If we’re honest, race is challenging for all of us. It comes into play at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, and sometimes things are covered, or tainted, by race when we don’t recognize it.
Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has launched E Pluribus Unum, a nonprofit focused on changing our race narrative — improving how we discuss and deal with race and altering the systems that have institutionalized racial inequalities. The social structures underlying racial discrimination predate the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act, the Jim Crow era in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and even go back to the early 1600s when colonies were being formed and enslavement of human beings was an acceptable way of doing business.
“Slavery was this nation’s original sin,” Landrieu told the event at the New Orleans Jazz Market launching the initiative. “And if we are to be truthful with ourselves, we have to admit that we have not yet in this country fully reckoned with the issue of race.” Landrieu’s stated desire is to deal with the unsettled issue in a direct and forthright manner, with a focus on speaking to white Americans in the South.
Landrieu’s ambitious foundation seems to be largely funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, a philanthropist who leads the Emerson Collective, an advocacy group she co-founded with deceased husband Steve Jobs of Apple Computer fame. Though neither Jobs or Landrieu is talking about the financial support, it appears that there’s enough money to keep this initiative going for the foreseeable future.
Landrieu intends to focus on the race narrative, changing the phrases and words we use to talk about race. The goal is to make it easier for us to hear each other and come to common understandings.
Landrieu is also focused on developing a series of race-focused leadership workshops to help American appointed and elected officials see the impact of race in nearly everything they do, while helping them determine how they can make things more equal.
An impressive 88-page report, “Divided by Design: Findings from the American South,” released Oct. 25, finds that 76 percent of black Southern residents attribute poor economic conditions to a lack of opportunity and 69 percent of black respondents say they are sometimes or very often discriminated against based on race. It finds that most Southern whites don’t accept that, rejecting the idea of systemic racial barriers, institutional legacies and direct impacts of discrimination today.
Yet, the report found a commonality in the belief that diversity is good for us all.
E Pluribus Unum is an audacious move, and it is something from which we can benefit if Landrieu is true to his word and if the people he’s enlisted step up to be helpful and pull together those who need to be a part of this conversation.
If Landrieu stays the course and remains committed to this cause, it could benefit us all.