Iowa Civil Rights Commission

Study Circles


Vol. 2, No. 1 Our Mission is to eliminate discrimination in Iowa. Winter 1997/98


Sponsoring Coalitions:


Des Moines "Honest Conversations"

Rudy Simms



Dubuque "Talk Circles"

Tom Detterman



Muscatine "Study Circles"

Jeff Armstrong



Sioux City "Study Circles"

Eloise Caltvedt



Storm Lake "Study Circles"

Dale Carver



Waterloo "Study Circles"

Walter Reed



Webster County "Study Circles"

Ed O'Leary


Keeping Count - Dec. 1997:

Study Circles 27

Participants 487

An Urgent Need for Democratic Dialogue on Race in Our Country and Our Communities

Race is a central issue in our nation and our communities. Even when we don't give voice to it, it is present critical, but unspoken.

When we do talk about it, it is often at times of crisis, when racial divisions become apparent or racial tensions turn to violence. There are times of national awareness the violence in Los Angeles in 1992, or the tensions following the O.J. Simpson verdict when the country's problems with race transfix all of us. But when the tensions fade from view, our public recognition of race seems to go back into hiding, and we wonder if anything has changed at all.

A growing number of national and community leaders are starting to change that reality. They are calling for a dialogue about race that will help everyday people openly examine racism and race relations, and work together to make progress on this critical issue.

Those leaders realize that questions of racism and race relations touch us every day, in personal ways. Race affects where we live, where we walk, where we shop, the jobs we hold, and how we are educated. In workplaces, schools, and houses of worship, racial and ethnic divisions persist. Misperceptions, stereotyping, fear, and distrust exist in every ethnic group towards members of other ethnic groups.

Race also has a great impact on our public life. In our communities, racial and ethnic divisions prevent us from working together on pressing common concerns such as education, jobs, and crime. In our national public life, there is a longstanding stalemate on those policy issues that are directly related to our country's history of race relations. And, racial and ethnic concerns and conflicts underlie many other public issues.

Given our country's history, it is no wonder that race is so important today. Racism has played a key role for hundreds of years, clashing with our founding principles of equality and justice. The wars against Native American tribes and later discrimination against native peoples; the enslavement of Africans brought to this country and the oppression of African-Americans after they were freed; the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; and discrimination against immigrants all of these and more have been based on the belief that some people are inferior due to the color of their skin.

The struggle for racial equality has also played a key role in our history. In the civil rights movement, many Americans fought for racial justice. Attitudes and situations that were once the norm racist statements by political officials, separate and inferior public institutions for blacks, the legal refusal to serve blacks in restaurants or to accommodate them in hotels began to change as the result of heroic individual and collective struggles.

What about today? While almost everyone acknowledges that we have moved forward as a result of the civil rights movement, many people are concerned that progress has stalled. Others fear that we are actually losing ground.

Though our perspectives vary, problems with race relations still loom large for our country. These problems are complex, defying simple definitions or quick solutions. All of us from every ethnic and racial back ground have had experiences that give us unique understandings of race and its impact on our personal and public lives. As an example, many whites believe that we have made a lot of progress on racial issues, that we are "almost there." At the same time, many people of color believe that we still have along way to go.

On such a complex issue, with so many different experiences and understandings, how can we as a society make meaningful progress?

In a democracy, progress on race relations can happen when every person takes part in defining the problems and finding ways to work with others to solve them. At the heart of that participation is democratic dialogue, where people of all racial and ethnic have opportunities to:

A growing number of communities are creating and sustaining this kind of opportunity for democratic dialogue and action on race. They are finding ways to involve people from all races and ethnicities, all political beliefs, all faiths, all education levels, and all walks of life. They are finding ways to help community members carry their dialogue forward from meaningful personal change into collective action. As more and more communities move ahead in this challenging work, our country will make the kind of progress on race relations that many of us have dreamed of for so long.

(Courtesy of Study Circles Resource Center, 860-928-2616)

Highlights of Minutes

Statewide Work Group

December 11, 1997


Facilitator Training will be held in Waterloo on January 24 and in Des Moines on January 30, 1998.

Study Circles Resource Center has revised/improved "The Busy Citizen's Discussion Guide."

Iowa's growing diversity, global economics, the current state of race relations in this country, the multitude of societal issues affected by race, and the President's Dialogue on Race are just some of the reasons for conducting community-wide study circles.

Press releases and fliers are good ways to recruit participants, but the best way is personal contact; make personal contact with CEOs, school superintendents, religious leaders, agency heads, and elected officials. Ask them to consider sponsoring circles within their organizations and for the entire community.

A study circle without racial diversity is OK; but like everything else in life, diversity makes it better. Not everybody of the same race has the same race experiences, values, perspectives, and opinions; a good facilitator can bring out those differences and get the group to examine the issues from a variety of perspectives.