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Monday, September 25, 2006

The New (White) HRC

Diversity Gone from the HRC

Last Summer the Davis City Council voted 4-1 to remove every member of the Davis Human Relations Commission from the commission and have them reapply. Only one member--member emeritus John Pamperin chose to reapply. The rest of the commission is entirely new.

I write this column with a great deal of ambivalence because it touches upon an explosive issue and also a philosophical conundrum. I begin with a simple statement—the Davis Human Relations Commission has since its inception been one of the most diverse bodies in this entire city. The last human relations commission had members from many different ethnicities—Latina, Africa-American, Muslim, Jewish, East Asian, Indian, among others.

The new human relations commission appears to be nearly completely white. That brings up the race issue and also brings up a philosophical question about the nature of representation.

Let me clarify right away—I do not believe the city council is racist. I’m not accusing anyone of racism. However, I do believe that the current city council majority created a climate that limited the number of applicants.

Let me also clearly state that I think there are some excellent members on the new commission. I have concerns about one of the members who had to resign due to a conflict of interest five years ago, but this entry is mainly about the charge of the HRC and its new membership.

This is a commission whose primary charge is to deal with issues of prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Can a mostly white body effectively address those concerns? That is a crucial question that gets to the nature of what representation is itself.

I do not wish to criticize the membership of a commission before they have met, but I believe there is a fundamental problem in the city of Davis with racism. And that problem is not one that most white people, myself included, are very aware of. It was only my close proximity with several instances of racial problems that I became aware of this problem.

Moreover, a white person in Davis, I have never had a personal problem with a police officer or the police themselves. If I did not know people who did have problems, I would never have become aware of it. Almost all of those people with problems with the police have been minorities.

The very problem that the HRC now faces is not racism by the City Council necessarily, but rather neglect. The City Council was in a great hurry to get rid of the former Latina-American chair because she chose to raise issues, but they did not do sufficient outreach in order to get a diverse pool of applicants on the commission. I doubt if they even considered what the make up would look like.

They got exactly ten applicants, two of whom became ex-officio/ non-voting members and one of whom is an alternate. The other seven are regular members. Why such a small pool of applicants? Because everyone saw what happened to the previous HRC and non one wanted to deal with the current council and their consolidation of power.

But the ultimate effect and we cannot lose site of this is an HRC where the majority of the members have never personally had to deal with prejudice and the majority of the members are white people. And that is a fundamental problem.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting