requires us all to be vigilant and to work to make metropolitan Detroit a region where neighborhoods of high opportunity exist for all.