The Journey to Racial Reconciliation in Fayetteville: A How-To Guide

by Cyrenthia Ngueya, Match Support Manager

As a Black woman, born and raised in Northwest Arkansas, I’m used to being one of the few black faces wherever I go. Whites make up the majority at 84% of the population. The percentage of Blacks is about 6% and I know 3% of them. It isn’t farfetched to say I am probably related to half of that 3%. (That’s a joke, but just barely). I really love Fayetteville. It’s a great place where people are friendly and open. And that is why I know if I asked someone here the dreaded question, “Are you racist?,” they would likely say no, and they wouldn’t by lying. Most people in our town wouldn’t consider themselves to be racist. After all, they honestly don’t have issues with the people around them who may be different than themselves. Like I said, I love it! I would dig deeper though. I would ask them, how many people have they had in their home that didn’t look like them? Of those people they’ve had in their home, how many were they building friend relationships with, as opposed to people they were hiring or helping or just crossing paths? Fayetteville is great, in part, because there are so many people who are willing to lend a hand to others. Unfortunately, we are not always taking the important step of building relationships with the people we are trying to serve.

Did you cringe at some of the questions above? Racial Reconciliation is a tough topic. I’m passionate about addressing the issue though. It’s important for healing and moving forward together as a community. And I am African American. I am a literal black sheep amongst all the white ones. I am still a sheep…I make the wool, I say “baa”, but since the color of my skin is different, I’m not always a “real” sheep or a valued sheep. I mean, I am American, but since I am African American, my opinions or life experiences don’t always matter as much. So, no you may not be racist, but deep down, my family is not valued as much as our white neighbors. James Baldwin said, “The future of the Negro is precisely as light, or as dark, as the future of the country.” Meaning, that when Black lives matter, then all lives will truly matter.

I want to encourage you to be a part of racial reconciliation. I want to give you practical ways to be a part of the change. First, I want to encourage you to examine your privilege and what that really means. White privilege exists, but in reality, we all have some sort of privilege. Even I as a Black Woman have some forms of privilege. When I say privilege, I am not only talking about financial means or having more than someone else. I mean having the resources and the ability to do things. You can walk, you are a man, you speak English, you can read, you have a family that cares about you, etc. These are all forms of privilege. You did nothing to deserve or earn these things and people who don’t have them didn’t do anything to not have the privilege. Now once you are able to acknowledge the privilege you have (including being white, if that is the case, because really, it is a privilege) then think about how you are using your privilege to help other who are not as privileged as you.

Second, educate yourself. If you really care about Black and Brown people you will educate yourself to understand their history. Especially Black history, which is a part of American history. When you dig deep into the history of America, you will see how it time and again was intended for White men, and only White men, to prevail. There are plenty of books and documentaries that you could dive into. Read history from the voice of marginalized peoples to get a new perspective to what you learned in school.  Maybe you will begin to understand why someone would choose to take a knee for the flag, or why Carter G. Woodson felt it was necessary to set out time in every year to celebrate the achievements of African American people.

Third, I would encourage you to integrate the people who you know and are connected to. Humans are a tribal bunch and tend to gravitate towards those who look, think and act alike. Break out of that bubble. I hinted at it before, but having meals with people who don’t look like you is a great start. Look for opportunities to spend time with people who think differently or come from unique backgrounds. There is something gratifying about building relationships with people who bring new perspective and who challenge you to see things from different angles.

Last, resist the notion of being color blind. Instead, let’s celebrate our difference. The artist Propaganda said, “You see my skin, and I see yours, and they are beautifully, fearfully, and wonderfully, divinely designed uniqueness. Shouldn’t we celebrate rather than act like it ain’t there?” Even if you don’t believe we were divinely designed, I think it is safe to say, we can agree that we are all unique and beautiful.

I hope that you are encouraged, and I hope you understand that this world, country, state and town are all in need of racial reconciliation. If we don’t have it, there is no way to fully understand the struggle of having brown skin. I hope still, that you feel that you have the power to be a part of that change. And if you do have melanin in your skin, you are powerful, you are strong, your life matters, and we’re going to be alright.

 “Tell me what has become of my rights? Am I invisible ‘cause you ignore me? Your proclamation promised me free liberty now. I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame. They’re throwing me in the class with a bad name. I can’t believe this is the land from which I came.”      -Michael Jackson

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